The Portland Thorns will take on several familiar faces when the expansion Orlando Pride come to town this Sunday. We chatted with Gavin Ewbank of The Mane Land to get an insider's perspective on the Pride.
What are your general impressions of the Pride coming off the preseason?
Well, this is my second straight year covering an expansion team in Orlando, and just like last season with Orlando City, I have no idea what the expect this coming season. The Pride have a good roster -- any team with Alex Morgan starting up top should be considered good, right? -- but even the best players can have a tough time mixing together. The did play well in the few times I got to watch them play this preseason (albeit against college competition). The team never really had a full squad at any point during the preseason because of international absences, so it's hard to say. I like the roster Tom Sermanni has put in place, but expansion seasons are tough. My impression is that this is that this team will compete for a playoff spot, but how they fare without their international players at points will be key.
There are several former Thorns in the Pride roster. Which familiar faces should Thorns' fans expect to see on the pitch this Sunday?
Assuming nothing happens between now and Sunday night, I would expect to see all four of the former Thorns players. Alex Morgan (hip injury) was announced fit and ready to play by Sermanni at the club's Media Day on Thursday. Steph Catley, Lianne Sanderson, and Kaylyn Kyle are all expected to play as well. Reunions are fun, and while Morgan said she expects to hear some boos before the game, Thorns fans will have their chance to see their old friends in action.
What are fans expectations for this expansion side?
Orlando fans are hopeful, and again, like last year most probably don't know what to expect. We're expecting there to be some struggles as they adjust and grow together, and the international and Olympic losses will make things challenging throughout the summer. Most of the national media that covers the league has an easy time writing off the team for basically every reason I just stated. But this is Orlando, and we like to 'Defy Expectations,' so obviously are expectations are that Morgan and Co. lead this team to the playoffs in Year 1, realistic or not.
Thank you to Gavin for his responses.