For the second game in a week, the Orlando Pride took a 1-0 lead over Sky Blue FC into halftime, only to see it evaporate in the second half. But, unlike on Wednesday – when the team conceded only once to draw, 1-1 – this time the Pride gave up two second-half goals to lose 2-1. The announced crowd of 6,788 at Camping World Stadium watched Samantha Kerr and Maya Hayes beat Ashlyn Harris to erase the one-goal deficit for Sky Blue.
The loss spoiled a marvelous first-half free kick goal by Kristen Edmonds – her team-leading sixth – and extended Orlando’s winless streak to seven games (0-6-1). The Pride fell to 6-12-1 overall, on 19 points, and haven’t won since July 10 against the Boston Breakers. Orlando is in eighth place but the Houston Dash could surpass the Pride with a result tomorrow against the last-place Breakers.
“Obviously at halftime we were quite happy. I thought the game was fairly even in the first half and they got the opportunity and scored so we came out in the second half feeling quite confident and quite comfortable,” Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the match. “And then an Achilles’ heel of ours – it seems to have continuous this season – of suicidal defending.
“That’s the killer. Then you’re chasing the game at 2-1 against a team that’s well organized and that’s got some very good defenders. We just struggled to break them down from there.”
The first half was played mostly between the two boxes with both teams’ attack breaking down either on the wing or just above the penalty area. The Pride got the first good scoring chance off a brilliant run by newcomer Lisa De Vanna. The Australian international weaved through the Sky Blue defense and laid off to Jasmyne Spencer on the right. The winger skied her effort over the bar on what turned out to be only a warning shot five minutes into the game.
Four minutes later, Dani Weatherholt tried to play in Alex Morgan but the captain’s first touch was a bit heavy and she was unable to re-gather to get a shot off.
Sky Blue finally got forward in the 11th minute by starting to play more direct balls over the Pride defense. The visitors’ first such foray was thwarted by a nice play by Monica in front of her goal, giving Sky Blue a corner kick that came to nothing. In fact, Orlando had a counter off of it but Spencer was offside.
In the 19th minute, Sermanni got a scare when defender Kristin Grubka stepped in front of Morgan on a Pride counter and buried her shoulder into the chest of Orlando’s captain, who stayed down for a couple of minutes. Grubka was shockingly not booked by referee Danielle Chesky for the challenge, which was not only a tactical foul designed to slow down Morgan with no attempt to play the ball, but was also a violent play. Ultimately, Morgan got up and was able to continue.
Sky Blue nearly opened the scoring in the 28th after Samantha Kerr – who scored the equalizer Wednesday – was sent in with a lovely ball over the top but she shot wide. It was the first foray in a good spell for Sky Blue FC, which started to get more traction with direct play. The best opportunity was on a flurry of chances when Josee Belanger went down with what looked like a hamstring injury, as Maya Hayes and Kelley O’Hara both had attempts at goal, with the first blocked and the second off target.
Belanger went directly to the locker room and Toni Pressley came on moments later, sending Cami Levin from left back to right and Pressley took the left fullback spot. Sermanni said Belanger suffered a hamstring injury and would likely miss the season finale.
The Pride breakthrough came moments after Pressley came on. Morgan tangled feet with Erin Simon but came away with the ball before being tripped, setting up a free kick in a good spot about 25 yards out. Edmonds stepped up and curled in a gorgeous shot that found the upper 90 on the right side, just above the outstretched hand of Caroline Casey.
“We were trying to see where the keeper was going to go,” Edmonds said, of her dicussion with Pressley, who was also poised to take the free kick. “She was really far to our left so I said to Toni, I’m just going to hit this one, and I did, and it went upper 90, so it worked out.”
Orlando took that 1-0 lead to the half and looked to be the better side for the most part, out-shooting Sky Blue, 5-2, and holding a 2-0 edge in shots on target.
The visitors continued their direct attacks in the second half, playing balls over and through Pride center backs Monica and Kaylyn Kyle for attacking players – primarily Kerr and Hayes. Sky Blue’s speed and quickness was too much for Orlando’s back line, which also failed to recognize dangerous runs until it was too late to prevent scoring chances.
Kerr took a ball and split the defense with a quick, darting move and then slotted home 1-v-1 against Ashlyn Harris to make it 1-1 just three minutes into the second half.
“It’s called being brain dead in simple terminology,” Sermanni said about his team’s start to the second half. “I think we lost the first goal from a goalkeeper kick out, where we’ve got to press the ball. We haven’t got close enough, haven’t got tight enough, and then being started with a ball over the top – classic defending 101, to be honest. It should just never, ever happen at this level and it’s happened twice in the last four days.”
Two minutes later, Grubka was booked for knocking Sarah Hagen down just outside the Sky Blue penalty area, and that should have been the second, leaving the visitors down a player. The referee’s decision in the first half was magnified by that call in the second. Pressley crushed the ensuing free kick into the seats. It was a wasteful opportunity in a second half full of them, as the Pride failed to get a shot on target in the second period.
Three minutes after that free kick, Hayes burned Kyle and Cami Levin to get onto a long ball, approaching goal all alone. Harris did well to stop the first shot, but the ball squirted out behind the Pride keeper and Hayes was there to finish on the second chance to make it 2-1.
“The second one – until I look at the video I’m not sure – but for me it was a factor of two things,” Sermanni said. “It was a factor of very, very poor decisions in possession in our own half; being sloppy; not being careful enough to keep the ball, coupled by unbelievably poor, diving-in, amateurish defending. I’m at a loss.”
Sky Blue continued to play in direct balls and nearly capitalized again two minutes later but Kyle did well to draw a foul in her own area to end the threat. Harris was called into action again in the 76th minute, making what is sure to be an NWSL Save of the Week candidate off a header by Kerr, who got to a long cross into the box. Harris made a diving one-handed stop to keep it at 2-1.
Sermanni brought on Jamia Fields for De Vanna and Laura Alleway for Weatherholt, looking to spark something. Alleway very nearly had the equalizer in stoppage time, getting a head onto an outstanding cross by Morgan but the Aussie’s shot was off frame.
Orlando’s inaugural season comes to a conclusion in two weeks, when the Pride host FC Kansas City in the final game of the year on Sept. 24 at 5 p.m.