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Orlando Pride goalkeeper Lainey Burdett finds confidence during first NWSL start

With Ashlyn Harris absent with the U.S. national team, the rookie stepped up into goal for her first career saves.

Orlando Pride goalkeeper Lainey Burdett got her first NWSL start against the Washington Spirit Saturday at Exploria Stadium. (Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Orlando Pride goalkeeper Lainey Burdett’s first professional save was fit for a highlight reel — a fully stretched leap to bat away a long-range strike in transition with one hand.

With Ashlyn Harris called up to the U.S. women’s national team, Burdett earned the start for the first time for the Pride on Saturday. The game challenged the rookie, who weathered 12 shots during a 3-0 loss to the Washington Spirit.

After the game, Burdett was the first to acknowledge that the loss was tough to swallow, but the rookie buzzed with the excitement of her first start.

“It was awesome,” Burdett said. “You just take a moment, take a deep breath and think, ‘Yep, I just did that. That’s pretty cool.’ Especially in an environment like this, I savor those moments. It’s a great feeling.”

Despite her lack of experience, Burdett’s team praised the young keeper for her confidence. The rookie leapt to snag crosses on corner kicks, lacking hesitation when she needed to come off her line to make a challenge.

The best reflection of her confidence was her voice. From the opening whistle, Burdett was audible from endline to endline, calling out encouragement and arranging her backline. Defender Carson Pickett said Burdett’s direction was calming, especially coming from a rookie.

“I’m so happy she got her chance and I thought she cashed it in,” Pickett said. “A lot of those chances she couldn’t have done anything with. She controlled the game when we needed to control it and sped it up when we needed it.”

For coach Marc Skinner, the decision to start Burdett was obvious. Primary backup Haley Kopmeyer had already notched 10 matches in goal this season while Harris was called up for the World Cup and U.S. Victory Tour. The Washington match offered the best chance to test Burdett with game minutes.

At the start of the week, Skinner told the pair that they were competing for the spot. On Thursday, he tapped Burdett for the start. Before the game, Kopmeyer warmed the rookie up in goal, providing her with last-minute suggestions and advice.

“I’ve had her by my side throughout this whole year,” Burdett said of Kopmeyer. “Having someone who’s been in the league for so long be by your side and talk you up, it’s just words that you want to take in. I took in everything she told me and she’s been awesome to have as a support system.”

The first goal came in the fifth minute, a long-range strike that took Burdett by surprise for an early deficit. But the keeper settled in throughout the game, continuing to build her confidence and coming up with four saves.

For Skinner, the keeper’s ability to shake off each goal reflected her eagerness to improve.

“She’s gonna make mistakes, she’s a baby coming into the league,” Skinner said. “She played well, especially for the pressure she was under to play in her first NWSL game. Although she made a couple mistakes, she’ll learn from those and grow into a better goalkeeper.”

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