(Photo by Victor Tan / New Day Review)
Oct. 3, 2017 at Seminole Soccer Complex
Availability: HC Tom Sermanni, GK Ashlyn Harris, F Chioma Ubogagu
- The Orlando Pride finished the 2017 National Women’s Soccer League regular season with the third-best record in the league, going 10-6-7 with the third-best goal differential (14).
- Last season, the Pride finished at the bottom of the table, recording the ninth-best record out of 10 places.
- On Wednesday, the Pride travel to Portland for their first-ever playoff game in their second year of existence.
- The Portland Thorns are No. 2 in the NWSL, boasting a 14-5-5 record and the best goal differential in the league (17).
- Orlando and Portland met most recently on Sept. 23 in a 0-0 draw at Orlando City Stadium.
- In the most recent draw between the two teams, wherein the Pride recorded their first non-loss against Portland, the Thorns out-fouled the Pride 17-6, as each team was each administered one yellow card.
- Compared to Orlando City Stadium and its grass pitch, Portland’s Providence Park is turf.
HC TOM SERMANNI: “Obviously, as it gets close to game time and it’s a big game that they’ll just be maybe a bit more nervous than a normal week, but, to be honest, we’ve been under pressure, apart from the last game, in every game this year. We made not a great start to the season, so we’ve been playing catch-up for most of the season. So every game we’ve played, really, since early in the season, has been a pressure game. And I don’t really see this one as much different.”
“[Portland’s] a very experienced team. They’re a team used to winning. They’re a team that has a terrific home record, but, you know, we just have to look after our own game, and, to be honest, my biggest concern at the weekend is the officiating. We—I just hope that the officials aren’t intimidated by the environment over there, which is easily done, and influenced by that and influenced by the home team in relation to that. And I saw that in our previous game here, and that’s my biggest concern that our players get protected.”
“No, quite the opposite [of having a home-field advantage, regarding the officiating], to be honest. You know, we played Portland here, and we committed six fouls; they committed 17 fouls, and we ended up with one yellow card each. And, you know, Camila [Martins Pereira] got some brutal treatment during the game and basically didn’t get protected. Alex [Morgan] as well. So, you know, the key thing and my concern, particularly the way we play, is that we get fouled an awful lot and eventually gets to the stage where referees stop giving fouls whereas, you know, we’re hoping they’re actually start giving yellow cards.”
“(jokingly) [Coaching-wise], the fact that they don’t listen to me, probably, was probably the main factor [in us climbing the table].”
“I think what we did—we always knew last year was going to be difficult. That last year was a year of kinda getting the organization up and running and trying to, you know, put a whole lot of things together over a very quick period of time, and that was on and off the field. We got disrupted significantly, and we knew we would with the Olympics last year, which hurt us, but I think that—probably the thing we’ve done best over the offseason is our recruiting. When we look at the players we’ve brought in—obviously, the club brought Marta [Vieria da Silva], which is huge. But when you look at Ali Krieger, Alanna Kennedy, Rachel Hill, Chi Ubogagu, Camila—I mean, those are—we got those five players in for virtually nothing, trading-wise. And every one of them has been a significant contributor to the team. So, I think that’s been probably the most significant thing that we’ve done, and, obviously, coming into the second year, everybody’s familiar with everybody. Players know how we work, and we are much more comfortable around and know [what to] expect from the players, etcetera. So, putting all those things together, it’s been—it’s helped us be successful this year.”
GK ASHLYN HARRIS: “Yeah, we’re really excited. I think no matter who we end up playing, we have to play the best to win. So, it’s gonna be a tough venue, and it’s gonna be probably a sold-out stadium, but I think the energy is gonna be really, really fun to be playing in front of. So, we’re all excited, and we’re up for the challenge, so we take off tomorrow.”
“The good thing about Portland is they like to play football and so do we. So I think it’s gonna be a really good match, and we—both teams match up well because you’re allowed to play your style of game, which is get the ball on the ground, move it and let really crafty players take over. So, it’s gonna be about defending and finishing. You know, probably won’t be many opportunities. They have a great back-line and same with us. And whoever puts their chances away are gonna come out with three points.”
“The thing is is [the turf’s] not gonna be such a factor because it’s such good turf. It’s not like a crap stadium or a crap pitch, so it’s not that big of a deal. I rather play on something like that than a really crappy field or a crappy stadium. Not everyone gets the luxury of playing in an Orlando City Stadium, so, yeah, we’re up for it. No matter what type of pitch, you know, we’re gonna be putting our best game out there to win this thing and come back and play at home.”
