ORLANDO, Fla. -- It's all about mentality.
That's what Pride defender Haley McCutcheon said was the key for Orlando to get crucial wins over the top three teams in the NWSL -- the most recent coming this past weekend in a 3-1 victory over the Portland Thorns at Exploria Stadium.
Out of their four wins on the season, three have come against a team that at one point in the season, held the top spot in the NWSL standings.
"I think that we have to stick to our principles," McCutcheon said following Saturday's match. "Maybe sometimes against opponents that are not top teams, we think maybe we can get away with that a little bit, just subconsciously. So I think we go into these big games knowing that we have to be at our absolute best and now, as we continue on, we know that we have to do that every single game."
It's that mental aspect of the game that has been so crucial to the Pride's season, something that head coach Seb Hines has continuously preached before and after every game this year.
"You can see the effort that the players have put in," he said.
"We had a good chat after the Houston game about what we needed to do and bring it back to our identity and style of play. We showed today that commitment from the players, the desire and the attention to detail in sticking to the game [plan]. You have to win the game in multiple ways and today, we saw an opportunity to soak up a little bit of pressure and be lethal in the counterattack and the goals were well taken."
The progression of the Pride over the course of the season has been steadily trending upward. The best example of that trend is this most recent game against the Thorns. On the first day of the season, the Pride were beaten 4-0 by Portland in Oregon, with many players for Orlando making their debuts for the team in that match.
With some time, training and togetherness, the team pulled a 180 against the Thorns over the weekend. They created better scoring chances, were decisive in their passing and were the aggressors over the course of the 90 minutes.
Performances like these are ones that Hines and the Pride hope will flip the narrative on their team moving into the heard of the season.
"You'd look back in that [first] game [against Portland] and it was due to our own downfall that we lost that game," he said. "Individual mistakes, and a team like Portland, they'll punish you. We use that as fuel for the players to people wrong, change people's opinions.
"Everyone wrote us off early on the season, said we're not good enough, and now, we're trying to change people's perception of what this team looks like. We've got a lot of young players here, but you can see the commitment, you can see they're all bought in and there's a real togetherness here. Ultimately, the team won the game because they're so tightly bonded."