SANFORD, Fla. — With only two days to prepare, the Orlando Pride will look to repeat their top performance of the season against the Chicago Red Stars on Wednesday.
The Pride took home a 2-1 win when they faced the Red Stars on the road three weeks ago, although Orlando was aided by an injury to Sam Kerr, Chicago’s leading goal scorer. Kerr, one of the most dangerous attacking threats in the National Women’s Soccer League, will be back in action this week.
During this week’s rematch, Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner said the team is looking to maintain the same defensive shape while also pressuring more on the attack.
Kickoff for the Pride (4-13-2, 14 points) versus Red Stars (10-8-2, 32 points) match is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at Exploria Stadium, and the match will air on ESPNews.
The key emphasis for the Pride will be providing energy from the opening whistle. Orlando ceded three goals in the opening 20 minutes of its match against Reign FC late Saturday night, falling behind 3-0 before the game was delayed due to lightning. After the weather break, the Pride regained some control of the game, adding a goal off a penalty kick by Camila during a 3-1 loss. The slow start left the Pride in a hole too deep to overcome, a common problem for Orlando throughout the season.
“Against Chicago, we have to start the game very strong,” Camila said. “The biggest takeaway … was that we suffered three goals in 20 minutes. After that, Marc and the staff talked to us, and we learned from our mistakes. We have to start the game the same way that we ended the game against them.”
Pride captain Ashlyn Harris said the lack of training time ahead of the match at Reign FC was a key factor in the team’s slow start in Tacoma, Wash. Harris, Ali Krieger and Claire Emslie were called up to their national teams. On top of that, due to the threat of Hurricane Dorian, many Pride players left the state when the team canceled training for the week leading to the trip.
With this logistical challenge, the team’s first training together for more than a week took place in Tacoma the day before the team’s game against the Reign. Now, with several training sessions back together, Harris said the Pride feel more comfortable together.
“I just think we weren’t in a mindset of being in a position to play quality football, and you could see that when we played,” Harris said. “We’ll move into this game with a more confident mindset where we want to be on the ball. Hopefully we come out against Chicago and we go out there and roll our sleeves up and we fight for something even if we have no hopes of being in the playoffs. In respect to our team, we need to put some points on the table.”
During the past few weeks, the Pride have been playing with a somewhat depleted roster. Attacking threats Alex Morgan and Marta have been sidelined with injuries, Krieger was away from the team due to a family emergency, and Emslie and Harris were out for international duty.
Harris was the first to return to the lineup, and the team will get another boost this week, with Krieger and Emslie rejoining the squad. Marta also trained with the Pride on Monday at what Skinner called 70% strength, but will remain out against Chicago. Skinner said there’s a chance she could make an appearance Saturday on the road against the North Carolina Courage.
Morgan continues to be the main uncertainty for Orlando, training to the side Tuesday while awaiting knee scans. The knee injury has nagged the striker since the World Cup. Although Skinner said that there doesn’t appear to be structural damage in Morgan’s knee requiring surgery, she has continued to feel pain during attempts to train and play throughout the past few weeks.
With several top players still questionable, Skinner continues to look to the final games of the season as an opportunity to test his roster.
“There’s still five opportunities for players to show their qualities,” Skinner said. “That’s what I’m asking for at this point in the season. There needs to be consistency, just so we can begin to develop the next stand of what we’re doing.”