SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris wants to make sure the team is standing on a solid foundation before she leaves for the Women’s World Cup in France.
The Pride’s American international stars will be released to their national teams after Saturday’s home match against the Utah Royals, which means the match is Harris’ final chance to help her club team secure points before she’s gone for months.
Orlando (0-2-1, 1 point) is winless through its first three matches. The Pride host the Utah Royals (1-0-0, 3 points) at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at Orlando City Stadium.
“Originally, we weren’t even supposed to play in this game,” Harris said. “The league was only going to let us play in three games, so we’re very happy now that we’re able to play. Just to leave on a good note. We need points. We can’t drop points at home. So I’m excited to play this weekend against a good team and just see the improvements and the growth of the squad.”
While the national team players are gone, there’s an expectation for the players still with the squad to perform. The Pride will be without both Harris and Alex Morgan — and possibly veteran right back Ali Krieger — during the lead-up to the World Cup, during the competition itself, and likely for a while after the competition ends.
New coach Marc Skinner said the team will miss the character and personality of the U.S. women’s national team players, as well as their abilities on the pitch.
“Even when our American internationals aren’t here, I think our players have to step up,” Skinner said. “I think that’s going to be the challenge. It’s not about, ‘Oh wow, we’ve only these players for this amount of games.’ It’s, look, as soon as they’re not here anymore, then we’ve got to do without them. We’ve got to adapt. We’ve got to adjust.”
Only the American players will be released after Saturday’s match. Other national team players will head to camps for their respective countries at later dates.
“This is the thing we’ve been saying as a team,” Harris said. “When we go away, we don’t want to come back to a nightmare. Like, that’s probably the worst-case scenario: to come back and be clawing from the bottom of the table. We’re pushing our roster as hard as we can right now. Even the players who didn’t travel with us, they’re out here every day grinding away because this year is going to take everyone.
“We need to be in a good position that when we do leave, that we have people willing to step up and get us results, so when we come back we’re ready compete for a playoff position and we’re not clawing out of a bad hole we can’t dig our way out of.”
Australian centerback Alanna Kennedy, who eventually will join her own national team, said having the American players is a boost for the Pride.
“Obviously, we have the depth when they’re gone, but they’re irreplaceable players,” Kennedy said. “So it’s important for us to get some momentum moving into the games that we’ll have without them. Hopefully we can get a good crowd and we can get a win for them.”
Harris said the team is confident heading into Saturday’s match.
“We feel very prepared and we know what has to be done and it’s just a matter of executing and performing and everyone performing and doing their part so we collectively can be successful,” she said.
Orlando Pride vs. Utah Royals, 7:30
Where: Orlando City Stadium
Watch: Live stream on Yahoo! Sports
The Buzz: The Pride (0-2-1, 1 point) return to Orlando City Stadium to host the Utah Royals (1-0-0, 3 points) after a brutal three-game stretch to open the season. … Orlando earned its first point of the season last week with a 1-1 draw with Reign FC. … Utah has only played one match so far this season — a 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit. … Defender Toni Pressley (hamstring) is out for the Pride. … Brittany Ratcliffe (left knee), Sydney Miramontez (right foot), Becca Moros (left knee), Diana Matheson (right foot), Maddie Nolf (left hip), Taylor Lytle (left foot) are all out for the Royals. … The Pride went 1-0-2 (5 points) against the Royals last season.