Orlando is good at making history.
In front of a record-setting crowd, the Orlando Pride opened up their home slate with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dash. With 23,403 in attendance, the Pride broke the NWSL record originally set by the Portland Thorns (21,145) last season.
Alex Morgan and Lianne Sanderson, who knocked in a free kick from about 25 yards out, both scored their first goals as members of the Pride, adding to an Andressa own-goal in the 46th minute, to lead Orlando to its first franchise victory.
“I think the crowd that we had today have taken this league to a new level,” said Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni after the match. “I don’t think just the number in the crowd, but there was a passion in the crowd, there was a color in the crowd in the way they supported the team, which was absolutely phenomenal. Hopefully we did enough tonight to encourage them to come back to the rest of our games.”
The highly anticipated matchup between national team stars, with Morgan and Carli Lloyd facing off didn’t last long, as Lloyd was forced out of the game after just 12 minutes with a suspected lower-body injury.
Both teams played evenly boring in the first, with mostly 45 minutes of back-and-forth play between the two boxes and very few clear-cut chances.
Houston had the best chance of the first period with in the 19th minute, when Laura Alleway’s clearance hit an oncoming Dash player and turned into a bad turnover. However, with nobody but the goalkeeper to beat, Janine Beckie’s shot attempt was rebuffed by Ashlyn Harris, who was able to get a hand on the ball to knock it just wide and out of play for a corner kick.
Harris put on a display, showing why she’s been called up to the U.S. Women’s National Team so often, stopping nearly every shot that came her way, and was arguably Player of the Match.
“Ash saved our butts in the first couple of minutes when we had a mistake in the back; she came up huge a couple of times this game, and she’s going to keep coming up huge for us this season.” Morgan said of Harris’ performance. “She’s one of the best goalkeepers in the world, and I think tonight that showed.”
The second half was easily the more entertaining of the two halves.
Houston put the Pride on the board not 90 seconds after the kickoff. Jasmyne Spencer worked the ball to the end line inside the box, giving it off to Morgan, whose shot knocked off Andressa’s leg and into the net.
It was the second time in the past two years that a Houston team gave up an own goal against Orlando, following Tyler Deric’s against Orlando City last year — also in that team’s second ever game.
Sanderson, who was subbed on to start the second half after beginning the game on the bench, doubled the lead in the 57th minute, blasting a free-kick from the middle of the field, about 25 yards out, making it a 2-0 game. Sanderson’s is the second free-kick goal scored by the Pride this season, after Steph Catley’s against Portland last week. It was a cheeky one that she played quickly before the Dash were set.
“Lianne is our best pure footballer, our most gifted player, and skillful player. The key for us at the moment was bringing her on at a time where we have those opportunities for her to do the stuff that she does really well,” Sermanni said of his decision to sub Sanderson on at the start of the second half.
Orlando’s third goal came on the counterattack. After a big stop at the other end by Harris, the Pride marched up the field. Spencer found Catley down low on the left side, and she found Morgan in the box, who finished off the cross for her first goal of the season.
It’s tough to say just how much the Dash were missing Lloyd (though it sure would have helped to have her on the field), but the Pride played a much better overall game in the second half, with Sermanni saying their aim was to be more aggressive and pressure higher up the pitch.
Houston grabbed one back in the 75th minute, when Andressa curled a shot around Harris from outside of the penalty area, but it wasn’t enough to get the Dash back into the game.
The Pride will go back on the road for their third match of the season, when they take on the Chicago Red Stars next Sunday at Toyota Park.