The Pride will begin the season on the road in Portland, against one of the best teams in the NWSL. The match kicks off at 3:00 pm Orlando time, with the scheduling gods somehow finding a way in a 168-hour week to put the MLS and NWSL teams from our club into match play at exactly the same time. Someone ought to do something about that so that we fans get to enjoy each of our teams fully and individually. The match will also kickoff a new media partnership between A&E Networks and the NWSL. Thorns vs. Pride is the first NWSL Game of the Week on Lifetime Networks, which represents a regular Saturday afternoon slot guaranteeing national TV coverage for the league.
Players to Watch
Both clubs will be without one of their major stars. The hosts will be without USWNT superstar Tobin Heath, who is recovering from an injury and has been ruled out for the game by coach Mark Parsons. For the visitors, five-time World Player of the Year Marta is likely to be missing the game as she awaits her P-1 visa.
But aside from these two players, there are plenty of playmakers that will be on the pitch for both sides. Thorns and USWNT midfielder Lindsey Horan buried a dagger in the hearts of Pride fans a year ago as she scored a late winner in the season opener to lift the Thorns over the Pride 2 - 1. Additionally, the squad features Allie Long and Meghan Klingenberg from the USWNT, Nadia Nadim from the Danish National Team, Haley Raso from the Australian National Team, and Dagny Brynjarsdottir from the Icelandic National Team. Portland had little turnover in the offseason compared to the previous two offseasons, to the players feel like they are poised to take their Supporters Shield title into 2017 without having to do as much rebuilding as in previous seasons.
For the Pride, there was quite a bit of turnover in the off-season, but the changes have appeared to yield strong results. New addition Chioma Ubogagu led the scoring in pre-season action, serving notice that she was going to give last year's Golden Boot winner Kristen Edmonds a run for her money. And that was before the Pride signed Marta just a week ago. And the defense was strengthened in the offseason by the acquisition of USWNT standout Ali Krieger, who will anchor the center of the back line in support of Ashlyn Harris in goal. Alex Morgan is still more than a month away from joining the Pride as she finishes her season with Lyonnais Olympique in the French league, but Edmonds and Jasmyne Spencer both proved they are talented goal scorers last season and should return ready to light up the scoreboard again in 2017. Two more returning players who have made fans smile are Christina Burkenroad and Dani Weatherholt. Weatherholt came into her rookie season of 2016 having a great deal of soccer intelligence and quickly earning the trust of her coaches as someone who could fill a variety of roles. This year in pre-season, she returned to impress her peers by setting a new team mark in fitness drills, showing that she had used the offseason to become an even more valuable player. And Christina Burkenroad, a forward with great length and vision, has returned with a new burst of speed and a bit more stamina than she had in her rookie season.
The match will prove a tough one. Portland is a strong side with great players, and on paper they are poised to start the year in mid-season form. The Pride have added some new pieces, and they should improve on last year's sub-par record. However, beating the Thorns in front of their very savvy and passionate fan base is always going to be an ambitious goal. I think the Pride improve on last season's opening match by getting a draw at Portland, 1 - 1. If Marta is somehow able to get her paperwork in time to make the match, I would predict a victory, but getting a result against Portland on the road is almost as good as getting a win against most other league opponents.
What about you? What is your prediction for the Pride's first match of 2017? Do you think the team will bring back a result? Do you feel confident of getting a win? Let me know in the comments below!