TALLAHASSEE, FL — The Pride began the preseason with a 3-2 road loss to the Florida State Seminoles. The match format was far from normal, with the sides playing three 30-minute periods with no limit on substitutions. Sydney Leroux scored her first goal as a member of the Pride, but it wasn’t enough on a night when Orlando was shorthanded.
It was a capacity — mostly partisan — crowd at the Seminole Soccer Complex, though many were Pride fans as well as Seminole fans. Before you get too worried about a loss to a college team — and the first ever preseason loss in Pride history — there are some things you should know. Half of the Pride’s signed players were not there. Those that were, and the trialists filling in, were quite literally introduced to each other in the locker room before the match. Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni knew what he and his team were in for.
“It was always going to be difficult,” he said, “because having nine players away on international duty has decimated the squad a little bit.”
Of those nine missing players, Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris are with the U.S. Women’s National Team for the SheBelieves Cup, while Marta, Monica, and Poliana are training with Brazil. Five other players are competing in the Algarve Cup including Shelina Zadorsky for Canada, Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond for Australia, and Nadia Gomes with her first call-up for Portugal. Despite the Pride not having some of their biggest stars, soccer fans in Tallahassee were able to watch Leroux’s first match in purple. The game was also a homecoming for Florida State alumni Carson Pickett and Toni Pressley.
As the lineups were announced, Ali Krieger and Leroux received the biggest cheers. Leroux didn’t wait very long to reward the fans for coming out, scoring her first goal for the Pride in the eighth minute. The goal was unassisted as she came across the top of the box from the left and deftly put her shot into the right side of the goal.
FSU came out with more pressure in the second 30-minute period. Less than two minutes into the period, Danica Evans was called for a handball in the box. FSU’s Deyna Castellanos pulled the Seminoles even when she put the penalty kick to the left and Haley Kopmeyer went right. In the 48th minute, Sermanni brought on seven trialists, leaving only two signed Pride players on the pitch. In timely fashion, FSU would take the lead in the 53rd minute on a goal from Kaycie Tillman.
Sermanni substituted Pressley and Dani Weatherholt in for Evans and Kreiger to start the third period. However, it was one of the trialists that would pull the Pride even with the Seminoles when Trudi Carter launched a nice shot from 25 yards out into the left corner of the goal. Despite the number of trialists on the field for the Pride, it seemed they would be able to get out of Tallahassee with a draw — but Castellanos wasn’t quite finished. The 2017 nominee for the Best FIFA Women’s Player Award launched a monster goal from nearly midfield, catching the goalie playing high in the box and giving FSU a 3-2 lead with less than two minutes to play.
Despite the score, the Pride’s first preseason match should be considered a success. The goals were to see the fitness levels of the signed players and to take a look at some trialists. Given the overwhelming challenges faced when cobbling together a team like this, the Pride played well. When the signed players were on the field to start the match, they looked sharp, even without the nine players away on international duty. Sermanni was pleased, despite the result.
“It’s difficult because we literally don’t have 11 contracted players on the field,” Sermanni said. “So we come up with a mish mash a little bit, which makes it difficult. All in all, generally I’m happy with where the team is at at the moment, and I’m happy with where individual players are at in relation to this early stage of the season. In general, I thought we were quite cohesive considering that we really haven’t played 11 on 11 for seven months or so.”
The other positive to take from such a match is that being able to get in front of soccer fans outside of the Orlando area will hopefully spread the Pride’s fan base beyond Central Florida. There were plenty in attendance that were wearing purple.
The Pride continue their preseason closer to home on March 3 at the University of Central Florida and then on March 8 at the University of South Florida in Tampa.