Pride fans have had an anxious week, starting with seeing defending NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year Ashlyn Harris go out of the match during the first half with an injury. Then the news got worse on Tuesday afternoon when it was revealed Harris would miss 8 weeks with a Quad injury. It was a surprise to see Harris get hurt because she is such a picture of fitness and strength; however, when I saw her injury come on a non-contact play I was not terribly surprised to see it be a significant one. For one reason or another, it almost always seems that injuries an athlete suffers without hitting anything can keep them out of competition for a long time.
Fortunately, Harris has two quality backups in Caroline Stanley and Aubrey Bledsoe, who was recently sidelined herself for precautions around a suspected concussion. Stanley finished the game with Seattle last week and the team brought home a valuable road point after a 1 - 1 draw against the Reign.
This week's match will be the first of the season between Sky Blue and the Pride. The Pride appear to have shaken off the dodgy start to their season, having scored in five straight matches and getting results in four of the six matches they have played so far. After falling all the way to the bottom of the table, they are slowly ratcheting back up, now in 8th place, but they still need to get a little more consistency in finishing to be able to put multiple goals on the scoreboard every match.
Meanwhile, host team Sky Blue FC are sitting third on the table after losing 2 - 0 on the road against the North Carolina Courage in their most recent match. They will be glad to be playing at home where they are 2 - 0 - 0 on the season.
Players to Watch
For Sky Blue FC, Sarah Killion leads NWSL with 5 goals on the season, so the Pride's defense and goalkeeper will be tested. If there's a weakness to the hosts, it appears to be in their defense. I say that because Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan leads NWSL with 30 saves, but the team has given up 10 goals on the season, three more than the Pride. When the league leader in saves is also giving up a lot of goals, it means that they are playing behind a defense that is not slowing down the attack of opposing players.
For the Pride, all eyes will be on the goalkeeper. Media speculation is that Caroline Stanley will play in goal for Orlando, and she will have the benefit of a more stable defensive line in front of her that has shown marked improvement from the first few matches in terms of making it harder for opponents to get uncontested shots on goal against the team. Coach Tom Sermanni continues to tinker with the sharp end of the formation, trying to find the perfect alchemy to turn chances into goals, but the formula is proving elusive to perfect. I was a little surprised last week to see a lineup change after the group that managed a 3 - 1 win against the North Carolina Courage. Hopefully we will see the coach go back to that lineup and try it, with the exception of the necessary change in goal.
The injury to a player like Ashlyn Harris can have two divergent impacts on a team. It can either make the team feel a sense of despair and they can collapse into themselves, or it can strengthen their resolve to play even harder and prove that they can find success without their leader. I've seen lots of evidence to suggest that this year's Orlando Pride is a gritty and determined team, and I think the injury to Harris will make them play even harder. I think this will lead to a positive result on the road, and the Pride will bring home a result with a 1 - 1 draw on the road.
What are your thoughts on the game? Do you believe the Orlando Pride will bring back a result on the road? Or do you think that Sky Blue will be able to remain perfect at home? Let me know in the comments below!