Orlando Pride: Season Preview

April 15 is less than two weeks away--and this year there is a reason to celebrate because the NWSL season opens that day. The Orlando Pride will play their first match of the season at Portland that day. This will mark the second season in a row when the two teams will open the season against each other at Providence Park in Portland. The game will also be nationally televised on Lifetime Network as part of A&E Network's new partnership with the NWSL.

Leading up to the season opener, the Pride have been playing a number of preseason matches against college teams around the state, and they have been making some announcements about roster positions and signings. Today we'll look at the preseason results and the players who are likely to make the final roster and those who may be on the bubble.

Preseason Matches

March 19 vs. Stetson - The Pride were victorious over Stetson by the count of 9 - 0, with goals coming from returning players, new transfers, and trialists alike. Trialist Carol Rodrigues from UCF recorded the opening goal, and another trialist, Tabitha Tindell, recorded a goal in the second half of a game which featured two completely different lineups in each half. New signees Chimoa Ubogagu and Camila both scored in the first half, with Camila's goal coming from a free kick. The second half of the match featured goals from a lot of familiar faces.  Kristen Edmonds scored the first goal of the second half on another PK, and the half also saw goals from open play by Sarah Hagen, Toni Pressley, and Jasmyne Spencer, who had a brace to close out the match. In addition to the scoring, Christina Burkenroad made a strong argument for Player of the Match by drawing one of the PKs and registering three assists, all in the second half of the match. 

First Half Lineup: GK - Ashlyn Harris; Defenders - Laura Alleway, Ali Krieger, Dani Weatherholt; Midfielders - Jamia Fields, Maddy Evans, Nickolette Driesse, Danica Evans, Camila; Forwards - Chimoa Ubogagu, Carol Rodrigues.

Second Half Lineup: GK - Aubrey Bledsoe ; Defenders - Lorina White, Toni Pressley, Cami Levin; Midfielders - Christina Burkenroad, Jocelyn Blankenship, Kristen Edmonds, Heather O'Brien; Forwards - Jasmyne Spencer, Sarah Hagen, Tabitha Tindell.

March 25 vs. USF - Orlando's NWSL side recorded a second pre-season win over USF in Tampa by the count of 2 - 1.  Chimoa Ubogagu scored her second goal of preseason to open the tally in the first half. After another bench-clearing lineup swap at halftime, USF managed an equalizer when USF's Evelyne Viens scored on a counter-attack. And in the dying moments of the match, trialist Carol Rodrigues from UCF--who entered the match in the 61st minute in relief of Jasmyne Spencer--secured the victory for the Pride by scoring her second goal of pre-season.

First Half Lineup: GK - Ashlyn Harris; Defenders - Laura Alleway, Ali Krieger, Toni Pressley; Midfielders - Jamia Fields, Kristen Edmonds, Dani Weatherholt, Camila; Forwards - Chimoa Ubogagu, Sarah Hagen, Jasmyne Spencer. 

Second Half Lineup: GK - Aubrey Bledsoe; Defenders - Cami Levin, Alanna Kennedy, Ali Krieger (Nickolette Driesse 61st minute); Midfielders - Maddy Evans, Monica, Kristen Edmonds (Christina Burkenroad 61st minute), Camila (Heather O'Brien 61st minute); Forwards - Chimoa Ubogagu (Danica Evans 61st minute), Jasmyne Spencer (Carol Rodrigues 61st minute), Rachel Hill

March 29 vs. UF - The Pride traveled to Gainesville to take on the Gators for their third preseason match and got their second shutout by the scoreline of 3 - 0. Christina Burkenroad scored her first goal of preseason to go along with three assists in the first match. Chimoa Ubogagu scored her third goal of preseason to add to the tally, and the final goal of the match was scored by Kristen Edmonds, who scored from a PK to notch her second match of the preseason.

First Half Lineup: GK - Ashlyn Harris; Defenders - Jamia Fields, Ali Krieger, Camila; Midfielders - Monica, Dani Weatherholt, Kristen Edmonds; Forwards - Chimoa Ubogagu, Christina Burkenroad (Sarah Hagen 23rd minute), Jasmyne Spencer (Danica Evans 31st minute).

Second Half Lineup: GK - Aubrey Bledsoe; Defenders - Heather O'Brien, Laura Alleway, Toni Pressley, Monica (Carol Rodrigues 61st minute); Midfielders - Monica Evans, Dani Weatherholt (Christina Burkenroad 64th minute), Nickolette Driesse; Forwards - Danica Evans, Sarah Hagen, Jasmyne Spencer.

