All I’ve heard over the past three years is “When are we going to be in the playoffs?” and “This city will go nuts for a playoff push.” Never mind that patience doesn’t seem to be a virtue here (a whole other topic) but what 18,478 of you aren’t realizing is that there’s a playoff push already happening. You’re just not paying attention.
The Orlando Pride are on their way to Orlando’s first top flight soccer playoff appearance and too many of you are sitting at home. Right now, they sit fourth in the table and are boasting the best record of any team in the league over the past six games, collecting 16 out of a possible 18 points.
I think we can all agree soccer is way more exciting when there are goals being scored, right? The Pride lead the league in goals and assists with Marta sitting as second-leading scorer (12) and tied for second in assists (six). The team also sits near the top of the league in shots on goal (tied for first) and total shots (third).
What does this all mean? The games are anything but boring. And, a scary but exciting thought: this is all with Alex Morgan — recently named NWSL Player of the Month — only starting nine matches, tallying eight goals and three assists in a run of form that rivals any of her career.
Don’t want to take my word for how exciting this team is? Take four minutes out to watch here:
It may be cheesy, but if you’ve paid attention to the recent marketing of the Pride it might say it all as far as why you pay attention. Legend. Boss. Fighter. I can’t think of any characteristics I would want in a team that these three words don’t capture.
Every level of the squad has a star — or two — that can make a game-changing play. Marta and Alex Morgan are two of the greatest women’s players in the world today and maybe ever. Our defense is laden with international stars, notably the USWNT’s Ali Krieger. Ashlyn Harris and Aubrey Bledsoe continue to hold down one of the best goalkeeping units in the league.
However, the player you probably haven’t paid attention to because she’s not the household name or legend like some of her teammates is midfielder, fighter, Dani Weatherholt. The second-year Santa Clara product has been nothing but outstanding and potentially the breakout player of the year for the NWSL. If there was anywhere that the Pride suffered or had the greatest need for improvement, it was in the middle third, and Weatherholt has excelled. She’s not lighting up the scoreboard but her box-to-box play has anyone in the know telling you that this U-23 U.S. National Team player is one of the key reasons the Pride are in their current situation.
But for many of you, you already knew about how great this team “should” be. The problem is we were robbed of seeing this right from the start. Combinations of international appearances, transfers, and injuries halted a momentum that I don’t believe would have been stopped from day one forward. But here’s the good news: Alex is back, Ashlyn is healthy, and the team is peaking at just the right moment. You might ask where did I get that 18,478 number from? That’s the difference in average attendance between the Pride and Orlando City. That’s the difference in people who are choosing to watch an unlikely push to a realistic one (sorry, OCSC).
This is where I challenge you. Mark your calendars for Sept. 9 (Seattle Reign) and Sept. 23 (Portland Thorns). These two matches will most likely decide the Pride’s fate and we all need to be there to support them. For those that have supported from opening day, or more recently in pouring rain, I give you kudos but ask for your continued support. Orlando is known for having some of the best soccer fans in all the country and now is the time to show it. If all goes well, we may even be cheering on an NWSL final in our house, with our team. How amazing would that be?
I’ve heard all the excuses of why not. Hopefully I’ve given you the reasons to forget about them and remember the one thing this city has been dying to support since professional soccer came here — a playoff push.