Aug. 25, 2016 at Sylvan Lake Park

Availability: HC Tom Sermanni, F Alex Morgan

HC Tom Sermanni

The Washington Spirit sit atop the National Women’s Soccer League table as the only team with double-digit wins (10). They also have scored the second-most goals (24) and have allowed the second-fewest goals (13).

They’ve got a few attacking weapons. They’ve won five out of the last six games, so they’re obviously coming into this game very high in confidence. It’s like every game in this league. There hasn’t been any easy game for us this year, and this is going to be another tough game. But I think when you look at our performances, perhaps with the exception of Seattle away, our performances against the teams at the top of the league have been very good, in particular here at home. So, hopefully, the key thing for us is to get our structure right, to get our focus right, to get our tactics right, and for the players to turn up in the game and perform.

Most of the Pride’s Olympic players returned Monday.

Monica’s [Hickmann Alves] just back for her first day [Thursday]. We haven’t played for four weeks. Washington had the advantage of playing last weekend, so until we actually go out on the field tomorrow night, it’s going to be a little bit of the unknown if we’re going to go out there fresh, rested and jumping out of our skin, or if we’re going to go out there and be a little under done having not played for four weeks.

Canadian international Josée Bélanger won a bronze medal in the 2016 Olympic Summer Games with a 2-1 win over host nation Brazil.

Josée is not back. The Canadians are still polishing the medal off, I think, at the moment. She’s gone back to Canada and had the week off. She’ll be back early next week.

Head coach Tom Sermanni said his team is rested and fresh after not having played club soccer for more than a month.

I’m not really worried. We’ve had a really good week this week in training. Hopefully, when you have this spell off you get the training right and the balance between training and resting, and I talked to a few players the other day. They feel really rested, but they also feel really fresh. So if that translates to the game, I’m not concerned.

The Pride are three spots out from the NWSL playoffs with five regular-season matches remaining. Fortunately for the Pride, they are only seven points from a playoff spot. In their path, though, stand the No. 1 Spirit—who they will play Friday at Camping World Stadium at 7:30 p.m.—and a home-and-home matchup against No. 5 Sky Blue FC.

I think [the focus has] been a week to week thing. It’s been certain things in certain games, but it’s just been a constant process on just focusing on habits, on things that we expect players to do. I know that sounds like a really big answer… “Basic fundamentals” is probably the right answer to that. You know, it’s been a tricky season for, I think, everybody when you start a new team because you’re still getting to know players. You’re getting to know their strengths, their weaknesses. Who plays well with who? Etcetera. And, to be honest, we’re still doing that to an extent. So, the key thing now is we’re starting to get to know people better, and we’re starting to work on different things. It’s really just getting the fundamental things right, and if we can do that, we can eliminate a lot of the mistakes that we’re making and hopefully improve results.

While she was selected by U.S. women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis to be on the national-team squad, Ashlyn Harris didn’t see playing time in the four Olympic matches the team played. The last time Harris played in a game was in a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dash on Thursday, June 23, 2016.

[Her fitness level is] fantastic. She’s been in a training environment every day with two or three other high-level goalkeepers and the world’s No. 1 team. So, the training environment that she’s been in has been intense. So, she’s come back, and she won’t miss a beat. I have no concerns with her at all.

The club announced Australian defender Steph Catley would be out for the remainder of the season on Monday. On Thursday, Sermanni revealed that Matildas teammate Laura Alleway will be sidelined, as well, with an injury.

Josée won’t be back, and our two Australians are injured. So, really, we’re down to Ashlyn and Alex, and I think this is Monica’s first day back at training. So, I would say that it’s likely that she won’t start the game, but hopefully will play in some of the game. But we just need to be careful. She’s played six games in about two and a half weeks.

Laura’s got a slight quad strain. That’s a week-to-week thing at this stage, but, again, having these muscle injuries, you’ve got to be really careful.

In Orlando City’s men’s senior team’s inaugural season, the squad failed to make MLS playoffs. The Orlando Pride are currently seven points away from a playoff spot but only have five regular-season matches to achieve that goal.

We’ve reached that stage. Obviously I’ve fended off questions like that probably for a few weeks, but I think we’ve reached the stage now where we’ve got a chance of making the playoffs. Well, for a chance of making the playoffs, we’ve got to win tomorrow night. Whether there’s a mathematical chance after that, I couldn’t tell you, but I think reality is we’ve got to get a result tomorrow night. That’s critical in the playoff race. So I can’t hide behind that with mathematics or anything.

