For the first time in weeks, Pride head coach Marc Skinner worked with an almost-complete roster at training on Wednesday morning.
After eight players received call-ups to the World Cup, the team has pushed forward without its big-name stars throughout the month of June. With the return of Canadian Shelina Zadorsky and Australians Emily Van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy — along with Brazilians Marta and Camila last week — the challenge for Skinner now is to re-introduce players into a team that just grew accustomed to playing without them.
“There are little nuances that change between players … so that’s only going to be ironed out through training,” Skinner said. “Their characters are excellent and they’re playing brilliant so hopefully it won’t take too long to integrate back in.”
Skinner’s team already faced one transition period in late May, which he strategized for from the start of the season. During preseason friendlies, Skinner started a “World Cup” lineup, the key unit of players left behind as stars such as Alex Morgan and Marta shipped off to France for the tournament.
In the absence of its international starters, Skinner asked the rest of his team to step up. Players such as goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer — who has notched 39 saves in eight games so far this season — have delivered.
“I think they held it down and worked on their connection,” said defender Zadorsky, who started three World Cup matches for Canada. “We’re trying to play out of the back, so I think we got caught on that sometimes as you do in the beginning. But I think there’s been good improvements and we’re scoring goals as a team now, so now we’ve just got to get clean sheets.”
Besides U.S. women’s national-team players Morgan, Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger preparing for the World Cup final Sunday, Zadorsky and Kennedy were two of the final arrivals from France for the Pride this week. Kennedy started all four games of the Matildas’ run in the World Cup. The team suffered a hard-fought exit from the tournament, falling in penalty kicks to Norway in the Round of 16, a game Kennedy exited early due to an extra time red card.
Led by star striker Sam Kerr, the Australians entered the World Cup as a scrappy favorite to reach the semifinals. Their early exit left Kennedy hungry to play, and after being accustomed to cross-continental flights from NWSL play to international play, she said that she’s already prepared to play a full match on Saturday.
“I just want to get back out on the field and win a game and sort of prove myself,” Kennedy said. “Regardless of if we’re playing for club or country, [we] just want to get back out there and prove that we are winners. Everywhere I go, I want to win.”
Happy to see his players returning to the club, Skinner also emphasized the importance of capitalizing on the learning experience of a high-level international tournament. He took each of the international players to coffee upon their return, using the time to share feedback from their World Cup matches that could be translated into the Pride’s strategy.
“I think your best experience is game experience,” Zadorsky said. “Being in those high pressure environments, playing against top strikers — for myself as a defender, you get tested all the time, so hopefully we can bring those new skills back here.”
Although Skinner noted that he is not rushing the international players back into play, all of them will be available for play in Saturday’s match against Washington. Kennedy and Zadorsky made it clear that there’s only one thing they wanted after returning from the World Cup — to play more soccer.
“As soon as I was on the flight back here, I just wanted to dive straight back into it,” Kennedy said. “Saturday couldn’t come any quicker.”
Forward Kristen Edmonds trained alongside her teammates on Wednesday for the first time since early May, when she suffered a knee injury in practice. Although Edmonds worked for the full practice, she was kept on a 12-minute rotational schedule to ease her back into full mobility. The forward is not expected to return this week, and Skinner said “there’s still a long way to go” before Edmonds can be expected to play.