SIDELINE SCENE: Addition of Orlando Pride, Alex Morgan a win for aspiring youth soccer players

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  • | 12:58 p.m. October 29, 2015
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ORLANDO  Growing up in the greater Chicago area, I had no shortage of local sports heroes. As a ’90s kid living just outside the Windy City, I could — quite literally — worship the ground on which Michael Jordan walked.

Unfortunately, it’s never quite been the same for youth and teenage female athletes. 

There simply aren’t as many high-profile female stars who dominate the sports news cycle. There are some, of course, but for girls growing up in Central Florida and West Orange, there hasn’t been that same local connection that boys get from having the Orlando Magic, the UCF football team or, most recently, the Orlando City Soccer Club.

Sure, young female soccer fanatics such as Isabel and Olivia Nuetzi, of Ocoee, had the success of the U.S. Women’s National Team’s winning the World Cup to get excited about — even going so far as to travel with their family and the Rizzo family of Windermere to Canada to watch the team — but it’s not quite the same as having your own hometown sports heroes.

Fortunately, that changed last week.

Ahead of the USWNT’s friendly against Brazil Oct. 25 at the Orlando Citrus Bowl — a 3-1 victory for the USA — Orlando City Soccer Club announced it had brought an expansion franchise for the National Women’s Soccer League to Orlando.

Then, on Oct. 26, the Orlando Pride introduced the first three players to be added to its roster: Sarah Hagen, Kaylyn Kyle and Alex Morgan. Morgan, part of that World Cup championship roster, scored the first goal during Sunday’s game and is widely regarded as one of the best players in the world.

“It’s just a really great day for women’s soccer … just the fact that we’re bringing an expansion team to the NWSL,” said Morgan, whose trade to Orlando from Portland might have been one of the worst-kept secrets in Orlando sports history. “In Florida, there’s so many great NCAA women’s soccer teams … so just showing how youth clubs and college can translate into becoming a professional soccer player, as females, and successful ones, at that — I think it’s something that this region hasn’t had before.”

That’s something with which Josie Banks, the captain for the girls varsity team at West Orange High, agrees.

“I think it’s long overdue,” Banks said. “I think it’s such a great step forward. … It’s nice to have the role models and have them be the dream of someone you want to become one day. It’s something that’s relatively new.”

The fact is, girls soccer is big here in Central Florida — as evidenced by the enthusiasm of Banks, the Nuetzis and the Rizzos, or even SunRidge Middle School’s Cristina Roque, 13, who just last week told me she wanted to be a professional soccer player growing up.

Having those role models to look up to, then — and having them on a local basis — could make a world of difference. Just ask the players, themselves.

“I just remember that when you do find that special player that you idolize, it means all the world,” said Hagen, who comes to the Pride after playing for Kansas City. “For me, I just want to try and remember that and all the younger girls that look up to me, hopefully, I can give back to them.”


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