When the Orlando Pride joined the NWSL at the start of the 2016 season, they became just the tenth team in the league. They were only the second team to join the league in its four-year history, following the Houston Dash in 2014. And some around the league were worried about garnering support, and potentially folding, as past women’s soccer leagues in the United States had.
Instead, the NWSL made their fourth year their most successful. The Orlando Pride proved to be a tremendous success, breaking the NWSL attendance record in their home opener and attracting regular crowds of around 8,000 that put them in the top-three attendance records in the league. Now, heading into its 5th year, the NWSL is fielding requests from all over to join the league. Further expansion is basically inevitable.
According to Ali Krieger, who has been with the NWSL since it started in 2013, the Pride didn’t just impress with their attendance records and commercial success; they also impressed the players around the league with how they treated their team. Krieger said that players wanted to play here, and that they felt their needs were being taken into the highest consideration.
“I think Orlando proved itself so much in the first year,” Krieger said. “They said, ‘Look, here’s how we’re treating our women’s team and they’re treated just as well as the men. And here’s our new stadium. And these are the standards and expectations that we have for our club and the players.’ And every other club is looking in and saying ‘Wow, how do we compare to that?’ I think it’s just raising the bar for the NWSL and I think I’m seeing the league heading in a positive direction, it’s growing tremendously.”
Krieger noted that at the core of the Pride’s operations is professionalism, and that helps the team and the staff perform at their highest level.
“Everything here is done so professionally—it’s really thought out,” she said. “Just taking care of the players and treating them with respect, and having an understanding of what the needs of the players are.”
Krieger said that as the league grows, we’re seeing less of a gap between veteran players and youth. More players are sticking with the league, and the NWSL is able to attract international talent. And as the league looks at its current set of teams, and fields potential candidates for expansion, there is a new set of expectations.
“I think the Pride has helped jump the league up tremendously through the professionalism of the club, and the expectations and the standards that the women’s team have to have now to be a part of the league,” Krieger said.
Krieger also noted that the players that she spoke to enjoyed the level of comfort that they had in Orlando. She said that because all non-soccer related concerns were taken care of by the club, players were able to focus on what they do best-- playing soccer.
Krieger said, “I’m excited to have that same feeling.”