Welcome to 2019
Today the Orlando Pride open the 2019 season in the midst of some uncertainty. The team has a new coach, there are new faces on the squad, and there are a large number of International matches that will happen between now and the end of the World Cup that are almost guaranteed to keep from three to nine or more players we are used to seeing in the Starting XI out of the lineup for many games.
Preseason hasn’t taught us much—the changes that new coach Marc Skinner have made are seismic. He has shared parts of his philosophy with fans and media and says that it is built around not only the great talent on our team but the special weather conditions we have in Florida so that the players are not chasing the ball up and down the pitch for 90 minutes and instead are letting the formation, the passing, and the movement both on and off the ball do a lot of the work for them. It’s ambitious—and under the best of circumstances it sounds like it could take a good team weeks or months to adopt and even longer to become proficient.
Meanwhile the Portland Thorns come in as a team that reached the NWSL title match last season and has more stability in the roster. They are going to be impacted by the World Cup and International tournaments as well, but opening weekend for the NWSL sees all the players back from call-ups with a full week of rest under their belts.
Injuries and International Duty
Per the NWSL injury report, Portland will have up to three players out: Emily Menges (Right Foot) and Bella Bixby (Right Hand) are both listed as out for the match, while Midge Purce (Right Hamstring) is questionable. For the Orlando Pride, there will be up to two players out: Toni Pressley (left hamstring strain) has been ruled out and Camila (right knee pain) is questionable. Neither team has anyone on International Duty at the moment.
I’m not even going to attempt to predict a Starting XI for the Pride just yet. There are so many new faces and we’ll have so many missing pieces throughout the season, and this new coach has a system that is so different I have no idea what to think. Of course I can tell you I’d like to see Harris in goal, Zadorsky, Van Egmond, Pickett and Krieger in the back, Weatherholt and Camila (if she’s healthy) in the midfield, and Morgan, Marta and Hill towards the pointy end of the formation. But there are so many errors on the Pride’s official roster page (some of the newly-signed players are not even listed and some of the players who have been released are still shown) that I can’t be 100% certain who is actually available to be put into the 18 today, much less in the Starting XI.
This could be very good or it could be very ugly. The only pre-season match with a posted result that the Pride had against another NWSL side was a lopsided 4-0 loss to North Carolina Courage. That was the first preseason game and it was the first time the team was able to use Coach Skinner’s tactics in anger against a live opponent. The last two preseason matches were against a college team and a women’s team from Puerto Rico that looked like it was made up of mostly high school girls. Our players are so solid, athletic, and muscular in the way that you expect professional footballers to be—and the Puerto Rico team was filled with little tiny girls that had skinny twig-like legs and twig-like arms. I wanted to rush out on the field and put bubble wrap on all of them to keep them from getting hurt when they collided with an athlete like Camila or Dani or Rachel Hill.
The Thorns are coming off a season where they reached the NWSL title game and they show every indication of being a team that can get back to the playoffs again. Last year the Pride were not particularly good at home or away, and in fact I think they had a marginally better record on the road than at home. All that leads me to have a bit of concern about the outcome of today’s match. I’m going to predict 2 - 1, and unfortunately my head tells me to pick the Thorns as the winners, even though my heart wants the Pride to come out on top.
What are your thoughts on this new year? Do you think the players can adapt to the new system quickly enough that they can pull off a win in the opening week, or do you think it will take a few matches before we see whether this system helps the team be better than they were last year? Let me know in the comments below!