A home opener, a fashion statement, and the greatest of all time will all converge on Saturday as the Orlando Pride play their home opener against the Washington Spirit at Orlando City Stadium. The club has been promoting its "Fill the Bowl" campaign to work for a sellout crowd and break their own record crowd size, set at last year's home opener. Several events during the week led up to the big game, including an Open House with appearances by the Pride players on Wednesday evening and a repeat of last year's "Scarf the City" campaign on Friday morning. And on Thursday night a large contingent of The Crown supporters went to Orlando International Airport to greet the "Greatest of all Time," Marta, as she arrived in town.
Players to Watch
All eyes in the stadium will be on one player, Marta. Due to visa issues, she arrived from Sweden barely 40 hours before kickoff of her first match with the Pride. Now if any athlete in the world can fly in and play immediately, it would have to be Marta, and I fully expect her to be in the 18-player lineup announced for Saturday's match. However, I am going to predict against popular opinion and say that I think she will come into the match off the bench in the second half for this first match. I have no question about her talent, her fitness, or her stamina, but I think she may want to watch her new teammates play for a half to get an idea of whom she can partner with on the pitch. There is no doubt in my mind that the focus and pace of play will revolve around Marta from the moment she enters the game.
I feel a little like being snarky and saying that beyond Marta there won't be many players who matter on Saturday, but that would be both inaccurate and just plain disrespectful of the other 21 players on the pitch.
For the visitors, the Spirit come into the match not having played during the first week of the season, and not having any current players on the roster that have also been named to the USWNT this year. This comes a year after the Spirit reached the NWSL Championship match with Crystal Dunn, Megan Oyster, and Ali Krieger on their roster, all of whom have left for other clubs. Gone, too, is Goalkeeper Coach Lloyd Yaxley. On paper, at least, it appears that the Spirit have been gutted, but time will tell if they have perhaps pulled off the NWSL equivalent of Billy Beane's accomplishments as chronicled in the 2003 non-fiction bestseller, Moneyball.
If the visitors come into the match without any international stars, the home side are loaded for bear this season. In addition to returning goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and standout players like Jasmyne Spencer and Kristen Edmonds, the Pride have added new stars such as Ali Krieger and Marta. In all, the Pride added quite a few new players as we chronicled last week, and that amount of turnover means it will take some time before the team completely gels.
The Pride lost their first match in Portland last weekend, and that is going to make them hungry for points on home soil. They should also have a record or near-record crowd to cheer them on, and the whole stadium will be buzzing to see the NWSL debut of Marta. I think the home crowd and the star power of the Pride will prove overwhelming, and I predict a big win for the Pride on the day. In fact, I'm calling for a 4 - 0 score line, with Marta notching at least one of the goals herself in the second half.
What about you? What are your thoughts on Saturday's match? Do you think the Pride will win big? Do you think Marta will be in the Starting XI? Can the Pride defense give Ashlyn Harris a clean sheet on the day? Let me know in the comments below!