Orlando City’s potential entry to the NWSL next season club officials hope according to my own sources and Charles Boehm at Soccerwire, the new team would like to have superstar US Women’s National Team Forward Alex Morgan, who graces the cover of this year’s FIFA game in the US (alongside none other than Lionel Messi) on the team. Morgan currently plays for the Portland Thorns, owned by Merritt Paulson as part of the larger Portland Timbers club family.
It is assumed because Morgan’s husband Servando Carrasco plays for the Lions, she should end up in Orlando, wearing purple and helping to draw big crowds. But that’s a fallacy in logic because when Carrasco played for the Houston Dynamo, the sister club Houston Dash made an effort to get Morgan. It failed, though the Dash has arguably the (now) more marketable Carli Lloyd. However, things might be different this go-round.
Portland has the most educated and sophisticated soccer fan base in North America from where I sit (Sorry Seattle, you might actually be on the other extreme.) Morgan’s level of production for the Thorns has not been at the level expected or needed by the club since the first season of NWSL (2013). While trading away a global icon would sting in other US markets where the soccer fan base is less seasoned than in Portland, the Thorns/Timbers supporters understand the sport, how it works and remain loyal to the core. Chances of Portland’s league-topping, eye-catching attendance dropping significantly because of Morgan leaving is remote. In other markets it might be catastrophic but Portland in my opinion can absorb it and move forward.
Orlando, on the other hand probably needs a marketing tool. As we mentioned previously on this site, the only pro women’s soccer team the state has had in a high-level league before was the MagicJack side in Boca Raton which boasted Abby Wambach and Hope Solo among others simply to fill a small college soccer stadium at Florida Atlantic University. MagicJack did fill the stadium, but it was a World Cup year in 2011 and WPS soon dissolved thanks to a dispute between Dan Borislow the club’s owner and the league.
Certainly, Orlando has proven itself to be a better market than South Florida for the domestic game. While proponents of southeast Florida point to upwards of 70,000 fans to watch the likes of Chelsea, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Liverpool and AC Milan the reality remains the domestic club game has not drawn well by contemporary standards in the region since the Fort Lauderdale Strikers were among the attendance leaders in both its incarnations during the 1980’s.
Central Florida has proven it can support the domestic game. But a marketing tool like Morgan is still needed it appears. However, from a true soccer standpoint, if the NWSL as has been contemplated allows Orlando to pick one unprotected national team player from each existing team, the likes of Heather O’Reilly, Ashlyn Harris or maybe even Crystal Dunn, Sydney Leroux (married to former OCSC player Dom Dwyer) or Amy Rodriguez (very unlikely, because after all she has scored the winning goal in each of the last two NWSL finals, but FC Kansas City does have a decision to make if the expansion draft is as contemplated) could be made available to Orlando. It would probably require some or all of this allotment of players going to Portland to free Morgan to join Orlando. Is that worth it? From a marketing standpoint, YES, from a soccer standpoint, in my opinion NO.
A lot still has to play out for this to happen. Orlando’s team has not been formally announced yet and the expansion draft procedures have not been put in place. But per what I am hearing, several USWNT players are likely to be unprotected under the potential rule for expansion allowing Orlando to obtain players the caliber of O’Reilly.
One thing is for sure – it will be a fun couple of month speculating on how this all plays out.
“Women’s Soccer – USA vs Japan (1)” by Joel Solomon – Flickr: Women’s Soccer. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Women%27s_Soccer_-_USA_vs_Japan_(1).jpg#/media/File:Women%27s_Soccer_-_USA_vs_Japan_(1).jpg