(Image courtesy of Orlando Pride twitter)
Sunday night was a special one for the Orlando Pride as they celebrated Pride Night with multiple tributes, statements, and even a 90th minute comeback. The night was also dedicated to celebrating and honoring Juneteenth with the Pride and teams around the league marking the occasion with captain’s armbands in the occasion’s colors.
Protect Trans Kids
Perhaps the most moving celebration of the evening was the pregame Protect Trans Kids shirts that the players rocked on their way into the game. A locker room photoshoot was posted of the squad in their differently tie-dyed shirts with the striking message.
What made this touch even more meaningful is the recent legislation in Florida banning trans kids from playing sports. When asked about the shirts post-game, Pride captain Ashlyn Harris said “I want their stories to be told. Trans children have names and stories and we need to give them that space. Our governor is attacking children saying they can’t play this sport where for us everyone is accepted.” Her emotions were palpable even through Zoom as she spoke on the importance of soccer in her life and how she knew it could be the same for these kids even as the opportunity is being stolen from them.
Pride and Pulse
While the Protect Trans Kids t-shirts didn’t last the whole pregame, they were replaced by warmup shirts in the various colors of the Pride flag; with two to three players in each color. When the team lined up, they formed their own Pride flag. Each shirt was also adorned with a number 49 on the chest, a tribute to the 49 victims of the Pulse shooting.
The homage to the Pulse tragedy didn’t end with the warmups however, as head coach Mark Skinner wore a black t-shirt emblazoned with a rainbow 49 on his back. The rainbow pattern was the same as the one seen on the jersey numbers of the players, creating a constant reminder all game long of the occasion at hand.
On The Pitch
The day’s matchup was against NJ/NY Gotham, a team that, when they were known as Sky Blue FC, would have been the Pride’s companions in the NWSL basement. But this is a brand new season, as evidenced by the Pride’s unbeaten record, and Gotham’s Challenge Cup Final appearance.
The first half was largely controlled by Orlando, but neither team were able to create any really dangerous chances. Even though they spent the majority of the first 45 within Gotham’s 40 yard line, Orlando fell behind off of a schross (shot/cross if you aren’t using the highly technical term) from Caprice Dydasco. Gotham’s midfielder seemed to be aiming for a teammate on the back post but the ball sailed just beyond Harris’ outstretched fingertips and curled inside the post.
A comeback would be no small feat, as NJ/NY have allowed the fewest goals across the NWSL thus far. Granted, Orlando were second in league scoring, only trailing Portland by 5 despite taking only a third of the Thorns’ attempts. With the lead, the visiting side seemed content to sit back and play a possession game, not unlike the one we’ve seen the Pride slide into comfortably when they aren’t chasing a game.
The run of play of the second half would have largely suggested that a point was simply not in the cards for Orlando, with Kailen Sheridan coming up with a number of big stops on chances that seemed destined for the back of the net. That was, until Courtney Peterson had her say.
In the 90th minute, Peterson buried a schross of her own. Where Dydasco’s goal was the result of a counter attack, Peterson’s marker for Orlando was the result of a cohesive offensive buildup, she even credited it as such in her post game interview. The Pride midfielders all did well to hold the ball, with Marta connecting with Peterson’s run down the flank. After taking a few touches, Peterson unleashed a seeing eye laser that she may have intended from a teammate, but looked signed and sealed for the back of the net. Which is exactly where it ended up.
Orlando came tantalizingly close to turning nothing into the full three points when just seconds later Taylor Kornieck had a late chance, but was bamboozled by Imani Dorsey before she could bury the ball into the back of the net.
With the hard-earned draw, the Pride remain unbeaten with their next matchup set with Kansas City on Wednesday.