SANFORD, Fla. — The Orlando Pride will cap their three-game homestand with a matchup against the Utah Royals on Saturday.
The Royals’ biggest threat is easy enough to spot — striker Christen Press, who picked up last week’s NWSL Player of the Week honor after scoring a pair of goals in two minutes during a 3-0 win over Sky Blue FC.
After a short midseason skid, the Royals reignited their high-scoring offense, notching three goals apiece during their past two games. Sitting in the No. 5 slot in the league standings, the team will be looking to use Saturday as an opportunity to edge its way back into playoff contention.
For Orlando City, the main challenge will be tackling the Royals’ diamond shape, which floats Press on top to probe the defense. While Utah offers a unique look from other NWSL clubs, the team is looking to exploit, not just defend, the space created in this style of play.
“Their shape poses a different threat and [also] a different opportunity for us going forward, whichever way you want to look at it,” midfielder Alanna Kennedy said. “For us, it’s looking to shut them down. [But] I’m not focused on anyone on their team, I’m focused on myself and what I can do on the ball.”
The Pride are fresh off a 1-0 home loss to the Houston Dash that left a bitter taste in the team’s mouth. Orlando finished the match with only nine players after Marta and Julie King were sent off with red cards. The Pride struggled to challenge offensively all game, the Dash took the 1-0 lead with a penalty kick in the 87th minute.
Skinner said NWSL officials later reported to the Pride the foul should not have resulted in a penalty kick. This news frustrated the entire team, which was on the verge of earning a draw.
“We lost the game on a falsified situation,” Skinner said. “For me, that’s the first time I’ve been extremely frustrated with the fact that we’ve lost a game based on something we’ve had no control over.”
Skinner hopes to use this frustration to drive his team against Utah. Following the loss, the Pride fell to the bottom rung of the NWSL this week, trailing Sky Blue FC by one point.
With nine games remaining, which more than a third of the Pride’s season, Skinner is now using the prospect of the future to motivate his players — even when the team struggles in standings.
“I said to the girls, [there’s] nine games left, prove to me why you should be wearing the Orlando jersey in the future,” Skinner said. “Do not go on the field with any fear, do not go on it with any trepidation. Express yourself, show everybody who you are and show me why I should be building with you for a successful Orlando in the future.”
Against Utah, the Pride is looking to increase the team’s time on the ball. Kennedy said she feels the team has been bypassing the midfield at times, sometimes moving to attack in transition too quickly instead of building out of the midfield.
The midfielder said more time on ball could lead to better opportunities in front of goal. Last week’s loss was the Pride’s first game without a goal after a six-match scoring streak. For the attackers, this weekend will be a chance to restart that consistent scoring.
“We’re getting in the right positions, we’ve had some golden chances that we’re missing,” forward Claire Emslie said. “The fact that we are actually getting in the scoring chances is positive, it’s just that we need to be clinical on Saturday and put the ball in the net.”
The Pride will bring a thinned roster on Saturday, with a recently announced season-ending injury for midfielder Emily van Egmond compounding the red card suspensions of Marta and defender Julie King. However, striker Alex Morgan returned to full-contact training with the team on Thursday, and Skinner said she might be available for play on Saturday, bolstering the team’s attacking front.