Welcome to your preview and match thread for the Orlando Pride’s 2018 NWSL season opener against Utah Royals FC. It’s the first of three scheduled meetings between the two sides this season, with Orlando traveling to Sandy, UT, for the final two matches in the series on May 9 and July 14.
Although Utah is technically an all-new team just starting from scratch, this isn’t what you’d call a typical expansion franchise. Utah Head Coach Laura Harvey has been successful in the league for years and a big chunk of the Royals’ roster was brought in from former NWSL club FC Kansas City, which finished seventh in the NWSL in 2017 (8-9-7, 31 points). So, theoretically, Utah should be much more cohesive than the usual expansion franchise.
The Pride reached their first postseason as a franchise last year, finishing third in the NWSL with a record of 11-6-7 and 40 points. Orlando had the league’s most prolific offense, scoring 45 goals, and the club actually added to its attack in the off-season.
There isn’t any. The Pride will be the Royals’ first-ever NWSL opponent. The team may be new, but there are some threads dating back to Orlando’s start in the league. Harvey formerly coached the Seattle Reign, where she posted a record of 1-1-2 against the Pride in four meetings (0-1-1 in Orlando). Many of Utah’s players formerly were members of the now-defunct FC Kansas City, against which the Pride went 2-2-1 over the last two seasons. Current Pride forward Sydney Leroux played with many of Utah’s current players at Kansas City.
With new faces in the lineup and a few faces missing, I expect Orlando to come out in either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 (more likely the former) against the Royals. Head Coach Tom Sermanni tends to fluctuate between those shapes the most. With midfielders Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond with Australia for World Cup qualifying, I’d expect the 4-3-3, although he could slide Monica or Toni Pressley into the defensive midfield to accommodate a 4-2-3-1. I just have a hunch he’d like to have an attacking line of Leroux, Alex Morgan, and either Marta or Rachel Hill (because who wouldnt’?).
After all, Utah’s strength will likely be what FC Kansas City’s strength was — a solid back line anchored by USWNT standout Becky Sauerbrunn, backstopped by a quality goalkeeper. That keeper is either going to be Nicole Barnhart or Abby Smith, a Dispersal Draft selection from the remnants of the Boston Breakers’ roster. Per conversations with folks in Utah, I’m leaning with Smith.
So, what is the biggest challenge for Sermanni’s club against Utah?
“Probably the unknown — it’s probably the best way I can describe it,” Sermanni said after training on Friday. “(Utah is) A new club but not quite a new club. They’ve got a new coach and some new players. We’re assuming they’ll be styled on how Seattle played. We’re hoping that’s the case so that we’ve got some thoughts of what they might do. But it could be totally different.”
Sermanni said there are several players on the Royals who could create problems for a back line which will feature some new faces this season.
“I think (Kelley) O’Hara is obviously a key one for them and then the other player that they’ve brought in is (Gunnhildur) Jónsdóttir from Iceland,” said Sermanni. “We’ve got some background on her but we haven’t seen her. They would probably be two players that would be pretty critical to them. And then they’ve got (Brittany) Ratcliffe and (Taylor) Lytle who are mobile players that can cause us some problems.”
Orlando will be missing its two Australian internationals and midfielder/defender Camila, (knee surgery) who is expected to return some time in June. Utah is missing Aussie international Katrina Gorry and the Royals’ injury report lists Alex Arlitt (left knee strain), Mandy Laddish (right hip contusion), and Amy Rodriguez (right knee) as out.
Orlando Pride (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris.
Midfielders: Christine Nairn, Toni Pressley, Dani Weatherholt.
Forwards: Marta, Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux.
Bench: Haley Kopmeyer, Lotta Okvist, Monica,Kristen Edmonds, Danica Evans, Chioma Ubogagu. Rachel Hill.
Utah Royals FC (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Abby Smith.
Defenders: Becca Moros, Becky Sauerbrunn, Rachel Corsie, Kelley O’Hara.
Midfielders: Katie Bowen, Gunny Jonsdottir, Desiree Scott.
Forwards: Elise Thorsnes, Brittany Ratcliffe. Diana Matheson.
Bench: Nicole Barnhart, Erika Tymrak, Brooke Elby, Sydney Miramontez, Taylor Lytle, Katie Stengel, Lo’eau LaBonta.
Ref: Danielle Chesky.
AR1: Trent Van Haitsma.
AR2: Gjovalin Bori.
4th: Miguel Martes.
How to Watch
Match Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Venue: Orlando City Stadium — Orlando, FL.
Streaming: go90.com, go90 iOS and Android app (in the U.S.), NWSLSoccer.com or the NWSL app (outside the U.S.).
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