Another NWSL season is almost upon us, and it seems like it’s going to be a pretty good year for the Orlando Pride. The Orlando Pride are entering their third season in the NWSL, and are starting the season with arguably their strongest roster yet. They finished third place last season, and went out in the first round of the playoffs after losing 4-1 to the Portland Thorns on the road. This season, they will look to improve the narrative. On the list of objectives will be to reduce the number of penalties they give up, keep the pressure on for a full 90 minutes, and of course, finally defeat the Portland Thorns.
Head Coach: Tom Sermanni
2017 record: 11-6-7, third place in the league
Projected Starting XI: For this preview, I did two projections because the Pride will be missing a few players on opening day to international duty. I formatted it as a 4-3-3, which was the favored formation last season. Sermanni could also switch to a 4-4-2, or get more experimental with the lineups, but this seemed like a safe place to start. My opening day prediction is:
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris
Defenders: Ali Krieger, Monica, Shelina Zadorsky, Carson Pickett
Midfielders: Christine Nairn, Marta, Dani Weatherholt
Forwards: Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Rachel Hill
There are only a few changes I would make for a starting XI with a full and healthy roster. Marta can play up top or in the midfield, but considering Sermanni’s options, I think that Sermanni moves Marta up top in place of Rachel Hill and puts Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond in the midfield. I also think he might move the defense around a bit, placing Poliana in as a fullback and moving Krieger back to the central defense. So, my full and healthy starting XI prediction is:
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris
Defenders: Poliana, Ali Krieger, Shelina Zadorsky, Carson Pickett
Midfielders: Alanna Kennedy, Christine Nairn, Emily van Egmond
Forwards: Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Marta
Player you should know: Marta is a player that lives up to her hype. After joining the Pride last season, she finished the year as one of the top players in the league—with 13 goals, she was the second-highest scorer, behind Sam Kerr, and also notched six assists—and is always a force to be reckoned with on the pitch. She can easily be the difference maker.
Under the Radar: 24-year-old Australian international Emily Van Egmond is a strong acquisition for the Pride this offseason. She played at VfL Wolfsburg until October 2017 and then played with the Newcastle Jets in the W-League. This will be her second stint in the NWSL, having played with the Chicago Red Stars in 2014 and the Seattle Reign in 2013. Look for her to have a big impact in midfield.
Biggest offseason acquisition: The Pride had a ferocious attack last season, but their defense struggled at times. The acquisition of Canadian defender Shelina Zadorsky from the Washington Spirit is a major boost to the backline, and adds another international name to the Pride roster. Zadorsky also has experience playing with Krieger, which will help create better chemistry and stability on the defense.
Biggest rival: The Pride’s biggest rival is the Portland Thorns. Although it’s a one-way rivalry, this seems like one of the biggest hurdles for the Pride. They opened their inaugural NWSL season in Portland and lost. They made it to the playoffs in their second season, traveled to Portland, and lost. The Pride have never defeated the Thorns, and that’s definitely a task on the mind of Tom Sermanni and some of the veteran Pride players.
Most memorable moment from 2017: The home match against Sky Blue in August, where the Pride won 5-0. The Pride dominated the match, with two goals from Alex Morgan, two goals from Marta, and Dani Weatherholt’s first career goal. It was also Maddy Evans’s last appearance of her career, and she nearly put in a sixth for the Pride before she came off.
Why they’re the team to watch in 2018: The Pride already had a stacked roster last season, and they’ve only improved during the offseason. With the acquisition of big-name talent like Sydney Leroux, Christine Nairn, and Shelina Zadorsky, among others, the Pride have an opportunity to step up in a big way. They are also coming off a playoff season. They will seek to build on that momentum.
Predicted finish: With a lot of talent in the league this season, it’s difficult to predict exactly where the chips will fall. I predict that the Pride will be on the playoff border, potentially sliding into the third or fourth place slot. They will hang towards the top half of the table, but I don’t think they’re quite the best of the best.
Success depends on: They have an unbelievable offense. Their key to winning is the defense. They brought in a lot of talent over the offseason, but they have to make sure those players have chemistry and that they can work out one of the Pride’s biggest issues: giving up penalties.
Fun prediction: The Pride will finally beat the Portland Thorns.