Together for the first time, most of the Orlando Pride squad has now finally had the opportunity to practice together this week in Sanford. Although some of the international players have not yet made it to camp, the addition of Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris to the training fields in Sanford this week gave us the first glance of what we can expect to see this season.
Although a lot of the Pride squad is young, something that forward Alex Morgan commented on at training Thursday, the match-up against the EFSC women's team should prove to be a great opportunity for Head Coach Tom Sermanni to give the younger squad members a healthy run-out.
"Most of the players are probably out of college and only had a year or two in this league," Alex Morgan said at training this week. "Other than us [the international players] the players are younger and are looking to us for a little bit of direction and I need to continue to be a professional at all times and that's how i want to carry myself in this environment, so I'm fine with the younger players looking to me a little bit in their first years in NWSL."
The EFSC women, for their own part, have a very young squad with some impressive stats. Forward Khadija Shaw from Jamaica scored 11 goals in 11 starts for the Titans as a freshman. Starting Sophomore defender Arnela Cordic of Jacksonville has started 15 of 16 games, has nine shots and five assists. Clearly an aggressive player, this level of determination will be an interesting challenge to the Pride's young cubs. The Titans have an impressive 17-1 record this season, beating the College of Lake County back in October, 18-0.
As with most friendlies, expect to see a total squad swap at halftime for the Pride. The most interesting thing to look out for will be the squad formation that Sermanni is testing. Sermanni has previously indicated a preference for a 4-4-2, however, there is a possibility that he may attempt a 4-3-3, with potential combinations of Alex Morgan, Jasmyne Spencer, Sarah Hagen or Jamia Fields up front. Scoring for the Pride will be important in this match and a test of the team's initial synergy, especially against EFSC goalkeeper Estefanny Barreras, who has Mexican national team experience and an impressive school record of 59 saves and four shutouts in 18 games.
Expect to see Toni Pressley and Maddy Evans on the back line with 2016 NWSL draftee Sam Witteman and trialist Jackie Simpson pushing for playing time. In the press conference Tuesday, Pressley spoke about her goals to be aggressive and physical on the field to make an impact this season. Meanwhile, the Pride are looking to veterans Lianne Sanderson and Kaylyn Kyle to help fill out the midfield talent pool, which is primarily draftees and trialists.
This is also an excellent opportunity for the veteran players in helping to bring the team together, as Kyle said at practice on Wednesday, she has her sights set on "setting an example and taking my leadership and giving it to players who have never stepped on a club stage before and just proving me as a role model." Seeing how this dynamic squad develops its shape throughout preseason will be an interesting story line for the Pride's preseason, which continues with a closed-door match on March 22 against the University of Florida.
Stayed tuned to The Mane Land for live coverage and post-game recaps of Saturday's performances.