Last night in the Citrus Bowl, records fell and a new era dawned as the Orlando Pride played their first ever home match, hosting the Houston Dash. Almost everyone in the stadium went home happy as the home team won a convincing victory, and we even spotted several of the MLS players that did not travel to New York for the Red Bulls match at the game last night. They were in attendance to cheer on the NWSL side and contribute to the celebration.
- Ashlyn Harris - There is a reason she wears number one, and she proved it last night. While it felt like Orlando was in control of possession for much of the game, there were several mistakes by the players in the field and a few well-constructed attacks by Houston that forced Harris to make some pretty dramatic saves. Perhaps one of the best was in the 19th minute when a Pride defender muffed a ball that allowed Dash rookie Janine Beckie to start a breakaway just outside the Pride area, catching Harris well off her line. Beckie shot for the open goal and a diving Harris managed to deflect it just enough to send the ball wide for a Houston corner kick that came to nothing. All in all Harris notched seven saves and preserved the 2-goal margin of victory for the team.
- Jasmyne Spencer - Spencer is 5'1" and was barely taller than the kid who had the honor to walk out of the tunnel with her at the beginning of the match. But she proves the adage that good things come in small packages when the ball lands at her feet. Spencer flew all over the pitch like a frenetic hummingbird, first tackling the ball off the feet of opponents and next building up a new attack for the Pride. And she proved very strong, too. On several occasions defenders would get their feet tangled with Spencer and somehow she would dance out of it and keep going down the field, most of the time without ever losing possession of the ball. This lady is going to be a lot of fun to watch all season.
- Lianne Sanderson - Going into the match I had heard from numerous sources that Sanderson is one of the fastest players on the team, and that she would likely provide a spark coming off the bench. Sanderson did start the second half of the match in relief of Dani Weatherholt, and made her presence felt as soon as she hit the pitch, figuring in the buildup that led to Orlando City's first goal (scored as an own goal when Alex Morgan's shot deflected off Houston's Andressa and past Dash netminder Lydia Williams). Then just a few minutes later when Orlando was awarded a free kick, Sanderson showed her cheeky side by taking advantage of a confused gaggle of Dash defenders trying to sort out if they should like up in a wall or not, and when the referee blew the whistle, she sizzled her free kick over the defenders and around the keeper into the back of the net.
- Alex Morgan - Is there anything about our Pride captain you cannot love? She's got a smile that will light up a city block, mad skills that will make you pull a hamstring just watching her footwork, and a passion for making the sport better for its future stars. And oh yeah--she can kick the snot out of the ball when she drives it to the net as well. Morgan registered her first regular season goal in a Pride uniform last night as well, sending the already ecstatic Citrus Bowl crowd into even greater celebrations.
- Carli Lloyd - As a fan of sports, I truly hate seeing players get injured, and in the game of soccer it really stings to see a player get hurt because of the whole "for club and country" ethos. Last night in an orange kit Lloyd was the opposition--she's not your enemy: if she were wearing Pride purple you'd be screaming that you love her as loudly as you scream you love Alex Morgan. But in a few months' time wearing the national team kit, Lloyd is supposed to be one of our heroes trying to bring home Olympic gold. Lloyd was subbed out early, and before we left the parking lot from the post-game celebration with friends from The Crown supporters group, ESPN had a blurb that Lloyd will have an MRI today (Sunday) to evaluate the extent of the injury to her knee. Let's hope it's minor and she will be able to get back to playing for her club soon and be healthy for the Olympics as well.
- No Confetti Cannons - I was a bit surprised and saddened that there were no confetti cannons at the match last night. I learned from some the Crown leadership that this was a cost issue. Apparently, every time the cannons are fired it adds about $3000 to the cost of the match for the club. There's apparently $1000 to load the glitter and the charge to fire the cannons, and an additional $2000 in clean-up cost to pick up all the confetti after the match. Last night saw a record-setting crowd for an NWSL match, and the cannons could well have added to the festive atmosphere. But I think fans who want to see them used in Pride matches can help by making sure they buy tickets and attend games. If the club sees they are bringing in good revenue numbers week in and week out for these matches, they will be more likely to see the value in spending the extra money to help the celebrations be that much more exciting.
- Tailgate Time SNAFUs - There was a big conflict in communications between the City of Orlando and the Orlando City club over when the tailgate lots would open on Saturday. The official word that went out was that lots would not open until 4:30 pm, and that was still the official word as of Saturday morning. But some time between noon and 2:00 pm the decision was made and the announcement went out that lots would open at 2:30 pm. Now many who don't partake of tailgate culture may not care, but that extra two hours really provides a lot more time for people to prepare food and enjoy fellowship with other fans, as well as to take in all the sights and sounds and experience of Mane Street and the whole game day experience. Personally, I can't complain because I showed up at 5pm and found that the Crown had saved us a premium parking spot about a pitch length from the stadium where we could set up and tailgate with the rest of our friends, but we would have preferred to not have to navigate through a sea of pedestrians milling around the parking lot to get to that spot if I had known I could get there earlier. Others in my group already had schedules set that meant we couldn't leave earlier when the news came out about the updated lot opening times.
- Attendance Record Set - I've alluded to it before, but in the 70th minute of the match they announced an official attendance of 23,403, which shattered the previous record by about 2,000 fans.
- Crown Supporters Debut - The Crown, the official Supporters group for the Orlando Pride, made their matchday debut on Saturday. The supporters section of the stadium filled in very nicely, and the Crown were enthusiastic in their cheering. This is a great accomplishment, considering that the Ruckus and the ILF had several years of USL play to get their act together be ready for the MLS debut. Those supporter groups are as loud and energetic as any you will find in North America, so it's easy to forget that they have had to build up over time. From the volume and number of Crown fans that showed up at the match yesterday, I think the new Pride supporters group are well on their way to becoming just as passionate and important to the club as the Ruckus and ILF have become to the MLS side.
- First Win - The match marked the first win for the club after the disappointing loss at Portland Thorns last week. Early in the season those three points are huge and give Orlando a great jump start on the season. In addition, winning the match by multiple goals puts the team at a +1 goal differential. As we saw from the end of the MLS season last year, that goal differential can be very important at the end of the season to determine playoff positions.
- First Goals for Lianne Sanderson and Alex Morgan - The Captain and the Super Sub each got their first goals in a regular season match while wearing the Orlando Pride kit. Morgan came close several more times to finding the back of the net, and Sanderson was involved in many of the second-half attacks, so I certainly expect to see a lot more goals coming off the feet of these wonderful players.
What about you? Did you attend the match last night? What did you think were the best and worst moments of the match? What bits of history did you notice on the pitch or in the stands last night? Let me know in the comments below!