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Orlando Pride Must Win Without International Stars in 2016

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Alex Morgan's injury on Wednesday was a reminder of just how much of the NWSL schedule the Orlando Pride star will miss next season to play for the USWNT. The scary part? She's not alone.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Wednesday night's USWNT game in New Orleans was all about Abby Wambach; the legendary striker played her final game on the international stage as the United States fell to China 1-0. While it was a disappointing result, the final score was overshadowed by Wambach's farewell.

Unless you live in Central Florida, the injury that Alex Morgan suffered just before halftime was little more than a footnote to an emotional night at the Superdome. The striker left the match, just before halftime, with what appeared to a minor hamstring pull, but it was enough to cause some unease among Orlando Pride fans.

Unfortunately, it's something that supporters of any NWSL club will have to get used to.

As Orlando City fans discovered this season, international duty can be unkind to expansion clubs. The Lions lost Kaká, Brek Shea, Cyle Larin and Darwin Cerén to their respective national teams for weeks at time during the 2015 season. This is something that all MLS clubs must deal with, but it was particularly tough for an Orlando City squad already plagued by injuries.

Things got even worse when Kaká picked up a knock during a late-season stint with the Brazil, forcing him to miss a crucial league match as the Lions chased a playoff spot.

Former Orlando GM Paul McDonough released one of the season's more strongly-worded press releasess after his star's injury was made public:

"We are incredibly disappointed with this recent development for Kaká and for our fans," said Orlando City General Manager Paul McDonough. "He has played 25 games for us so far this season, over 2,100 minutes, without any major issues or concerns. To the contrary, he undergoes one training session and match with the Brazilian National Team and he is injured.

For the Pride, who have yet to play a game, Morgan's injury is a reminder of just how tough international call-ups can be on player health and a club's overall depth.

But in the still-growing NWSL, international duty is even more of a commitment.

Frankly, it has a lot to do with money. Alex Morgan has joined Kaká as the face of professional soccer in Orlando, but will be payed approximately $6.7 million less than her MLS counterpart. That has nothing to do with Morgan, but rather the pay gap between male and female athletes.

Despite her smaller wages (or perhaps because of them), Morgan has become one of the most visible female athletes in America. She appeared in ads for Coca-Cola, GNC, Nike, Bank of America, Ubisoft and Cocoa Puffs. Just this week, she was on the cover of SELF magazine.

It's these endorsements that have allowed Morgan to amass a net worth estimated at around $3 million. But all those marketing opportunities have nothing to do with her NWSL performance. Morgan's entire marketability is based on what she does when she's representing the United States.

The same is true for most women's soccer players who are regulars on their international squads.

Orlando Pride currently have six such players, which could prove to be a mixed blessing during an Olympic year. Morgan and goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris will almost certainly be in Rio next summer, along with Monica Hickmann Alves (Brazil) Steph Catley (Australia) and midfielder Kaylyn Kyle (Canada).

Beyond the Olympics themselves, these players will have qualifying matches to play and national team camps to attend. They're going to be focused on a lot more than just helping the Pride establish themselves in the NWSL, which isn't good news for an expansion club.

Perhaps midfielder Lauren Holiday summed up the NWSL-USWNT relationship best in an interview with Vice Sports right after she announced her retirement from soccer at 27:

"Right now, we live in a world where our national team is our club team," Holiday said. "We spend 260 days a year with the national team. Then we come back to our club teams and we play when we can. I think that lifestyle is almost impossible. Amy, I live with her, she does a phenomenal job. Christie, she's Superwoman, you watch her with her kids. But it is taxing--€”taxing emotionally, taxing mentally, taxing physically--€”and until we get to the point where our club team can provide an environment that allows us to grow the game even more, that's when it will be possible to start a family and balance that."

This isn't necessarily an indictment of the NWSL, but more of a statement on where the fledgling league is when compared to the international game.

Orlando Pride must learn to handle these international call-ups and build a roster of talented players that don't have national team commitments. It's the only way the club will be able to compete next season.

But they must also accept that watching your star player injure herself during an international friendly is going to be a fact of life.