The Orlando Pride haven’t won a match in the NWSL since July, of 2016, and on Saturday, they picked up their first ever draw at home with a 1-1 finish against the Washington Spirit at Orlando City Stadium.
In front of an announced crowd of 14,452, Danica Evans scored his first career goal to tie the game late and deliver the Pride a point in Marta’s debut match.
“It was kind of what we expected. Every game in this league is a tough battle, and we got that tonight,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the match.
To say the first half was full of action with be a blatant lie on my part, and I would never do that to you folks. Both sides sent the first 20 minutes trading the ball back and forth before things finally started to pick up for the Pride, with Steph Catley getting heavily involved in the attack.
In the 20th minute, Catley took a shot from distance that had a chance but sailed just wide to the right. A minute later, she found Kristen Edmonds with a cross, and Edmonds headed the ball off target. Again, moments later, she tried to find Jasmyne Spencer in the box, but the pass was knocked away out of play for a Pride corner. Camila came through with a shot of her own from outside of the box in the 28th, but that, too, sailed high and wide.
“I thought we started slowly,” Sermanni said. “I thought for the first 15 minutes. When it came to our possession, we were a bit slow, a bit nervy, didn’t really get into our stride. Then as the first half wore on, we got more and more into the game, and into some great positions.”
Ashyln Harris, 2016’s NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year, came up with key saves throughout the match, and even got some help from her defenders on a close call in the 29th minute. Harris was able to get her arm up just in time to deflect a Havana Solaun shot and slow it down as the ball continued rolling towards the goal, giving Monica enough time to rush in and clear it out of the area.
The second half gave us the biggest highlights of the afternoon, which included the first official appearance of Marta in a Pride uniform, when she came on in the 59th minute for Monica, less than 48 hours after arriving in Orlando.
The celebration didn’t last very long however, as the Spirit found the back of the net hardly a minute later thanks to Line Sigvardsen-Jensen, who knocked home a ball off a corner that Harris maybe should have come up with, putting the Spirit up 1-0 in the 60th minute.
With Marta, the Pride looked far more dangerous in the attack, getting forward and into the box with more dangerous chances, but the same problem kept coming up throughout the afternoon, as the team would break down and struggle to get off quality shots.
“She changed the game,” Sermanni said of Marta’s play. “She came in and the worst possible moment happened for us, when they scored. But I think you saw her class and her quality for that last 25-30 minutes tonight. Considering the travel she’s had, and the commitments she’s had over the last couple of days, I think she showed tonight how good of a pro she is.”
As the unsuccessful chances continued to pile up, the Pride finally found a way to break through late in the match, in the 87th minute, when Evans, a rookie forward drafted by the club in January, dribbled through the Spirit defense and beat the goalkeeper to tie up the game with her first career goal in the 86th minute.
“Once the ball got through, I looked up, I saw the goalkeeper and I debated whether to shoot it first time or to dribble,” Evans said. “For me personally, I’d rather dribble. So I just took the extra touch and the next thing I know the goal is wide open. The fans were screaming. It was honestly amazing and I’m so glad I got to score today.”
The Pride were inches away from taking the lead in stoppage time when Marta connected with a long pass down the left side, getting into the box and striking a hard shot from an angle that ripped past the far goal post by just a few inches.
But the season marches on. The Pride will return to action again next Saturday when they travel to North Carolina to take on the Courage at 4 p.m.