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Orlando Pride midfielder Dani Weatherholt: It’s playoff mode already

The Orlando Pride's Dani Weatherholt, center, battles with the Seattle Reign's Beverly Yanez, right, to control the ball during the teams' 0-0 draw on Sunday, June. (Jane Gershovich/ISI Photos)

ORLANDO — To Orlando Pride midfielder Dani Weatherholt, the NWSL playoffs have already started.

The Pride (8-6-6, 30 points) are in third place in the NWSL with four matches remaining. The fourth-place Portland Thorns (29 points) and the fifth-place Chicago Red Stars (28 points) are behind the Pride, but Chicago has six matches remaining and Portland has five.

Luckily for the Pride, they get chances to steal points from Portland and Chicago during the final weeks of the regular season. The top four teams make the playoffs, and the North Carolina Courage have the No. 1 spot wrapped up. 

The upcoming challenge is one Weatherholt relishes. The Pride face the Thorns at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Orlando City Stadium. 

“I’m really grateful that our next few games are all with the teams that we’re in the running with,” Weatherholt said after a point-saving performance on Sunday against Sky Blue FC.

“It just goes to show, you need to beat those teams to be in the playoffs, so I’m happy that they’re top caliber teams. We’re going to have to play our best and I’m really looking forward to it. We need the win, and they’re going to be championship games. It’s playoff mode already.”

Weatherholt had a hand in both of the goals the Pride scored to salvage a 2-2 draw with winless Sky Blue. She scored one of the Pride’s two goals and provided the shot that led to the rebound that Marta used to open the scoring. Weather put a match-high three shots on target against Sky Blue.

“I think defensively, I’m able to put pressure on their midfield and start some attacks at the transition,” she said after the match. “I think for me as a player, I’m personally trying to look to get in the box more and look to press more and that’s what you saw this game.”

Her goal was the product of individual determination. She kept running toward the goal even after Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheriden got a foot on the ball and popped it into the air. Weatherholt headed the ball in for her second goal of the season.

“I think that I’m always going to give it 110 percent and not give up on things,” she said. “I think I could’ve easily stopped my run, but I ran through it and it happened to pop up right in front of me.”

She was instrumental on defense, too, with two tackles and two fouls won.

Pride coach Tom Sermanni, who has sung the praises of Weatherholt since drafting her 31st overall in the 2016 NWSL draft, heaped more praise onto his veteran midfielder on Sunday.

“I’ve said this before, but I would love 10 Dani Weatherholts out on the field and that’s what she’s been for us this season,” he said.

Sermanni only drafted Weatherholt after Santa Clara University coach Jerry Smith endorsed her in the fourth round of the draft.

“She’s a person that’s really dragged our team along in games quite often. Whether that’s been a decisive tackle, a decisive run, a decisive goal like it was tonight or whatever. She’s just been magnificent this year.

“As I’ve said, I need 10 players doing that. If we had 10 players doing that then I think we would be a little bit further up the table.”

Like her coach, Weatherholt is waiting for the Pride to put two complete halves together. The Pride — who all season have flirted with disaster — opened the scoring on Sunday, but quickly gave up two goals against winless Sky Blue FC.

“We tend to have moments where we kind of check out,” she said. “… I think we need to stay in every minute of every game, and that’s just staying focused from play to play, instead of waiting till the last 10 [minutes] and, ‘Oh no, we need to get a goal, we need to get results.’ So staying in the moment more, I think we can do a better job of.”

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