SANFORD, Fla. — Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris will step between into goal for the 100th time during her National Women’s Soccer League career on Saturday.
If someone else wasn’t keeping track, however, it’s not the sort of thing she’d know on her own. With a career marked by two World Cups, Harris isn’t one to watch out for milestones. This weekend, however, has offered the keeper the opportunity to reflect on her seven-year career in the league.
“I don’t pay attention to those kind of things just because I love playing so much,” Harris said. “It’s kind of awesome to be able to step back and reflect. It feels pretty incredible to still be here and represent a city that I love.”
Harris first joined the NWSL with the Washington Spirit in the league’s inaugural season in 2013. After spending a season abroad in Sweden, Harris played two more seasons with the Spirit before making the move to Orlando in 2016.
As the team’s captain, Harris has helped lead the Pride during her three years with the club. Even when U.S. national team duties call her away from the Pride, her teammates said she helps steady her team.
“You can tell the difference when she’s there because she sets a high standard,” fellow goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer said. “It’s a testament to her hard work, to her consistency. She’s a testament of longevity. She comes in with the same passion and this enthusiasm every single day.”
As a goalkeeper, Kopmeyer said the greatest form of flattery is imitation and she’s spent the last two years trying to imitate and learn from pieces of Harris’ game. One key skill is Harris’ ability to close out in transition, something Kopmeyer admired even before the two keepers became teammates.
Part of that ability is a natural knack for timing. But Kopmeyer said that a great deal of Harris’ success comes from her daily dedication and competitiveness in training.
That dedication was perhaps best summed up by a conversation that coach Marc Skinner had with the keeper earlier this week. If she was working in a coffeehouse, Harris told him, she would make sure that she made the best coffee.
The message was simple, but clear, to the coach — no matter what Harris does, she’ll always want to be the best.
“I’ve never met a character like her,” Skinner said. “She fascinates me in a really good way. She just has that inner drive to be the best at what she does. To have a captain, a leader, a person that drives and inspires not only the coach but the rest of the team, I think we’re very lucky to have her.”
The NWSL, Harris feels, has always been a step above. Part of that is the travel and rigor of schedule, which provides a different challenge than any European league. Most important, throughout her time in the NWSL, Harris feels she’s never entered a game feeling it would be easy.
No matter her team’s standings or the opponent, Harris entered every game feeling the two teams were playing on even ground. She said this parity makes the NWSL the top league in women’s soccer.
“There’s no better league than here,” Harris said. “I don’t care what anyone says. If you really want to develop as a player and you really want to dive in, come to the NWSL. It’s the most demanding league in the world by far.”
That doesn’t mean she’s satisfied with the NWSL yet. Harris is a vocal supporter of raising the league salary cap, which is currently $46,200. She hopes that this move will entice top international talent to make the move to America, further ratcheting up the competition across the board. When she talks about the league, Harris’ sight is always set on the future, with goals of growing the game.
For the Florida native, that growth begins here in Orlando. Growing up in Satellite Beach, Harris cherishes the ability to play in her hometown and represent the region that she grew up in.
“These are my people, this is my home,” Harris said. “It’s the place I love, the place I always find a way to come back to. Football brings people together. It’s a community.
Coming home, however, bears a weight of responsibility for Harris. She sees it as her duty to continue to grow the game locally, using the Pride as a platform to grow a family of fans of the game.
Ultimately, her dream is to see Exploria Stadium sold out for every game, men’s and women’s alike. It’s a lofty vision, but for Harris, it’s just a matter of taking the right steps to teach the community how to love the game the same way that she does.
“I die by this badge,” Harris said, tapping the Orlando Pride seal over her chest. “I want to be buried on that field and I want people to feel that same passion to live, breathe, eat, sleep, die by this badge. That’s the culture I want to create in this city.”