Home cooking seems to be good for the Orlando Pride in their inaugural season, as they are undefeated at home and are outscoring opponents by the tally of 5 - 1 in their first two home matches. Tonight they face the Western New York Flash, who incidentally share a home stadium with OCB rivals the Rochester Rhinos. In addition to having the hometown crowd behind them, the Pride have another reason to strive for victory tonight: Josee Belanger is celebrating a birthday! I say that the whole stadium should sing Happy Birthday to her in minute 9 of the match. Especially so she won't have to hear me screaming off-key!
The Pride and the Flash both come into the match struggling for playoff positions. In 2015 only four teams made the playoffs in NWSL, and I've not seen any changes announced for 2016, so I presume teams will need to finish in the top four. Right now, Orlando is sitting in sixth on the table, and the Flash are two spots lower in eighth.
Players to Watch
Samantha Mewis is leading the Flash with two goals on the season (the NWSL web site for the team only credits her with one, but game-by-game box scores give her two). Otherwise, Jaelene Hinkle is the only other player to be credited with scoring so far in 2016. And goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart has registered one shut out on the season to match pace with Ashlyn Harris (at least on paper).
Mewis and Hinkle are also members of the US Women's National Team, so they'll be familiar with Alex Morgan, Harris, and others on our team from the training pitch or head-to-head competitions like the World Cup, the Victory Tour, and the She Believes Cup. Barnhart also has USWNT experience, being the hero of the 2008 CONCACAF final in which she saved a PK against Canada to preserve the victory.
The Pride will be without the services of Cami Levin, who was placed on the 45-day disabled list this week after an emergency appendectomy on Wednesday. Levin had seen action in only one of the first four matches for the club, but any loss in can have an impact on a team, especially one so new as the Pride.
In terms of shape, I think we'll still see a new formation and possibly a new Starting XI for Tom Sermanni's side tonight as he continues to experiment with the best combination of players and the best placement to take advantage of the chemistry and talent the team are building. I think this change won't hurt the team and they will continue their winning ways at Camping World Stadium. I think last week's clean sheet was a real confidence builder for the club, so I'm going to predict an even bigger victory tonight and say that the Pride will win 3 - 0.
What about you--what are your expectations for the match tonight? Do you think the club will deliver a big birthday victory for Josee, or do you think the Flash are poised to spoil the party? Let me know in the comments below!