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What’s Holding Orlando Back?

The Pride are still looking for their first win of the season.

The winless Orlando Pride ground out a draw— their second of the season— against the Houston Dash last weekend. The Pride got that result despite missing several notable players due to the World Cup. Many of those are players whose names you’ve heard a lot during the tournament, like Marta and Alex Morgan. All in all they’ve lost eight players to the World Cup, which makes their draw against Houston that much more impressive, all things considered.

It’s still not a win, though, and it’s worth examining why that first win is eluding them, with international starpower and without.

(All statistics via NWSL.)

The only other winless team in the league so far is Sky Blue, who have played (and lost) one less game than Orlando. Sky Blue has only scored five goals so far this season, while the Pride have scored only four. Alarmingly for Orlando, two of those goals were scored this past weekend, while they were missing some of the most potent goalscorers in the game.Sam Kerr alone has eclipsed the goal totals of both teams, and Houston has scored over twice the number of goals that Orlando has, with ten.

Looking at how dismal the picture is might be useful for context, but doesn’t explain the why. Team statistics can give us some clues, though.

Orlando passes less often than Sky Blue or Houston, and completes fewer of its passes as a team. While Sky Blue’s pass success rate hovers around 70%, Orlando has barely broken 66%. No matter how elite your finishers are, if the midfield can’t get the ball to them, the goals won’t come. It’s not just that Orlando is failing to succeed when passes are attempted. Orlando averages only about 346 passes per game, while Houston averages 393, and the top of the table Washington Spirit is averaging a whopping 490. It’s probably a fair guess that if the Pride can get the ball moving more and increase the communication in their midfield particularly, they might be able to increase their scoring as well.

I say ‘might’ because their shooting doesn’t look particularly great, either. Their conversion rate is a dismal 5.5%, while Sky Blue’s is approaching 8% without Camila, Alex Morgan, and Marta on their roster. They’ve taken 73 shots so far this season, which is at least more than Sky Blue’s 64 shots, but only around 22% of those shots have been on target (compared to about 38% of Sky Blue’s).

We’ve all heard that defense wins championships, but the reverse is true, too. In the three games Ashlyn Harris played before leaving for international duty, she faced 25 shots and conceded 8 goals for a save percentage of 68%. In four games, Kailen Sheridan has faced 24 shots and conceded only 5 goals, for a 79% save percentage. Haley Kopmeyer has played Orlando’s other 6 games and posted a 69% save percentage, conceding 12 goals on 39 shots.

The issue here isn’t solely that Orlando’s keepers are facing a lot of shots. Washington’s Bledsoe has faced the most of any goalie in the league and posted up an 88% save percentage. While it would be unrealistic to expect anyone to match that kind of performance, the fact is that Orlando’s goalkeeping isn’t doing them any favors so far this season.

Orlando isn’t making their keepers’ jobs any easier, though. For one thing, the team has been handed sixteen yellow cards in nine games, leading the league in that category by quite a lot. The next-closest is Chicago with nine yellows and one red. They’re winning only slightly more than half of their tackles and not even winning half of their duels. The team has conceded 20 goals and has a ridiculous -16 goal differential.

In short, creating offense--beginning with passing the ball more and taking better shots--will help, but until Orlando can play cleaner, more disciplined, more deliberate soccer, they’re not going to budge from the bottom for the table, with or without their marquee players.