The Orlando Pride dropped a 3-0 decision to OL Reign in Tacoma, Washington, on Sunday night. Here’s what we learned from the match as the team chases a playoff spot:
Reign diamond overwhelms midfield
The loss was cemented in the first half when the Pride were overwhelmed by an onslaught of pressure from OL Reign.
Orlando entered the game aware of the Reign’s attacking threats — including Eugenie Le Sommer, Jess Fishlock, Rose Lavelle and Bethany Balcer — along the front line. But the Pride didn’t expect their opponent to utilize a diamond shape in the midfield, which allowed them to overload the heart of the field with aggressive runs and passes.
The result: three goals in half an hour that decided the match.
“We didn’t expect them to play a diamond in the midfield,” midfielder Gunny Jónsdóttir said. “They play very fluid. They’re always going to be rotational and they change a lot and we knew that. I think we can’t really hide behind how they play because we know how fluid they are and we should have been closing down earlier.”
Effective second-half adjustments
Although the first half ultimately determined the course of the game, coach Becky Burleigh stopped the bleeding at the half with a pair of personnel adjustments.
Burleigh removed midfielder Meggie Dougherty Howard and forward Jodie Taylor in favor of midfielder Marisa Viggiano and centerback Phoebe McClernon.
McClernon’s entrance allowed the Pride to return to their three-back formation with wingbacks on both flanks, a lineup that’s served as a strong suit for Orlando since Burleigh’s introduction to the team in July.
The trio of McClernon, Amy Turner and Ali Krieger offer the most cohesive defensive group the Pride have fielded in recent seasons. But this lineup also creates a more aggressive attacking style for Orlando, which can force movement up the flanks through Ali Riley and Courtney Petersen.
After the match, Burleigh said she was frustrated that she couldn’t make those adjustments earlier — either through substitutions or on-field tactical changes — before the team trailed by three goals.
Making quicker adjustments will be a key for the Pride as they face the final matches of the regular season with little margin for error.
Strikers left isolated
The Pride’s most common difficulty on offense is finding a way to supply and feed their top attackers.
The team entered Sunday’s match confident in the trio of Taylor, Sydney Leroux and Alex Morgan, with international star Marta on the bench. But the striker group barely factored into the match in the first half.
Even after their second-half changes were made, the Pride weren’t connecting fluidly with their forward line. Without consistency in crosses and over-the-top long balls from wing and midfield players, the result was a frustrating stop-and-start style of play for the strikers.
“Even in the second half, there were some times where we’re trying to play a ball into them and there’s not enough support underneath them,” Burleigh said. “We need to have a little bit more sustained possession so that we can get the rest of our unit to catch up with the strikers.”
Playoffs more uncertain
The loss threw the Pride further into flux as they fell to fifth overall in the league table.
With just four matches left in the regular season, Orlando sits two points ahead of the Washington Spirit and Houston Dash above the playoff cutoff line — and both teams have a game in hand over the Pride.
Orlando will play two games against the Chicago Red Stars and a game apiece against Racing Louisville and Gotham FC to finish the season.
The Red Stars matches will be critical. Chicago sits one spot and one point above Orlando. But all four matches could decide the playoff fates of the Pride, who haven’t been in a postseason tournament since 2017.
“We want it to be in our hands,” Riley said. “We don’t want it to come down to hoping another team drops points. … We’re gonna win out. We have to win out.”
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at email@example.com.