Ashlyn Harris has commonly been referred to with a single word throughout her time in Orlando - Fighter.
Those who know her know that no single word could be more fitting.
Currently sitting at 99 career regular-season appearances in the National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL), the Orlando Pride captain is expected to hit the century mark on Saturday night in front of her hometown crowd.
“I’m very, very honored. I love the fact that I get my 100th cap with Orlando, the Club that I adore and love so that’s really special to me. It’s really special that all my family and friends are going to be there. I’m excited,” Harris said. “I don’t really pay attention to those kinds of things because I love playing so much, it’s freaking awesome. But to be able to take a step back and reflect and realize that I’ve played a lot of games, it feels pretty incredible to still be here and to represent a city and a Club that I love so much and is so dear to my heart. I’m very happy to have that 100th game at home, here in Orlando.”
A native of Satellite Beach, Harris entered the league in its first season in 2013 as a member of the Washington Spirit. Since then she has become a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup Champion with the U.S. Women’s National Team and has become one of the league’s most recognizable faces.
Prior to playing in the NWSL, she spent time in the WPS and in various international leagues across the world. When reflecting on her time in each of those respective leagues, she holds the NWSL as the most competitive and challenging league in the world from the time she entered it in 2013 to the present day.
“There’s no better league than here, I don’t care what anyone says. The competition, if you really want to develop as a player and you want to dive in, then come to the NWSL because it’s a really hard league to survive the parody across the board,” Harris said. “There’s no 9-0 games, there’s no easy games walking in where I can rest this player and this player, and the amount of travel that we do. It’s the most demanding league in the world by far.”
Harris spent three seasons as a member of the Spirit from 2013 to 2015, registering 46 appearances in the regular-season. In that span, she registered 207 saves with six shutouts.
Following the 2015 season, Harris was selected by the Pride with their second pick in the 2015 NWSL Expansion Draft, allowing her to return to Florida and play in her own backyard. Since beginning play in Orlando in the Club’s inaugural season in 2016, she has appeared in 53 regular-season matches, recording 179 saves and 11 shutouts.
In 2017, Harris was named the captain of the Pride and has worn the armband in every game she’s played since then. When considering all of the things one looks for in a leader, Harris embodies many such qualities, the most important being an unrelenting drive to be the best at whatever she does. The other - a passion that fuels that drive.
From that passion comes the fighter that many regard Harris to be, both on and off the field. Her demand for excellence from herself and those around her is something many cannot replicate, making those who surround her appreciate her presence that much more.
“I’ve never met a character like her, I really haven’t. She fascinates me in a really good way, not only her energy. She just has that inner drive to be the best at whatever she does and for us it’s fantastic,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “To have a captain, a leader, a person that drives and inspires not only the coach, but the rest of their team. I think we’re very, very lucky to have her and long may continue that she puts performances on the pitch to match the character and personality that she has because she really, really does solidify that back line.”
“You just see her passion, even with the focus she exhibits in our warm-ups and then bringing that into the game,” Orlando Pride defender Shelina Zadorsky said. “Then how excited she is when we do well as a team and then, after the games, how she’s connecting with all the fans. I think she just shows it really in how she carries herself and how pumped up she gets for our home games and to represent this city.”
With nearly four seasons in Orlando under her belt and seven in the NWSL overall, Harris remains committed to laying the foundation for the future, both for the Pride and the league as a whole. Her passion and commitment to her craft is something she hopes to replicate in her surrounding community to establish the identity of the Pride for the long-term and to make people feel as ingrained in the Club as she has always been and continues to be.
“I’ve said this before, I die by this badge. I told Marc that 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,” Harris said.
From cap number one to number 100, Harris has exhibited an unapologetic level of fight throughout her entire career. A fight to be the best, a fight to demand more, and most importantly, a fight to leave the game better than she found it. That same fight undoubtedly will continue long after cap number 100, but until she sees the game and the league reach the levels she knows it’s capable of.
“I just want people to show up and feel like they’re a part of this and they’re a part of this culture that we’re creating and this diehard Orlando fanbase. I love this place so much and there’s nothing more that I want than to show up for every men’s and women’s game and it be sold out.”