Welcome to your match thread for the Orlando Pride’s first-ever NWSL Challenge Cup action! This is the second time this tournament has taken place, but the Pride did not participate in it last year. Orlando takes on Racing Louisville FC, which is set to play in its inaugural match.
There is no history between the Pride and Louisville. This will be the expansion side’s first competitive match.
This is the opening weekend of the Challenge Cup. Here is a brief overview of how the tournament works.
For this event, the NWSL is split into two divisions — East and West. Orlando is in the East with NJ/NY Gotham FC (previously known as Sky Blue FC), Racing Louisville, the North Carolina Courage, and the Washington Spirit. Each team plays each opponent in its group once — two at home and two away. The top team from each division will then face off in a final. The final will go straight to penalty kicks if regulation ends in a draw.
Teams are allowed five substitutes during the Challenge Cup, plus two additional substitutions for suspected head injuries (regardless if all normal subs have been used). This is ideal as younger players get into first-team action. While it is a preseason tournament, it is still a trophy competition that will have clubs’ competitive juices flowing. However, teams will still use it as a means to prepare for the regular season. The majority of the games will be aired on Paramount+, while a handful will be on CBS Sports Network. The final will be aired on CBS.
There will definitely be some roadblocks with this tournament. Mainly, there is still a pandemic going on. There could be games postponed, and the schedule might be flexible. However, if a match is canceled because of “gross negligence by a participating team,” that team will be forced to forfeit the game. Teams must play in at least two matches to go to the final.
Another conflict is that there is an international window going on right now. The NWSL is largely affected by this. For the Pride, this means Alex Morgan, backup goalkeeper Erin McLeod, and midfielder Gunny Jónsdóttir are out.
The most significant storyline heading into this game is how Louisville will look. The expansion side is set to play in its first game. Louisville has decent attacking options with Savannah McCaskill and Yuki Nagasato, and a solid goalkeeper in Michelle Betos. The expansion side also has a young core that will only get better. Louisville appears to have done well in preseason, but there are few details on its matches.
“We should expect a very good, big game,” Louisville Head Coach Christy Holly said in an interview with a local news station. “A very energetic team, bags of talent — we’re talking some of the best players in the entire world playing right here in our own backyard. It’s going to be exciting, hopefully very loud and very, very entertaining.”
The Pride have had an eventful past few years. Since Marc Skinner has taken charge, Orlando has been woeful. In 2019, Orlando had to play with a makeshift roster. The Pride were without a large chunk of their roster because of the World Cup and injures. Last year, the Pride were forced to pull out of the Challenge Cup and sent many players out on loan to get meaningful games. While some did not come back, Orlando finally seems to have a roster where players can consistently play together.
Earlier in the week, The Mane Land’s own Dave Rohe wrote about what to look out for in Orlando’s opening game. The first is how the back line will play. Orlando has leaked goals in recent years. Not all of that has been due to the defense. Many goals started with turnovers further up the field. But the Pride should have a much-improved back line this year. Keep an eye out on fullback Ali Riley, who could become a vital part of this team.
The Pride loaded up on midfielders this off-season. Expect this to be an area of improvement. The midfield, with newly acquired Meggie Dougherty Howard, should retain possession at a higher rate and be more physical defensively.
In addition to the players out on international duty, the Pride will also be missing Crystal Thomas, who has a right hamstring injury. Louisville is in much more trouble in the injury department. Addisyn Merrick (back) and Cheyna Matthews (pregnancy) definitely will miss the match. Julia Ashley (left leg), Emina Ekic (hip), Cece Kizer (left leg), Taylor Otto (left leg), and Lauren Milliet (right knee) are listed as questionable.
“It’s a unique situation in terms of you have to try and predict rather than prepare for. How many times do you play a team when you’ve never seen any video on them?” said Skinner in a club press release. “It’s a unique situation for them, [Louisville has] a great opportunity to play at home and get up and running, so we have to be prepared for all of that. We welcome the challenge of that. What it does do is let us see how quickly we can adapt to something we’re not used to.”
Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris.
Defenders: Ali Riley, Phoebe McClernon, Konya Plummer, Ali Krieger, .
Defensive Midfielders: Meggie Dougherty Howard, Jade Moore.
Midfielders: Marisa Viggiano, Taylor Kornieck, Marta.
Forward: Sydney Leroux.
Bench: Brittany Wilson, Ally Haran, Toni Pressley, Erika Tymrak, Chelsea Washington, Abi Kim, Carrie Lawrence, Courtney Petersen.
Racing Louisville FC (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Michelle Betos.
Defenders: Erin Simon, Emily Fox, Brooke Hendrix, Nealy Martin.
Midfielders: Lauren Milliet, Savannah McCaskill, Freja Olofsson, Yuki Nagasato.
Forward: Emina Ekic, Cece Kizer.
Bench: Katie Lund, Jorian Baucom, Julia Ashley, Taylor Otto, Kaleigh Riehl, Noelle Higginson, Katie McClure, Vanessa Kara, Shelby Money.
Ref: Katja Koroleva.
AR1: Brooke Mayo.
AR2: Maggie Short.
4th: Nabil Bensalah.
How to Watch
Match Time: 7 p.m.
Venue: Lynn Family Stadium — Louisville, KY.
Streaming: Paramount+, Twitch.
Enjoy the match. Go Pride!