The Orlando Pride fielded five new starters during Saturday’s season opener against the Utah Royals, and though a 1-1 draw wasn’t the result the club wanted, it was a new experience for the players who got to feel the game-day energy generated by Orlando’s supporters for the first time.
Center back Shelina Zadorsky was one of the new players on the pitch for the Pride. She joined the club after she was acquired via trade from the Washington Spirit.
“Yeah, it was special, for sure. Just walking through that tunnel, I just couldn’t stop smiling,” she said after the match.
“I had a huge smile on my face, whereas usually I’m pretty serious, I just get the straight face going, but I think it just feels like home to me. I think that the vibes here and the energy and the professionalism of this club really sets the standard for our league. I was just so pumped to get out there and play with these girls.”
Plus, the result was new for the Pride. The club had lost its two previous season openers.
Coach Tom Sermanni pointed that out in his post-match interview. It’s something for the club to build on as it faces back-to-back road dates, starting this weekend against the Washington Spirit at the Maryland SoccerPlex.
The Pride, who will be shorthanded for a while without the Brazilian trio of Marta, Mônica and Poliana, don’t return home until April 22 against the Houston Dash. The club could also be without star forward Alex Morgan (concussion) and will definitely be without Australians Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy.
“When you consider we had five new starters on the field [Saturday,] when you consider we virtually, like most teams, had no preseason, I’m satisfied that we’ve come out and kept our run in the league going from last year and not losing the game,” Sermanni said. “That was important.”
The Pride led the NWSL in attendance for opening week, with 9,017 fans in attendance at Orlando City Stadium. None of the other three matches played eclipsed 6,000 fans.
“It was definitely exciting,” Zadorsky said. “I think just playing for this city and that crowd [Saturday], what was it, 9,000, I think? It just shows how supportive everyone is and you know we fell short of the three points, but I think it’s a good stepping stone for us now and we build from that.”
Left back Carson Pickett, another player who made her Orlando City debut against the Royals, said the excitement surrounding the season opener replaced any jitters she might have had before the match.
“The atmosphere was unreal,” she said. “It just made you so hyped and ready for the game. I think walking in the tunnel, the neon lights and stuff, it just prepared us so well for the game. Just literally being hyped, there’s no other word to describe it.”