“I think Tom—the beauty of him is he’s consistent. You know, he stays true to his principles. He doesn’t—if things aren’t working, he’s not reaching for other ideas and throwing things up in the air. He’s consistent, and he had a plan, and we just had to stick to the plan, and we had to grind it out, and we had to believe. And we had to believe in him, and we had to believe in each other, and we had to believe in the mission. And that’s what we did. We were under pressure. We knew we had to win games, and here we are. Nine games later, an unbeaten streak. And that’s because we believe. That’s because we trusted each other even in the darkest times. But it doesn’t matter how you start. It matters how you finish, and we’re rolling right now.”
F CHIOMA UBOGAGU: “Yeah, I’m super excited. It’s good vibes all around, for sure, and try not to take it for granted ’cause, last year, I was with a team that, you know, unfortunately didn’t get to have this postseason success. So, definitely enjoying every bit of it.”
“I think they play—they try to play possession-style soccer. They have a lot of talent on the field, and they have talent coming off the bench, too. So, I think it’ll be a good matchup like we saw earlier this season, but I think if we keep doing what we’re doing and keep building off the moment, I think we can get a good result.”
“I think Tom’s just—he’s got a lot of experience with all that grey hair, and I think he just—he understands the game, and he sticks to his knowledge. So, all we said at the beginning of the season, we weren’t gonna allow the results, but he still wanted us to play possession-style soccer, and he knew we had the players to do it. So I think that gave us all confidence that he stuck to his plan and that we continue to stick to the plan and just trust the process, and it’s working out for us.”
“I’m blessed. I’ve played with a lot of great players, but something that’s special with this team—I think we all get along really well. It’s been good vibes all around, especially since we keep getting results. I think everyone has that desire, and I think we all kinda feel it. I think we all feel it that we can really get it done this year, and the fact that it’s in our amazing stadium just kinda adds more to that special feeling, so we’re looking forward to the weekend.”
“Yeah, [off-the-field time with teammates] is super helpful, and it’s something that’s really important. You can’t really—you can’t coach that. You can’t do extra drills to get that team chemistry, so it’s something that just kinda happened naturally, and it’s been really nice, and I’ve gotten a lot more great friends here, and, after the game, a few of us couldn’t sleep, just ’cause adrenaline’s high, and we were all talking ’til like 3 a.m., I think? So it was super nice. Just those, like, little things like that’s what I’m gonna remember from the season.”
- The Pride were solidified a playoff spot after the Seattle Reign lost to FC Kansas City 1-0 on Sept. 24, one week before the regular season ended.
- In Orlando’s final regular-season match of the year—a 3-2 win over the No. 1 North Carolina Courage on Sept. 30—Camila suffered an ACL and MCL injury, keeping her out for the rest of the season.
HC TOM SERMANNI: “Well [players not wanting to rest until after winning the championship] says everything about our team. And we did have conversations. We did think about, you know, should we rest players for this weekend, but we felt we would lose our rhythm. We’re in a good vein of results and putting in good performances, we want to keep that momentum going, and the players want to play, and it’s terrific that they want to get out there and play, and they want to win. You know, obviously, the game last weekend was won where there was no pressure where it didn’t really matter if we won, drew or lost the game. But when you actually watched us go out and play, this is a team that doesn’t want to lose anything, and that’s a great characteristic to have.”
“Huge loss, to be honest. And, again, you know, she did her ACL in the game and was fouled. And I know I seem to harp on about this, and it might count against us because, you know, it’s not a subject that people like to be raised, but she was basically body-slammed—not body-slammed, that’s too extreme—she was basically shoulder-charged off the ball and went over tore her ACL, and that typifies what I’m trying to say about players getting Seprotected, and no free kick was given. But it’s a big loss. She’s been in stellar form this season. As the year’s gone on, she’s just got better and better. And as games go on, she gets stronger and stronger over the 90 minutes. So, losing any key player is a big loss. But Portland have played virtually the whole season without Tobin Heath, which is a big loss, and we feel that we’ve got the strength and the depth and the character in this squad to deal with that.”
GK ASHLYN HARRIS: “Yeah, I mean, of course, that’s a big hit, and we’re extremely upset for her and sad about the situation, and she’s worked so hard, and she’s one of our key players, but, unfortunately, this is the game, and these things happen, and you have to deal with it, and we have great depth, and we have great players who are gonna step into that role and, you know, maybe not fill it the same but bring their own craft to the game and own individual skill, and, no matter what, whoever’s out there, we all have the same goal in mind, and we’re gonna give it everything we have, and, you know, we are continuing to support her right now. It’s not easy for her. It’s not an easy time for her, but we’re family here, and we take care of each other, and that’s what we’re doing right now.”