But I think that the second thing for playoffs is, well, there’s an individual and a collective element to it, to what we need to do over the next five games. I think, individually, players have got to show enough for us to say, “Okay, we want you here. We want you as part of our plans next year.” So they’ve got, I think, an individual responsibility for their performance tomorrow night. And I think collectively, we want to show as a team that we’re going to be competitive right to the end of the season, and whether or not we make the playoffs that we finish as high as possible in the competition.

F Alex Morgan

In the first game after national-team players departed for the Olympics, the Pride defeated the Boston Breakers 2-1 behind two stoppage-time goals from Kristen Edmonds.

The first game that we actually missed…Kristen Edmonds came up huge. She was kind of a super woman that game, but I think that there was a couple games after that that we dropped that we shouldn’t have. I feel like this team has worked really hard and deserved something more out of those two games. So I think now we have to kind of catch up because we dropped in the table a little bit. So it’s important for us to take every game seriously and know that if we don’t win four out of these next five games that we’re not really going to be in contention for playoffs.

Alex Morgan has consistently worn the armband for the Pride in the team’s inaugural season.

Well, I don’t know if I needed to really say anything to keep the girls focused. We haven’t had a game in about a month, and so I think everyone’s pretty hungry to get back out on the field and start up the second half of NWSL, or however you want to call it. I think everyone’s pretty motivated at this point.

The favored U.S. women’s national team fell to Sweden in the 2016 Summer Olympics 4-3 in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 tie. Dating back to 1996—when the Olympics first began hosting women’s soccer—the United States had earned gold (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012) or silver (2000).

Going through it, I felt like the team was really calm, and I felt like sometimes we were playing really good soccer, but a lot of times we weren’t playing our best soccer. So going into the quarterfinal match, we were all feeling pretty confident and positive, and, unfortunately, it just didn’t go our way multiple times that game and having played catch-up, being down 1-0 was really difficult for the team because Sweden was able to just bunker in and have more of a defensive presence in the game after they scored… And then when you leave it up to penalties, anything can happen, and we saw that the next game when Sweden played Brazil.

It was really unfortunate, and it was super heartbreaking for the team because we had always medaled in every Olympics we’ve been to… But we’re all happy to get back in with NWSL and just go for the next thing, which, for us, is playoffs and a championship.

Morgan and the rest of the national-team players haven’t played with the Pride since a 2-1 loss to the Portland Thorns on Sunday, June 26, 2016.

When I first came out here on Monday for my first training, there was just a lot of good energy with the team, and I felt like it was really positive. So we’ve been going through some tactics each day on kind of the formation we want to play and the style we want to play and kind of the pressure pockets. So, I think it’s been really good. Obviously, you just never know until you get those first 10 minutes in with the game. But I think, just in general, with the entire league not really having played a game in a month or so, it’s going to be a little frantic in the first 15 minutes, and, hopefully, we’ll settle down, and our team can kind of control the game from there.

In the Olympic tournament play, Morgan tallied two goals on 12 shots (four on goal). The U.S. finished 2-1-1 with a quarterfinal elimination to Sweden.

Going into the Olympics, I felt super healthy; I felt really fit, and I felt like my touch was at a good point in this year. For me having scored a couple goals with the national team, I’m excited to get back here and kind of contribute in a way that I did before the Olympics and score some goals and just help us win those important games that are really necessary to make playoffs.

On Monday, the club announced that left-back Catley would be sidelined for the remainder of the season with injuries she sustained in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Prior to her injury, Catley made 11 starts in 11 games for the Pride, playing in all 990 minutes. She also scored Orlando’s first-ever goal in a 2-1 loss to the Portland Thorns in the team’s inaugural regular-season match.

Losing Steph is huge because she’s such an important piece to this team. For me, she’s one of the best left-backs in the world without question. So, that’s really a huge blow. But we have players to come in and step up, even players that might not have played in the left-back position, and we have players that are switching from right side to left side all the time. So, the players on this team are willing to adjust to any position they’re asked, and that’s what great about this team is you have a big group of girls who can play different positions and can be very versatile in times that are needed.

U.S. women’s national team and Seattle Reign goalkeeper Hope Solo was suspended from U.S. soccer play for six months by U.S. Soccer Federation for six months after she called the Swedish women’s national team “a bunch of cowards” after a 4-3 loss in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 draw.

It’s a bummer that happened to one of my teammates, but, at the same time, I don’t agree with the things that she said in the Olympics. So you have to kind of leave the punishment, if there’s going to be any, up to the [United States Soccer] [F]ederation, and they decided to take action.

