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Five Orlando Pride Matches to Circle on the Calendar

The NWSL schedule is packed with crucial fixtures.

Deon Cooper, The Mane Land

The NWSL finally announced the full slate of games for the 2018 season and the Orlando Pride are looking at an especially tough year of fixtures. With FC Kansas City dissolving and the bulk of the roster moving to Salt Lake City under the invigorated management of Real Salt Lake, the Boston Breakers folding and their best players being dispersed to the remaining teams, and the usual loading up of international talent, the normally tight race that is the NWSL season should be even more brutal this year.

After a terrific turnaround season saw the Pride jump from ninth to third, Orlando will have to do everything in its power to hold on to that coveted playoff spot as well as challenge for a title. The front office has bolstered the team with a slew of talented internationals and the already high-flying Pride certainly look much more well-rounded on paper. But the rest of the league did the same and it should be the most competitive year to date.

Here are five Pride matches to circle on your calendars.

March 24 vs. Utah Royals

The Pride’s first match of 2018 is always one to circle on your calendars, but even more so as Orlando welcomes the Utah Royals into the NWSL for that club’s first ever match. While the bones of the Royals’ roster comes from dormant FC Kansas City, the Salt Lake City side has bolstered it with big-name signings like United States Women’s National Team defender Kelley O’Hara, Canadian midfielder Diana Matheson, and Australian midfielder Katrina Gorry. It’s also brand new forward Sydney Leroux’s first match against most of her old FCKC teammates and the team that last held her NWSL rights.

It will be the first opportunity to see the Pride’s newest acquisitions, including Shelina Zadorsky and Poliana (Emily van Egmond will be a while in arriving due to the AFC Women’s Asian Cup). While Orlando will be without Brazilian dynamo Camila in the midfield for a few months, the team is still loaded with international talent from across the globe.

April 28 vs. Seattle Reign

Almost three months after a pair of trades, the Pride get to see some familiar faces return to Orlando City Stadium at the end of April. Former starting left back Steph Catley and forward Jasmyne Spencer return to Central Florida where they both spent the last two years. Orlando received a trio of Christine Nairn, Carson Pickett, and Haley Kopmeyer in return but it remains to be seen how often they will see the field.

The Reign haven’t seen the postseason since losing the 2015 NWSL final in heartbreaking fashion. The team has since revamped the defense with the additions of Catley, Yael Averbuch, and Christen Westphal. With a talented trio of Allie Long, Megan Rapinoe, and Jess Fishlock in front of them, the Reign look like they will close the gap on fourth place in 2018.

Aug. 11 vs. Portland Thorns

The reigning champions come to Orlando for the only time late in the year for a rematch of last year’s semifinal. The final of three regular season meetings and the only one at home, this should also be the first time the Thorns see the Pride at full strength with Camila scheduled to return to action during the summer.

This has playoff preview written all over it given the Pride’s upgrades in midfield and Portland’s usual re-loading. This will be a real test for Orlando’s on-paper improvements after a lackluster 4-1 thrashing in October. The Thorns are the benchmark the rest of the NWSL is measured against and the Pride will see where they stand right before the postseason.

Aug. 18 at North Carolina Courage

The Courage were once again dominant in 2017, locking up the top spot in the standings one year after winning the title as the Western New York Flash. While North Carolina couldn’t repeat and fell to Portland in a close final, they’re once again a top contender in 2018. Unfortunately for the Pride, they get last year’s two finalists in back-to-back weekends in a stretch that should test the team’s resolve.

Orlando split the series in Cary last year, including a wild 3-2 victory from an Alanna Kennedy free kick goal in stoppage time and won two out of three for the year. But North Carolina still came out on top, finishing a full nine points ahead of Orlando. The Courage don’t have the star power of the other top NWSL sides, but a collection of standout talent across the board has propelled the team to its success the past two years.

Lynn Williams leads the line again after bagging nine last year and both she and newly acquired USWNT star Crystal Dunn will provide a tough test for the Pride’s new-look back line. If Orlando can overcome the Courage right after a draining match with Portland this late in the season, it will say a lot about how far the team can go.

Aug. 25 vs. Chicago Red Stars

Orlando gets the Chicago Red Stars in the team’s home finale in late August. After a blockbuster trade saw Chicago land Australian superstar Sam Kerr, the Pride’s final (regular season) match in Orlando City Stadium should be full of fireworks.

Kerr tore the league apart last year, setting the single-season goal record with 17. While the Pride didn’t have a single goal scorer quite on Kerr’s level — and Marta finished second in the league with 13 goals — they led the league in scoring with 45 scores in 24 matches. With Alex Morgan in line for a full season this time around, Leroux and van Egmond in the fold, and Rachel Hill coming off a sensational campaign in Australia, that number should go way up.

The Red Stars finished just a point behind Orlando last year and were similarly bounced from the postseason in the semifinals in 2017. With Kerr, Chicago’s offense should take a huge leap from the meager 33 goals for last season, which was the lowest of the top six in the league. With the improvements that Seattle has made, the late-season stretch will be crucial to both Chicago’s and Orlando’s playoff hopes.

In a nine-team league, every weekend will be full of high profile match-ups. But these five games could define the Pride’s 2018 season.