CITRUS BOWL — The Orlando Pride (1-1-0, 3 points) did not disappoint their record-breaking crowd in their home-opener against the Houston Dash (1-1-0, 3 points) on Saturday night.
Following a scoreless first half, Pride head coach Tom Sermanni inserted Lianne Sanderson at the start of the second half, leading to a 3-1 Pride victory in front of 23,403 in attendance at the Citrus Bowl.
Already up 1-0, Sanderson found the back of the net in the 57th minute with a free kick initiated by a foul on Kristen Edmonds. With both teams aimlessly wandering and waiting for an everyday free kick, Sanderson placed the ball and quick-kicked it to the far post for her first regular-season goal with the Pride.
“[Sermanni] just said to me, ‘Be yourself, be creative and get on the ball as much as you can,’ and I think I did that as soon as I came into the game,” Sanderson said. “He said, ‘Don’t change anything about what you usually do.’ So that’s what I did, really.”
Said Sanderson about her quick-hitting goal: “Most officials, I always ask if I can take it early, and they say, ‘No, no, no.’ And I know that the rules are if you ask, then you can take it quick. So as I was putting the ball down, I could hear people telling me, ‘Calm down, Lianne. Calm down.’ And I knew exactly what I was going to do. And I knew [if] the goalkeeper was lining up on the near post, and if I bend it enough, it was always going to go in.”
Scoring began with a Dash own goal, as Andressa Machary knocked the ball in at the 46th minute. Edmonds inbounded the ball to Pride forward Alex Morgan, who then headed it behind her to a cutting Jasmyne Spencer. Spencer scuffled to the right following a blocked shot and expertly back-heeled it to Morgan, who was there for the immediate shot attempt that Machary deflected into goal.
The Dash played about 80 minutes of the match without U.S. women’s national team star Carli Lloyd, who left the match at the 12th minute because of an injury. She was replaced by Kealia Ohai. Lloyd tweeted later in the evening that she will get an MRI and “go from there.”
For Sermanni, her absence was a significant blow, but not one drastic enough that the game would be easily won.
“From a pure soccer perspective, obviously, she’s a key player for them,” Sermanni said. “But they’re a very talented side. When you got Morgan Brian in there, you got another world-class midfield player that you have to deal with. So they had Morgan Brian and they had Amber Brooks, who has also played for the U.S. national team. So, losing Carli obviously was a big blow for them, but they’ve got enough depth to cope with that.”
Morgan finished off Orlando’s goal-scoring with the help of an aggressive left side featuring Spencer and left back Steph Catley. Spencer drove the ball down the left side of the pitch and slotted a no-look pass to Catley, who arrived just in time to bang the ball in for a Morgan one-timer.
“Obviously, [Spencer and I] haven’t been playing together long. I’ve always played against her, so I guess I’ve had a bit of experience in what she likes from defending her,” said Catley about her relationship with Spencer. “Yeah, she’s an amazing player to play with. She’s so fast and she’s a really smart player and can sort of turn and dribble at any point. She’s so open to learn, especially defensively. She really listens to what advice I’m giving from behind… She’s a great player, and I think she’s going to be amazing for us this season.”
In the 75th minute, Machary scored an unassisted goal, driving in a ball from about 25 yards out to avoid the shutout. That was perhaps Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris’ only error in what was otherwise a fantastic match in goal. Harris endured nine shots, six on goal, while recording five saves, not counting at least two or three spectacular saves that weren’t counted because of offside calls.
“Ashlyn saved our butts in the first couple minutes when we had kind of a mistake in the back,” Morgan said. “She came up huge a couple of times this game, and she’s going to keep coming up huge for us this season. She’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and I think tonight that showed. I fully trust her in the back… I only see her continuing to do well in this league and with this team, and coming up this summer, I just see her continuing to make big saves like that.”
The Pride will next play the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, May 1. Meanwhile, Houston will host Sky Blue FC on April 29 at 8:30 p.m.
The mighty roar of 23,403 fans echoed loudly throughout the Citrus Bowl at about the 70th minute mark as it was announced the single-game attendance record in the NWSL had just been broken.
“I think the crowd that we had today is taking this league to a new level,” Sermanni said. “I mean, it wasn’t just the number in the crowd, but it was a passionate crowd, it was the color in the crowd. The way they supported the team was absolutely phenomenal. Hopefully we did enough tonight to encourage them to continue to come back and watch the rest of our games.”
Portland Thorns FC held the previous record of 21,144, which was set on July 22, 2015.
Pride player of the match
Big things come in little packages. That cliché is most applicable to Spencer, who played an all-around tough, physical game. The 5-foot-1 forward fell to the ground perhaps more than any other player on the pitch, but was still integral to two of the team’s goals.
Sermanni compared her to the Energizer Bunny, referring to her activity and general be-everywhere mode of play. The New York native finished with an assist, not including her hockey assist that set up Morgan for her first-ever Pride goal, and 90 minutes played.
Orlando City starting XI (4-3-3): Harris; Catley, Laura Alleway, Monica Hickmann Alves, Josée Bélanger; Becky Edwards, Kaylyn Kyle, Dani Weatherholt; Spencer, Morgan, Edmonds
Houston starting XI (4-1-2-3): Lydia Williams; Allysha Chapman, Becca Moros, Ellie Brush, Poliana Barbosa; Brooks; Machary, Brian; Rachel Daly, Janine Beckie, Lloyd
The Orlando Soccer Journal is non-profit news organization. If you’re enjoying our content, please help us fund our new website with a small one-time donation by clicking here.