What Orlando Pride need to improve to achieve their NWSL breakthrough – scout report
As the title suggests, this article will be focusing on Orlando Pride’s performances in the NWSL so far and how the team can overcome their negative start to the 2023 NWSL season which they kicked off with four losses in a row.
Nevertheless, Orlando Pride’s latest win against a tough team like San Diego Wave was a very positive step towards achieving better results in the near future and the team should therefore build on this win and keep on improving what is not going well within the team’s tactics.
So in this tactical analysis scout report, a look at the team’s formations and what can be improved in this regard will be provided prior to moving to the team’s in-game analysis of what is currently positive and what needs some work ahead of the upcoming fixtures.
Orlando Pride’s formations, positions and tactics
During this start of the NWSL season, Seb Hines, the team’s head coach, who took charge of the team in 2022 but who knows the players very well since he has been in the coaching staff since 2018 as an assistant coach, used different formations and looks like he is trying to find the most suitable formation for the actual players at his disposal.
He teed off the season using the 4-2-3-1 formation against Portland Thorns before switching to the 4-4-2 formation when hosting the game against Angel City and returning to the 4-2-3-1 for the third game against Gotham FC. He also kept the same formation for the NWSL Challenge Cup encounter against North Carolina Courage before switching to the 4-3-3 formation against KC Current and then going back to the 4-2-3-1 against San Diego Wave to earn their first win of the season.
In fact, this continuous change of formations makes it difficult for the players to adapt to their roles and be accustomed to what they need to do on the pitch. Such continuous change obliges the players to lack organisation and chemistry as well since it is very difficult for any team to be solid in the non-possession phase as an example while not maintaining one or at maximum two precise formations.
In order to have the identity which Hines tries to incorporate within the team, it is rather necessary to minimise the formation changes during this part of the season in order to familiarise the players with their roles and help them develop and acquire more mastery of their duties from one match to the other. And since the 4-2-3-1 formation worked with the team against San Diego Wave, it would be beneficial to build on it and use it for the next few games while applying the necessary player changes or switching the positions of some players.
At the same time, it would be more useful to play players out of their positions in order to get 100% of their qualities and not less. For instance, playing Marta as a striker in the 4-2-3-1 formation was not really a successful move since the player excels more when playing as an advanced playmaker or as a winger, especially when knowing that Messiah Bright and Adriana Leal da Silva can be considered as proper strikers and can fill this position in a more efficient way. This is not criticism towards Marta who has been and is one of the best players in her position, but not really as a striker and that’s normal because she is not a proper striker. Therefore, giving more time to Bright and Adriana would suit the team more while playing Marta on the right wing or as an advanced playmaker.
In fact, it was not strange to see Orlando Pride win the game against San Diego Wave despite the difficulty of the opponent and the fact that Orlando Pride played away, mainly because the coaching staff and Hines picked the adequate players for each position and did not try to complicate things for himself and for the players.
In addition to Haley McCutcheon and Kylie Strom. who have been playing regularly during the first part of the season and do not have positioning issues, it was useful to play with Mikayla Cluff and Viviana Villacorta as central midfielders while employing Marta as a right-winger where she can be a more dangerous player, and playing Erika Tymrak as the advanced playmaker since she has the vision and the passing quality needed for that role.
At the same time, using Adriana as a right winger who advances so often and joins the penalty area was and will most probably be the best position for the Brazilian, knowing that Bright is the team’s striker and it would be beneficial to give her more confidence by allowing her more playing time, so eventually, this will pay-off.
The attacking aspect
From an attacking aspect, it is fair to say that the team doesn’t really lack the resources to perform well or to disturb their opponents. And failing to do so can only be due to the current lack of chemistry and ideas upfront. Also, lacking some squad depth, especially for the striker role can prevent the team from achieving the needed results. Orlando Pride will have to work more on finishing and especially on shooting on target since their statistics indicate that this aspect needs to be improved. The team shoots an average of 37.6% on target and this means that the team lacks quality finishing.
