With their first season almost in the books, the Orlando Pride didn’t quite make it to the playoffs this year, but judging them on that alone fails to see the larger picture. From my point of view, their first year in the league was a success, for many different reasons.
First, let’s look at the attendance. The team set a record for the home opener at Camping World Stadium with 23,403 people in the stands. For the season the Pride have averaged 8,933 with one match remaining — good for second in the league. Think about that for a second — a first-year team in a sport that’s not as mainstream as others put almost 9,000 each game (on average) in CWS. As this team grows and gets better, that already awesome number has nowhere to go but up.
Much like the Orlando City magnet program, the Pride got in on it too. Now vehicles all over Central Florida and even further are adorned with the Pride’s purple. T-shirts and other accessories are available at your local stores, especially Publix, and generally the merch is sold out by game day.
Those first two facts alone say a lot. A city that is capable of not only supporting a team, but having that team thrive is a boon. How many NWSL teams are out there that would love to play in Orlando, especially with all the issues some areas have even just hosting a game for the fans. Remember the Western New York Flash and that fiasco of playing at Frontier Field? Next year, the Pride will be sharing a brand new soccer stadium with Orlando City.
And then there are the players. Alex Morgan was already a star when she arrived, but players like Ashlyn Harris, Kaylyn Kyle, Jasmyne Spencer, and Kristen Edmonds found their place among the beloved. Harris especially, who racked up quite a few Save of the Week awards this year with her stellar play, did well for herself. I know social media isn’t the end-all, be-all in terms of a barometer on status, but her 142,000 followers total isn’t anything to sneeze at.
So when you think about it, the team still has a lot to build on, but Year 1 was a success. The fans are into it, the city is behind the team, and the foundation is here for an even better sophomore year. Granted, the team needs a healthy dose of scoring and defense, but the players to provide that are already here. It is only a matter of time before Head Coach Tom Sermanni and the gang put it together.
The team is going to miss the playoffs and, while that is a bummer, don’t let that be the only way you judge this past season. To do so would be a disservice to both the team and to ourselves, the fans, who have supported them all summer long.