SANFORD, Fla. — Orlando Pride goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer started an exciting stretch of the club’s season earlier than expected and in dramatic fashion.
Starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was part of the Pride’s lineup for their match against the Utah Royals Saturday, but she suffered a knee injury during warm-ups. Kopmeyer was suddenly the starter.
“So actually, this is the first time that has ever happened in my career,” said Kopmeyer, who began her professional career in 2013 with Reign FC (formerly Seattle Reign FC). “From a numbers perspective, it’s something you always know is a possibly and always something you think can happen.”
Kopmeyer said the fact that she’d never had to step in for an injured keeper either during a match or moments before was “crazy.”
She noted the pregame warm-up for the starting goalkeeper differs from the backups and she had to quickly adjust.
“You have this idea in your head of like, ‘Oh, I’m always going to prepare for this, prepare for this, prepare for this moment,’ and then it actually happens and then you’re like … ‘OK.’ You just sort of, like, flip a switch, and you’re in it.”
Harris has previously left a Pride match due to injury, but Aubrey Bledsoe was her backup at the time and handled the emergency substitution. Bledsoe’s performances during Harris’ absence helped her eventually earn an NWSL starting job with another team.
Kopmeyer will now get her chance to prove herself.
Harris was called up to the U.S. women’s national team ahead of the World Cup, making Kopmeyer the Pride’s first-choice goalkeeper and the likely starter for Orlando’s road match against the Houston Dash at 6 p.m. Sunday. Kopmeyer said the mentality is different when you know you’ll be the starter versus when you have to step in last minute.
“I think, in theory, you say every week, ‘Oh, I prepare like I’m going to be ready.’ And you do. And I think there is something to be said for deep down knowing … like I said, you know, this is the first time in my whole career that it’s ever happened,” Kopmeyer said.
Kopmeyer had four saves against the Royals, but the Pride lost the match 1-0. She said her approach to training ahead of this week’s match against the Dash is different because she knows she’ll be the one in goal when the match starts.
“It’s nice from a sense of I’m the one out during training that’s behind the back line, whereas other times during training and build-up to games that we think [Harris] is playing, she’s the one behind the back line or organizing the set pieces or all of those things. It gives me a full week to build those relationships with those girls.
“There was a lot of them, that in being thrown in like that, that you just had less time with. I think that this week I’ve kind of gotten the build up and had the ability to, like, start to set things up the way that I think I want them to be set up or seen and things like that.”
Starting with the U.S. women’s national team members, the Pride’s international stars are slowly leaving Central Florida and heading to their respective national teams. Coach Marc Skinner said it’s a wonderful opportunity for the players who have worked alongside those international stars to step up.
“Most of these players have trained preseason like everybody else to be ready,” he said. “Only time will tell, when we put them on the field and see what they’ve got. But again, that’s my support as a person, that I’ll take the pressure. I’ll take those moments and let them go and play, because that’s just my job and I just want to see them do well.
“I think that they’ve got the capabilities to do that. I think there will be a little bit of expected nerves to start off with, but then once they get into the flow of the games, I think that you’ll find that these players can play.”
Kopmeyer agreed with her coach – it’s an exciting time because she’ll get the opportunity to play.
“Doesn’t matter where you are, what level it is, if you get to play, I mean, this is what we’re doing it,” she said. “This is why I’m still playing, is for moments like these. I love it. I love being out on the field. I love game day and all the nerves and the excitement and everything that comes with it. It is. It’s a really, really exciting time.”