The Orlando Pride played their debut match April 17 in Portland. They lost that match 2-1 but six days later—April 23, 2016—they trumped their more seasoned NWSL sisters when 23,403 came to the Citrus Bowl (the venue changed names to Camping World Stadium the following week) for the club’s home opener. The crowd set an NWSL single game record previously held by the Thorns.
“It’s exciting. It’s good for the city,” Gordon Human told The Equalizer while tailgating before the game with his seventh-grade daughter.
Human was one of thousands of fans who arrived early and set up shop in one of the surrounding parking lots. Some were lined up in their cars before the parking gates opened. Once inside the record crowd put on a boisterous performance matched only by the Pride’s three-goal outburst in a 3-1 victory over the Houston Dash. One year after Orlando City SC took Major League Soccer by storm, the Pride were doing the same to NWSL.
The massive crowd, which established a record in part because the Thorns are capped by the 21,144 capacity at Providence Park, proved to be more of an anomaly than a new standard. Shortly after the press release went out declaring the new record, Pride owner Phil Rawlins suggested the team would settle in somewhere around 13,000 for the rest of the season. But none of their remaining matches cracked five figures.
The Pride still managed to finish 2016 with an average attendance of 8,785. That is less than the smallest Thorns crowd across four full seasons but still stands as the highest single season average for any team besides the Thorns. The average extracting the opening day record still beats out any other NWSL team average for any of the four seasons.
Next season will see the Pride move into their new downtown stadium which should offer a fresh barometer on attendance. There will be enough seats to one day eclipse their single game record. But for as long as the Orlando Pride play soccer, the night of April 23, 2016 will remain a special one for the team and the league.
Coming Tuesday — the second of our XI WoSo Moments of 2016