Preview: Racing Louisville (a).
Updated: Apr 5
When? April 10th 2021, 4 p.m. (PT), 7 p.m. (ET), 12 midnight (BST).
Where? Lynn Family Stadium, Louisville, KY.
How can I catch the action? The game is live on Paramount+ for residents of the United States, and live on Twitch (twitch.tv and via the Twitch app) for international viewers.
Wow. It feels so good to be writing one of these again. It's been a long and arduous winter, but we're finally here. In the lead up to Orlando Pride's inaugural match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup. Having missed out on last year's tournament, the Pride will be looking to get this year's installment off to a positive start. They couldn't have a more challenging start in many ways; Louisville are an unknown quantity. An unknown quantity that's stacked with talent right now, even before the likes of Tobin Heath and Christen Press (potentially) check-in. So, without further delay, let's get stuck into this exciting match-up.
Racing Louisville's style
As far as Louisville are concerned, it's difficult to perpetuate exactly what they will be bringing to the table. At least with any real degree of accuracy. As Louisville's first top-tier, pro-sports team since the 70s there is a great deal of pressure on GM, and former Orlando City head coach, James O'Connor to bring success to Kentucky. The appointment of Christy Holly as the club's first head coach was a shrewd assignment. He's a steady pair of hands, and a guy with extensive knowledge of the game.
The Irishman lead Sky Blue FC to a 7-8-5 season in 2016, before relinquishing the post the following season. He had previously served as assistant coach until then. Sky Blue racked up 24 goals across the 2016 season, and shipped 30. He was, perhaps, a tad unlucky to find himself out of work the following season. Sky Blue pulled the trigger on the likeable Irishman, as the New Jersey outfit won only 7 of their first 16 games. Holly was dismissed following consecutive 4-1 and 5-0 humblings by the Spirit and ourselves.
His tenure may have ended in acrimonious circumstances, but his record was solid overall. Holly, arguably, has a lot more talent on this current roster. Sky Blue's off the field issues have been well documented, so his 14-7-17 record, in 2016, is nothing to be sniffed at. He left New Jersey with a win percentage of 36.84%.
Holly is a real student of the game, he worked as a scout for the USWNT and was renowned for his incredibly detailed reports on upcoming opponents. Reports, which were used to help the USWNT successfully defend it's world title in 2019. If nothing else, you know this team is going to be well prepared. And with the level of attacking talent on this team, you have to believe they'll try to score goals. This is something that has been evidenced in their pre-season campaign so far, with their 4-0 wins over University of Louisville, West Virginia preceding a 2-1 win over Vanderbilt.
The expansion side have already made some impressive roster moves. Their capture of Emily Fox in the first round of the NWSL Draft was seen as a real coup for the club. The likes of Addisyn Merrick and Lauren Milliet bring vital NWSL experience, and perhaps more importantly, forbearance of having habituated a winning mentality in North Carolina. They are not a team short on quality either. Yuki Nagasato being the main highlight.
There is a real sense of optimism among the Orlando Pride faithful heading into this season. Marc Skinner and his staff have worked tirelessly to build a roster that has the correct mixture of experience, leadership and youth. Team chemistry problems have long plagued this club, but you get the feeling this won't be the case any longer. Players like Jade Moore and Ali Riley have brought camaraderie and guidance to the squad. Guidance that young players like Carrie Lawrence (pictured) and Chelsee Washington can ultimately benefit from.
Skinner will also have the benefit of having the likes of Alex Morgan around for larger chunks of the season, following the curtailment of her loan spell at Tottenham Hotspur. At the time of recording, Skinner has the benefit of a fully fit squad at his disposal. Young goalkeeper Brittany Wilson is understood to have been given compassionate leave following the unfortunate death of her mother. It's unclear at this time, if she will be involved come opening day. Needless to say, our thoughts go out to Brittany and her family at this time.
The Pride will also be without Canadian midfielder Jordyn Listro. The tough tackling midfielder recently departed the club in a trade to Kansas City.
As for Louisville, it's much the same; in terms of roster availablity that is. Head coach Christy Holly has a fully fit roster, from which to choose. This fact will doubtless be of huge comfort to a club looking to begin its NWSL tenure on a positive note.
Possible Starting XI
I won't lie to you. This is a complete guess. An educated one (I think), but a guess all the same. With the combination of Louisville being an expansion team, the secretive nature of pre-season and their slightly haphazard roster. This was an almost impossible task. I don't say any of that lightly. The Louisville roster is currently very lop-sided. You get the impression they are relying heavily on their expansion draft picks. Which is an odd strategy, but when you look at the talent on that particular list... You get it. Even if said talent is, as yet unsigned. The likes of Alanna Kennedy, Caitlin Fiord, Tobin Heath and Christen Press all adourn the star studded list.
Are they holding out for those players? None have committed to the club as of yet. Are they to be used as bargaining chips? I honestly have no idea. See what I mean? Trying to make sense of what their squad might look like come April 10th, was akin to trying to understand what the heck was happening during episode 1 of WandaVision. A complete cataclysm of weird and wonderful things that make little sense as a collective, but still had you oddly captivated. At least for now.
So, what have I done? Picked a team in something resembling a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, that could work. It's a formation used, at times, by Holly in New Jersey. There is certainly talent in this roster. But how said talent is going to look in Louisville's inaugural game, is anyone's guess at this point.
Japanese international Nagasato needs little introduction to ardent soccer fans. The World Cup winning forward has had a glittering career, so far. Having starred for the likes of Chelsea and VFL Wolfsburg, she found her way to the NWSL in Chicago (via a very successful spell in Frankfurt). Having scored 13 goals in 56 games for the Red Stars, she is perhaps among the most feared forwards in the NWSL.
If Louisville can get a tune out of Nagasato, the Pride defenders will have their work cut out for them. That's for sure.
As previously mentioned, Louisville opened their pre-season campaign with consecutive wins over the University of Louisville, West Virginia and Vanderbilt. The Kentucky based outfit then closed out their pre-season program with back-to-back scrimmages against Florida State. However, the result of both games hasn't been made available to the public.
The Pride fell 0-1 to Kansas City in opening their pre-season, before besting Florida State 2-1, with Alex Morgan and Marta back among the goals. All that before Chelsee Washington's brace helped them to a 4-0 routing of Flagler. The Pride then saw their test with the Washington Spirit postponed due to a Covid-19 outbreak among the Spirit ranks. Orlando then closed out their pre-season schedule with a 2-1 reversal, as Florida State grabbed their revenge.