Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride Helping to Push Women’s Soccer Forward in the U.S.



Women’s professional soccer has always been a bit of a tricky business in the United States. Following the USWNT’s home soil victory in the 1999 Women’s World Cup, the Women’s United Soccer Association was founded in 2000 as the first league in the world to pay every single one of its players as professionals. However, the WUSA folded after only three seasons, although many of the names and logos of the league’s franchises were kept intact. The next fully professional women’s league in America wouldn’t be formed until Women’s Professional Soccer began play in 2009. Like the WUSA, WPS also only played three seasons before dissolving. It was then replaced by the current iteration, the National Women’s Soccer League, which had its first season in 2013. Just a few short years later, in 2016, is where the Orlando Pride come in.

While not one of the NWSL’s founding teams, the Orlando Pride have wasted little time in leaving a mark on the league, and women’s soccer in America as a whole. The team currently holds the league’s single game attendance record of 23,403, a mark that was set in the team’s first ever game. It also had the second highest average attendance during both of its seasons in the league, with Portland Thorns FC leading the league both years. There’s a very simple reason Pride games are the second best attended in the league: the players.

Alex Morgan, Marta, and Ali Krieger are superstars, no doubt about it. They’re the type of marquee names that put people in the seats who have never been to an NWSL game before. The roster is an impressive one that boasts both domestic and international stars, and when you consider that the Pride are a club built from scratch, that’s an even bigger deal. Coupled with the team’s first ever playoff berth last season, that puts the Pride in a very important position in the women’s game.

When it comes to women’s soccer in the United States, consistent viewership fluctuates. The country always gets behind the U.S. Women’s National Team every four years when the Women’s World Cup rolls around, but in between those four years that soccer fever doesn’t burn quite as hot. While MLS has put down some pretty strong roots in the country, the women’s game hasn’t had things so easy; the two failed professional leagues that came before it are evidence enough of that. The NWSL has easily been the most successful professional league in the U.S. but the folding of the Boston Breakers, one of the league’s founding members, showed that the league is far from invulnerable.

Thus far the Pride have been an example of what the ideal NWSL team should be. While the team struggled in its inaugural season, the future certainly looks bright. The Pride play in a soccer specific stadium, with big name players, in front of an average attendance of just over 6,000 people. Orlando City SC CEO Alex Leitão wants more though, both for the Pride and the league as a whole:

“I truly believe in the future of this league, I truly believe that the game is going to grow and that the league is going to grow with the game,” Leitao said at Media Day “I’m happy with where we are right now and I’m pretty sure that the league is going to be even better in the next couple of years.”

I work with high school age athletes, and last week a few of them who know I write for this site were telling me how they couldn’t wait for the NWSL season to start so they could watch the Pride play. Not the Portland Thorns, or the Seattle Reign, but the Pride. They were excited about the team’s acquisition of Sydney Leroux, and asked me if I thought the team would win the championship this year. Keep in mind, that I live in Baltimore, MD.

Those interactions said a lot to me. As women’s professional soccer continues to take hold in the United States, the Pride are in the position of becoming one of the NWSL’s standard bearers, and by extension a standard bearer for the women’s game as well. In only its second year, the team has already become one of the more recognizable faces of the NWSL, and because of that the women in purple are slowly but surely helping women’s professional soccer find its place in the American sporting landscape

There’s no doubt that growing the NWSL the way MLS has grown will take time. But, with a team like the Pride helping to lead the charge, the outlook for women’s professional soccer in the U.S. is looking better every year.


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