After scoreless first half with plenty of opportunities for both teams, we saw Chicago take the lead off a Christen Press goal from a set piece at the 65-minute mark. It would be the only goal of the match as the Orlando Pride squandered several opportunities and, were it not for the abilities of Ashlyn Harris, the match could have easily been blown wide open.
Despite Orlando's midfield having the lion's share (wink) of possession, the Pride's attack fizzled out and couldn't take advantage of Chicago playing with a high line in the absence of Julie Johnston. Alex Morgan was swarmed by the Red Stars' defense and wasn't able to finish on any of her opportunities.
Ashlyn Harris Makes Even the Most Impressive Saves Seem Routine
Chicago could have easily made this game really messy and lopsided, and were it not for Ashlyn Harris doing Ashlyn Harris things, the Pride could have been scored out of the building. I'm not sure if NWSL has rules for how many times one player can be nominated for Save of the Week, but Harris had three that will probably win easily this week.
9' SAVE! Harris! With the 1v1 against Press. Came off her line at the perfect time.#CHIvORL | 0-0 pic.twitter.com/plIBMMfg3l— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) May 1, 2016
55' SAVE! Harris! Gets a hand and deflects the ball out. Clutch.#CHIvORL | 0-0— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) May 1, 2016
: https://t.co/KdR3Ptwc7w pic.twitter.com/V8pLyp5YLh
79' Wow Ashlyn Harris. We have a feeling a few of these could be Save of the Week Nominees...#CHIvORL | 1-0 pic.twitter.com/v91Uhuo5lU— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) May 1, 2016
Yeah, while I'll never complain about having a sentient brick wall for a goalkeeper, I'm not gonna be thrilled having to live and die by Harris' abilities. Orlando's back line has been about as reliable as you can ask them to be, but, at times they can be slow to get back and have left space open for attackers several times already this season.
Edmonds, Kyle, and Evans Were Terrific in the Midfield Until The Ball Got Behind Them
I've said it before that retaining possession in the midfield will directly lead to increased scoring chances which, in turn, leads to more goals in the attacking end. While, that many not have been the case this match, it's certainly a strategy Tom Sermanni's side exemplified, even though the finishing wasn't there. The midfield trio of Kristen Edmonds, Kaylyn Kyle, and Maddy Evans was great at chasing down balls and winning possession. The more Sermanni finds out what system works best for his squad and how they dictate the match will be dependent on including these three. However, Chicago was able to unlock its attack and got some quality chances once it was able to get past the midfield and into their attacking third.
Julie Johnston's Absence Didn't Seem to Bother the Red Stars
USWNT standout Julie Johnston wouldn't feature at all in the match and instead would be replaced by rookie defender Katie Naughton. The first-round draft pick out of Notre Dame proved to be more than serviceable and frustrated Alex Morgan all night, preventing the superstar from getting decent looks at Alyssa Naeher and the Chicago goal. While Orlando would have some opportunities, Morgan and Lianne Sanderson were often met with several defenders when they entered the box and weren't given any room at all to create quality chances for Orlando to capitalize on with Johnston missing.
Are Some Holes Starting to Open Up in Orlando's Defense?
One thing I've noticed in three matches is that there is certain level of carelessness when it comes to ball distribution on the back line. Laura Alleway nearly gave up an early goal against Houston and, despite her coming up with an impressive stop in the 43rd minute of this match, would have been responsible for one tonight. Between Steph Catley, Monica, Laura Alleway, and Josée Bélanger, the talent is there for Orlando to have a truly stifling and game-changing defense. Granted, Chicago only scored off a set piece in this match and the defense for the most part looked up to the task, but one can only wonder when one of those sleepy passes is intercepted and put into the back of the Pride's net.
The Pride is Still a Work in Progress
It's not entirely devastating losing 2-1 in your franchise's first match, especially to a team as skilled as Portland. It's nice beating the Houston Dash 3-1 in your first-ever home game (even if it's sans Carli Lloyd). Losing 1-0 on the road to a team that is rebuilding and missing one of its key pieces is sort of head scratching, though. As the team progresses through the season and finds its optimal lineups, more consistency will come as the formation and personnel become more definite. The best way that Sermanni and company are going to find this is by varying things up and seeing what's been working and what hasn't. If that means playing Jasmyne Spencer off the bench and starting Sara Hagen in the hopes that Spencer's quickness is there at the end of the match, it assumes you score first and Spencer's frenetic pace helps close out the game. If you find yourself down a goal halfway through the second half, it could prove costly, as now your opponent simply needs to sit back, absorb, and break up the attack in its own end.
Those are my five main things to take away from last night's match. What were your thoughts on the match?