SANFORD, Fla. — The Orlando Pride will enter their final match of the season on Saturday focused on creating a positive final memory at the end of a challenging season.
Facing off against Reign FC, the night will hold special meaning as the club celebrates its inaugural Breast Cancer Awareness match. The evening will feature special promotions designed to benefit Libby’s Legacy, a local nonprofit that provides support for breast cancer patients.
The club will donate $5 of every match ticket purchased to the foundation. Pink limited edition T-shirts and scarves will also be available for purchase to benefit the foundation, and the team will wear pink warm-up tops that will be auctioned off after the match. All funds raised throughout the match will be added to the total from a league-wide auction that closed on Thursday, which already raised more than $30,000 for the cause.
Every aspect of the breast cancer awareness effort has centered around defender Toni Pressley, who was diagnosed with a breast cancer in July. Pressley selected Libby’s Legacy and helped to organize the auction and other fundraising efforts. On Saturday, she also is expected to play her first match since undergoing a double mastectomy in August.
“I’m just very grateful that they’ve rallied behind me and that cause,” Pressley said. “I’m just trying to enjoy the whole day Saturday and really enjoy the moment and take it in. … I think we’re stronger together and I think that will show.”
The last time the two teams met, Reign FC took an early lead, delivering three goals in the opening 16 minutes of play before the game was paused for a storm. Once the game was continued, however, the Pride rallied back, tallying a goal off a penalty kick by Camila to finish 3-1. But they were never able to overcome the shaky start that led to an early deficit.
Ceding early goals has been a consistent pattern for the Pride, which allowed a goal in the opening five minutes of last week’s 3-0 loss to the Washington Spirit. For Skinner, the key Saturday will be weathering the early minutes of the game.
Although the Pride have long been eliminated from playoff contention, it could impact Reign FC’s playoff seed.
“I think [the players] know there’s a lot on the line and I think they’ve known for a while,” Skinner said. “I’m expecting an excellent team [in the Reign] who will try to hit us hard early. If they get the points on Saturday and Portland don’t, they go above Portland in the table. That’s a really important thing for them, so they’re going to try to hit us hard.”
In the waning weeks of the season, Skinner has shifted his focus, using each match as an opportunity to assess players’ ability to stay on with the team next season. The coach expects heavy roster turnover in the offseason, projecting anywhere from 20 to 40% of his team will depart Orlando at the end of the season.
For the team, as well, the final home game offers an opportunity to provide a long-awaited win at Exploria Stadium. The Pride haven’t won a game in Orlando in more than a month, their last home victory coming at the end of July. Skinner and his players emphasized the duty to create a positive experience for fans before the end of the season.
But despite any pressure to produce a final victory, captain Ashlyn Harris said the whole day’s focus will remain on Pressley.
“This weekend is a big game for us because we need something to build for in the future, but more importantly, this game is about Toni,” Harris said. “It’s about the sacrifices she’s made to get back this quickly. It’s about a family coming together as one and lifting up people. I’m really excited to play for her this weekend.”