The Pride have not drawn a game in their inaugural season; in fact, of the 10 NWSL teams, Orlando is the only one without a draw.

It’s the complete opposite from Orlando City. I mean, I think for us, we’ve come in huge for games and scored really late goals, but we’ve also conceded late goals, as well. So, I think it shows that we’re willing to fight until the last second, but also we’re willing to make a push in the last couple minutes, even if that possibly means giving up that goal, which has happened a couple of times, but it’s also benefited us a couple of times, as well. So, hopefully in the next couple of games, we’ll keep it that way with no ties, and we’ll just be on the winning side, rather than the losing.

Like Morgan, Solo has been a loud voice for equal pay for professional women soccer players.

For us, there’s 25 players fighting for equal pay. You know, we all play our part in it equally as much as Hope did. So, I think that it’ll still be a very important issue especially with the new contract supposed to be starting in 2016. It’s a very important time for this team.

Aug. 24, 2016 at Sylvan Lake Park
Availability: GK Ashlyn Harris

GK Ashlyn Harris

Before international play began, the Orlando Pride were 5-6-0 with 15 points. The Pride would subsequently lose three of their next four games without their national-team players, finishing the run 6-9-0 with 18 points.

Clearly, I don’t think the team was really satisfied with the results that we got while a few of us were away at the Olympics. But that’s in the past, and we’re looking to move forward… We’ve got these next few games coming up. They’re going to be huge for us. We’re still believing. We still think we can make the playoffs. So, we’re grinding out here… We know what’s at stake.

The Pride are three spots out from the National Women’s Soccer League playoffs with five regular-season matches remaining. Fortunately for the Pride, they are only seven points from a playoff spot. In their path, though, stand the No. 1 Washington Spirit—who they will play Friday at Camping World Stadium at 7:30 p.m.—and a home-and-home matchup against No. 5 Sky Blue FC.

Every game is important. Every game is a push. I think we do have pressure on ourselves now, at this point. When we left, we were in a good spot, and, unfortunately, we have to play catch-up [now]. But we’re going to rise to the challenge, and we know what we need to do, and that’s get results and get points. And the good thing is we’re back home. So, we always play really well in front of our home crowd.

The favored U.S. women’s national team fell to Sweden in the 2016 Summer Olympics 4-3 in a penalty shootout following a 1-1 tie. Dating back to 1996—when the Olympics first began hosting women’s soccer—the United States had earned gold (1996, 2004, 2008, 2012) or silver (2000).

Of course it’s disappointing. Everyone expects us to win. We expect to win. That is not the way we envisioned our Olympics playing out. Everyone’s saying it was a rebuilding year, and there’s a lot of young talent.

It’s the best national team I’ve played on, that group. So there’s no excuse; we just came up short. Very disappointing, and now we have a chip on our shoulder, and now we’re hungrier than ever.

While she was selected by U.S. women’s national team head coach Jill Ellis to be on the national-team squad, Ashlyn Harris didn’t see playing time in the four Olympic matches the team played. The last time Harris played in a game was in a 1-0 victory over the Houston Dash on Thursday, June 23, 2016.

It’s a different role than what I play on the U.S. team. It’s good to come back and feel the freedom again. It’s going to be different, but I also got to get back into a rhythm, you know. I’ve been sitting for a while. I haven’t been playing in any games, and that’s a tough challenge for me. And reading the game is really different than playing in practice.

On Monday, the club announced that left-back Steph Catley would be sidelined for the remainder of the season with injuries she sustained in the 2016 Summer Olympic Games. Prior to her injury, Catley made 11 starts in 11 games for the Pride, playing in all 990 minutes. She also scored Orlando’s first-ever goal in a 2-1 loss to the Portland Thorns in the team’s inaugural regular-season match.

Steph being out is a huge blow…to our team. I’m a huge fan of hers. I think she’s one of the best left-backs in the world. But, you know, I can’t wish or hope. I got to put someone else in there and catch them up to speed, and she’s got to fill her role from the sidelines and be a leader… In this game, everyone’s replaceable—I hate to say it. Are we going to miss her? Hell yeah, we’re going to miss her. But someone’s going to be there doing her job and making her proud, and that’s what this team’s about.

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In his spare time, Victor tries to teach himself Wing Chun and how to play the piano. He occasionally fantasizes about the day Jeremy Lin returns to the Los Angeles Lakers; there might be crying at night. His favorite superhero is Spider-Man, and he wishes dearly that a radioactive spider would bite him, despite his arachnophobia—it's worth it! His Kryptonite? A baseball.