Last season (–): The Pride were but an idea for most of 2015. On October 20 the Pride were announced as NWSL’s 10th team. They will play this season at the Citrus Bowl before moving into the new downtown stadium they will share with MLS side Orlando City SC.
Key Changes: Everyone was an addition since the team was built from scratch, but some made bigger splashes than others. None was bigger than the first one, a trade that saw the Pride send most of their initial assets to Portland for Alex Morgan (and Kaylyn Kyle.)
The trade gave the Pride instant credibility on and off the field and allowed Morgan to live with her husband Servando Carrasco who plays for Orlando City. More importantly, Morgan’s knees appear to be healthier than they have been in years and although she missed the recent United States friendlies with a hip injury, her club coach is confident in Morgan’s fitness.
“I think we are now beginning to see the real Alex Morgan again, and a healthy one at that,” Pride coach Tom Sermanni said, adding that he rarely had Morgan at full strength while at the helm of the national team. “When she’s healthy, she’s just a strong, robust athlete. I don’t have any concerns about her. If she stays healthy she’ll make a huge impact in the league this year.”
Other key acquisitions included Ashlyn Harris and Lianne Sanderson in the expansion draft and Steph Catley and Becky Edwards in trades. On the international market, Sermanni brought in Catley’s Australian teammate Laura Alleway and Brazilian defender Monica.
Strengths: On paper it looks like the back line plus Harris should be the first part to find its rhythm. But these things are never an exact science and it is difficult to predict what any new club will look like.
“Like any coach you have your own style and philosophy of how you want the team to play. And that doesn’t change,” Sermanni said. “But depending on the circumstances and the cards that you’re given it depends how quickly you can do that and how much you have to compromise on that to be practical.”
Asked directly what he thought the strength of the Pride will be this season Sermanni replied: “When you look at our squad we’ve got a really experienced group of players with significant international pedigree right across the board almost. What we’ve got is we’ve got quality players first and foremost. We’ve got players that can score goals and I think we’ve got good mobility in the areas that can create problems for the opposition. Generally I think we’ve got good balance in the squad.”
Areas of Development: The Pride will kick off their inaugural season playing to huge crowds and lining up several well-known players. But Sermanni cautions that the product is not likely to be a polished one from the opening ball.
“In reality when the season starts we’ll still be stamping out things and probably a little bit underdone from what we will be when we become an established club.”
Sermanni is generally pleased with how the inaugural Pride roster turned out. But roadblocks to cohesion are not just in the newness of the club but the short, choppy nature of NWSL preseason.
“One of the difficulties in relation to getting organized is the time,” said the man who was first assistant to Ian Sawyers on the very first WUSA champions, the 2001 Bay Area CyberRays. “The preseason is pretty short. And in reality we are never going to get a full squad of players together before the first game.
“For example, our Australian players never came in until (March 29). Our American players went out the Sunday before that. The Canadian and Brazilian players were out. Josee Belanger we won’t see (again) until we actually go to Portland. She’s playing a game in Europe on April 12. So she would literally get back here, train a day, and then fly again to Portland the next day. So we just told her go straight to Portland.”
Point of Interest: Sermanni has coached women around the world from club teams to the United States and Australia national sides.
“The club has really, fully committed to the women’s team and integrated fully,” he said. “They brought them in and really treated them as a serious part of the club, the same way they do with the men’s team. So that’s a great start. The players really feel that and feel appreciated.”
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