We’ve seen this movie before. The Orlando Pride took a 1-0 lead into the half, only to allow an equalizer just after the break, and fell 2-1 for the second consecutive match. It was the third straight game overall in which the Pride led 1-0 and failed to win the game.
Jasmyne Spencer’s first-half strike and a good performance in the opening period had the announced crowd of 7,454 at Camping World Stadium feeling pretty good at halftime. But Tiffany McCarty erased that lead just after the game restarted and Heather O’Reilly added a late penalty to give the visitors the win.
Orlando finished the season on an eight-game winless streak dating back to July, ending its inaugural year in NWSL with a 6-13-1 record and ninth in the league on 19 points.
“I felt the first half in particular I thought we controlled the game, dominated the game, looked comfortable, had really good passages of soccer, but probably didn’t create enough for the amount of possession that we had,” Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the match. “And then in the spells where we either switch off or lose a little bit of momentum, we concede goals. That’s probably been the story for particularly the second half of the season.”
For his final starting XI of the club’s inaugural season, Sermanni went with a 4-4-1-1 with Kristen Edmonds playing beneath Alex Morgan up top, a midfield of Spencer, Becky Edwards – captaining the team in her final professional match – Kaylyn Kyle, and Lisa De Vanna. The back four were Cami Levin, Monica, Laura Alleway, and Dani Weatherholt, with Ashlyn Harris in goal.
Kansas City fashioned the first decent chance in the fourth minute, as Shea Groom cut inside of Cami Levin and Monica and fired on goal from the top of the box, but straight toward Ashlyn Harris, who saved comfortably.
That was nearly all the danger the visitors would muster in the first half, as the Pride did well to pressure FC Kansas City up the field to win balls back in the midfield. Kansas City tried to play long direct balls, which have been successful against Orlando this season. The clash in styles made for a cagey opening 10 minutes with most of the play in between the boxes.
The Pride eventually started to fashion some half chances. De Vanna chipped in a cross for Morgan in the 12th minute but it was just a bit tall for the USWNT striker. But that half chance served as a warning shot. Four minutes later, the Pride took the lead.
Edmonds drew a foul 30 yards out from Nicole Barnhart’s goal on the left side to set up the game’s first score. Edmonds tried to curl in a free kick but it deflected off the wall and took a bounce right in front of Spencer, who blasted a shot on the half volley that bulged the net and put the hosts up, 1-0.
Orlando held the bulk of the possession and attack the remainder of the opening period, but couldn’t find a second. De Vanna played Morgan into the box in the 28th minute. Moving away from goal, Morgan couldn’t turn and shoot so she settled the ball and crossed a ball in that was midway between Spencer and Barnhart. The Kansas City keeper got their first as Katie Bowen shielded Spencer just enough to prevent a dangerous chance.
A minute later, Morgan got a foot on a long free kick from the Orlando half that sent Barnhart scrambling back. Had the touch been on target, Morgan would have scored, but it was wide to the right. De Vanna tried a similar chip in the 39th minute but with the same result.
Tiffany McCarty provided a scare for Orlando fans in the 41st minute, turning around Weatherholt and streaking down the left before firing a shot over Harris’ net.
That was the last good chance for either team in the first half, although Edmonds missed high and wide from about 25 yards out in stoppage time. Although Edmonds has scored some wonderful goals from range this season, she may have been better served to continue the attack, as a 2-v-1 was developing with De Vanna on the right.
Sermanni’s squad took its 1-0 lead into the locker room, with just a 4-2 edge in shots to show for the possession and attacking advantage.
After the restart, the visitors wasted no time pulling level. O’Reilly carried down the left side and fired on frame from a severe angle. Harris made a diving parry but the ball came off McCarty’s midsection and bounded into the net for the equalizer.
That goal energized the visitors, who were the better side in the second period. But it was the Pride that got the next good opportunity. Morgan had a shot blocked out for a corner in the 53rd minute, after a good bit of buildup from Spencer and Edwards. Morgan didn’t get many clean looks at goal all night, with the KC defense in her pocket — most notably her USWNT teammate Becky Sauerbrunn.
Kansas City started to get closer to a second shortly thereafter. McCarty got onto a cross in the 57th but the ball wouldn’t settle for her and her shot was off frame. A minute later, Levin was called upon to block a Brittany Taylor shot at the top of the box. Four minutes after that, Harris parried away a cross that fell in the six-yard box but she was able to smother the weak shot that came back to her.
In the 67th minute, second-half sub Frances Silva was sent down the left side alone but she chose to cross instead of shoot and she had no FCKC teammates in the attack with her.
Edwards came off the field for the final time in her pro career to a thunderous ovation in the 73rd minute, with Sermanni replacing her with Maddy Evans.
Unfortunately, 10 minutes later, referee Margaret Domka pointed to the spot after Taylor was dispossessed at the top of the box. Taylor’s momentum carried her into Evans’ foot and she sold the fall enough to draw the penalty. O’Reilly buried it for the winning goal.
The penalty wasn’t seen the same way by everyone on the Pride’s side.
“To be honest it looked a penalty to me,” Sermanni said. “I wasn’t that close to it but it looked like, I think it was Maddy, it looked like she clipped her. I don’t know if anybody saw it differently than that but from my perspective it did look like a free kick and if it’s a free kick in the box, it’s a penalty.”
“I don’t think the penalty was a fair one, but that’s the way the game goes sometimes,” Morgan said.
Morgan got a half chance with a shot on target in the 88th but it lacked power and was easy for Barnhart. Toni Pressley tried her luck from at least 45 yards away moments later but her shot was well over the goal.
After a couple corner scrambles in the FCKC box, the referee blew for full time and ended the Pride’s inaugural year. As far as expansion years go, it could have been much worse, although the Olympic absences likely kept it from being much better. There will be changes in the off-season, as there always are. It’ll be interesting to see how the team changes between now and opening day 2017.