2021 NWSL Challenge Cup Preview: Orlando Pride set to participate after last season’s withdraw

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Photo: Orlando Pride

The second edition of the NWSL Challenge Cup kicks off this Friday in Houston, with the opening match set between the Houston Dash and Chicago Red Stars (8:30 pm, CBS Sports Network).

The 21-game tournament will conclude on May 8 with a championship match featuring the top teams from each of the two five-team divisions, East and West. The regular season will follow one week later on May 15.

This article is meant to serve a primer for the tournament, who’s involved, what to expect, how to watch, and more.

Who’s involved?

All ten NWSL clubs will be participating this year, including the Orlando Pride, which were forced to withdraw last summer when a crop of positive COVID-19 tests popped up within the club prior to the tournament, and Racing Louisville, which is making its league debut as an expansion franchise this season.

The ten teams are split into two divisions, East and West. The Eastern Division is made up of Louisville, Orlando, Washington Spirit, North Carolina Courage, and NJ/NY Gotham FC. The Western Division will feature Houston, Chicago, Portland Thorns, OL Reign, and FC Kansas City.

Challenge Cup format

Each team will play four matches in home markets, with the top team from each division meeting for the final on May 8. The host city for the final will be announced by the league some time between now and then.

Pride schedule

The group schedule for the Pride is as follows:

  • Saturday, April 10 at Racing Louisville (at Lynn Family Stadium)
  • Wednesday, April 14 vs. NY/NJ Gotham FC (at Exploria Stadium)
  • Wednesday, April 21 vs. Washington Spirit (at Exploria Stadium)
  • Saturday, May 1 at North Carolina Courage (at Sahlen’s Stadium)

[Bookmark: 2021 Pride schedule]

Pride roster

On Monday, the Pride released an updated roster for the tournament, which includes the signing of goalkeeper Gabby English as a National Team Replacement Player.

Pride roster:

Goalkeepers (4): Gabby English (NTR), Ashlyn Harris (ALL/USA), Erin McLeod (ALL/CAN), Brittany Wilson

Defenders (8): Ally Haran, Ali Krieger (ALL/USA), Carrie Lawrence, Phoebe McClernon, Courtney Petersen, Konya Plummer (INTL/JAM), Toni Pressley, Ali Riley

Midfielders (7): Meggie Dougherty Howard, Gunny Jónsdóttir, Taylor Kornieck, Jade Moore (INTL/ENG), Erika Tymrak, Marisa Viggiano, Chelsee Washington

Forwards (5): Abi Kim, Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan (ALL/USA), Crystal Thomas, Marta Vieira da Silva

Key:

ALL: Denotes 2021 Allocated Player
INTL: Denotes International Player
NTR: National Team Replacement Player

How to watch

Four total matches will air on CBS Sports Network and every other game will stream exclusively on Paramount+ (paid subscription) in the U.S. All games that are not on CBS Sports Network will be available internationally, including in Canada, on Twitch.

The Final will air live nationally on CBS.

Two of those four CBS Sports Network matches will feature the Pride — April 14 against Gotham FC (7pm) and May 1 against North Carolina (7:30pm). The team’s other two matches will air on Paramount+, which runs for $5.99 a month. You can also score a free one-week trial of the service if signing up for the full subscription is not something you’re in the market for right now (we get it, I’m already on too many damn streaming services myself).

What to watch for

As we all know, it’s been a looooong time since the Pride last played competitive matches, if you’re not counting the Fall Series last year. As previously mentioned, the Pride weren’t able to compete in the Challenge Cup in Utah last summer so this team is hungry to prove themselves and the many doubters wrong about what they’re capable of achieving under head coach Marc Skinner.

Alex Morgan, who’s returned to the Pride following the birth of her daughter and brief loan stint at Tottenham, will not be available for selection this weekend. Morgan is currently with the U.S. women’s team in preparation for a pair of friendlies, which could see her miss the second match of this tournament.

Brazilian legend Marta also returns to the Pride after signing a new one-year contract this offseason with an option for an additional season in 2022 using Allocation Money.

Quite frankly, we’re all going to be watching how the Pride perform in this tournament. The team was winless in the Fall Series, going 0-2-2 after missing the Challenge Cup. Louisville is an unknown as a brand new team, but that in itself could lead to some surprises. North Carolina, of course, is always a preseason favorite, and Gotham — formally known as Sky Blue — and Washington aren’t push-overs either.

This tournament won’t be particularly easy for the Pride, especially if the last two seasons under Skinner are any indication of what we can expect this season.

Simply put: it’s up to the Pride to re-write the narrative around the team, and they are more than determined to do so. This should be an entertaining tournament.

Staff Predictions

Mike Gramajo: We’ll finally see what the Pride have been working with this preseason. That said, could see the Orlando losing the first game against newcomer Louisville, drawing Gotham and Washington and falling to North Carolina — though these four games could serve as a reference point once Orlando gradually shifts its focus to the regular season that follows.

Austin David: I think the Pride will draw their first two, lose vs Washington and North Carolina. They’ll get some good play on the pitch and get some good experience as they prep for the regular season.

Gavin Ewbank: I predict the Pride beat Louisville, draw Gotham, and lose to Washington and North Carolina. They obviously won’t advance to the Final. The goal should obviously be to win, but building something cohesive heading into the regular season would also be a good outcome for the team.


For more Pride coverage, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @OSJSoccer

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