The NWSL will rev its engines Sunday as two teams square off on the infield at Daytona International Speedway.
The Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville FC will meet as part of the first-ever Daytona Soccer Fest. The clubs moved their regular-season match originally scheduled for July 2 in Orlando to a newly-built pitch at Daytona on July 3.
“I think we’re all thrilled,” Pride midfielder Meg Dougherty said. “We’re really excited to see the venue and see everything set up. I think it’s awesome to be making history. Hopefully the atmosphere is going to be electric, hopefully we’ll have a lot of people out there and we can put on a good performance.”
Racing coach Kim Bjorkegren said Thursday that the Louisville team, which came into training this week with a “new energy,” is excited to get out and compete in the new event.
“It’s going to be a special one for sure,” he said. “We don’t know exactly what we can expect from the pitch and the whole thing. But it’s going to be fun.”
While Racing Louisville is coming off a 2-2 draw with the Washington Spirit, the Pride suffered a 6-0 loss at the hands of the Portland Thorns their last time out. Both goalkeeper Erin McLeod and interim coach Seb Hines said Tuesday that leaving that match behind them was a point of emphasis during the NWSL’s international break.
“Our last game wasn’t something we were proud of. When it comes to team performance, you have an opportunity to let a few games define you or take control over your actions and how you perform,” said McLeod, adding that the team has responded well and used the week off to improve.
“We’ve got things to prove going into this game,” added Hines. “There’s been a different mindset in training sessions.”
McLeod called the break incredibly important, adding that the team has had a different energy as they’ve gotten back to training over the past few days.
“I am very proud of this team, in the last couple of days they have shown an entirely new level and a new hunger and desire, understanding that the last performance wasn’t good enough,” said McLeod.
The goalkeeper also addressed the unique atmosphere and what it could bring to the NWSL.
“I think what’s really wonderful about the timing of this game is it gives us something to look forward to and an opportunity to shine and also really grow the game,” she said.
“It’s an awesome time for women’s sports in this country,” McLeod added. “I think it’s growing at a rapid pace and an opportunity for different eyes to be watching our team and hopefully build more of a fan base as we continue to build this team.”
Both teams have lost significant pieces of their teams over the international break, with Racing trading Ebony Salmon to Houston and Orlando sending Sydney Leroux to Angel City. But the moves haven’t deterred either side as they head into Sunday.
“It is the NWSL, it’s the league and I think you have a lot of turnover constantly,” said Racing midfielder Lauren Millet when asked about the club also missing players due to international duty. “A lot of players are used to that. But I think we have a good core group that’s rearing and ready to go.”