I mean, it’s gonna be tough. She’s one of our better players, and she’s a big, key part of how we tick, and she’s crafty. You can’t replace a Camila. It’s very difficult, but we have really good players. We have really great depth in this team, and there’s gonna be players who are gonna step up and not necessarily fill the role in the same way but in their own way, and, you know, we’re just trying to—we got a few days to figure it out, but, you know, I trust Tom. I trust these players no matter who steps on the field to fill her role. They’re gonna do their job.”
“I think [the win over North Carolina is] huge, and I think it’s a statement. We don’t ever show up trying to throw games. We don’t ever show up trying to plan out who we play. We show up to win. And that’s what this team is centered around… [Asked] if they needed to rest, and they said they’ll rest when they win. That’s what this team is about. That is what this team’s mentality is about. And I wanna play for people like that.”
F CHIOMA UBOGAGU: “[The win over North Carolina] was super. That was super nice ’cause a lot of us were getting frustrated with some of the calls that were going throughout the game, so when Alanna, 90-something minute, put that in the back of the net, I was so excited, screaming on the bench. It was super cool.”
“I mean, it’s huge. Camila’s a great player. She’s been huge for us. She’s played in so many different positions. I’m bummed for her ’cause, obviously, it’s playoffs. It’s all the work we’ve put in thus far in the season. But I think it’s a testament to our team ’cause we’ve also had a lot of injuries throughout the season, and we’ve had a lot of people step up. We’ve had a lot of people play different roles, so I think it’s gonna be a similar situation when someone does fill that role, and I think whoever it is, whoever’s called upon will excel and strive for the team.”
- Harris was sidelined early in the season with a torn quad.
- She has recorded 36 saves and 1,106 minutes in 13 starts for the Pride.
- In 13 games and 13 starts, compared to 2016’s 15 games and 15 starts, Harris improved in goals against average, going from 1.3 goals against per game to 1.2.
HC TOM SERMANNI: “Yeah, you know, she just—I think she just did complete and utter thorough rehab and preparation. You know, she was working every day of the week. Whether she was out here with the team doing whatever she could with the constraints that she had through the injury, or whether she was working in the gym, or whether she was getting treatment, she was just 24-7 focused on her rehab, and I think, when you do that and you have that thorough preparation, when you then come back in, you feel that you’re fully fit and you’re ready to go, and that’s what’s happened.”
GK ASHLYN HARRIS: “Yeah, everything’s been really good. I’m starting to get into my rhythm now, and I feel like my leg’s starting to feel much better. My kicking’s starting to get better, and my timing on the things. I’m feeling confident. Felt like I had one of my best all-around performances last game, so that’s a good feeling, now, moving forward. Yeah, I feel good, and I find that the team is confident in me back there, and we have a really solid back-line, and they make my job pretty easy, and, you know, I just gotta make good decisions. I gotta make good decisions; I gotta organize; I gotta keep everyone sharp and switched on, and, you know, I don’t take those things lightly, and they hear me all game, and that’s gonna be challenging part of being in Portland ’cause it’s so loud, but we’re excited for this challenge. How many times you get to play in Portland in front of however many thousands of people? Like, that’s the kind of environment, like, we wanna be in. No matter how difficult it’s gonna be, we wanna be there.”
F CHIOMA UBOGAGU: “Yeah, Ash is a freak. She’s an unbelievable player. She has an unbelievable mentality. She’s a pro’s pro. So, I stayed a few weekends when she injured, and I was training, and I was looking at her, and she was out here every day, and even when she was injured, she was doing, like, three-a-days ’cause she had PT, then she would do PT with our trainer here, and then she would have training, and then she would have skills training, whatever you want to call it with goalkeepers. So she knows what it takes to play at a high standard. Obviously, she’s been with the national team for a lot of years, and having someone like that lead the team is amazing. And her energy she brings every day at training is really great.”
“Yeah, I think a big thing about being a goalkeeper is presence, and she definitely has that. And we all feel her back there, so I think it’s great. It’s a great individual to have in goal, and the save she had this past weekend was unbelievable, and it was huge and helped us get the three points.”
- Heath played in her first NWSL match in the draw with Orlando.
- The perennial United States women’s national-team player suffered a back injury in early March after the 2017 SheBelieves Cup.
GK ASHLYN HARISS: I mean, Tobin’s in a class of her own. It’s hard to handle her, no matter—whether she’s two-weeks, you know, fit, three-weeks fit or six-months, six-years—it doesn’t matter. Tobin will bring her own craft to the game. She is a very talented player. It takes one second for her to show her brilliance. But, you know, that’s the same with Marta. It’s the same with Alex. Everyone has crafty players. These players are not easy to handle, and the best team’s gonna win at the end of the day.
For more on the Pride, as they prepare for their first-ever playoff game, follow Victor Tan on Twitter at @NDR_VictorTan.