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USWNT stars Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris honored at World Cup celebration in Orlando

The Orlando Pride welcomed back Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris in an event on Tuesday night.

U.S. women's national team players Ali Krieger, left; Alex Morgan, center; and Ashlyn Harris were greeted by 500 fans who packed Lions Pride during a welcome back event in downtown Orlando. All three women are stars on the Orlando Pride and will play their first post-World Cup match with the team Saturday. (Phelan M. Ebenhack/ For the Orlando Sentinel)

ORLANDO, Fla. — As Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan took the mic in Lion’s Pride on Tuesday night, there was only way she could think to address the crowd — a song.

“We got four stars on our shirt, we got four stars on our shirt.”

Morgan sang the tune out, and the crowd roared in response, joining along immediately.

The song had become a rallying cry in the raucous week since the U.S. won its fourth World Cup. On Tuesday night, 500 fans who filled the bar to welcome Morgan and her American teammates Ali Krieger and Ashlyn Harris back to Orlando couldn’t get enough of it.

With a block of Church Street shut down for the event, fans decked out in both purple and red, white and blue lined up around the block to pack into the bar for a chance to see the three American players. The players signed gear, popped fake bottles of champagne and accepted the keys to the city from Orlando Mayor Buddy Deyer and Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

“We’re so proud to represent each and every one of you on the highest stage,” Krieger said. “I loved hearing you cheer when I stepped on the field. I can’t wait to be wearing purple right here on Saturday again.”

George Vanlare brought his daughter, Alexandra, to celebrate the team. The Vanlares have been season ticket holders for all four of the years that the Pride have played in Orlando, and the team has been a constant in Alexandra’s growth as a young soccer player.

As a striker herself, Alexandra’s biggest role models in the sport are Morgan and Marta. For her father, supporting the Pride has always been a given because it gave his daughter an opportunity to watch the best players in the game firsthand.

“It’s opened her eyes to the world,” George said. “She can see these role models in her backyard. We’ve had nothing but phenomenal interactions with players over the last four years. It’s an experience that you can’t get anywhere else.”

Inspiration wasn’t the only thing that the women’s national team offered throughout the World Cup, and that was reflected even in the homecoming celebration. Scattered chants of “equal pay” spread through the crowd throughout the night, and both Dyer and Demings spoke of equality and empowerment as they honored the three athletes.

Support of the women’s equality movement was one of the many reasons fans flocked to support the team throughout the World Cup and it remained an ongoing conversation on Tuesday night.

“I believe in what they’re fighting for, and I know how important it is,” said Ashton Brown, who became a fan of the team during the World Cup. “You gotta keep the momentum going. If you want things to change, you have to keep pushing, you have to keep fighting or things are gonna stay the status quo. You can’t just stay in the moment, you have to keep pushing forward.”

The players also emphasized the importance of continued support of the women’s game. In France, women’s soccer enjoyed an unprecedented level of attention, shattering broadcast and attendance records both in the U.S. and internationally.

Now, the players who starred on the world stage are returning to their club teams and fighting to bring that momentum to the National Women’s Soccer League. All three players called for continued fan support at the local club level, inviting fans to attend the welcome home game on Saturday against Sky Blue FC. Tickets to the game are discounted to $9 to celebrate the nine players on the Pride roster who represented their countries at the World Cup.

“What an incredible journey this has been and the movement we’ve created has been spectacular,” Harris said. “The support of this city is so important to us, but the support has to continue. The greatest gift you can give is your time, so show up this week.”

For fans of both the Pride and the U.S. national team, Tuesday night provided an opportunity to interact with some of the most beloved athletes in the country. For many fans, that was worth the sacrifice of standing for hours in line — or even more.

Carol Maxwell flew into Orlando from her home in Rhode Island on Monday night, staying in the city for two nights just to see the homecoming event. She started waiting in line at midday to secure a spot in front of the stage, and it paid off when her jersey was signed by Harris and Krieger, her two favorite players.

“There’s no words for it,” Maxwell said. “It was gorgeous. It was beautiful. They’re so good and friendly with the crowd. You couldn’t ask for anything better.”

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