Finally--the Pride (6 - 9 - 0, 18 points) are back in action, and most of the Olympians will be back on the pitch! USWNT members Ashlyn Harris and Captain Alex Morgan will be back, as will Monica. Australian Steph Catley has been ruled out for the season with a metatarsal fracture and hamstring strain. And her Matilda and Pride teammate Laura Alleway will be out of the match with an undisclosed injury, according to a Pride press release. No mention was made of bronze medalist and Canadian National Team player Josee Belanger, who is presumably fulfilling appearance obligations related to the Canadians' podium finish in the Olympic tournament.
Players to Watch
It will be interesting to see how the Olympians fare after a week of getting re-accustomed to their club training schedule. Monica played every minute of every match for Brazil, including the third place match, which the host nation lost to Canada. Perhaps the returning player who faces the greatest test will be Ashlyn Harris, who filled the role of an alternate with the USWNT and did not see any playing time in the side's four matches during the Olympics. I fully expect to see her return to her starting goalkeeper position, and I trust she will be every bit as assertive and commanding in the net as she has been all season.
Monica should return to her starting role in the Pride's defensive line, and her experience and skill will be welcomed. It will be interesting to see who else goes in defense alongside her, since Alex Morgan's return will have a ripple effect throughout the rest of the lineup as well.
The Spirit (10 - 3 - 2, 32 points) have already played a match since the USWNT was knocked out of the Rio Olympics. On Friday, August 18 they played a make-up game against the Houston Dash. Christine Nairn scored two goals in that contest to lift the Spirit to a 2 - 1 victory. The Spirit also sit atop the table in NWSL, 3 points clear of Portland.
In the last meeting between the two sides on June 18, it was the Spirit's team scoring leader, Estefania Banini and striker Francisca Ordega who scored to take the win and three points from the Pride, who were still reeling in the wake of the horrifying events of the previous few days in Orlando, which included the shooting death of singer Christina Grimmie, the drowning of toddler Lane Graves by an alligator at a Walt Disney World resort, and the massacre of 49 innocent lives at the Pulse nightclub.
In the wake of the returning Olympians to the Pride training camp and with the benefit of a home crowd behind them, we hope that the tables can be turned and the Pride can prevail in the match this week.
While the four matches without the six Olympic players was a tough stretch for the Pride, who went 1 - 3 during that period, the time away did give some younger players more valuable minutes, and allowed the strength and versatility of some other players to be on full display. I think the return of fully half our Olympic contingent will really lift the spirits and the confidence of the rest of the team. I predict a 3 - 1 victory for the Pride. Hopefully this will spark a strong run toward the playoffs.
What about you? What are your thoughts on the match tomorrow? Do you think the Pride can win with some of the Olympians back? Do you still think there's hope that they can reach the playoffs? Let me know in the comments below!