The Orlando Pride are now just 10 days away from the start of the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup. What feels like the longest off-season ever is nearly over. Next Saturday will be the first time in more than eight months that the Pride will play in a competitive game.
While the off-season has been obnoxiously long, it has not been quiet. The Pride started out making little moves, but things picked up with the new calendar year. To summarize what happened:
- Amanda Duffy became the club’s executive vice president.
- The Pride traded for Emily Sonnett, offloaded Dani Weatherholt and Rachel Hill, and got more defensive help with Ali Riley and Jade Moore.
- Alex Morgan and former Orlando City midfielder Servando Carrasco had a baby girl.
Much has happened in the past few months, especially as the players were slowly able to get back onto the field.
But what if there was no stoppage of play? Let’s, just for a minute, imagine a world where there was no coronavirus that stopped everything.
Had there been no COVID-19, and the 2020 NWSL season had gone on as expected, the Pride would have played nine regular season and three preseason games by now. By the time that the Challenge Cup kicks off June 27, the Pride would have played two more matches.
Orlando has only ever lost two preseason games — in 2018 to Florida State University and last year to the North Carolina Courage. Orlando was scheduled to play at Florida State, at UCF, and finish off preseason by hosting the University of South Florida in a closed-door friendly. Orlando is 2-1-0 all-time against FSU and has outscored the Seminoles 6-3, including two shutouts. The disparity is even worse against USF. Orlando has played and beat South Florida every year and has outscored the Bulls, 16-1. The Pride only played UCF once back in 2018, and Orlando won 3-0 thanks to a brace from Sydney Leroux and a goal from Christine Nairn — all in the first half. While Marc Skinner would have used these games to experiment some, it is safe to assume the Pride would have gone 3-0 in preseason.
The regular season is a different story. Orlando would have played each NWSL team once and North Carolina, the Utah Royals, and the Washington Spirit twice. Seven of those opening 11 games were away and included two three-match away trips.
Orlando’s schedule to start the year was not the kindest. Ironically, the Pride’s Challenge Cup schedule is even worse. With no games to judge from any team this season, it is difficult to predict how teams will be. However, Orlando could have gone without a win in those matches, which would have been a record for the longest streak without a win in a single season. Orlando went 15 games without a win from the end of 2018 to 2019. Optimistically, the Pride could have come out with a winning record.
The most likely scenario, though, is Orlando going somewhere in the range of 3-5-3. Orlando typically does well in home openers, last season being the only loss. Sky Blue has gotten better in the past two years, but I’d put my money on the Pride winning that match. It gets difficult from there as the Pride were to play against the top of the league — at Utah, vs. North Carolina, at Portland, at Chicago, and then at North Carolina. I could see Orlando getting a point from those four matches, likely against Utah, although the team has had success away to Chicago in recent years.
After that, the schedule would have eased up a bit. Orlando had two home matches scheduled against Houston and Washington, and the Pride could have won them both.
It isn’t always easy to sit back and predict how the team would have done, as there are still plenty of unknowns. First, it would have been unlikely that Morgan would have played in any of those matches. She wasn’t due back with the Pride until after the Olympics, and even making the USWNT for that competition was a bit of a longshot. Any team is better with Morgan on the field, and the Pride’s history backs that up. Orlando tends to struggle without her firepower. Orlando also lost Hill, who had been an essential part of the attack the past few years.
The Olympics should have started this upcoming July 24, with the international match calendar beginning July 22 to August 7. Teams could be expected to start meeting about three weeks before the Olympics, with the United States Women’s National Team meeting the week before. That would have left no USWNT players for the Washington game on June 26.
There was also another international window from June 1-10. Players likely would have had to miss the game before, which coincidentally was also against Washington.
Who would have been called up also remains a mystery. Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger both were on the World Cup squad, but neither got many minutes. Vlatko Andonovski has to deal with a smaller roster for the Olympics, so both would be question marks to make the cut. It would be surprising for Sonnett to have missed the Olympics, but she may not have gotten a good deal of playing time.
The last question about this team is how will they actually look when they get on the field. There was not as a big a roster overhaul as was expected, and last season was not a year to remember for the Pride. Orlando did get a much-needed defensive boost and, on paper, did well in the draft. But Moore has yet to arrive from England and rookie seasons are difficult to predict.
So, with the past few months of soccer wiped out, we’ll never know for sure what might have been, but in less than two weeks we’ll finally see the 2020 Pride on the field.