April 23, 2016 is notable in Orlando soccer history for several reasons. Not only was it the very first home game for the Orlando Pride, but it was also the day that the club earned its first ever NWSL victory. Since April 23 just so happened to be yesterday, the time is ripe to hop in the time machine and take a look back at a very important day for Orlando soccer.
There was rather a lot of buildup ahead of the Pride’s home opener against the Houston Dash. While the team had lost a close 2-1 match in the season opener against the Portland Thorns, it was a tight game in which the fledgling franchise had accounted itself well. With the announcement that over 21,000 tickets had been sold for the home opener at the Citrus Bowl, and a roster featuring national team players like Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris, there was quite the buzz surrounding the game.
For all of the hype, the game started rather drably. The first half didn’t feature very many quality chances. The best opportunity of the opening 45 fell to Houston’s Janine Beckie, who found herself clean through on goal facing down Harris. However, as she’s done so many times in the years since, the U.S. international was equal to the task, and the 19th-minute chance went wanting.
Suffice it to say that the game was a rather livelier affair once the second half began, and there was a goal not even 90 seconds after the restart. Jasmyne Spencer got the ball to Morgan in the box and, while she slipped during her shot, the ball went in off Andressa’s leg for the Pride’s first goal at home. In the 57th minute the lead was doubled. Lianne Sanderson came on as a substitute to start the second half, and she displayed excellent awareness to bag the team’s second goal. The Pride were awarded a free kick about 25 yards from goal, and rather than sit on her heels and allow the Dash time to properly defend their goal, Sanderson took it quickly and scored into the far corner.
56' GOOOOALLL SANDERSON! Catches the Dash off balance and puts it in the free kick in the back of the net! pic.twitter.com/0zUuGTQUVM— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) April 24, 2016
Things got even better just a few minutes after that. Harris made an excellent save and the Pride counterattacked from there, bringing the ball up the field where Spencer found Steph Catley on the left wing. She provided a good pass to Morgan at the top of the six-yard box and the striker made no mistake in firing the ball home at the near post.
Andressa was able to pull one back for the visitors with a well taken goal in the 75th minute but it didn’t matter, and the Pride ran out 3-1 winners on the back of a well-rounded performance.
The game was important for several reasons. Not only was it a win, but it was the franchise’s first ever win, first home win, and first points in the NWSL. The club also set an NWSL attendance record in the process, with the announced crowd of 23,403, blowing out the previous mark of 21,145 set by the Thorns in 2015. While that mark has since been eclipsed twice by the Thorns it remains the third highest NWSL regular season attendance, and is the only game out of the top 10 highest NWSL attendances not to be played at Providence Park.
While attendances at Pride games no longer reach those lofty numbers, the home opener helped prove that women’s soccer is more than viable in Orlando, and it’s a night plenty of us look back on very fondly.
Do you have any specific memories from the Pride’s first ever victory? If so, feel free to share them in the comments, and I’ll see you guys next week.