Local girls feel Pride as part of Azzurri Storm’s affiliation with Orlando City FC

Orlando Pride midfielder Kristen Edmonds directs Azzurri Storm players during a Dec. 2 clinic at Vineyards Community Park. GREGG HARDY/CSI

BY GREGG HARDY
CSI EDITOR

Growing up in New Jersey, Kristen Edmonds didn’t have a girls youth soccer team to play for; instead, she had to play with the boys.

You could say things turned out OK for Edmonds. She went on to play for Rutgers University, played professionally overseas and spent time with the U.S. Women’s National Team before becoming a midfielder for the Orlando Pride in the National Women’s Soccer League.

PHOTO GALLERY: View images from the Azzurri Storm/Orlando Pride clinic

Edmonds spent six hours on a warm December morning and afternoon at Vineyards Community Park last weekend providing how-to tips and sharing her expertise at a youth soccer clinic that included approximately 70 local girls.

The three 90-minute sessions (7-on-7 for U9-10; 9-on-9 for U11-U12; and 11-on-11 for U13/14-U16) were held as part of a newfound partnership between Orlando City FC and the Azzurri Storm, Naples’ competitive club team.

Azzurri Storm players gather around to listen to clinic instructors, including Orlando Pride midfielder Kristen Edmonds, back right. GREGG HARDY/CSI

“It’s always great to be able to work with kids because they’re the future of U.S. soccer,” said Edmonds, whose teammates on the Pride include World Cup standouts Alex Morgan (USA) and Marta (Brazil). “Especially, being down here in Florida, I can definitely see that it’s a growing sport.

“It’s always nice to interact with (the girls) and show them that if they want to take soccer to the next level, they have that opportunity.”

Formed in 1993, the Azzurri Storm is taking their game to the next level. To kick off their affiliation deal with Orlando City FC, approximately 40 Azzurri girls accompanied Pride players in walkouts before a July match — some also served as flag bearers and ballgirls.

“It was really an awesome experience for our club to do that,” said Sara Peterson, who, besides being a soccer mom to three Azzurri players, handles the club’s social media efforts and works with the Pride directly to create player experiences.

Marcelle Montanye, a U12 player, was one of the Azzurri girls to walk with Pride players at that July match in Orlando.

Azzurri Storm players took part in drills and a scrimmage during the Dec. 2 clinic at Vineyards Community Park. GREGG HARDY/CSI

“It was crazy because I was on the soccer field and there were a lot of people watching,” said Montanye, whose considerable skills were on display during the middle session of the Dec. 2 clinic. “You can look up on the screen in the stadium and see your face. I’ve always seen those people on TV — the little kids, when they hold their hands, and I’m like, ‘Well, I’m one of those right now.’”

(Side note: Montanye said she was one of four Azzurri players invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic development program. While the other three did not make it past the first of two cuts, Montanye said she had a chance to make the team as tryouts concluded this weekend.)

As for what she gained from her time working with Edmonds, Montanye said the clinic “helped our awareness” with passing and receiving.

Peterson said Azzurri president John Dina and its board of directors worked for “quite a few months” to set up the affiliation with Orlando City FC. The purple-clad Storm (matching the Pride’s color scheme) are even incorporating Orlando’s hashtags — #FutureIsPurple and #PurpleWithPurpose — as part of their social media outreach.

OTHER AZZURRI HAPPENINGS

• The Storm’s U12 boys squad traveled to Atlanta last month to take part in Major League Soccer’s Generation Adidas Cup. They went 3-3 at the annual three-day event for elite youth teams.

• The U11 Girls Purple team is holding a Spirit Night at Hertz Arena in Estero when the Florida Everblades host the Atlanta Gladiators in an ECHL hockey game on Saturday, Jan. 5 at 7 p.m. Everblades head coach Brad Ralph has a daughter who plays on the Storm’s U11 squad. Per the Azzurri Storm Facebook page, “(The Everblades are) offering discount tickets club-wide and to our network for this particular night. We hope our Azzurri Storm family will join to support this event.”

MORE FROM EDMONDS

Edmonds, 31, who scored a team-best six goals and won the Golden Boot award during the Pride’s inaugural 2016 season, talked about her time in Orlando — “I love it here” — and the future of the NWSL while also offering a prediction about this summer’s World Cup in France.

• On having soccer greats Morgan and Marta as teammates: “Playing with these elite players is amazing. Even at my age, I can still learn something from them.”

• On the Pride’s outlook for the 2019 season: “We always want to win it. We have a really talented team. … We’ll have a lot of people in and out (preparing and playing for the World Cup), but hopefully we can come together as one cohesive team and do well this season. That’s the hope. We’ll see.”

• On the state of the nine-team NWSL: “This league is so competitive that every year, everybody has a chance. Team 1 to Team 9, anybody can win it at any time. It’s really tight. Competition’s really high, which is awesome for the league to have every team be able to win it. … It’s nice that it’s growing. We’re past our three- or four-year itch that (other) leagues have been failing in the past, so it’s nice that there’s some stability in the league. We still have a long way to go. … For these kids, they have the opportunity to make it a lifestyle and make a living out of it if they want to, so hopefully we can keep it going, and by the time they get to that age and have that opportunity, it’ll still be around.”

• On Team USA’s bid to win a second straight World Cup: “USA all the way, of course. … I think it’s going to be a pretty competitive World Cup this year. I’m excited to watch it, but yeah, I’ve got to stick with my girls.”

Follow CSI on Twitter at @239CSI or like CSI on Facebook at facebook.com/CollierSportsInsider. Email Gregg Hardy at editor@colliersportsinsider.com.