The Orlando Pride ended a tough week atop of the NWSL after playing three games in seven days. However, the team now enters an important stretch in which it loses three key starters due to the Olympics. But the last two games have provided a glimpse as to what can be expected from the Pride while those players are in Tokyo.
The women’s soccer tournament of this year’s Summer Olympics will kick off on July 21. Four Pride players will represent their countries in the tournament: Alex Morgan for the United States, Marta for Brazil, Ali Riley for New Zealand, and Erin McLeod as an alternate for Canada.
In 2019, the Pride lost the majority of their starting lineup during the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup, resulting in a devastating run that saw the team drop to the bottom of the standings. But Head Coach Marc Skinner and the team’s front office have worked diligently to build a roster that can continue to compete during the absences.
This year’s team has been built to withstand these losses and keep its spot among the top teams in the NWSL. The losses of Morgan, Marta, and Riley will hurt, but this past week showed what the lineup might look like without those three.
After drawing 1-1 with NJ/NY Gotham FC last Sunday, Skinner displayed a different lineup for Wednesday afternoon’s 3-1 win in Kansas City. While Marta and Riley began the game on the bench, Morgan was left in Orlando and met up with the team when it traveled for Saturday night’s match-up with the Houston Dash.
Starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris and defender Ali Krieger were not selected to represent the U.S. at the Olympics, so the Pride’s captain and vice captain will remain with the team. Against Kansas City, Skinner placed defensive midfielder Gunny Jonsdottir at right back in place of Riley. That wasn’t a surprising move considering that Jonsdottir played right back in the team’s first NWSL Challenge Cup game in April.
On Friday, the team announced the signing of England international Amy Turner. The defender wasn’t selected for Great Britain’s Olympic team so she’ll be available for the Pride. Turner is primarily a center back so Skinner has two options. He can either keep Krieger at center back and move Turner to the right, or move Krieger to her natural right back position and place Turner in the middle with Phoebe McClernon. The signing allows Skinner to keep Jonsdottir in the defensive midfield, where she’s had a very good season so far.
The bigger question for the Pride regards what will happen on the attacking side. Morgan and Marta are arguably the two most important attacking players on the team. There are multiple ways to replace Morgan while she’s at the Olympics and Skinner tipped his hand as to what he plans to do.
The two most likely players to move into the forward position are Sydney Leroux and Taylor Kornieck. Both have played the position before and are able to provide goals. When the Pride took the field against Kansas City, it was Leroux who was at the top of the formation.
The decision proved to be a good one by Skinner as Leroux netted two goals in a 3-1 Pride win. The second goal by the former USWNT player was spectacular as she created space and beat goalkeeper Abby Smith to her far post.
The other question is how to build the midfield. Marisa Viggiano and Meggie Dougherty Howard have been sharing time alongside Jonsdottir in the defensive midfield. Kornieck started on the bench Wednesday and sat during the Houston game after suffering an injury to her left knee against Kansas City.
Kornieck’s injury doesn’t appear to be too serious as she was able to walk off under her own power in Kansas, although it will bear watching since she didn’t make the bench for the game Saturday in Houston. In her place, Dougherty Howard started in the attacking midfield, showing that she’s likely to take over one of the attacking midfield positions for Marta or Leroux, although Skinner has also shown a willingness to use Viggiano in that role at times in the past.
In Kansas City, the other two attacking midfield positions were taken by Erika Tymrak and Abi Kim. Either player could jump into the lineup but the most likely option is Tymrak. The 29-year-old midfielder is an NWSL veteran, having been in the league since 2013. The 22-year-old Kim, on the other hand, is in her first NWSL season and has only made one regular season NWSL appearance.
The upcoming Olympic games will have a significant impact on the NWSL. The Pride were devastated by the last major women’s international tournament but are in a much better position this time around. Skinner has shown his potential plans to replace three key starters this past week as the Pride look to maintain their spot on top of the NWSL standings.