Haley Kopmeyer is doing a lot of puzzles these days. She’s not a huge TV-watcher or fiction reader - right now she’s working on Michelle Obama’s autobiography Becoming - but she likes to put on a soccer game as background noise and work on puzzles. She uses them as a mental break from her day job with the Orlando Pride; understandable considering the Pride are currently on a five-game winless streak in which they’ve been outscored 10 goals to one. That’s right, a team with Alex Morgan and Marta on it has scored one goal in five games. Sure, Morgan was gone for Orlando’s last game against the Houston Dash, but that doesn’t erase that Orlando’s only goal so far has been scored by defender Alanna Kennedy. That’s a hard pill to swallow for any team regardless of whose name is on your roster, and so Kopmeyer has her puzzles.
“I’ve got a lot of 1000 to 1500-piece puzzles lined up, ready to go,” Kopmeyer said in a phone call on Tuesday. “We definitely feel the stress of what’s going on. We’re not immune to it. Not winning and not getting results and not getting goals, not getting clean sheets, the list kind of piles on – soccer is more fun when you win. I think we all know that.”
Kopmeyer has played two out of those five games so far, one when usual starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was a late scratch against the Utah Royals, and then again in their last game against the Dash. Both games have been 1-0 results, which is surely better than the 5-0 whomping that North Carolina delivered in April. But they were still losses, and Kopmeyer still had to make eight saves against Houston while Orlando generated zero shots on goal. And so she does puzzles, and the tough mental work of not dwelling on past mistakes so that she, and the team, can focus forward.
“If you let the stress and the pressure each week build up, then every game feels like a mountain versus an opportunity,” she said. “So for us, okay, we’ll go over this film at some point early this week of our last game, then you’ve gotta just put it behind you and you look towards the next one.”
Kopmeyer didn’t sound exuberant about it, but neither did she sound defeated. Just determined, like someone who’s been in the game for a minute and has seen ups and downs come and go. “I think we’ve got a long season,” she said. “There’s 24 regular season games, almost 20 games [left] that have to get played, so if you throw in the towel now, it’s only going to get harder.”
As a goalkeeper, it’s perhaps easier to feel some of the downs, being the very last line of defense on the field. It can be difficult for fans to see when a keeper does all the little things right, but it’s for sure extremely easy to see when a keeper gets something wrong. Kopmeyer was sanguine as she reflected on the inherent loneliness of the position. “Something my coach said to me today was, at the end of the day, we as goalkeepers - I think it’s hard to keep it in perspective even though it sounds really obvious - we can keep a clean sheet and we can keep it to zero, but barring something incredibly crazy we’re not going to win the game. So control what you can control, and if you control the factors that are within the realm of what you’re doing and work on what you need to work on, trust that your teammates are going to able to do the rest.”
Orlando Pride head coach Marc Skinner seems to be having a time of it working on “the rest” that Kopmeyer mentioned. In a press conference following their loss to Utah, he talked about accountability, excuses, and pressure, saying, “The players must be accountable.”
There could be some shake-ups coming on the field as Skinner and the Pride attempt to steer the ship back on course.
“I would say we as a group are progressively looking forward,” Kopmeyer said. “We’re trying to make it better each week. We haven’t turned on each other, we still believe in each other. I think the reality is we’re probably looking at changes being made as far as personnel goes and trying to find ways to make the majority of this group kind of work, but at the same time I think despite all the numbers and things that don’t really look in our favor, we’re still working hard.”
Of course, some of that was going to happen anyway, with internationals eventually all departing for the World Cup. For Kopmeyer, she thinks fans should keep their eyes on the Pride’s 2019 college draftees, Erin Greening and Marisa Viggiano. “It’s a really cool opportunity for some of these young kids. This is how I kind of started, is I got games in a World Cup year and seven years later now still playing,” she said. “I hope people see the joy and see the opportunity that comes in this time while [internationals] are away, and can support [the rookies] as well there.”
Kopmeyer and the Pride have to keep looking forward. Lack of results matters, but only insofar as it informs the future. She’s aware that there is a giant global tournament happening this summer that might pull people’s attention away, but the Pride will still be there, working day in an day out. “It’s not just a league of names,” she said. “Just because you have names - we’re the prime example of that - it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to be successful. It’s a team. And that’s all the pieces of it. That’s everybody from us to the support staff to our coaches to our fans, and knowing that no matter what, it’s a unified group with the same goals and same direction in mind. So we really do appreciate the coverage because for us, we’re going to stop and we’re going to cheer [our internationals] on and we’re going to support them all in the World Cup but our lives aren’t stopping either in this league.”
Up next: the Pride face league runners-up Portland at home on Saturday. Portland opened up their season beating the Pride 2-0 in Orlando, but will now travel back without key playmakers Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan or starters Adrianna Franch and Emily Sonnett. Kopmeyer is right; it’s not just a league of names. Every player on the roster can have an impact, even moreso this year. Maybe that will be veteran presence Kopmeyer; maybe it will be a draft pick bursting into fans’ greater awareness. One way or another, they’re moving forward.