One alternative that can help to minimise this issue will be to work more on set-pieces and be more decisive in this regard since they showed on more than one occasion that they are able to score from corners and free-kicks given the good physical abilities of some of the players such as Mikayla Cluff who scored a header from a corner against San Diego. In fact, it was Cluff’s excellent jump and header that allowed Orlando Pride to equalise and get back in the match, following an accurate cross from Adriana. Therefore, exploiting such plays would surely be helpful for Orlando Pride from a goalscoring perspective.
Another key attacking subject that should be addressed is Marta’s role in attack and how the team can benefit from her presence on the pitch. In fact, the team have already started exploiting Marta’s presence in a useful way and can work even more in this regard in order to make things even more automatic and variate the ideas to confuse defenders.
Given Marta’s excellent ball protection abilities especially when she plays on the right wing, and the fact that opponents always focus on marking her since they know how dangerous she can be in terms of playmaking and goalscoring, the other Orlando Pride players should exploit the space left by those marking Marta and occupy these positions in order to receive passes at the back of the opponent’s defences and make it easier to reach the goal.
Against San Diego Wave, Orlando Pride succeeded in doing so during one action which led to the team’s second goal. As you can see below, Marta attracts two or three players whenever she receives the ball and she keeps it for a few seconds before making the passing decision. During that time, McCutcheon made the overlap on the right wing and occupied the free space left by one of Marta’s markers. And the result was a goal from McCutcheon after she received a cross that she converted into a goal with an excellent header.
Moreover, Tymrak’s role in playmaking, passing and getting to the box should be highlighted as the player should be given more confidence in this role because she is simply the most fitting player within the team for the advanced playmaker position. Also, it is always useful to switch positions during games and Orlando Pride did so effectively. Bright and Adriana changed positions against San Diego Wave in an attempt to confuse opposing defenders and find more space, and Marta, Tymrak and Adriana can also switch positions during the game to make things more complicated for defences.
Also, the fact that Adriana becomes a second striker at times during the match, and is given the freedom to move inside the box and not just play on the left wing for the whole game, makes a real difference and helps the team create a lot of danger as it relieves Bright from marking and allows her to get more opportunities as well.
The defensive aspect
From a defensive perspective, the team needs to be a little bit more aggressive and especially more reactive and quick in the non-possession phase as this was not the case during the team’s first games of the season.
It is true that Hines has been trying to not make a lot of changes per match concerning the back-four in order to conserve the chemistry between defenders. Yet, the players’ positioning, marking and reactions certainly need more work and revisions as numerous collective and individual mistakes took place during the first games.
Perhaps one of the most notable mistakes is related to marking and late reactions to opponents’ movements inside the box. During this Portland Thorns’ fourth goal, the picture shows exactly how Orlando Pride’s defender was not looking at her opponent when the cross was about to be executed and was rather looking at the ball while keeping her opponent behind her. This was a clear mistake since letting a striker move without disturbance while not looking at her nor following her movements helps the striker move freely and get to shoot the ball without marking.
Almost a similar mistake occurred during the match against San Diego Wave when Megan Montefusco failed to keep an eye on Jaedyn Shaw and mark her tightly during a cross from her left. In fact, Shaw was able to run from the back of Montefusco towards the near post as the arrow shows before meeting the ball and scoring with a first-time shot while Montefusco couldn’t react to this movement because she was not looking at Shaw and was surprised by her anticipation to the cross in the near post area.
Improving these marking issues and working on becoming more reactive and more aggressive when facing strikers would change a lot of things in Orlando Pride’s season as it would help them concede fewer goals and therefore have more winning chances per game.
Orlando Pride has got a good squad that can challenge for a playoff spot especially if they work on improving their performances from match to match and, most of all, if they succeed in becoming more solid at the back and concede fewer goals, this would be pivotal to getting positive results in the near future.
Taking the example of teams like Portland Thorns, Chelsea, Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern Munich and other big teams, most of these teams focused on improving their defensive performances in order to get better results and then they focused on the attacking aspect progressively. If Orlando Pride follows the same strategy, they will surely be able to improve their performances and results.