April 1 vs. FSU - Orlando hosted FSU at the Sylvan Lake Park training complex in Sanford. The Pride earned their third shutout of the season with a 3 - 0 victory, with the team continuing its perfect result record. Jasmyne Spencer opened the scoring in the 35th minute, getting her 3rd goal assisted by Toni Pressley. Then in stoppage time of the first half Danica Evans scored her first preseason goal assisted by Kristen Edmonds. And in the final half, Chimoa Ubogagu scored her fourth preseason goal, assisted by Toni Pressley. For the first time on preseason, the Pride did not completely change out the roster at the half, now that the coaching staff have had more time to evaluate the players on the squad.

Lineup: GK - Aubrey Bledsoe (Amanda Kopale 80th minute); Defenders - Camila (Jamia Fields 63rd minute), Laura Alleway (Cami Levin 73rd minute); Alanna Kennedy (Dani Weatherholt 63rd minute), Toni Pressley; Midfielders - Nickolette Driesse (Maddy Evans 46th minute), Kristen Edmonds, Monica (Heather O'Brien 73rd minute); Forwards - Chimoa Ubogagu (Christina Burkenroad 73rd minute), Danica Evans (Sarah Hagen 63rd minute), Jasmyne Spencer (Carol Rodrigues 73rd minute).

The final preseason match will be coming up on Friday, April 7, when the Pride welcome the U23 US Women's National Team at their Lake Sylvan training grounds, a match which will certainly be their toughest test before league play begins.

Preseason Roster

The Pride opened preseason camp with a total of 30 players, and there are only 20 roster spots available, meaning that the coaching staff will have to make some tough decisions about whom to cut. Michelle Stile at Women's Soccer Weekly has a detailed listing of all the draftees and trialists who were part of the club at the opening of preseason camp. 

Roster Update - The club released an updated roster last week listing 25 players and notes on two more. McKenzie Berryhill is still awaiting medical clearance after failing medical screenings related to the effects of concussions she suffered during her collegiate career at Arizona State University. The Pride are retaining her rights, but she is not considered part of the 25-player roster at this time. Also not being considered in the roster is superstar striker Alex Morgan, who is playing the remainder of the European season with French side Olympique Lyonnais and will not join the NWSL team until the summer.

The players who do remain on the roster include three goalkeepers, eight defenders, five midfielders, and nine forwards.

Goalkeepers - Aubrey Bledsoe, Ashlyn Harris, and Hannah Seabert (trialist).

Defenders - Laura Alleway, Steph Catley, Monica Hickmann Alves, Alanna Kennedy, Ali Krieger, Cami Levin, Camila Martins Pereira, Toni Pressley.

Midfielders - Jocelyn Blankenship (trialist), Nickolette Driesse, Kristen Edmonds, Maddy Evans, Dani Weatherholt.

Forwards - Christina Burkenroad, Danica Evans, Jamia Fields, Sarah Hagen, Rachel Hill, Carol Rodrigues (trialist), Jasmyne Spencer, Tabitha Tindell (trialist), Chioma Ubogagu.

Season Outlook

The Pride have been getting quality minutes and great play from many of the new and returning players on the roster. The level of teamwork and competition in the squad reflect the fact that in year two the team is starting in a more organized and focused fashion than they did in year one, when the core of the roster were still trying to learn each other's tendencies and build intra-squad chemistry on the pitch.

The growth in the squad will have plenty of exposure on national television this year, as seven of the club's 24 matches will be televised on Lifetime Network. With seven appearances, this ties them with the Houston Dash as the teams with the most national TV exposure through the new partnership with Lifetime Network.

As the NWSL enters its fifth year, it seems clear that the league is growing more competitive, so it's hard to say if the more cohesive Pride roster will result in making the post-season in this second year. I am going to go out on a limb and say that the increased goal production in pre-season will translate into more victories than 2016, when the Pride managed only six wins, balanced against one draw and 13 losses.

Predictions are only fun when you make them before you know the results so I will set the mark for the 2017 team at 12-6-6, and I will hope that 42 points will prove sufficient to make the playoffs. After all, as Douglas Adams told us, 42 is the ultimate answer. As the season unfolds we will see how the actual results compare to my prediction.

Join The Crown; Listen to Queenscast

Finally, no team is truly complete without its supporter group, and the Orlando Pride have a wonderful supporters group called The Crown. The Crown are active year round, hosting many watch party events and pre-match parties during the season, as well as volunteer and fundraising events in the offseason that are fun for the whole family. Joining The Crown is a great way to show your support for the Orlando Pride and build new friendships and great relationships with other passionate fans of "The Beautiful Game" in The City Beautiful. 

And the Orlando Pride also boasts its own dedicated podcast, Queenscast, which has been going strong since before the team played their first regular season match in 2016. Every week during the season, Queenscast brings fans news, insights, match previews and recaps and more. 

What are your thoughts on the 2017 Orlando Pride season? Do you think the team will make the playoffs this year? Whom do you expect to emerge as the brightest stars for the club this season? Let me know in the comments below!