Washington, D.C. (03/18/22) – The Washington Spirit will open the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup against the Orlando Pride on Saturday, March 19 at 7:00 p.m. at Exploria Stadium. The match will be broadcast on Paramount+ for fans in the United States and on Twitch for international viewers.
The Orlando Pride are coming off an offseason full of changes. Head Coach Amanda Cromwell is entering her first season in charge after a successful career at UCLA. During the offseason, the Pride were busy with trades, sending Alex Morgan, Jodie Taylor, Taylor Kornieck and Emily van Egmond to San Diego, Ali Riley and Brittany Wilson to Angel City, Phoebe McClernon to OL Reign, and Ashlyn Harris and Ali Krieger to NJ/NY Gotham FC. It wasn’t all outbound for the Pride though as they brought in the likes of Darian Jenkins, Celia Jiménez Delgado, Leah Pruitt and Angharad James.
Heading into this game, expect both teams to spend the early parts of this game feeling eachother out and get back into game rhythm. A key area of the field for the Pride will be their backline and goalkeeper Erin McLeod. With Krieger and Harris both moving on this offseason, the leadership core in the back will be different.
Washington is coming off winning the first NWSL Championship in club history last season and are looking to start off the season strong. Defenders Paige Nielsen and Tegan McGrady were two major pieces to not return this season, both heading off to expansion sides Angel City and San Diego Wave.
The Spirit are returning 21 players from the 2021 NWSL Championship team. Midfielder Tori Huster will start the season on the season-ending injury list after tearing her achilles in the quarterfinal match vs. North Carolina last season. Five players have joined the Spirit this offseason, including veterans Nicole Barnhart, Amber Brooks, and Gaby Vincent. Prior to the draft, the Spirit signed Alia Martin after picking up her rights via the discovery process. Forward Tinaya Alexander, a 2022 NWSL Draft Pick out of LSU, signed her first NWSL contract during the preseason.
Keep an eye out on the front line, including Golden Boot winner Ashley Hatch and Rookie of the Year Trinity Rodman, who both return after participating in USWNT camps this offseason. While attention will undoubtedly be on those two to start the year, make sure to watch out for Ashley Sanchez, who impressed during the SheBelieves Cup for the USWNT. The Spirit will also return a familiar back five including Goalkeeper of the Year Aubrey Bledsoe, Olympic Silver Medalist Julia Roddar, Olympic Bronze Medalists Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara and mainstay Sam Staab.