All the players who were away on International Duty are back in Orlando. Matildas Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond were on the bench last Sunday for the Pride's first win of the season after their national team qualified for the Women's World Cup by finishing second in the AFC Women's Asian Cup. Both players played in all five matches for Australia, and both of them contributed to the team's success. Kennedy scored two goals and had two assists, while van Egmond scored a goal as well.
And the Brazilians return after winning the Copa América Femenina tournament Monica scored four goals including two goals in the final match, and Marta added six assists during the tournament. With the championship, the Brazilian side also qualified for the Women's World Cup. The Brazilians returned to Orlando midweek, so it's unclear if any of them will start and how many will be on the bench for tonight's match. At the same time, this team seems to be composed of players with nearly superhuman endurance, so I wouldn't be surprised to see them in the starting XI (that's foreshadowing, folks).
The Cloud Behind the Silver Lining
Unfortunately, the return of the Aussies and Brazilians means that the Pride has had to terminate the contracts of the National Team Replacement players. This means that Bridget Callahan, Abby Elinsky, and Nadia Gomes have all been released from their contracts. Christine Creighton is recovering from an injury, and she will remain under contract until she recovers. Elinsky and Callahan both had an opportunity to play a few minutes during the time the five starters were away. Unfortunately, Gomes, who was the Pride's only draft pick this season, did not get a chance to see the pitch, and it's unclear if she will remain with the team to train in case other opportunities arise, or if she will get signed by another NWSL or international team.
Players To Watch - Seattle Reign
- Jasmyne Spencer - This will be the first time Orlando Pride fans will have a chance to see Spencer play in Orlando City Stadium in a uniform that is not purple. Spencer was traded to the Reign because the changes in the team meant she wasn't getting the starting minutes that she wants and deserves, and had been relegated to the role of "super sub" that was brought off the bench when the Pride needed a spark.
- Jodie Taylor - Taylor also has a goal to start the season and three shots on target to begin the season.
- Jessica Fishlock - While Fishlock hasn't yet scored, she is among the most active players on the ball for the Reign. She is second in shots behind the injured Megan Rapinoe, with seven shots on the season so far. The Pride will need to be cognizant of her wherever she goes on the pitch.
Players to Watch - Orlando Pride
- Marta - This is not the totally obvious plug for the greatest player of all time in the women's game. This is more a reminder for the younger players on the Pride who have been having trouble building an attack in the last few matches. Marta seems to raise the level of play of everyone around her, and I'm hoping that her return will have a positive and lasting impact on the way the younger players move the ball. Our winning streak last season was built on controlled possession and short, crisp, sharp, passes to move the ball methodically up the pitch. While the Brazilians and Aussies were out, the Pride continually tried sending long, speculative passes forward that landed in the middle of a cluster of opposing jerseys as many times as they found their target.
- Emily van Egmond - I'm excited to see the Aussie play for the Pride. Her height and skill will definitely be helpful for a defense that has struggled to stop opposing attackers in the first few matches.
- Lotta Okvist - I'm going to keep putting the Swede on my "players to watch" list until we get to see her play. I'm not expecting her to start, but I think she could bring a nice spark off the bench as a second-half sub.
I'm expecting both the Aussies to be in the starting lineup today as well as Marta. I think Chioma Ubogagu and Christine Nairn have earned places in the Starting XI by being involved in goals two matches in a row. I'm really not terribly confident in this lineup projection for the day outside of those players, and it will be interesting to see how Coach Tom Sermanni decides to deploy his team tonight.
With Rapinoe (hamstring) out for the Reign and the Pride back to full strength, I'm expecting this to look like a match from the second half of last season. The Pride managed to finally put a win and clean sheet together last week, and I think they may repeat that defensive effort again tonight, but with a significantly improved offensive output. I predict a 3 - 0 victory for the Pride. That may be a bold prediction, and I hope the players are up to it.
What are your predictions for the match? Do you agree with my Starting XI prediction or are there different players you expect to see on the pitch tonight? Let me know in the comments below!