A preseason of friendly victories, international call-ups and player discoveries has finally reached its conclusion. The only barrier standing between the Orlando Pride and their inaugural season-opening opposition, the Portland Thorns, is one day’s time. As a city known for its soccer fandom and hostile, home-crowd environments, Portland will not be an easy first-match task.
But Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris welcomes the opportunity to showcase what the new squad can do.
“They’re going to be hard to compete with, but you know what, we’re ready to rise to the challenge,” Harris said. “We got a great team, and we got a great supporting staff. I’m not stressed or worried.”
Many members of the new National Women’s Soccer League expansion team are no strangers to the Portland women’s side.
In fact, five members of the Pride’s inaugural roster have previously played for the Thorns, four of which played on the squad last season. Midfielders Kaylyn Kyle and Lianne Sanderson, defender Steph Catley and forward Alex Morgan all played for the Thorns last season, while midfielder Becky Edwards played for the Thorns in 2013.
“I’m really excited to go back to Portland,” Morgan said. “I lived there for three years, so, for me, it’s just going back to the stadium, and, obviously, instead of hearing chants for my name, I’m going to hear a lot of boos with my name involved in them… I’m just going to put my head down, and hopefully get a win out in Portland.”
For the new team, a significant topic has been chemistry-building and how the team has come together in the short amount of time they’ve been together relative to the established teams. Catley said the mood of the team heading into the season-opener has been incredible, though.
“It’s always a huge challenge for any team coming into a competition where you have no depth to sort of peak from,” Catley said. “There are no girls that have played here before. So, for the girls to come together the way they have — we’ve had people in and out from international teams and stuff like that — it’s been amazing, and I’m really proud of how far we’ve come as a team in such a short amount of time.”
Said Pride head coach Tom Sermanni about the team’s chemistry: “It’s a bit of an unknown factor because we’ve played some college teams, we’ve played some other games, and the team looks reasonably cohesive, but this is a real test on Sunday. You never quite know where you’re at until you go in there, particularly with a new group. Chemistry-wise and cohesion-wise, the players have been fantastic during this preseason. They’ve meshed really well, they’ve worked exceptionally hard in training.”
Sermanni said his biggest challenge this preseason was just getting to know where players play, what their strengths are, and what they bring to the team.
“The biggest challenge for me is finding out … things about the players that I don’t know… And that’s been a challenge for some time. A good one,” he said.
The Pride open their inaugural season at 10 p.m. EST in Portland. Fans can watch the match via YouTube.
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