Orlando (4-5-3, 15 points) controlled possession and produced more chances on goal, but the difference maker came in the 68th minute on Press’ penalty kick. Second-place Chicago improves to 7-3-2 on the season. The Pride are now 0-3 in the all-time series, losing all three matches by 1-0 final scores.
“It was going to be a tight game,” Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the match. “We talked about it at halftime about it being tight and there wasn’t going to be much in it.”
The match itself didn’t start on time, due to the torrential downpour and lightning in the area. The players originally were out warming up, but were sent inside after a lightning strike in the area. About 45 minutes later, the players were back out and warming up and the game kicked off one hour after it was supposed to.
The first half saw a lot of domination from the Pride, holding on to 65% of possession and leading in passing accuracy (80%-68%), shot advantage (8-6) and number of corners (5-1).
Most of the chances for Orlando in the first half came through Marta, who constantly tried shots from just outside the penalty area. The Red Stars’ chances came from counter attacks and long efforts from U.S. Women’s National Team forward Christen Press.
The best chance of the first half for the Pride came from Marta in the 30th minute, with a low, curling effort just saved by Chicago keeper Alyssa Naeher.
The second half began to open up chances for both teams. Camila came on for Maddy Evans, which drastically improved the Pride attack. The Brazilian actually ended up leading the team in shots at the end of it, despite only playing just 34 minutes. With the Brazilian combination in the attack, Orlando continued to press closer and closer to an opening goal.
The 65th minute marked the return of Alex Morgan to the lineup. After missing the first half of the season while playing in France and out the last few weeks due to injury, she was finally able to make her 2017 NWSL debut at home. With the first touch of the ball, she set up Camila for a shot on goal, which was saved by Naeher.
Just two minutes after Morgan came on, the game changed almost in an instant. On the offensive end, Jasmyne Spencer took the ball away from a Chicago defender just outside the Red Stars’ box and fired a shot into the crossbar. As the ball deflected out, Chicago used the fortunate bounce to counter and on the other end Toni Pressley was caught a step slow and took down Chicago’s Casey Short with a sliding challenge, conceding a penalty. Press stepped up to convert, sending Aubrey Bledsoe the wrong way and put her team up with only 22 minutes left.
With their talented attacking options all on the field, the Pride continued to search for a goal, but the shots either were straight at Naeher or well off target. It wasn’t until the last moments of the game, when Orlando earned a corner in stoppage time. Bledsoe snuck into the box from her own side of the field.
“I look over at (goalkeeper coach Lloyd Yaxley), and he gave me the go-ahead,” Bledsoe said after the game, “So, you know, every keeper, you’re excited for that moment, but obviously you don’t want it to happen because it means you’re down. But I just kinda snuck to the back post, where I was wide open, and I saw the ball coming, like, right to me, and I thought, ‘This is my moment. I’m gonna score.’ And their player flicked her head. It actually hit me right in the face, but I saw the replay back. It was still a decent effort. But, yeah, I did not mean for that to hit my face. I thought I was going to volley it.”
As the ball came off Bledsoe’s face, it was saved off the line by a Chicago defender. The ball bounced out to Ali Krieger, whose volley smacked off the crossbar and the Red Stars were able to clear the ball away.
An unlucky night for the Pride, who will now travel next week up to Maryland, where they’ll take on the Washington Spirit at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, July 8.