SANFORD, Fla. -- The Orlando Pride’s recent resurgence has been bolstered by the latest performances of the team's young core, leading to back-to-back league wins.
Messiah Bright's second goal of the season, paired with the defensive performance of Emily Madril have shown the progressive growth of the rookies in a short amount of time.
For such a young team, getting the players to play well and play with confidence is a big step in their professional growth.
“I'm feeling pretty good," Bright said this week at Orlando Health Training Ground at Sylvan Park. "I think my confidence level, it's just shooting up really high. The girls show a lot of respect to me. So I think it just goes down to just doing my job for them and just making sure that I'm in the right positions and just making sure I'm doing the tap-ins and being in there for the follow-up.”
Bright and the Pride now look ahead to a busy week ahead with back-to-back road games, starting with a mid-week clash against the Washington Spirit on Wednesday in the UKG Challenge Cup (7:30 p.m. | TV: CBS Sports Network). Then on the weekend, they'll head to Red Bull Arena to take on Gotham FC Sunday evening (5:30 p.m. | TV: FOX35 PLUS, Paramount+).
“It's not a lot of time to prepare [from Louisville]. This is the nature of the league, and the fixtures come thick and fast," Pride head coach Seb Hines said. "It's an opportunity, again, to build momentum on what we've already done in the last few games. So we're really looking forward to it, going away from home, Challenge Cup, should be an exciting game.
“You want games, you want opportunities to play, another opportunity for us to go back to our identity and our style of play and just build on what we've already done this season. We're looking forward to it. The energy is high, the confidence is high and there's no better way to show it again than in a football match."
Washington is one of two teams that have yet to lose a regular season match this year, but did fall in their only Challenge Cup match so far, dropping a 1-0 game to Gotham FC. For Hines, the preparation to face the in-form Spirit team is less about the opponent and more about the Pride.
“[This match] is about focusing on ourselves," he said. "They may not rotate. They may want to build on what they've already achieved. We have to focus on ourselves and we have to focus on the bigger picture and that's obviously the schedule as a whole and the league as a whole. The Challenge Cup is another opportunity to give players minutes on the field and another opportunity for us to stake our identity again.”
The Pride had an opportunity to play Washington just before the season started out in Kissimmee, where Orlando won 3-2. Messiah Bright scored two of those three goals, with Kerry Abello providing the other.
That early experience of playing and beating the Spirit has a certain benefit to the mentality of a young team, providing confidence heading into hostile territory.
“We had a chance to play them in preseason, which is when we got the victory within that," Bright said.
"They're a fairly good team. But I think it just all goes into playing our game and playing into our strengths. They have quality players like Trinity Rodman that we just have to be aware of in transition. So I think it goes down to playing our game and doing what we've been doing, following the small details and I think we will be fine.”
2023 UKG NWSL Challenge Cup: Orlando Pride at Washington Spirit
When: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Audi Field, Washington
Love puppies and the Pride? You won’t want to miss out on Pups of Pride Night when the Orlando Pride return home to Exploria Stadium on Saturday, May 20 against Washington! Click here for more information and to secure your tickets!