The Orlando Pride will celebrate the nine players on the roster who competed in the World Cup during their match against Sky Blue FC on Saturday.
The game serves as a celebration for the return of the three Americans who won the World Cup, along with the six other Pride players who represented their countries in the World Cup — Australians Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond, Brazilians Marta and Camila, Canadian Shelina Zadorsky and Scottish national Claire Emslie.
This weekend will also be a first for Emslie, who was signed by the Pride shortly before the World Cup and only arrived in America this week after delays with the processing of her visa. The forward adds even more competition to the team’s attacking line, which already features world-class talent in U.S. striker Alex Morgan and Marta.
Since she hadn’t completed her physical yet, Emslie still wasn’t able to practice with the team on Wednesday. However, coach Marc Skinner said that she remained energetic on the sidelines along with Morgan, ready to enter play for the team as soon as possible.
“The thing is, she’s buzzing. When I see her face, I’m like, ‘I just want to unleash you,'” Skinner said. “She’ll add support. Sometimes you need to be able to freshen things, and with more players vying for the position, hopefully you’ll see the quality come up.”
Although all three Americans returned to training this week, the team remained uncertain as to how many minutes any of them would see against Sky Blue FC. Morgan sat out her first training back with the team on Wednesday, resting her knee from the wear and tear of the international tournament. Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris both returned fully to the pitch for the entirety of training, but both Morgan and Krieger also jetted cross-country for publicity appearances in Los Angeles and Minneapolis later in the week.
Morgan was officially listed as questionable for the match while Krieger and Harris were not on the NWSL injury report.
Skinner emphasized that his focus in reintegrating the players will be their individual health, and he said that wants to avoid rushing any of the World Cup athletes back into the fold too quickly. However, he said that their reintroduction to training has already changed the energy of the team in training.
The return of Krieger and Harris to the backline will add an extra layer of depth and experience to the Pride’s defense, which has ceded 11 goals in the last three games.
“It’s the composure of being in pressure situations longer at really intense levels that will do a world of good when they go into our backline,” Skinner said. “They add so much quality in their decision-making and I think that’s what we need to inject.”
Sky Blue FC offers a critical opportunity for the Pride to earn points at home. The two teams met only four weeks ago when Orlando picked up its first win of the season on the road in New Jersey. Since that game, however, Sky Blue has picked up back-to-back wins — one on the road against Chicago, and one at home against the Utah Royals.
Skinner expects that the team will bring similar tactics as in their last meeting, sitting deep in defense and attempting to take its advantages off the counter attack. American star Carli Lloyd, who returned to training with Sky Blue FC this week, is slated to miss the game due to an excused absence.
“When we played them, I was really impressed with them,” Skinner said of Sky Blue. “I just think we have to be prepared for whoever is there. We have to put on a show for our fans.”