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Orlando Pride hope to avoid another collapse in must-win match against Chicago Red Stars

Seattle player Kristen McNabb (19) stops a goal attempt by Orlando player Alex Morgan (13) during the Seattle Reign at Orlando Pride NWSL game at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, April 28, 2018. The game ended in a 1-1 tie. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

During most of the 2018 season, Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni has watched his team play well in bursts.

Sometimes, those bursts have been enough to win matches. The Pride’s past two matches, however, have been examples of opposing clubs pouncing when those bursts aren’t sustained.

Problems have snowballed into losses for Orlando this season, and during Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. match against the Chicago Red Stars (7-4-10, 31 points), the Pride (8-8-6, 30 points) can’t afford another collapse.

“We just have to be better in those final moments of games,” midfielder Dani Weatherholt said about the club’s recent collapses.

“It’s something we’re working on. Something to be better at. We’re trying to improve every game.”

Sermanni lamented the Pride’s second-half collapse against the North Carolina Courage – a match Orlando lost 3-0 after giving up three late goals during 13-minute span – and said there’s a weakness in the team he’s had trouble pinpointing. The Pride are winless during their past four games despite boasting a roster filled with players who have thrived during international competition while representing their respective national teams.

“It takes away a lot of the good effort that we put in for the last part of the game,” Sermanni said after the match.

“We’ve got an international back line. It’s not just the back line. We’ve got an international team and we conceded three goals. There’s something that we’re doing that, for this league, is not working. That’s whether I need to look at different personnel, to say, ‘OK, we need to do stuff a little bit differently,’ or whether players sort of need to step up and do more things better than what we’re doing now.”

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, Sermanni said anything other than a win over Chicago would be insufficient.

The Pride defeated the Chicago Red Stars 5-2 on May 26, serving as one example of sustained, solid play from the team. Since then, the Pride have posted a 4-5-3 record.

The Pride also beat Chicago 2-0 earlier this season.

“I think we can find confidence in the way we’ve played against Chicago,” Weatherholt said.

Sermanni said the team should draw some confidence from its success against Chicago this season.

“Seasons have changed since the last time you play a team,” Sermanni said. “You can’t sort of look back and say that team, Chicago, is the same they were two or three months ago. It does help, but at the same time, we’ve just got to focus really on the task and playing against a team that’s in good form of late.”

Plus, the match is at home.

“We’ve got fantastic supporters,” Sermanni said. “Really passionate. They’re always right behind the team. We’ve had some good times and bad times, obviously, in the last three years, as most clubs do, and they’ve always been there, and they’ve always supported the players.

“Hopefully our fans will come out in numbers at the weekend, keep behind the team and hopefully our team will respond to that.

Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris said Orlando is looking to find its “swag” again.

“We’ve got to have belief and we’ve got to have trust,” Harris said. “The best teams in the world are arrogant. Everything just seems to be going with this confident, arrogant attitude with the best teams in the world. Until we find that swag, it’s going to be hard for us.

“We have it and we’re totally capable. We’ve just got to continue to instill confidence and continue playing the way we’re capable of playing. It’s going to take every single one of us.”

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