Last season, Orlando only played in four matches — all in the NWSL Fall Series. The bulk of the roster in those games was out on loan, but the Pride still managed a 0W-2L-2D record — not bad considering the circumstances.
The Pride went 1-1-2 in this season’s NWSL Challenge Cup. Orlando improved throughout the tournament and looks to be in a good spot. The Pride’s lone win came against the Spirit, so Orlando should feel confident heading into the opening game.
Before the match, let’s take a dive into the history books and see how Orlando fared in previous season openers.
The Pride fell 2-1 at Portland in their inaugural match. Steph Catley scored the lone goal for Orlando, but Tobin Heath had a pair of assists for the home team. Tom Sermanni sent his team out in a 4-3-3. Ashlyn Harris started in goal. Catley, Monica, Laura Alleway, and Josee Belanger played in front of Harris. The middle three consisted of Maddy Evans, Kaylyn Kyle, and Becky Edwards, with Jasmyne Spencer, Alex Morgan, and Kristen Edmonds as the attacking front.
Portland dominated the game early on but was unable to generate many chances. Orlando won a free kick just after 10 minutes into the match, and Catley sent it into the back of the net.
In the 24th minute, Lindsey Horan played a good ball across the field to Heath. She chipped it into the box, and Dagny Brynjarsdottir tapped it home to tie the game.
Both teams had chances in the second half but were unable to convert. The misses ended up costing the Pride. In the 81st minute, Heath played a perfect pass to Horan, who was somehow wide open in the box. Horan took a touch and then passed it into the back of the net for the game-winner.
In the Pride’s second season, Orlando again took on the Thorns in the season opener. Portland was drawn as the home team and came out victorious, this time in a 2-0 shutout win.
It was an even game, statistically. The Pride held 49% possession and had more shots (19-11) and shots on goal (9-5) than the hosts. Jasmyne Spencer had a few chances throughout the match but could never find the back of the net.
Portland again made the Pride pay for missed opportunities. Alanna Kennedy was called for a handball in the box just after the half-hour mark. Nadia Nadim took the penalty kick for the Thorns and tucked it away to open the scoring. Allie Long played a beautiful through ball to Christine Sinclair in the 67th minute. Sinclair was one-on-one with Harris. The ‘keeper stayed big, but the Canadian international had no trouble slotting the ball into the back of the net to seal the game.
The 2018 season was the first year that the Pride did not play the Thorns in the season opener. It was also the first time Orlando played at home to start the NWSL campaign. The result was Orlando not losing, although the 1-1 draw was also not ideal.
A crowd of 9,017 fans packed the grounds formerly known Orlando City Stadium. The fans were upset early in the match, as it took just three minutes for Utah to score. Diana Matheson sent a dangerous cross into the box just as Gunny Jónsdóttir — now a member of the Pride — made a run through the Orlando defense. The Icelandic attacker got her foot on the end of the cross to volley it past Harris to make it 1-0.
Becky Sauerbrunn was called for a handball in the 19th minute. Marta took the penalty, sent it into the side netting, and tied it at 1-1.
It was a sloppy game, and there certainly was early-season rust for teams. Orlando had its attacking trio of Marta, Morgan, and Leroux to start the match. Morgan was subbed out for Chioma Ubogagu in the second half. The Pride had a few chances at the beginning of the half but could not find the back of the net. Things evened out after a while, and neither team had many chances.
This was another season opener against the Thorns and another season opener loss. Orlando is 0-3-1 all-time in season openers, and this was by far the worst performance. The game was a preview of what was to come the rest of the season. The 2019 season was Orlando’s worst to date, and the Pride finished in last place. It also was a season when much of the Pride’s lineup was out due to the World Cup.
But the Pride were not without star power in this match. Harris, Krieger, Morgan, and Marta were all part of the starting lineup. Harris was called upon early and often, and the scoreline would have been worse for Orlando without her.
A poor pass from Shelina Zadorsky led to the opening goal. Portland won the ball back, and Sinclair played the ball to Heath. Heath made a no-look back pass to Caitlin Foord, who took one touch and easily finished.
Orlando was lucky to only be down 1-0 at the break, but Portland came out on the front foot in the second half. In the 50th minute, Foord assisted Heath, as the Thorns doubled their lead.
The Pride have never won on opening day. However, in home openers, Orlando is 1-1-2. The lone loss in the club’s home openers was the 2019 game against Portland discussed above. Orlando beat the Spirit a few weeks ago. While the Pride were second best for much of the match, Orlando did enough to earn the three points.
Orlando kicks off the season on Sunday at 6 p.m. at Exploria Stadium. There will be a reduced capacity at the stadium.