It looked like a familiar script for the Orlando Pride at Sky Blue FC. For the third consecutive trip to New Jersey, and fourth time overall, the Pride grabbed a 1-0 lead against SBFC, only to see the other team come back. Sky Blue had won two of those previous games by 2-1 scores and drew the other, 1-1.
But this time, Tom Sermanni’s club flipped the script and the Pride got late goals from Marta and rookie Rachel Hill to escape New Jersey with a 3-2 road win — the team’s second straight away from Orlando City Stadium.
Chioma Ubogagu had given the Pride (4-4-3, 15 points) the early lead, only to see Kelley O’Hara equalize at the death of the first half on a questionable penalty call. Sam Kerr then scored a jaw-dropping goal in the first minute after the break for third-place Sky Blue FC (5-6-1, 16 points). The Pride equalized seemingly out of nowhere, before fashioning a fantastic team goal to get their first ever win over Sky Blue in four tries (1-2-1).
The Pride got some early opportunities, starting with Jamia Fields’ weak shot on target just four minutes in. Two minutes later, Marta sent a cross in that no one could get to and seconds later, Steph Catley sent in a cross that Kailen Sheridan spilled to Ubogagu, but the Pride attacker somehow had the ball taken out of her feet by the sprawling goalkeeper.
Kerr got an opportunity at 9’ but her cross attempt went right at Aubrey Bledsoe, who collected easily. Seconds later, Orlando was back on the attack, with Ubogagu forcing a diving Sheridan save. Fields fired high a minute later, and then at 11’, the Pride had their breakthrough.
Kristen Edmonds sent Ubogagu down the right channel. Chi turned inside of one defender and fired the ball through Sheridan and into the net for her second goal of the year.
In the 20th minute, Daphne Corboz went looking for a penalty and got the call from referee Danielle Chesky. The play started with a Kristen Edmonds turnover and Corboz felt some contact from Ali Krieger, left her foot in, and went down easily.
Sarah Killion, sitting on five goals already this season, stepped up to the spot and sent the ball to the right. However, Bledsoe guessed correctly and got down to make the save.
It was Killion’s third consecutive penalty stopped after making her first four consecutive attempts.
After that, much of the first half was Orlando playing out of the back before turning it over and watching Sky Blue try to send in long balls for Kerr and Maya Hayes, although Marta did fire a shot in the 23rd minute that Sheridan stopped.
Kerr was dangerous throughout the match, as the ball just seemed to appear wherever she was standing. In the 34th minute, she read a poor back pass from Steph Catley and fired on target. Bledsoe got a touch on the ball and it caromed off the crossbar to momentarily keep Sky Blue off the board.
Kerr kept coming, forcing saves at 38’ and 41’ from Bledsoe. Three minutes later, Chesky struck again.
If the first penalty call was maybe a little soft, I’d like the second one to be made into a pillow. Catley came in from behind but won the ball cleanly from Kerr, who then fell down as she was in the process of cutting back toward the Pride left back, and Chesky again pointed to the spot.
O’Hara sent the ball into the upper 90, just out of reach of Bledsoe, who guessed correctly but the shot was well struck. It was O’Hara’s second goal of the season.
The halftime whistle blew without any stoppage time (because reasons) and the game was tied at the half, 1-1. The Pride went to the break with a 7-5 advantage in shots and 55% of the possession.
Sky Blue wasted no time grabbing the lead after the restart. Hayes got in down the left and flicked an aerial ball back in front of the goal, where Kerr went up and bicycle-kicked her fifth goal of the season over Bledsoe to give the hosts the lead, 2-1.
The Pride kept digging. Camila tried a long-range effort in the 48th minute and missed it just wide. A minute later she sent in a cross that Sheridan punched just before Marta could get onto it. In the 51st minute, Fields got into the box with the ball at her feet and was run over from behind by Mandy Freeman and the penalty-happy ref suddenly wasn’t in the mood to award a spot kick on what would have been the most clear-cut of the game’s three most controversial plays.
The game settled down a bit over the next 15 minutes and Sermanni brought on Jasmyne Spencer and Hill for Ubogagu and Fields, respectively. Then, in the 77th minute, the Pride finally caught a break. Catley’s cross was deflected by the defense and landed right on Marta’s foot. The Brazilian one-timed her NWSL-leading sixth goal of the year just inside the left post past Sheridan and suddenly the game was tied up at 2-2.
Back in the game, the Pride got the wind back in their sails after about a two-minute scrambly period in their own end. Camila earned a corner with a great run through several defenders and her cross on the set piece fell just in front of the goal line in the 84th minute, but Sheridan located the ball before any Orlando attackers could pounce.
Two minutes later, Hill scored her first NWSL goal, and not many will be bigger. Marta collected a loose ball moving away from the Sky Blue goal line and flicked a cheeky backheel for Catley to pick up. Steph dribbled to the end line and sent a cross into the six-yard box. Hill went up over defenders Kayla Mills and Christie Pearce and nodded home the game-winner in the 86th minute.
It was just the Pride’s second goal off a header in 2017.
After a few nervy minutes of Sky Blue attack, the fourth official signaled five minutes of stoppage time (because reasons). But the Pride remained calm and possessed the ball well in injury time, keeping it away from the hosts and eventually Chesky blew the whistle for full time.
Orlando finished with a 16-11 advantage in shots (but a 5-7 deficit in shots on target), eight corner kicks to none, and 50% of the possession.
The win momentarily lifts the Pride level with fourth-place Portland Thorns FC on points. Orlando returns home to face second-place Chicago Red Stars at 5 p.m. on Saturday in the opening game of a double-header with OCB.