The Orlando Pride have never beaten the Washington Spirit and came within moments of doing just that when another penalty call gave the opposition a late goal for the second straight week. Young USWNT star Mallory Pugh, who also scored in the first half, converted from the spot in the 90th minute to spoil Marta’s brace and what would have been Orlando’s third consecutive road win at Maryland SoccerPlex.
It was the second match of the regular season series, which concludes at Orlando on Aug. 8, following a 1-1 draw back on April 22. The Pride (4-5-4, 16 points) are now just 0-2-2 in the all-time series against the Spirit (3-6-3, 12 points) and 2-3-3 on the road this season.
Tom Sermanni gave Alex Morgan her first NWSL start of the year after playing her for 25 minutes off the bench last week.
Pugh returned to the Washington Spirit starting lineup after an ankle injury had kept her out for a couple matches in a 4-3-3 deployed by Jim Gabarra.
The Pride got on the board first just 10 minutes in after Camila went down in the box after contact and referee Henrik Karlsson pointed to the spot on a decision that may have been a bit harsh on the hosts. Marta, who had sent Camila into the box with a slick pass just a moment earlier, slotted home from the spot to give Orlando the early 1-0 lead.
It was the Brazilian’s seventh goal of the season, setting a new Pride single-season record that she would later improve upon.
But Orlando’s lead lasted only 14 minutes. The Pride had been turning the ball over cheaply throughout the opening minutes of the game and it finally cost them in the 24th minute. Estafania Banini stole a lazy pass from Kristen Edmonds in the Orlando defensive third and started the counter, passing off to Francisca Ordega, who then found Pugh on the right side. Pugh used the defender as a screen and cut a shot back against the grain that was able to sneak in between the post and Aubrey Bledsoe’s outstretched arm, tying the game at 1-1.
Bledsoe came up huge moments later, when Tori Huster made a long run from the midfield and Meggie Dougherty Howard fed a perfect pass to her behind the Pride defense. Bledsoe came off her line in the 28th minute and got a hand up to knock it away and keep it at 1-1.
After a water break at the half hour mark, the Spirit found Pugh on the far side of the box all alone but she rushed her shot and hit it wide of goal.
The Pride tried to get Alex Morgan more involved toward the end of the first half and had some success, although a pair of offside calls ruined a couple promising attacks. In the 41st minute, Morgan got the ball on the left side of the box and backheeled a pass to Marta, who turned and found Camila. The younger Brazilian hit her shot with power but it sailed a bit over the bar.
The last good opportunity of the opening period for either team came at 44’ when Ordega got in behind the defense but Toni Pressley recovered to block the first shot attempt. The follow-up was from a bad angle and Ordega hit it behind the net.
The Pride spent the final moments of the half on the attack but couldn’t fashion a good scoring chance and the halftime whistle blew with the teams still knotted at 1-1. Orlando held the possession advantage (59.2%) but much of that was in its own defensive half. The 81.3%-72.3% edge in passing accuracy was misleading as well due to several defensive-half turnovers by the Pride. However, Orlando did win more duels (23-18) and tackles (7-5) in the opening 45 minutes, but was out-shot, 7-5 (3-1 on goal).
Orlando came out of the break looking better and making fewer mistakes in its own end. Morgan finally got in and slotted the ball home two minutes after the restart but the play was offside as Chioma Ubogagu came forward 2-v-2 and played the ball behind to a clearly offside Morgan.
A poor pass from Ali Krieger — making her first return to Washington since the Spirit traded her — intended for Edmonds gave Huster a chance but she shot over the bar in the 51st minute.
Morgan was nearly in alone in the 54th on a nice pass from Ubogagu but goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe was way off her line and just beat the USWNT striker to the ball to clear it. The Pride pressed their attack with Camila blasting a drive right at Labbe in the 56th minute, but the shot had so much power on it that the Spirit keeper nearly spilled it.
Moments later, Marta scored her second. Catley stole the ball after Labbe threw it out to a defender and crossed in for Ubogagu. Chi nodded it down to Camila, who chipped it to her left to Marta. The five-time World Player of the Year let it bounce, then struck a gorgeous goal off the half volley to put the Pride ahead, 2-1, at 56’. Marta’s eighth of the season extended her club record.
Orlando continued to look dangerous with Marta nearly sending Camila in alone in the 59th minute but the play was just offside. Morgan’s day ended at 63’ when she was subbed off for rookie Rachel Hill. After the match, Morgan said she definitely didn’t feel 90-minute match fit.
Marta nearly put the game away and completed her hat trick in the 65th minute with a long chip attempt that beat Labbe but was a few feet wide of the net.
As the game wore on, the hot day playing on the road seemed to take its toll on the Pride, as they started to get a bit disjointed at the back. Catley got beat by second-half substitute Cheyna Williams in the 68th but her cross took a deflection.
That warning sign temporarily got Orlando going again, with Ubogagu getting wide open looks from distance twice, but hitting it over the net in both the 70th and 76th minute, and Camila drove another one right at Labbe in the 77th. It was the last action for Camila, who was withdrawn for Jamia Fields a minute later.
Huster fired one just over the bar from outside the box in the 80th minute that didn’t miss by much but Bledsoe seemed to have it covered. Washington then started pressing numbers forward and finding some pockets of space in the defense. Caprice Dydasco put a dangerous cross through the six-yard box in the 83rd minute, and Pugh sent in Williams two minutes later but Bledsoe went down to make the save. Estefania Banini had a shot partially blocked by Krieger in the 86th that dribbled in behind her but Bledsoe beat the Spirit attacker to the ball.
Then, disaster struck in the 89th on another ball into Orlando’s penalty area. You didn’t think Orlando would get a soft penalty and not pay for it, did you?
The Pride looked to have all the attacking players well covered but Pressley stepped in behind Kristie Mewis to keep her from turning. There was some light contact as the ball came in to Mewis and the Spirit attacker felt it and went down and got the call. Pugh stepped up and hit her second of the game from the spot to tie it.
“PKs have been given out way too frequently and I’m not sure if they’re all deserving or not but it’s just unfortunate that so many games have been decided on PKs,” Morgan said in a TV interview after the match.
It was the 26th penalty awarded in the NWSL this season and it only seems like they’ve all been called against the Pride.
Orlando had planned to bring on Maddy Evans for Marta before the penalty was called but for some reason Sermanni stuck with that plan after the call, and in a tie match with five minutes of stoppage time to play, the Pride were without Morgan, Marta, and Camila on the pitch, and Jasmyne Spencer was never used. An ineffective Ubogagu also played the full 90 (actually 97).
Washington had the only real opportunities in stoppage time. Huster had a ball fall at her feet in the box in the 94th minute but shot it right at Bledsoe. It’s a good thing she did, because on the play, Mewis’ arm came up and hit Pressley in the face, but there was no whistle for the foul and the Spirit got a scoring chance with the defender lying prone in the box. Williams took a shot in the 97th minute, as the Pressley injury had stretched the five minutes of injury time out. Bledsoe made the stop and the game ended, 2-2.
It was a thoroughly unsatisfying result after the Pride had played so well through the second half and led so much of the match.
The Pride return home next Saturday, July 15, when they host FC Kansas City at 7:30 p.m.