The Orlando Pride entered Camping World Stadium seeking revenge for a 2-0 loss at Washington and a boost to their fading playoff hopes. They got neither, as Orlando (6-10-0, 18 points), still without some of its international defensive starters, fell 2-1 in front of an announced crowd of 7,052.
The Pride are now all but eliminated from playoff contention with four games left in the season.
"We knew we were coming up against a team that's top of the league, a team that's in really good form, has a really consistent lineup for some time, so we knew it was going to be a very difficult game tonight," Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the game.
Washington (11-3-2, 35 points) tops the NWSL standings and looks to be in firm control of that top spot heading into the playoffs.
In the early stages of the game, the Spirit attack came fast and furious. The Pride back line was tested by the Washington attacking trio of Cali Farquharson, Crystal Dunn, and Cheyna Williams. Through the first five minutes, Washington already had three corner kicks and came close to scoring on one of them.
While the Pride defense was pressured, the offense couldn't quite sustain chances. There were opportunities there for them, but the final ball or last touch let the team down on the night. Alex Morgan came close to scoring in the 27th minute off of a Dani Weatherholt cross, but it was deflected out for a corner on a nice diving save by Spirit keeper Kelsey Wys.
27' What a ball by Weatherholt! Floats one into the box, Morgan gets a head on it and goes just to the side. pic.twitter.com/ysYagd1qIw— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) August 27, 2016
Ashlyn Harris was quiet for most of the first 30 minutes, but came up big in the 33rd off a long shot that dropped low, forcing the netminder to reach down and palm the ball away from danger. Just four minutes later, however, Washington was able to take the lead. Williams found space in the box, nutmegged Kaylyn Kyle and, despite slipping, blasted a shot past Harris for the lead.
The half finished with Orlando only recording one shot on target, while the Spirit had two. Despite the deficit, both teams were even in terms of possession and there was plenty to play for in the second half.
The Spirit managed to double their lead just 10 minutes into the second half after Christine Nairn was left unmarked on a Washington counter attack. Katie Stengel found a wide open Nairn on the left wing, who took a touch and beat Harris to the far post. With the two-goal advantage, Washington began to shape more defensively, while the Pride went much more attacking. Eight minutes after the second goal, Sermanni subbed in Monica, who had only come back from Brazil on Wednesday night, as well as Sarah Hagen, who would come up big later on.
With the subs made, the Pride began to inch their way closer to goal. A chance in the 70th minute saw a nice combination of passes from Jasmyne Spencer and Kristen Edmonds, leading to a chance from Spencer that was partially blocked by a sliding defender and rolled just inches wide of the mark.
While the chance came close to putting Orlando back in the game, just one minute later the Pride found the back of the net. Cami Levin was able to get free on the right wing and cross the ball into the middle of the box, allowing Sarah Hagen to run in and poke it towards the far post and in, putting Orlando right back in the game.
The goal gave the team renewed energy as they searched for the equalizer. Alex Morgan, who had been pestering the defense all night, had some chances late on, missing over the bar on a header and putting another just inches wide in the 83rd minute. Morgan also put Jamia Fields in on goal in the 90th minute but the second-half sub didn't get enough on her shot and it went right at Wys.
In the end, the Spirit defense held firm and the game finished 2-1 in favor of the visitors.
The Pride head to Houston to face the Dash for the fourth time this year on Saturday, Sept. 3 at 8:30 p.m.