On a hot Mother's Day afternoon, the Orlando Pride welcomed the Seattle Reign for the first of two scheduled meetings for the season. In the most complete game of the season to date for Tom Sermanni's side, the Pride jumped to an early lead and maintained control of the match until the final whistle.
The Reign did manage a few threatening moments against Ashlyn Harris. Most notably in a scary moment late in the match, Beverly Yanez took her down hard after Ashlyn managed a key save to maintain the first clean sheet in Pride history. Here are my thoughts on Sunday's match.
Alex Morgan Doesn't Need To Score For The Pride To Win
It's no secret Alex Morgan is one of the top strikers in the world. Against the Chicago Red Stars, the defense was able to crowd Morgan and contain her with two defenders. Sermanni was able to adapt after the last game by having Sarah Hagen on top with Alex, slotting Jasmyne Spencer behind Morgan in the midfield. This prevented the double-team on Morgan, which allowed her to play with more space, as she demonstrated with in the 11th minute with a pinpoint cross to Hagen at the far post. Morgan was active all match, and her effort resulted in the second goal of the night in the 86th minute, when she pressured the ball past a Reign defender and got off a hard shot which Hope Solo failed to save cleanly and Lianne Sanderson -- running behind Morgan -- was able to put into the net off the rebound.
86' GOOOOOOOOALLLL SANDERSON! Takes the shot and it rolls into the back of the net.#ORLvSEA | 2-0 pic.twitter.com/b8iw44ZsHK— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) May 8, 2016
The talent around Morgan is able to provide the help, so she doesn't have to do it all alone. She just needs to be active to cause opposing teams problems, as her two assists prove.
Four Matches, Four Different Starting XIs
The season is still early for Tom Sermanni and the Pride. The short preseason was challenging when key players were going in and out due to national team duties. Did we finally see a lineup Sermanni likes enough to use again? The back line has remained in place since the start of the season, and it was evident the consistent time together has paid off with the clean sheet. However, play in the midfield hasn't had the same level of consistency and passing hasn't always been spot on, partly because the team is still trying to find the best players to form a cohesive midfield. The team is young, and a rotating lineup may be how the Pride will have to play until after the Olympics in Rio.
Attendance Drop From Home Opener
The Pride's home opener set an NWSL attendance record with more than 23,000 fans supporting the Pride. Numbers for the second game on a Sunday Mother's Day afternoon were slightly above 8,000. While a big drop from the previous home match, this number is still better than the two other highest attended NWSL matches on Saturday combined -- with Washington at 4,333 and Boston with 3,622. However, to me, the newly dubbed Camping World Stadium seemed empty. Perhaps my expectations were higher, because I felt disappointed by the number. It's still too early to tell how well supported the Pride will be, but I hope next Saturday more people show up to cheer the team on. The attendance numbers should be closer to the Portland Thorns.
The Spencer/Rivas Comparision
Most observers of the Pride will quickly note the quality and level of play of Jasmyne Spencer. Her eye-opening performances have been covered on our site. A slight worrisome trend for Spencer is that once she creates chances, her shots are off the mark. Orlando fans may be quick to compare her with another speedy player who only recently scored for our team, Carlos Rivas. I think it's still too early to make that type of comparison because of everything Spencer brings to the table. She leads the team in fouls suffered, and with her energy on the pitch it's only a matter of time before she demonstrates how well she scores.
Back Line Play Better But Room To Improve
The first clean sheet in the Pride's history was due in large part to the defensive efforts of the back four in front of Harris. A noticeable improvement in communication allowed Seattle only two shots on goal all game. However, the performance was not without a few miscues, as a heavy touch by Laura Alleway allowed Beverly Yanez the opportunity to go for the equalizer and Michelle Cruz on the follow up crashed into Harris. One of Sermanni's substitutions was in the 64th minute, with Josée Bélanger making way for Cami Levin. This marked the first time a player from the back four was subbed out this season. Perhaps Sermanni is already looking ahead to when international players leave for national team camps, as the starting back line is projected to leave for Rio, and he is starting to get some playing time for other defenders.
Those are my takeaways from the match against Seattle. What are your thoughts on these? Did I miss something and you want to point it out? What stood out to you? Leave a comment below, so we can talk all things Pride.