The Orlando Pride kick off their 2017 NWSL season this afternoon with a 3 p.m. kickoff at Providence Park in Portland against the Thorns. This year’s edition of the Pride appears much deeper across the board, with a much better defensive presence, and more leadership — and that’s before Marta arrives and Alex Morgan returns.
It’s not ideal to play on the road against one of the league’s best teams before your club is wholly intact, but the Marta signing came late and there’s not much to be done in regard to Morgan’s French holiday. Tom Sermanni is approaching the game pragmatically and will try to figure out his best available 11 players to go up against Portland – a team that the Pride led on the road last season before ultimately dropping a 2-1 decision. The Thorns took both match-ups last year by the identical score line.
Here to help us prepare for today’s match is Jeremiah Braeback of Stumptown Footy, who was kind enough to answer our questions about what we can expect from the Thorns. I also answered his questions, which you can catch over at their place.
Prior to the recent USWNT friendlies against Russia, both Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan had to pull out with injuries. What is their status for Saturday's opener and what is the overall health of the Thorns throughout the roster? Anyone out we should know about?
Jeremiah Braeback: Mark Parsons said after practice on Wednesday that Tobin Heath would be out, but everyone else would be available. Meg Morris was injured early last season, but appears to be ready to go, as does Kendall Johnson, who missed the entire season after suffering a concussion while playing in Australia. Nadia Nadim, Dagný Brynjarsdóttir, and Amandine Henry all had off-season surgeries, but they are all ready to go, unless something happens between now and the match.
What are Thorns fans' expectations not only for their team's finish in 2017 (and why)?
JB: The fans’ expectations are fairly simple: they expect to win it all. It's not hard to see why expectations are so high, as the Thorns looked thoroughly dominant for much of last season, until international duty depleted their roster, and even then they only lost three matches all season. Everyone I spoke to during preseason training indicated they are further along than they were at this point last season, and while there were a few hiccups during preseason, there is no reason to believe that the Thorns won't be even better this year with less international absences throughout the season.
Where are the Thorns weakest and how might the Pride best attack that weakness on Saturday?
JB: Losing Tobin Heath for the first match is a big loss, not only for her creative and technical ability, but also for her ability to track back on defense. Depending on who Parsons decides to slot into the left midfield role could provide the Pride an opportunity to exploit. The Thorns have plenty of options to slot into this position, including Allie Long, Hayley Raso, and Nadia Nadim, all of whom provide options in the attack. Defensively, the Thorns look to be as strong as they were last year, even with Michelle Betos moving on.
What are your predictions for the starting XI and final score?
JB: Score Prediction: 3-1 Thorns.
Line-up Prediction (4-2-3-1): Adrianna Franch; Katherine Reynolds, Emily Sonnett, Emily Menges, Meghan Klingenberg; Amandine Henry, Allie Long; Nadia Nadim, Lindsey Horan, Hayley Raso; Christine Sinclair.
Well, there you have it. Big thanks to Jeremiah from Stumptown Footy for stopping by and giving us the scouting report on Portland, although we hope he’s vastly underestimating the effect of Sermanni’s defensive changes.