After 15 days without playing, the Orlando Pride returns to action for the home stretch of the season.
The team hasn’t played since July 21 due to the 2018 Tournament of Nations, in which Australia, Brazil, Japan and the United States faced off in three matches in three different cities.
Ashlyn Harris and Alex Morgan were with the U.S. WNT; Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond both appeared for Australia; and all four of the Pride’s Brazilians, Camila, Marta, Mônica and Poliana, appeared in the tournament. Morgan led the tournament with four goals, while Marta and Kennedy each scored one.
Now, all players are welcomed back to Orlando with open arms as the team begins its final push for a playoff position with five regular season matches remaining.
“They’ll want to play,” Sermanni said. “It is part of the things you have to deal with in soccer and these are players who are used to playing in multiple games in short periods of time. If they all come back healthy, they all will be considered for selection.”
Currently in fourth place in the National Women’s Soccer League with 29 points and an 8-6-5 record, the Pride are looking at every remaining match as a must-win.
A total of two points separate the second-place Seattle Reign FC and the fifth-place Chicago Red Stars. The North Carolina Courage have already secured the top spot, leaving just three playoff spots up for grabs.
Playing at home against a team that has only three points and a 0-13-3 record should be, in theory, an easier task. But Sermanni and the players will not underestimate their opponents.
“We know they are not any less or any easier than any other team in the league,” Sermanni said of Sky Blue. “It is really about our players having a professional attitude to go out and be keyed up as much as if we were playing North Carolina or Portland.”
Defender Toni Pressley agreed with Sermanni and remembered how hard the last match between the two teams was for Pride.
“Even though they haven’t won a game, Sky Blue is a really good team. And the last time we played, it was a task for us,” Pressley said. “I think we need to go to this game knowing it is going to be a hard one.”
Pressley remembered well.
The Pride’s last game against Sky Blue on June 16 was, in fact, a hard one.
The team from New Jersey arrived in Orlando for the match with six straight losses, clearly in the underdog role, but gave the Pride a difficult time, managing to even the score two times in the first half. The Pride secured the win in the 83rd minute after Rachel Hill’s header went into the back of the net.
The combination of the return of the national team players and the five matches remaining this season means that a victory against Sky Blue is critical as the team attempts to qualify for the playoffs for a second year in a row.
Orlando Pride defender Shelina Zadorsky echoed the significance of Saturday’s match.
“There’s always a pressure to perform and with how tight the table is it’s more evident,” Zadorsky said. “This weekend’s focus is that we are going to have to put on a really great performance.”