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Ashlyn Harris: Fan Support is Missing Piece for the Orlando Pride

The Pride goalkeeper says it’s time for the city to embrace the women’s team.

Those empty seats in the background are a concern to Ashlyn Harris and the Pride.
Dan MacDonald, The Mane Land

The Orlando Pride are off to a good start in 2018, slightly ahead of last season’s playoff pace in points per game, the attendance at home matches has not been commensurate with the team’s season. Orlando has earned points in nine of the last 10 and enters this week in second place in the NWSL standings, but has also set two franchise lows for single-game attendance in just five home dates this season.

The Pride are 2-1-2 in those five home matches and the lone loss was an exciting 4-3 final against league-leading champion North Carolina. So the team has been successful and competitive.

Why is attendance lagging? That question was put to veteran Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris after Monday’s training session by ProSoccerUSA’s / The Orlando Sentinel’s Jordan Culver and captured here on video by Austin David.

“You probably should ask the front office that. I mean, we have a winning record, we have creative players, we play a good brand of football — something this city should be proud of,” Harris said. “So, we’re doing our job. As far as getting people in the stands, I mean, we need to be asking questions why people aren’t showing up. Our job is to step on the field and have a good result and good performance and we’re doing that. Good question. I wonder the same thing.”

The Pride averaged 6,186 fans per game in 2017, which was good enough for second in the NWSL, but it was still 11,467 fewer fans per match than the Portland Thorns — last year’s second-place finisher in the regular season standings and ultimate playoff champions. Portland is obviously a different animal than the remainder of the league. Orlando finished more than 1,500 fans per game ahead of the Houston Dash, who were third in average attendance last year.

So far in 2018, the Pride are drawing just 5,103 fans per match through five home dates. Those included record lows of 3,890 in the second home game of the year — a Sunday afternoon 1-0 win over the Houston Dash — which was eclipsed by the 3,104 fans who showed up for a battle against the first-place Courage. The latter was a Wednesday night game, which at least makes some sense.

The high water mark this season came in the season opener, when the Pride drew 9,017 in the team’s first ever meeting with the Utah Royals on March 24. That is a significant drop from the 14,452 who turned out for the 2017 season opener against the Washington Spirit.

Harris said that the only thing missing for the club at the moment is that raucous support enjoyed by the MLS team.

“We’re kicking butt and we deserve it. There’s a lot of incredible women here and we sacrifice a lot to do this every day,” she said. “It would be great to have some support here in the city and bring your kids out. It’s such a great environment. I think that’s just the missing piece right now.”

The lower attendances this season — more than 1,000 fewer fans per game — have not gone unnoticed by the players.

“Honestly there’s nothing worse than being in the tunnel, being all hyped up, and walk out to a dead crowd,” Harris said. “They’re supposed to be your 12th man. I think so many people said ‘oh it’s so great to bring soccer to this city,’ but the greatest gift you can give someone is showing up and I think the city needs to start showing up. When things don’t pan out and work out [they’ll say] ‘oh well, we hate to hear the women’s team is no longer.’ Well, this is your chance. If you want to be able to see games in your back yard and have your kids have good role models to look up to.”

Orlando City SC has assembled a team of quality players from all over the world to build the Pride roster, and the side, led by striker Alex Morgan and midfielder/forward Marta, is capable of competing for trophies.

“You have two of the greats out on the field. You have a lot of international talent. Your job is to show up,” Harris said. “That’s something the city has to do. I know they show up for the men’s team and they’re supporting the men’s team and that’s great, but it’s time to show some support for the women’s team.

“We’re second place right now, we had a playoff run last year. We’re doing all the right things. So that’s my biggest, I guess, upsetting factor here is the fact that people aren’t showing up. We say so much about this city is a soccer city and there’s all this buzz. I don’t want to be harsh or immature but let’s see some action and not just words.”

Only time will tell if Harris’ words resonate with the fans or if those who have put off attending games this year will start to show up at Orlando City Stadium. We won’t have to wait long to find out, though. The Pride host two matches this week — tomorrow night against the Houston Dash at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday afternoon at 3:30.