With under a month until the National Women's Soccer League holds its annual college draft on Jan. 16 in Philadelphia, the Orlando Pride already has most of its roster filled. The team has announced 16 players for the 20 maximum allowable roster spots. Additionally, as Coach Tom Sermanni stated on The Mane Land Pawedcast, the team is working to bring in one more Canadian international. With so many pieces already in place, here's how the starting XI is shaping up.
Historically, Sermanni's teams play in a 4-4-2 and on top will be the tandem of Alex Morgan and Sarah Hagen. After a nondescript 2015 NWSL season hampered by injury, Morgan will look to lead the team on the pitch, as well as be the face of the Pride for the inaugural season. Look for her to surpass her weak one-goal, two-assist effort, but Morgan will certainly miss most of the month of August with her time being spent in Rio with the USWNT for the Olympics.
Working on top with Morgan, Hagen brings her winning attitude from Kansas City, where she helped the team win back-to-back NWSL Cups. Don't be surprised if Jasmyne Spencer pushes Hagen for the starting role. Last year, Hagen was fighting for playing time behind USWNT players Amy Rodriguez and Lauren Holiday, so she only managed four goals and two assists in 17 appearances.
From a depth perspective, the Pride will be good at the forward position. On the bench, speedy Spencer and Jamia Fields can handle relief duties. Both are young, talented players who will have opportunities during the season to see the pitch. Bottom line, the Pride will be okay when Morgan goes to represent the U.S.
Currently, the midfield is an area of concern for the Pride due to lack of depth. Lianne Sanderson will act as the center attacking midfielder for the squad. Sanderson will provide a veteran presence and leadership. As an added plus, she will not miss any time due to the Olympics. Ideally, the Pride will have some team chemistry prior to the first match because Morgan, Sanderson and Kaylyn Kyle were all teammates last season in Portland.
Kyle's role in the lineup will be as the holding midfielder. She will be projected to miss time with the Olympics as part of the Canadian team if they can qualify for Rio. Right now, the team doesn't have a suitable replacement since the Pride only has four midfielders on the roster, but Sermanni could move one of the wide midfielders to a defensive spot. Playing wide will be Becky Edwards and Maddy Evans.
If given chances, both Edwards and Evans will get forward. Last season saw Edwards score twice and assist on three goals while Evans scored twice as a part of the Breakers. Both can also handle fullback responsibility if needed. The pairing works well because Edwards plays mostly on the left and Evans on the right. Look to see how the two can jell with each other and the rest of the midfield.
The deepest position on the team is defender. The back line will have a couple of international players with Canadian Steph Catley and Brazilian Mônica. Versatile defenders Cami Levin and Taryn Hemmings will be keys for the Pride defense that will see Catley and Mônica absent for Rio. When called upon, Toni Pressley will step into the center back role while Kristen Edmonds will be one of the fullbacks playing on the right side. The defenders will need to find a way to work together and directing the back line will be Ashlyn Harris.
U.S. Women's National Team goalkeeper and Satellite Beach native Ashlyn Harris will be the starting keeper for the Pride. Managing a 1.33 goals against average last season, Harris should keep the Pride in the matches she plays in, but may be called up to the USWNT for Rio. Her veteran experience should be an asset when working with a back line that's never played together. If she misses time, Aubrey Bledsoe will step in for her. Bledsoe got valuable experience this offseason while on loan to Danish club Fortuna Hjørring, where she played during the club's run in the UEFA Women's Champions League.
Overall, there is plenty to be excited for as an Orlando Pride supporter. If the team can address its remaining needs, Coach Sermanni should be able to have a successful first season in the NWSL. Stay up to date with all things Orlando Pride related, as the Mane Land will provide all the team coverage.