The Orlando Pride took a page out of Orlando City’s playbook, scoring in the 90th minute — and again in stoppage time — to turn a lifeless and embarrassing 1-0 loss to the celler-dwelling Boston Breakers into a dramatic 2-1 win. Kristen Edmonds provided both goals — paying for the second with a blow to the head by Boston keeper Jami Kranich just after chipping the ball toward goal.
It was quite a show of resolve for the Pride, who were playing down six international starters with a makeshift back line and a goalkeeper that had been with the team for less than a week. It pushed the Pride to six wins, which is one more than the Houston Dash managed in their expansion season two years ago. The Pride are 6-6-0 and on 18 points as they sit tied with the Chicago Red Stars for the fourth and final NWSL playoff spot with eight matches remaining in the season. Chicago currently holds the tiebreaker due to head-to-head results despite the Pride having more wins and a better goal differential, but the teams will meet again in Orlando on Saturday night.
Here are my five takeaways from the match:
Edmonds is Clutch
Like her late winning goal in Houston earlier this season, Kristen Edmonds saved her best for the end of the match. She fired her team back into the game with a beauty of a 90th-minute free kick from above the penalty area on the left side, sending a perfect ball just inside the back post and leaving nothing for Kranich to do but dive in desperation and pray it sailed wide. It didn’t.
Moments later, Edmonds was the first onto a Leah Fortune long ball, let it bounce, and chipped it on the half volley over Kranich, with whom she collided before the ball reached the goal line. I’m not sure Edmonds was even conscious when the ball bounded into the net for the game winner. Those two goals will be some relief for Edmonds, who crushed a drive late in the first half, only to see it strike the right post and stay out.
Head Coach Tom Sermanni praised Edmonds after the match, saying, "She has the balance of the quality and the creativity mixed in with that ability to still be going at 90 minutes and making aggressive runs. She has been great. Looking at all of the players on the squad, she really is a find that we didn’t really know much about. That has been Kristen."
Too Deliberate in the Attack
Orlando trailed about 85 minutes of the match to last-place Boston mostly because the team failed to provide much threat getting forward in the attack. The Pride defended well all game, and did well throughout the middle of the pitch to break up play, but there was a lack of urgency in both making quick forward passes and timely aggressive runs that stifled Orlando’s ability to test the goalkeeper at times. The overly deliberate attack was something addressed by the head coach after the match.
"We could have moved the ball a little bit quicker and moved it forward earlier," said Sermanni. "When we started doing that in the desperate stages, we started exploiting the Boston defense more than we did prior to that. We’ve done an awful lot of work trying to possess the ball, keep the ball, and pass the ball. Sometimes in the mix of that, you lose a directness about your play."
Moving forward, Orlando must play quicker in the attacking half if the Pride are to get more positive results during the international absences of their six starters.
Kaitlyn Savage Debut Has Mixed Results
It was an inauspicious beginning to her Pride career for the former Florida International goalkeeper. Just five minutes into the game, she did well to come off her line on an over-hit Boston through ball, but Savage made a mess of smothering it. The ball ricocheted off her hands and right to Mollie Pathman, who easily tucked it into an empty net for the opening goal -- Boston’s fourth of the entire season. However, she rebounded nicely from that early gaffe and made a huge save on Stephanie McCaffrey in the 87th minute to keep the deficit at just one, allowing her teammates time to mount a comeback.
"We know she’s only been in the states for a couple of days of training, and we know it’s not an easy adjustment," said midfielder Maddy Evans. "It stinks to go down a goal early, but we had full confidence in her and she’s going to play a big role for us in the future. She’s a very talented goalkeeper, had some nerves for her first game, but I think she had a phenomenal rest of the game and we’re lucky to have her."
New-Look Back Line Does the Job
With four starting defenders away on international duty, Sermanni called on a makeshift foursome of (left to right) Sam Witteman, Toni Pressley, Kaylyn Kyle and Cami Levin to protect Savage and the Pride goal. The four had only practiced together as a back line for a week and had even less time than that to work with Savage, but they performed admirably. Boston’s lone goal was off a goalkeeping mistake, and the Breakers didn’t find much room in the box. Boston finished with 10 shots, getting six on goal, but many of those were from severe angles or outside the box. Pressley did well to block a McCaffrey attempt late and blasted a shot that forced a diving save late in the match. Kyle played well in a position that’s not natural to the longtime midfielder. Witteman and Levin were able to keep Boston’s attack wide and also made advances up the field to join the attack.
"I think we had a very good performance with just one slip up -- that was a mistake by us with a shot on net -- other than that I don’t think they broke us down on our back line," Kyle said. "I don’t play center back by any means but as a whole we had a good performance out there. Very proud of our team and our back line."
"I thought it was a good effort from the back four given all of those circumstances," Sermanni said. "The good thing with Kaylyn and Toni is that they are great competitors. I was pleased with how they did."
Substitutions Change Pride Fortunes
Sermanni turned to Dani Weatherholt, Christina Burkenroad, and Leah Fortune down the stretch to try to take something from a game in which his team trailed almost from the beginning. The moves paid off. Weatherholt was one of the team’s most dangerous players on the attack from the moment she stepped on the field in the 71st minute. Just seven minutes after coming on, she drilled a hard shot on goal but unfortunately right at Kranich. Then she nearly had the game-winner just moments after Edmonds’ free kick goal. Burkenroad provided more pressure up the right side than the Pride had previously mounted, due to making quick, decisive moves and passes. And Fortune showed her quality by barely missing on a late free kick, and then delivering the perfect over-the-top ball to assist on Edmonds’ game-winning strike.
"Our subs came on and made a huge difference," Kyle said. "They added energy; they allowed us to keep the ball in their half and press at a higher rate."
That was how I saw last night’s match. What stood out to you? Let us know in the comments section below.