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Orlando Pride shift focus to improvement, preparing for next season

Chioma Ubogagu’s departure sure to be one of many changes for the Pride

The Orlando Pride waived striker Chioma Ubogagu on Thursday with six games left in the season.

Ubogagu has been one of the leading chance creators for a Pride team that has struggled to find the net this season. She scored four goals before her departure from the team, only one less than leading goal-scorer Marta. During her last game — a 2-1 win on the road over Chicago — Ubogagu scored one of the team’s goals and earned an assist.

With the departure of Ubogagu, the team will lose one of its more consistent attackers for the final six games of the season.

It is the start of a transition period for the Pride as the club, with other roster changes expected during the offseason.

The players are frustrated they are stuck near the bottom of the National Women’s Soccer League table and are determined to help find solutions. 

“Obviously, we’re not gonna make the playoffs, so something we’re looking at is how we can end on the right foot going into next year,” Pride midfielder Dani Weatherholt said. “We’ve shifted our perspective. Instead of ending this year and then starting next year slow again… we want to start stronger and then move that momentum into the following year.”

Orlando coach Marc Skinner made this shift toward the future clear after last week’s 2-1 loss to the Washington Spirit. Although he emphasized the importance of finishing with six strong performances, the coach is beginning to look long term, treating the final games as an opportunity for players to prove themselves to the club.

Skinner joked this season made him start to go gray, running his hand through close-cut hair that is beginning to streak to silver.

“There’s so much to reflect on [from] this season,” Skinner said. “I know in the offseason I’ll probably have about one down day and then I’ll be straight back into it. There’s so much to learn, and that’s the best part of the job.”

Although the Pride are stocked with big-name talent, the club suffers during seasons that conflict with international tournaments. That couldn’t be more clear this week, with five Pride players out of commission due to national team call-ups or injuries.

Skinner said his priority during offseason moves will rest in finding quality league players for each position group. To do this, Skinner said he has been scouting opposing NWSL teams for possible offseason moves all season while also tracking players in Europe and South America.

He also continues to emphasize the importance of monitoring NCAA talent to take full advantage of his first NWSL Draft with the Pride. Skinner said he hopes these moves will help to raise the quality level of the team’s talent for the 2020 season.

“It doesn’t mean you sign more names,” Skinner said. “It means you sign the right positions, the right players. The off season for us is going to be so key to sign the right players and use the draft effectively for the first time in two or three years.”

Skinner won’t announce — either publicly or privately to his team — which positions will see rotation until the end of the season. He sees this as an opportunity for each player to fight for their right to remain with the team into the next season.

Weatherholt said the scoreline for the season hasn’t reflected the individual and team growth made from Week 1 to now. She said the the remaining six games of the season will offer an opportunity for further growth, even for players who won’t remain on the roster.

“We’re grateful that we have a coaching staff that is very invested in our development,” Weatherholt said. “It means a lot. Even though we’re not gonna be making playoffs, they’re not writing us off.”

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