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Orlando Pride vs. Chicago Red Stars: Final Score 2-1 as Pride Still Can’t Solve Stars

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Orlando just can’t figure out Christen Press or the Chicago Red Stars.

Matt Starkey, The Mane Land

Someday the Orlando Pride will figure out a way to beat the Chicago Red Stars and it will be glorious. Today was not that day. At least it wasn’t a fourth consecutive 1-0 final to Chicago as the Red Stars managed multiple goals — both by Christen Press, because obviously — for the first time against the Pride. Orlando also found its first goal against the Red Stars, who still won, 2-1 in front of 4,742 at Toyota Park.

Chicago (8-3-4, 28 points) momentarily climbs into first place in the NWSL and remains unbeaten at home (6-0-2), while the Pride (5-6-4, 19 points) have their modest three-game road unbeaten streak snapped. The Pride are 0-4-0 against Chicago and have been outscored 5-1 in the four meetings. Alanna Kennedy’s stoppage-time goal snapped Orlando’s goal drought against Chicago at just over 360 minutes.

Despite owning the game for much of the first half, the Pride couldn’t find that important first goal and instead conceded one, then got very sloppy in the second half, eventually all but capitulating as the Red Stars passed accurately, spread the field, and frustrated Orlando over the game’s second half.

The Pride did a good job of possessing the ball throughout the first half (62.5%) but had trouble finding a way through the Chicago defense. In truth, Orlando did a good job of moving the ball but a poor job of moving themselves, allowing the Red Stars to easily defend them without having to move.

Chicago made the most of counter opportunities after repeated turnovers at the top of the box by Orlando and Pride players dribbling into double- and triple-team situations rather than using movement off the ball to open space. The stat sheet in the opening period reflected that with only a 5-4 shots advantage for the Pride despite all that extra possession.

Orlando nearly got the game’s first goal on a gift. Steph Catley sent a ball into the box that Casey Short got a foot on and it deflected straight at her own goalkeeper. Alyssa Naeher made the surprise save on her own defender just three minutes in to keep Orlando off the board. Two minutes later, Marta fizzed a cross through the six-yard box but no Pride players could get a touch on it.

At 6’ the Red Stars got their first opportunity with Jennifer Hoy sending a shot from outside the box well off target.

Catley got in a dangerous cross in the eighth minute that was just inches over Alex Morgan’s head and then took a bounce too high for Jasmyne Spencer to handle with a gaping empty net in front of her. The Red Stars answered with a shot from Vanessa DiBernardo firing just wide of the back post at 9’ and Hoy not getting good contact on her header two minutes later.

Press, who routinely lost her mark throughout the game, got her first opportunity at the 16-minute mark, getting in behind the defense but not getting off a good shot, which was easy for Aubrey Bledsoe. Three minutes later, Sofia Huerta sent in a cross for a wide-open Press but it was just a bit too high. Bledsoe came out of the box two minutes later to make a vital block outside the area after Kennedy dribbled into traffic at the top of the box at the other end and turned it over, igniting the counter.

Naeher returned the favor at 25’ by coming out of the box and sweeping the ball away before Chi Ubogagu could get to it behind the defense.

Four minutes later, Chicago had its breakthrough. The Red Stars took possession and Huerta sent a perfect ball over Ali Krieger to the streaking Press, who took it with a great first touch, rounded Bledsoe, and eased it into the empty net to make it 1-0 at the 29-minute mark.

Orlando immediately tried to answer, with Ubogagu slotting a cross into the box for Spencer but her shot was blocked in the 30th minute.

Huerta’s curling effort was saved by Bledsoe in the 36th minute, shortly after a hydration break. A minute later came Orlando’s best opportunity to equalize. Camila got forward from her right back spot and sent in a gorgeous cross for Morgan. Alex got her head on it and made good contact but left the shot much too close to Naeher, who made the quick reaction save to keep the Pride off the board.

At the 41-minute mark, Naeher nearly gave the Pride a gift with a bad touch under pressure. Morgan got to the ball first and tried to put it in the net but the Chicago keeper recovered to block the shot. Marta got the last opportunity of the half with a try from well outside the box that was easy for Naeher to save on the hop.

Tom Sermanni took off Spencer at halftime and put on Kristen Edmonds but nothing much changed in the attack. As a group, Orlando was much less sharp with the ball in the second period and as a result the Pride were less threatening to the Chicago goal. It didn’t even seem to matter that Chicago Head Coach Rory Dames was sent off at halftime for abusive language, evidently upset that Ubogagu wasn’t given a yellow card for pulling back Press near the end of the first half.

Orlando nearly got the first opportunity of the second half when Dani Weatherholt’s ball was just inches out of reach of Morgan in the box in the 48th minute. But it was Chicago doubling the lead through Press at 52’ when Krieger gambled by stepping up and left Orlando exposed. Press had only Bledsoe to beat again to make it 2-0 to the hosts.

From that point on it seemed the wind was out of Orlando’s sails. DiBernardo sent a blast just over the bar two minutes after the second Press goal. But the Pride got an opportunity at 56’ on a free kick just above the box when Camila was taken down. Marta took the set piece and her shot nearly sneaked inside the right post but Naeher made the save.

Lauren Kaskie had a shot deflect on goal in the 62nd minute but Bledsoe was there to make the save. Press nearly got her hat trick at 65’ when she again got in behind but Krieger was able to force her wide and her shot from close range was wide into the side netting.

Neither team got another good scoring chance until the 80th minute, when Kennedy just missed the goal by inches off a pass from second-half sub Rachel Hill. Kennedy again nearly scored two minutes later on a corner but Naeher got to the ball just nanoseconds ahead of the Aussie midfielder.

As Chicago tried to bleed out the clock, the Pride got more of the ball and created a few late chances. Morgan beat a defender and fired from a tight angle in the 86th minute but Naeher had the near post covered and knocked it behind for a corner. Pressley nearly put the Pride on the board on the ensuing set piece, flicking a header just inches over the bar.

Kennedy finally broke the scoring drought in the 93rd minute, blasting a Hill cross into the top of the net to make it 2-1.

Unfortunately, Orlando couldn’t produce one more late chance to find an equalizer. Hopefully the late goal will give the Pride something to build on moving forward.

We’re now in the international break, with Orlando’s Brazilians, Australians and USWNT players (Krieger and Morgan) jetting out west to play in the Tournament of Nations, beginning July 27.

Orlando’s next game will be at home against these same Red Stars on Aug. 5. That will be a tough game for the Pride, since the final day of the Tournament of Nations is Aug. 3 and the players will need to fly cross-country to return to Orlando afterward. It could be an interesting lineup for Orlando on Aug. 5, as the Pride could be without Morgan, Krieger, Catley, Kennedy, Marta, Camila, and Monica.