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Predicting the Orlando Pride Starting XI for the NWSL Challenge Cup Opener

Who will start for the Pride on Saturday at Racing Louisville?

Orlando Pride v North Carolina Courage Photo by Andy Mead/ISI Photos/Getty Images

It is officially game week for the Orlando Pride! The NWSL Challenge Cup starts this week, with the Pride traveling north on Saturday to take on Racing Louisville.

Orlando had a long preseason but only played in a few matches. The Pride went 2-2-0 in four closed-door scrimmages. This makes it difficult to predict what the Pride will do on Saturday.

Below is my best estimate of how Orlando will look when the Pride takes on Louisville.

Goalkeeper

This is the most straightforward position to pick. Ashlyn Harris is the first choice ‘keeper on this team and will be for the foreseeable future. She started in half of the preseason matches, with Erin McLeod and Brittany Wilson each starting one game. McLeod was called up for international duty and the Pride have signed Gabby English as a National Team Replacement Player. But this is Harris’ slot when she’s healthy and with the club.

Defense

In the last meaningful match that the Pride played, the back four consisted of Kristen Edmonds, Ali Krieger, Toni Pressley, and Courtney Peterson. Edmonds is no longer on the team, so obviously, she is not starting. Pressley potentially could start, but there are better options on the team now. Krieger is likely to make the start, and there is a good chance that Phoebe McClernon will pair with her in the middle. It will be interesting to see how this combination looks, but it has the potential to be pretty strong. Peterson is also likely to start at fullback, with Ali Riley on the other side.

Carrie Lawrence could also get a good amount of playing time during the Challenge Cup. Both Peterson and Riley are best suited at left back, while Lawrence is a right back. Right back is the weakest position on the back line and so it is fully up for grabs right now. If all else fails, Krieger could play on the right and Pressley could slot back into the center.

Midfield

The Pride’s midfield got a significant makeover in the past year. Orlando leaked goals in the past and so many of those goals started because of turnovers in the midfield. The coaching staff and General Manager Ian Fleming clearly made fixing this a point of emphasis in the off-season, and now we will have to wait and see if it worked.

Meggie Dougherty Howard should get the nod at central defensive midfield. Her skillsets appear to perfectly fit this position in Marc Skinner’s system. Look for her to be one of the leading players this year. She could start attacks from deep and be the vital defensive weapon that prevents balls from getting into dangerous areas.

In front of Dougherty Howard could be Gunny Jónsdóttir and Marisa Viggiano. Viggiano will play more of an attacking role. Look for both of these players to add a physicality to the center of the field to help the Pride win the ball back.

This midfield trio could be super defensive as all three are defensive-minded players. Taylor Konieck could come in to provide some more of an attack, especially late in games when the Pride are down.

Forward

Marta will be in the lineup at forward whenever she’s not with Brazil. With Alex Morgan on international duty this weekend with the United States Women’s National Team, Skinner will have to turn to someone else up top in the middle, which could be Sydney Leroux or Kornieck. That’s the most likely trio, with off-season acquisition Crystal Thomas also a possibility.

When Morgan is on with the team, this has the potential to be the strongest attacking line in the league. They will need quality service that the Pride have lacked the past few years for that to happen.


Here is my projected starting lineup for Saturday:


This lineup could be excellent for the Pride. The preseason results were not great, but it is impossible to say why the results went the way they did without seeing the matches. This XI also can change shape — something that could very well happen multiple times throughout each game.

Who are you most looking forward to seeing on the field? Be sure to comment below.