Sunday was a picture-perfect day for soccer. It was Mother’s Day (in the US), traffic in downtown Orlando was light and the sun was shining bright. (Note to self: 2 hours sitting in the Florida sun brought nothing but sunburns and stupid tan lines where I didn’t want them – I need to step my sunblock game up!) But despite sunny skies and very warm (!) weather, attendance for the Orlando Pride was only 8,211, a number that’s far from the 23,403 showing up to the club’s inaugural home match against the Houston Dash on April 23rd.
Season-ticket holders were there, proud members of The Crown – Orlando Pride’s first organized supporter club – were there, cheering and chanting throughout the game. So should we blame it on the fact that it was Mother’s Day? Some players were lucky to have their friends and families in the crowd to support them and celebrate Mother’s Day with them, including striker Alex Morgan and Satellite Beach native Ashlyn Harris. Other families probably had places to be.
It didn’t seem to be much of a problem for the players who feed off the crowd noise – the 8,000+ spectators were more than enough. Sarah Hagen scored her very first goal in purple just 11 minutes after kick off thanks to a very precise cross by Morgan. A moment Hagen is probably going to remember for a long time as she celebrated just a few days ago her 11-year anniversary of beating cancer – congratulations Sarah!
Orlando held tight and eventually scored the second goal of the match, when Lianne Sanderson beat Seattle’s Hope Solo after Solo had just made a top-shelf save. Sanderson followed the play and scored the rebound, her second of the season.
The match pitted former college teammates against each other. Orlando’s Jamia Fields and Seattle’s Carson Pickett had never faced each other professionally after playing together at Florida State from 2012-2014, where they won a national championship together. Orlando’s Toni Pressley and Becky Edwards also played at FSU.
Also facing each other were two of the best goalkeepers in world: Hope Solo, the US national team’s number one goalie, and Ashlyn Harris who is currently fighting for a spot in the Rio Olympics roster: the number two position is what she’s after. Both players delivered high quality performances and there is no doubt that the many USWNT matches coming up will have a strong impact on both teams with such critical players being away.
And you can tell by the way fans immediately stopped cheering when Harris collided with Michelle Cruz in the 82nd minute. The Orlando keeper was sent to the ground doubled over in pain and you could feel the crowd fearing a severe injury. Fans eventually started chanting her name and gave the stadium a rock concert kind of feeling. Harris was able to continue although Laura Alleway was required to take the ensuing goal kick for her after the play.
Orlando players granted the crowd with a victory lap after the game, we could only wish there were more supporters to cheer along. Orlando City SC, Orlando’s men’s soccer team, averaged 32,847 fans at the Citrus Bowl (now renamed Camping World Stadium) in their debut MLS season last year. Let’s hope that the NWSL will continue to grow and eventually attract as many spectators as the MLS does, especially in Orlando where soccer has become the most popular sport over the past few years. You don’t have to go very far to see people wearing purple t-shirts or soccer jerseys: they’re at the mall, at Disney Springs, at the gas station, everywhere – and that’s a good thing!
The Orlando Pride remain undefeated at home – a pretty good start we’d say!
Credits : all pictures courtesy by the author of the article