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Orlando Pride begin stretch of ‘must-win’ matches with game against Portland

Orlando player Alanna Kennedy controls the ball during the Seattle Reign at Orlando Pride NWSL game at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, April 28, 2018. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

The Orlando Pride can’t afford any more setbacks.

The Pride (8-6-6, 30 points) have four matches remaining in the regular season. Two of those four matches, including Saturday game against the Portland Thorns (8-6-5, 29 points), are against teams in the playoff hunt.

A loss to either of those two teams – the other being the Chicago Red Stars (7-4-7, 28 points) – could drop the third-place Pride out of the playoff race while elevating their competitors’ chances.

For coach Tom Sermanni, the path forward is clear.

“We’re in a situation now with four games and they’re all, in their own ways, must-win games,” Sermanni said. “We’re in that run and there’s six other teams in the same kind of situation as us.”

Two points separate third through sixth place in the NWSL, and only the top four teams make the playoffs.

It’s late in the season, but the Pride are still looking for answers, both offensively and defensively. Despite a host of international-quality attacking players, the Pride sometimes struggle to create and finish chances.

There have been lapses in defense, too.

“I think we’re just trying to keep everything tight all over the pitch,” Australian midfielder Alanna Kennedy said. “That’s what we’ve been working on the last few days in training and it’s been really positive and productive. There’s things we need to tweak defensively and I think, just going forward, obviously [we] have to finish our chances.

“But I guess if you don’t concede any goals, you’re doing well. That’s what we want to focus on primarily. We have enough quality up front to finish the game off for us.”

Sermanni on Sunday called the Pride’s perplexing 2-2 draw with winless Sky Blue FC a “snapshot” of the club’s season. Orlando needed a late heroics from midfielder Dani Weatherholt to secure a point against Sky Blue.

“We’ve made no secret, it’s been a tough season,” Sermanni said after training on Thursday.

“And it’s been a tough season mainly because of how the results have gone. That can dictate a lot of things, mood, etc. etc. When you look at the team and you look at some of the things that we do on the field and you look at the quality we have and the experience and the players that are used to winning things, then we’re really, really close.

“If we can just… we’re a fraction of the way from getting things right. If we can get it right, we’re a real formidable team.”

Star forward Alex Morgan added there have been multiple team meetings this week – both players only and with members of the coach staff – and that members of the Pride have looked themselves in the mirror ahead of Saturday’s critical game.

The Thorns and the Pride have split two games so far this season, with each side claiming a 2-1 victory in Portland. This is the first time this season the two clubs will meet in Orlando City Stadium, though the Pride have been surprisingly weak at home this year.

Orlando is 3-3-4 (13 points) at home this season.

“Obviously, we would love to have a better home record than we do,” Morgan said. “It is a little disappointing, but at the same time, we’d love to see our fans continue to show up as well. I think we’ve seen definite drop-off throughout the season, which hasn’t been great either.

“There’s just something weird about us playing better away, unfortunately.”

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