Alex Morgan scored early, and it looked like the Orlando Pride (5-6-5, 20 points) were going to earn their first ever win against the Chicago Red Stars (8-3-5, 29 points). However, Sofia Huerta scored a Goal of the Week candidate, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw in front of 5,667 fans at Orlando City Stadium.
“We probably should have had the game over by halftime,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said. “We dominated the game, played really well in the first half. And then we hit a real flat spell in the second half. We allowed them to come back into the game. We seemed to lose energy, we seemed to lose our way a bit.”
Both Chicago and Orlando were heavily impacted by the Tournament of Nations, with 11 players from the two teams taking part in the international tournament. This caused a big change in the starting XI. There were five personnel changes and a different formation for the Pride from the July 22 loss at Chicago. The Red Stars made four changes to the starting XI, but were without U.S. internationals Christen Press, Casey Short, and Julie Ertz.
“It’s really good to be back [after the international break],” said Alex Morgan. “This team this year is just so passionate and it’s so great to see so many players come back from the national team and put in the work.”
The Pride’s first opportunity of the match came early on. In the fourth minute, Chioma Ubogagu held the ball on the left side of her own half. She looked up and hit Alex Morgan, who used the inside of her left foot to volley the ball to Jasmyne Spencer. Spencer used her speed to get around the defender and into the box, but Alyssa Naeher made the easy save.
Three minutes later, Naeher was needed again for the visitors. Ubogagu put a cross in to Morgan, who headed in towards goal. Naeher mistimed the save, but the ball hit the crossbar and Naeher recovered to parry the ball away.
Chicago’s first real opportunity came in the 21st minute. Vanessa DiBernardo played a through ball to Alyssa Mautz, who looked to be in on goal, but Spencer came sliding in from behind the play to deflect the ball out for a corner.
Marta was forced to come into the match early, in the 24th minute, after Rachel Hill went down with a sprained ankle. After the match Sermanni was hopeful that Hill’s injury was not too bad, but said she’ll be out for at least the next two Pride matches. Seconds later, Spencer played a perfect ball to Morgan. Morgan took one touch before powering it into the back netting, and put the Pride up 1-0. It was Morgan’s second goal of the year since returning from Lyon.
The post made its second save of the game for the visitors in the 37th minute. Morgan went up for a header, but with two defenders on her, the striker could not make good contact. The ball fell to Spencer. The forward was falling to the ground and found a wide open Jamia Fields, who blasted the ball off the crossbar.
Morgan nearly doubled the lead in the 39th minute. After receiving the ball from Marta, Morgan tried a left footed curler, but Naeher made a fingertip save to keep the score 1-0.
The half ended 1-0 to the home side, but the Pride could have been up three goals if not for the posts. While the first half was fairly even on that stat sheet, Chicago had few chances thanks to a strong defensive effort from Orlando. The Pride barely edged out in possession (51%) and shots (5-4) and both teams had two corners after the first 45.
Clearly disappointed with their first half effort, the Red Stars came out hot in the second half, and in the 52nd minute, Chicago nearly leveled it. After Dani Weatherholt turned the ball over near midfield, the Red Stars went straight on the counter but the shot went just wide. The next minute the Pride turned the ball over again, but this time the visitors made Orlando pay for it on Huerta’s stunning strike.
“[Turnovers] have been one of our Achilles’ heels,” Sermanni said. “It’s been brought up in meetings. It’s one of those things you really don’t have any control over. If a player goes out on the field, and decides to pass the ball straight to the opposition, it’s kind of one of those things that are over before you start.”
The Pride settled down about five minutes after the tying goal, and the game opened up for a short period of time. Chicago had a few more opportunities, but for the most part the game was played in the middle of the field, with each teams’ attack stalling in the final third.
There was a scary moment for the home team around the 70th minute, as Chicago managed to thread the ball into Orlando’s box. Huerta literally walked, unmarked, into the 18, but when she received the ball it was an awful effort and Aubrey Bledsoe simply picked the ball up.
With time running out, Sermanni brought Camila in for Spencer in the 75th minute and switched the shape to a 4-3-3 in a hope to get the first ever win against the Red Stars. In the 85th minute, Morgan went on the counter by herself. With three defenders on her, Morgan was easily defended but the ball fell out wide to Marta. The Brazilian made one move before taking a left footed shot that went directly into Naeher’s chest.
This gave the Pride some momentum and immediately Morgan had another opportunity, but the ball went out for a corner. Marta took the ensuing corner, on which some craziness happened. Nearly an olimpico, the ball bounced off the far post. The Pride fought for the ball, which continued to bounce around in the area but would not go in. Chicago was able to clear the ball, after Arin Gilliland stopped Toni Pressley’s shot with her hand, however, Orlando should have found the back of the net.
The Pride kept fighting for the go-ahead goal, and continued to get chance after chance in the dying minutes. To much of the delight of the home fans, the referee gave an extra five minutes and Orlando took advantage of it, winning three corners in the next three minutes. The Pride were unable to convert any of them though, and the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
While Orlando controlled the first half, it was all Chicago in the second 45 minutes, though the visitors only managed to connect two shots on target. The “player” of the match is certainly the Red Stars’ post, which stopped three of Orlando’s shots.
“There was a time when we could have had the game won, and there was a time when we could have had the game lost,” said Sermanni. “I think a great deal of credit to our players and the way we finished the game. The last five to 10 minutes we had a second wind, a second burst of energy. Disappointed not to get the three points, but I would have been extremely disappointed if we didn’t get something out of the game.”
The Pride continue their three-game home stand on Tuesday at 7:30 pm against the Washington Spirit.