DAYTONA BEACH – Orlando Pride and Racing Louisville delivered a fun, comprehensive conclusion to the inaugural Daytona Soccer Fest.
In a nationally televised regular-season game at Daytona International Speedway — on a natural turf field built earlier in the week — Orlando and Louisville shared the points in a 2-2 draw Sunday night.
A futbol fourth:The first football festival takes place at the Daytona International Speedway
Players not only enjoyed the prime-time spotlight, but also the unique aura of the famous Superspeedway.
“Honestly, it was better than I expected – and I expected good things,” said Orlando Pride defender Celia Jiménez Delgado, one of three players who attended the inaugural Daytona Soccer Fest press conference in April. “When you say, ‘We’re going to build a field overnight,’ and I have an engineering background, that’s challenging. Let’s face it. When I stepped onto the field today, I thought, ‘This is amazing.’ “
First announced in 2020, organizers of the Daytona Soccer Fest had to wait two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Speedway officials sought a marquee sporting event for the 4th of July weekend after NASCAR 2020 ended a 61-year racing tradition at Daytona.
The Coke Zero Sugar 400, formerly a local Independence Day hallmark, now takes place in late August and concludes the regular season of the Cup Series.
An announced crowd of 7,573 fans watched what is believed to be the first professional football match to be played outside of a traditional stadium. And those fans were treated to a two-goal rally by the collapsing Pride (2-5-3, 9 points).
Orlando, who were on a losing streak in three games, fell behind in the first half when Emina Ekic fired home a battered cross. Savannah DeMelo doubled Racing’s lead (2-4-4, 10 points) with a glorious free kick to the top right corner.
Orlando ended a 329-minute goal drought soon after, through an unlikely source. Left-back Kylie Strom missed a second chance by deflecting a right-footed shot into the bottom corner.
“I almost don’t think that has happened yet,” said Strom, whose goal was her first for the club.
Before Strom’s strike, Orlando conceded 14 unanswered goals to his opponents.
“We said other players have to get up and start scoring goals. We can’t always put pressure on the forwards to get all the goals,” said Seb Hines, acting manager of Orlando Pride.
Orlando Pride equalized in the 69th minute when Darian Jenkins slid past Racing’s defensive line, barely staying on the side to receive an incisive pass from Erika Tymrak and punch the keeper. Orlando maintained a slight possession lead with 54.4% possession, although Louisville overtook the Pride by a 15-13 lead.
It’s the third tie in five all-time meetings between clubs in the National Women’s Soccer League, one that Racing Louisville manager Kim Bjökegren regrets as a wasted opportunity to rise to the top of the table.
“It’s more or less about batting the ball away when it’s necessary, defending with 11 players and doing whatever it takes to win three points,” said Bjökegren. “Sometimes it’s a bit too easy for opponents to create chances against us. We have to find a way to end games like that because I think we threw away two points today.”
The NWSL duel ended a busy weekend of celebrations at the World Center of Racing.
On Saturday, the Millonarios defeated Colombian rivals América de Cali 2-1 in a pre-season friendly. Sunday’s lineup began with a rain-delayed Legends Game featuring the likes of Javier Mascherano, David Trezeguet, Juan Sebastián Verón, Patrick Kluivert and Jermaine Jones.
Grammy winner Chance the Rapper performed a pre-race concert on Sunday on a stage set up further down the pit lane. Rauw Alejandro and Adassa had the honor the night before.
Santiago Debonis, president of Argentine sports and entertainment giant Torneos, said earlier this week his company had agreed to a multi-year partnership with Daytona International Speedway. He hopes to potentially win for Major League Soccer as early as 2023 while maintaining the established partnership with the NWSL.
“Personally, I’d love to do it again,” Strom said. “It was so special and I hope the fans enjoyed it too. I can only say good things about it.”