When Orlando Pride was announced just weeks ago, Head Coach Tom Sermanni said he wanted to bring players from the area home. During the teams expansion draft on Monday the team did just that.
The first of those was goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris from Satellite Beach. After playing at Satellite High School, Harris went on to play for the perineal national power Tar Heels at the University of North Carolina before moving on to a successful professional career. The 30-year-old has also been the understudy to Hope Solo for the U.S. national team having been a part of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup triumph in Canada.
Harris comes to Orlando from the Washington Spirit where she has been an integral piece since 2013. “This is where I started,” Harris told Jeff Radcliffe in the club offices following her official selection. “And this is where I want to end.”
“I’m absolutely thrilled to be here today and to be picked up by such an amazing club,” she later said during a conference call with reporters. “I’m thankful to be back where I started my journey here in the Central Florida area.”
As one of the league’s top goalkeepers, the Pride knew they wanted her as a cornerstone of the inaugural team even before she was left unprotected last week by the Spirit.
When McDonough was asked when he knew Harris would be their first pick, he quipped, “Frankly, before we hired Tom.” McDonough went on to explain that the club had plans for building the team around certain players. One of those pieces was Alex Morgan and Harris was another.
But her inclusion on the unprotected list sealed the deal for a player that was anxious to return home.
“Today has been a dream,” Harris told reporters. “I waited for this moment for a long time, to finally be able to tell my family and friends I’m coming home.”
While the selection of Harris will make the most headlines, there was also another Brevard County native selected in Monday’s draft. Toni Pressley, originally from Melbourne, attended West Shore High School and played club soccer for Space Coast United. She continued her pursuit of professional soccer by attending Florida State University where she was a First Team All-American.
The 25-year-old defender comes to Orlando from the Houston Dash who acquired her by trade with the Western New York Flash last season. A highly coveted central defender, Pressley was also anxious to return home.
“So excited to be a part of this club,” Pressley tweeted shortly after her selection. “Also happy to be back home.”
McDonough said during the conference call that, while the club certainly wanted Pressley to be a part of this team, she wanted to be here. The Orlando Pride GM said Pressley had “expressed interest” in returning home to Central Florida and the club was more than happy to oblige for a player that will easily fit into the inaugural starting lineup.
When Phil Rawlins brought Orlando City to Central Florida in 2010, he spoke about it being a community club with local ties. That commitment has continued with the Orlando Pride and the addition of these two Central Florida natives further substantiates that fact. Every player brought in by the club has expressed their excitement about arriving in the soccer capital of the south. But for Ashlyn Harris and Toni Pressley, they’re coming home.