After a somewhat pedestrian first half at the Citrus Bowl last night, the Orlando Pride got on the front foot early in the second half and scored three times after the break to send an NWSL-record crowd into a frenzy. Jasmyne Spencer and Alex Morgan pressured Houston into an own-goal early in the second period, Lianne Sanderson scored on a quickly taken free kick, and Alex Morgan finished the Pride’s scoring with a great goal from the run of play.
It all added up to a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dash and a happy bunch of Orlandoans. The win spotlighted some similarities between Orlando City and the Pride. Both got their first win against Houston, both forced an own-goal from their Houston opponents, and both won their in their second game.
In fact, there was plenty from the match to talk about, but here are my five observations — or takeaways, if you will — from the Pride's first franchise victory.
The NWSL Team Isn't Getting the Full MLS Treatment
I get that there are different budgets involved in running the Pride and Orlando City, but it still felt a little bit off-putting to see some of the differences in how the teams are being presented. There were no pre-game pyrotechnics last night as with the MLS club. No confetti cannons fired off after Pride goals. Heck, the PA announcer didn't even allow the crowd to cheer the players' last names when they were announced as is commonplace at Orlando City matches. Maybe it's not a huge deal and perhaps the players don't care. But in the current climate of female players fighting for equal treatment, it stood out as noticeable to me.
Spencer is Opening Eyes
Everyone talks about Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris, and Steph Catley earned notoriety for scoring the team's first goal, but Jasmyne Spencer has been the Pride's most dynamic player through the first two matches. Spencer was active in the match at Portland, and her pace and quickness stood out. But against Houston last night she made a real difference. Despite taking a beating from bigger players — she is only listed at 5-foot-1 — Spencer got forward right off the bat in the second half last night, sending a ball to Morgan that ended up getting put into the Houston net by the Dash's Andressa. On the third goal, Spencer buzzed up the left side and sprung Catley to the end line. The Aussie then crossed to Morgan for her first goal.
"She impacts games with her pace, tenacity and energy," Head Coach Tom Sermanni said of Spencer in his post-game presser. "She is a nightmare to mark because you just don't know what she is doing. Her feet are so quick that she causes mayhem out there. Now the only thing we need to do is refine that mayhem."
Sanderson is Smart
The Pride led 1-0 when Kristen Edmonds suffered a foul to set up a free kick in a pretty decent spot. While not in an ideal scoring position, the spot of the kick was near enough to have a go at the goal. Rather than wait for the wall to assemble and get bodies forward, Lianne Sanderson turned to the referee and asked if she could take the kick quickly. When the referee told her he'd allow it, she turned, ran to the ball and sent a one-hopper that ended up in the net in the 57th minute. The goal made it 2-0 and gave the Pride some much-needed insurance, which came in handy when the Dash pulled one back after Morgan's goal made it 3-0.
"In my career, I've scored about three goals like that," Sanderson said after the match. "Most officials, I always ask if I can take it early and I know what the rules are. If you ask, then you can take it quick and had all my teammates yelling at me "Lianne, calm down!" But I knew exactly what I was going to do, and I saw the goalkeeper line up on the near post and I knew if I bent in, it was going to go in. I know Houston felt a little hard done by that, but that's the rules."
Harris is as Advertised
The Portland Thorns didn't put a lot of difficult shots on frame a week ago, except a couple that came after the whistle had blown for offside. This week, it appeared that once again Harris wouldn't need to intervene on too many shot attempts, with an exception 19 minutes in after a turnover in the defensive third. Harris denied Janine Beckie 1-v-1, getting a hand on her shot and getting just enough of it to steer it wide.
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) April 23, 2016
But in the second half, the Dash poured forward and got several good opportunities. Harris made several diving stops and finished with five total saves on six shots on target. Her efforts kept things from getting too nervy at the end.
"Ashlyn saved our butts in the first couple minutes," said Morgan. "She came up huge a couple of times this game, and she's going to keep coming up huge for us this season. She is one of the best goalkeepers in the world."
The Players are Excited About Orlando
After the match, Pride players were visibly overcome with their reception from the record crowd. The players did more than just wave while walking off, which you see a lot of teams do. Instead, the entire team did a lap around the Citrus Bowl together, giving thanks to the fans who had willed them on to victory all night. Following that, the players approached the stands and signed autographs. Sanderson was due to take the stage at the postgame press conference but was still out signing, and had to be retrieved. Catley said once she starts signing things she just can't stop, as she doesn't want to disappoint anyone. All the players I talked to were effusive in their praise for the fans and the welcome they've gotten since arriving in the City Beautiful. Many players pay lip service to the fans, but the women of the Orlando Pride seem genuinely excited at the community's reaction to them so far.
Those are my takeaways from an exciting and historic night at the Orlando Citrus Bowl. What stood out to you from last night?