Bad luck hit Aubrey Bledsoe hard in the 2016 season. After being drafted by Orlando in the Expansion Draft, there was an expectation that Bledsoe would see significant playing time while Ashlyn Harris was away with the U.S. Women’s National Team. Unfortunately, an injury at training caused her to miss the remainder of the NWSL season before Harris had even left for the Olympics.
In 2017, Bledsoe was healthy to start the season, but a freak accident at halftime against the North Carolina Courage on May 15 caused her to miss the next Orlando Pride match because of the standard 10-day concussion protocol. To be fair, Bledsoe was not expected to see playing time because Ashlyn Harris is the starting goalkeeper but, as bad luck would have it, Harris went down just twenty minutes into the match. With both Harris and Bledsoe out, the Pride called on Caroline Stanley- the former Sky Blue goalkeeper they signed as a replacement earlier in the week.
Caroline Stanley performed admirably, helping the Orlando Pride earn a hard-fought draw 3,000 miles away in Seattle. Could that performance get her the chance for another start? The answer is not so easy.
With Bledsoe expected to be cleared to return, Orlando Pride will have to weigh the strengths of the two keepers and the attacking style of Sky Blue; the Pride’s next opponent and Stanley’s former team.
Team familiarity vs. NWSL experience
Aubrey Bledsoe has spent all of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 around her Orlando Pride teammates. She knows the players and the system. For as much familiarity as Bledsoe has, however, she is very short on experience (only 100 total minutes – 2 goals allowed).
Caroline Stanley has spent one week with her new Orlando Pride teammates, but has much more experience (2,000 total minutes 18 goals allowed ). Stanley boasts three career shutouts; something the Orlando Pride have struggled with tremendously.
NOTE: The lion’s share of Stanley’s experience came last year with Sky Blue FC.
As far as physical strengths go, the two players could not be more different. Aubrey Bledsoe is tall and fast. Caroline Stanley is more compact but an incredible shot stopper.
Sky Blue’s goal scoring style
Sky Blue is second best in the NWSL with 10 goals to the good. Four of those goals have come from the penalty spot, three goals have been scrappy goals inside the box, two were breakaways against Houston, and one Washington Spirit own goal.
With a team that scores so many goals from the spot and in the box, height versus shot-stopping will be a tough call that Sermanni will have to make.
“Former team” narrative
While both players have suited up for Sky Blue, Stanley certainly had a more bitter exit than Bledsoe. Stanley has a tremendous about of grit and some bad feelings toward her old squad. That motivation may lead her to play in superhuman form, or it may lead her to be distracted.
NOTE: To learn more of the back story, check out Women’s Soccer Zone’s feature here http://www.womenssoccerzone.com/caroline-stanley-stadium-lights-went-suited-wondering-everyone/
Overall, Tom Sermanni’s decision to start Aubrey Bledsoe is not as cut and dry as it appears at first glance. Who should he choose? I’ll leave that decision to the coach!