ORLANDO, Fla. -- First there was Kaká and Brek Shea. Now there is Alex Morgan, Kaylyn Kyle and Sarah Hagen, and Orlando’s growing love affair with soccer is threatening to become a flood of high-profile talent that puts it in the front rank of American soccer cities.
With Orlando City SC now established in MLS ranks thanks to the big-name efforts of the Brazilian icon and US men’s team stalwart, all eyes are on new NWSL franchise Orlando Pride, who unveiled their first three players at a special press conference in front of media and almost 100 fans on Monday afternoon.
And it is clear the Pride are plowing a similar furrow to the men’s team in terms of building through guaranteed star power – both on and off the field – with the trio of internationals.
Canadian midfielder Kyle (101 caps) and striker Hagen (of Bayern Munich, NWSL title holders FC Kansas City and the US women's national team) are both solid signings, but it is the trade for Portland’s Morgan – possibly the most notable figure in the current US women’s team – that establishes the foundation of the new team in much the same way that Kaká did in July last year.
Morgan, 26, sees the parallels herself and is keen to establish her credentials along the same lines as the ex-Real Madrid and AC Milan star, who has become the ‘face’ of Orlando City as well as a huge draw throughout MLS.
“It is really exciting, but also a big challenge because I really enjoyed playing in Portland in front of the fans there,” Morgan explained. “It was a huge step for me to play anywhere else, but I was ready to start something new with an expansion team like Orlando.
“I have been on the national team for six years, and I feel I am ready to take on more of a leadership presence.”
Uniquely, the move puts Morgan and her husband, midfielder Servando Carrasco, on the same payroll after Carrasco’s trade to the Lions in July, which gave the striker – who scored for the USA in their 3-1 Victory Tour friendly against Brazil in Orlando on Sunday – a chance to witness Orlando’s expanding soccer profile for herself.
“Having seen the growth happen here firsthand, it is pretty incredible,” she added. “I am so grateful to the Orlando organization for bringing me on board as one of the first members of the Pride. It fascinates me to see how much they have managed to do.
“It is also exciting to see soccer’s growth globally as well as in this city. There are so many possibilities for it, with the NWSL and the US team, I can’t wait to see where it can go next.”
- Learn more about the Pride at OrlandoCitySC.com/Pride
Orlando president and founding owner Phil Rawlins admitted the team is hoping Morgan has the same galvanizing affect that Kaká has had in promoting soccer in the city. The Pride has already sold more than 1,500 season tickets for next season in less than a week – more than Orlando City managed in its first seven days of existence last year – and that is likely to continue as they build the team under ex-USWNT and Australia head coach Tom Sermanni.
“It is exciting any time you bring international superstars like Alex and Kaká to a marketplace like this,” Rawlins said. “I think she will have just as big an impact on this community as Kaká has, in all honesty. They are both prodigious talents and I think Alex will be valued and loved in this city as much as Kaká.
“They are both super individuals and great role models, but very down to earth and grounded, and they want to help us put this franchise on the map. I couldn’t be more excited about the Pride and what it is capable of adding to the community.”
Sermanni said Morgan is eager to be a pioneer.
“That’s definitely one of the things that attracted Alex to this club,” he said. “This is a chance to establish a leadership role for this club and women’s football in general. This is a unique club and hopefully the women’s team will continue to push towards that goal of expanding the sport’s popularity.”