The key to the Pride making the playoffs in their second season was a nine-game unbeaten run to end the season. The third game in that run occurred on Aug. 12 when the Pride welcomed Sky Blue FC to Orlando City Stadium. The night would be one to remember for the home side and one to forget for the visitors.
During the first two years of operation, the Pride had acquired an impressive list of international stars, including Alex Morgan and Marta. However, the team had yet to display the fearsome attack and dominance the roster would suggest. To that point, the team’s most dominant performance had been a 3-0 win over the Washington Spirit in the previous game. But this one would show the capabilities of the team.
The Pride had a rough start to the 2017 season after learning that Morgan, the team’s second-leading goal scorer and captain a year prior, would remain with Olympique Lyonnais through its UEFA Champions League run, delaying her return until midway through the season. Her absence showed with the Pride only recording one win in their first seven games. While Orlando had won three out of four when Morgan returned, Tom Sermanni’s side still sat outside of a coveted playoff position in the standings.
The Pride quickly caught fire after Morgan’s return. Led by their returning striker, the Pride began a nine-game unbeaten streak which included a five-game win streak and Morgan scoring in six out of seven games. Both streaks set new team records and would clinch a playoff spot for the Pride for the first time in team history. The shining game during that stretch was the 5-0 thumping of Sky Blue.
Ashlyn Harris made her return to the starting lineup in the Pride net after a long absence with a quad injury. Her return bolstered the club despite replacement Aubrey Bledsoe turning in a solid season.
Morgan got the party started just four minutes into the contest, setting a team record for fastest goal from the start of the game. The goal was set up by an incredible long ball by Marta, but Morgan still had much to do to touch it past former USWNT center back Christie Pearce and slot it home for one of the best goals of the year.
If the opening goal was a brilliant display of skill from Morgan and Marta, midfielder Camila matched it in the 43rd minute to set up the second goal. Morgan’s hustle kept the play alive and allowed the Pride to eventually double the lead on Dani Weatherholt’s first career goal as a professional.
Two minutes after the break Morgan made it 3-0 and essentially put the game away, taking a perfect pass from Jasmyne Spencer and finishing her brace. It was Morgan’s fifth goal in four games. In the 53rd, Spencer sent in a cross that goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan couldn’t squeeze. Marta swept in behind and headed home the spill to make it 4-0.
Marta put the finishing touches on the game as Morgan switched roles with the Brazilian and sent a perfect through ball on the ground. Marta caught up to it and calmly beat Sheridan for the final margin of 5-0.
The only blemish on an otherwise outstanding night was a missed penalty by Maddy Evans in her final game with the Pride. Evans, who retired to accept a business opportunity, was set up for the spot kick after Spencer was taken down in the box. With all of her Orlando teammates urging her to take the kick, Evans stepped up but Sheridan got her fingers to the shot and kept it out.
Harris preserved the clean sheet by knocking a Kerr shot off the crossbar and making a diving save moments later.
Sermanni was understandably happy with the result, saying after the match:
“I was obviously very pleased with the performance tonight,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the game. “I think it was a comprehensive win, but apart from the score line, I was really happy with how we played. I thought we were very tight defensively and we kept possession more consistently than we had been doing.”
While the Pride had started to show signs of its potential prior to this shellacking, it was the most dominant performance by any of the club’s three teams since the senior men’s team played in USL Pro. Even better, it was led by the two stars with both Morgan and Marta netting a brace and recording an assist. Only one of the five goals didn’t involve the duo.
Despite the eventual 4-1 loss to the Thorns in the playoffs, the win over Sky Blue and eventual Golden Boot-winner Sam Kerr showed that the Pride has the potential to be a dominant team in the NWSL and, with all their key players expected back next season, fans should be thinking about the potential of the team’s first championship in 2018.
Come back through New Year's Eve as we count down the remainder of Orlando City's top 10 moments of 2017.
Previous Top 10 Moments of 2017
10. Orlando City trounces New England Revolution, 6-1.