SANFORD, Fla. — After suffering through a long scoring drought, the Orlando Pride are beginning to hit their offensive stride, netting 10 goals during the course of their past four games.
The Pride struggled offensively early in the year, scoring only two goals in the opening eight games. That changed during the team’s 2-2 draw against Houston, and since then, the offense has continued to click, scoring at least two goals during every game since.
Now, the key difference is a newfound surge of confidence. For strikers like Chioma Ubogagu, scoring is a mental game, something she has seen after netting a goal in each of the team’s past three games to lead the team in scoring.
“I just started to calm down a little bit,” Ubogagu said. “I remembered that I play this game because I love this game. I was stressing out about things that I didn’t need to, and when I just kind of relaxed, I started playing more free. I’m just focusing on things I can control.”
It’s easy, Ubogagu said, for a team to fall into a rut when it’s struggling to find the back of the net. As the Pride continued to labor on through scoreless matches, she said it was difficult to stay energized, especially after falling behind to an opponent. Now, she says, the team can feel itself turning the corner.
With players returning from the World Cup, starting spots on the Pride are becoming increasingly competitive, and no position is more difficult than striker. With Alex Morgan and Marta both returning to the team’s roster, Ubogagu will be jockeying with some of the best forwards in the country for a position in the attack.
But the striker says that she can’t allow herself to worry about the challenge that her teammates bring to the field.
“I’ve always been able to play with these amazing players and learn from them to add to my game, but I also always want to be me,” Ubogagu said. “There’s things that I bring that make me something different for the team. It’s a balance of knowing that these players are world class, but also knowing that you deserve to be here too.”
That diversity of attacking style is something coach Marc Skinner believes will grow into a strength for the team. He pointed to the Pride’s 4-2 victory over Washington as an example of the team’s layers of attack.
Each goal in that game came in a different way — Ubogagu dodging around the keeper on a breakaway, a ball slipping through the backline to Rachel Hill, a close-range smasher from Marta in the box and a lob past the backline to the Brazilian star for another breakaway.
Although the Pride have gone 2-1-1 during the past four games, the team has also ceded at least two goals in each of those matches. Skinner emphasizes matches can’t be won by outscoring an opponent, and his next goal is to focus on clean sheets. But the coach understands the importance of a confident attack as he strives to develop a winning mentality.
“I think you can see it from game to game,” Skinner said. “If we can continue to be as offensively brave as we are, we’ll see this continue. You could see it against Washington. … When we have the ball on the attack, we’re beginning to look dangerous.”