ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner’s vision for his team is starting to come into focus.
The Pride dominated their final preseason test, defeating Liga PR Femenina side Puerto Rico Sol 5-0 in front of an announced crowd of 2,137 during a preseason friendly at Orlando City Stadium Sunday afternoon.
It was the first chance for Pride supporters to see Skinner’s system in action, and what they saw was a product that barely resembled last season’s squad.
“I think if you assess it on the long-term, of course they’re nowhere near where we want them to be,” Skinner said of Pride players. “But if you assess them on the time we’ve had with them, with the players that we’ve had away as well, I’m more than happy with where the group are at.”
Last season, Pride players rotated positions from match to match, but rarely rotated during the match, unless a substitution necessitated a shift. Forwards rotated throughout the match, but most of the other positions were static.
Pride players during Sunday’s match were almost constantly in motion. At some points, midfielder Dani Weatherholt was a centerback. Left back Carson Pickett could be found in the middle of the pitch or on the forward line.
“We work off principles, not positions,” Skinner said.
“It’s about movement, because we know that if somebody is in a static line, the only way you can really get away is through width and rotations through the middle. Plus, if I’m a player who is receiving the ball and you expect me to be there and somebody else appears, how do you deal with that? We’re trying to make the opposition think about what they’re going to do.”
Last season, some players vented frustrated at being rotated from match to match, which is something Skinner acknowledged.
“I think what you look at is whether the message was being given last year – I don’t know, I wasn’t here – it didn’t look like it was,” Skinner said. “It’s the language and the psychology that you use with the players. For example, if you tell a player to rotate to a right winger, they have a label of what a right winger is.
“If you say, ‘Connect to the nearest player and work off the body positions,’ which is what we do in training, constant work on repositioning, how to be, where do you want the ball … you’ll find a human naturally adapts to the habit that they’re in. You don’t actually have to say ‘you need to be here,’ ‘you need to be here,’ ‘you need to be here.’ They naturally start to react.”
The Pride dominated possession throughout the match and Sol FC rarely strung together consecutive passes and threatened in Orlando’s half just once. Still, Skinner said the team wasn’t as effective as it needed to be in the first half of the match, but praised the Pride’s ability to make adjustments and score goals in the second half.
Orlando opened the scoring in the 41st minute thanks to a penalty kick from Brazilian midfielder Camila. The Pride earned the PK after a foul was called in the penalty area during a corner kick,
Pickett added to the Pride’s advantage in the 59th minute, heading home a ball played in by right back Erin Greening.
Bridget Callahan and Rachel Hill added goals in the 72nd and 83rd minutes, respectively, and Camila put the exclamation point on the match with a strike from distance to put the Pride up 5-0.
Pickett said the new style of play is complicated, but it’s something the team has embraced.
“If you’re at the pro level, you have to be able to pick things up rather quickly,” she said. “I think that this group is very smart and I think that to be a good soccer player you have to be athletic and good with the ball, but you also have to have brains and be smart and just adapt to what the coach wants you to.
“I think rotating within the game, you’re there to help the team. If you’re going inside, but maybe not getting the ball, you can’t get frustrated because it might open someone else on the team. I think that just not being super-selfish is definitely a lot about this year. Making sure that whatever movement doesn’t always open up you, but it opens up someone else.”
Goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer – the team’s No. 1 goalkeeper while Ashlyn Harris is gone on international duty – went down without contact in the 11th minute of the match. She was looked at by trainers and backup keeper Lainey Burdett – a non-roster invitee – was warming up.
Kopmeyer made her way back to her goal in the 13th minute and finished out the first half but was subbed off in the 60th for Burdett. The only real action Kopmeyer saw Sunday afternoon was when Puerto Rico Sol forward Karina Socarras put on shot on target from distance.
Skinner insisted Kopmeyer is fine.
An Orlando Pride spokeswoman confirmed the Pride’s international stars – Marta, Alanna Kennedy, Emily van Egmond, Alex Morgan, Ashlyn Harris, Ali Krieger and Chioma Ubogagu – will return to central Florida Tuesday and Wednesday ahead of the team’s home opener on Sunday, April 14.