[to the tune of “The Boys are Back in Town”]
The Pride are back in town!
Tom Sermanni, Ashlyn Harris, Laura Alleway, Kristen Edmonds, and (most of) the rest of the squad have returned to Orlando and to the training pitch this week to kick off the new NWSL preseason.
We don’t have to be the ones to tell you it’s been a pretty lengthy off-season for the Pride, who missed the playoffs after finishing ninth out of 10 teams in their first season in the league. After doing some extensive work in the off-season to retool, Sermanni gets set to steer his second season in Orlando as the team joins the boys and heads into the new downtown stadium.
“Very long,” Sermanni said of the off-season on the club’s medical day over the weekend. “Last off-season was kind of a blur, getting things organized. The start of this off-season seemed to drag on forever, and suddenly the season comes around quick in the end.
“It was a mix, to be honest, it was probably the first couple of months from the end of the season up until the time of the year was a little frustrating because we were trying to get things in place and maybe we couldn’t get anything done for a whole variety of reasons, many of which were outside of our control. But then things seemed to turn in January. I think we did very well at the draft; we managed to get a couple of deals done, we got some players in. Then all of a sudden by the end of January, we started to look a lot more solid and the team and the squad seems to have come together very well since then.”
Alex Morgan, most notably, won’t be meeting up with the team anytime in the near future after signing a loan deal with French powerhouse Olympique Lyonnais through the end of May, meaning she’ll miss the first two months of the NWSL regular season.
But her club back home in the States isn’t fazed. Sure, they know that not having one of the world’s best players is a big loss, but that doesn’t mean they’re any less confident heading into the new campaign. While Morgan will be happily welcomed back when she’s ready to return, Sermanni feels he has enough on the squad to get them through it.
“It doesn’t affect us at all, to be honest. And let me clarify, you’re always impacted when you lose one of your key players and best players, to that’s obvious,” he said. “But that doesn’t impact how we are going to prepare, how we are going to train, and how we want the team to play because I think we have much more depth than last season. We’re in a much better position than we were last season. And so, losing a player of Alex’s caliber is something you don’t want to happen, but you have to deal with it, and it won’t impact what we intend to do and how we intend to play.”
Jasmyne Spencer, fresh off signing a new contract with the Pride this off-season, talked about her excitement going into preseason camp, and said she sees the club forging a new identity on the field as it heads into Year 2.
“I think we’re going to have a little bit more direction as a team, like what our identity is going to be on the field,” Spencer said. “As an expansion team, it’s really hard to get that in the first season, especially since we were formed in October and we only had three or four months to try to put a roster together. And you can really tell the interchanging of our Olympians it was difficult to get our identity and play week in and week out, so I think that’s going to be something completely different this year.”
And Sermanni elaborated on what he sees that identity being.
“We want to be a really dynamic team,” Sermanni explained. “We want to be a team that really goes out and plays a good brand of soccer, an exiting brand of soccer, an attacking brand of soccer. So we want to be a team that fans want to see and enjoy watching, and a team that plays in a very positive fashion.”
That forging began on Monday with the first day of preseason training.
The Pride have 16 players returning from their inaugural squad, including Morgan, who will join the team in June.
GOALKEEPERS (4): Aubrey Bledsoe, Ashlyn Harris, Amanda Kopale (trialist), Hannah Seabert (trialist).
DEFENDERS (10): Laura Alleway, McKenzie Berryhill, Steph Catley, Monica Hickmann Alves, Alanna Kennedy, Ali Krieger, Cami Levin, Camila Pereira, Toni Pressley, Lorina White (trialist).
MIDFIELDERS (5): Jocelyn Blankenship (trialist), Nickolette Driesse, Kristen Edmonds, Maddy Evans, Dani Weatherholt.
FORWARDS (11): Christina Burkenroad, Danica Evans, Jamia Fields, Sarah Hagen, Rachel Hill (trialist), Alex Morgan, Kim Reynolds (trialist), Carol Rodrigues (trialist), Jasmyne Spencer, Tabitha Tindell (trialist), Chioma Ubogagu.
Catley, Kennedy, Rodrigues, Hill, and Morgan are not in camp, and some will be joining at a later date.
Saturday, March 18 - Stetson University (Closed-Door) - Sylvan Lake Park, 1 p.m. ET
Saturday, March 25 - University of South Florida (Closed-Door) - Corbett Stadium, 6 p.m. ET
Wednesday, March 29 - University of Florida (Closed-Door) - Donald R. Dizney Stadium, 4 p.m. ET
Saturday, April 1 - Florida State University (Closed-Door) - Sylvan Lake Park, 1 p.m. ET
Friday, April 7 - U.S. U-23 Women’s National Team (Closed-Door) - Sylvan Lake Park, 2 p.m. ET
Three Things to Watch
- The Pride have nine forwards coming into camp (10 when Rachel Hill arrives), which will give Sermanni plenty of options to replace Alex Morgan while she’s away. Orlando scored the third-lowest amount of goals in the league last season, and there will be pressure on the forwards to produce more in Year 2, especially Spencer, who scored four goals in 20 appearances last season (17 starts).
- There were plenty of changes on the back line, too, with the additions of Ali Krieger and Alanna Kennedy. How will they fit in to improve a defense that gave up the second-most goals in the league last season?
- Kristen Edmonds had a breakthrough year with the Pride last season as a versatile play-maker, earning her first U.S. Women’s National Team call-up after netting six goals in 2016. Can she continue that success to help lead the Pride to the playoffs in 2017?