SANFORD, Fla. — When new Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner looks at his team, he sees a group of players fully bought into what he’s trying to do, despite an early run of poor results.
The Pride (0-4-1, 1 point) are winless to start the season and are coming off back-to-back 1-0 losses during which their opponents managed goals thanks pieces of individual brilliance. The most recent example is Kealia Ohai’s match-winning goal in the seventh minute of the Pride’s 1-0 loss to the Houston Dash.
“When we had the meeting after the game, they took ownership and responsibility for their part in it,” Skinner said. “I’ll get hammered. Of course I will. I’m the manager. It’s my job to get results, of course. But they took a little bit of responsibility, and that, for me, I saw a growth within the team. They’ve got to take that forward on the pitch.”
Midfielder Joanna Boyles, who is in her first season with the Pride, said the team remains “100%” committed to Skinner’s vision. The Pride have just one goal through five matches.
“I think the entire team is fully behind Marc and everything that him and the staff are doing,” Boyles said. “Although we haven’t gotten the results, I feel like each game, we’re progressively getting better and better. Every game we’re getting more and more clear chances, which is great.”
Left back Carson Pickett agreed with her teammate.
“Honestly, we’ve been bought in since the beginning,” Pickett said. “His style was going to take a little bit of time and I don’t think that our confidence has diminished at all. I think that we’re still standing by his style and how we want to play, so I think the team’s perfectly fine.”
Skinner, since his arrival in Central Florida, has said he’s laying the foundation for a specific style of play. He said he knows this stretch is rough on the players and fans of the Orlando Pride, but added, “it’s harder on me, because I take all the pressure.”
He said he’s resolute in how he wants the Pride to play.
“The easiest thing to do is just boot balls long and get into the opposition’s half with very little quality,” Skinner said. “What I’ve found is that if you can teach the player the foundation of when to keep the ball, how to keep the ball, when to move the ball, when to move the opposition, that becomes part of their decision-making process.”
After mastering the foundation, the players will be able to make adjustments, Skinner said. He said the directness and physicality of play in the NWSL forces teams into mistakes.
“What we have to make sure we do is mix our styles,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to do at the minute. I think the girls have bought into just trying to play, which is fine, but when the opposition jump, are you ready to go in behind them? We have to mix the style, and that’s what we’re going to be coaching today and every day until we get it.”
The Pride host the Portland Thorns on Saturday. After that, they don’t play another match until May 25. Orlando lost 2-0 to the Thorns to open the season.
“Let’s see what they bring,” Skinner said. “I’m sure they’ll be very good. [Thorns coach] Mark [Parsons] has assembled a really good squad there. But we have to exploit their weakness. You have to see a performance and a reaction from the team for a constant amount of time and that’s what I want.
“I think that we’ve been sporadic in our performance and if we can see that, I’m sure we can show Portland just who we are and the fans who we really are. I don’t think we’ve shown it yet. We’ve shown it in bursts, fits and starts.”
Skinner said he’s going to look back this tough stretch of his career as a learning experience.
“I’m going to build a team that’s so mentally strong here that they can take any challenge on,” Skinner said. “That’s the job. That’s what I want to do. It’s bigger than results. I didn’t come here just to get results. I came here to build something special.”