The Orlando Pride had never beaten the Washington Spirit in four attempts. That streak came to a resounding end as the Pride (6-6-5, 23 points) dismantled the Spirit (4-9-3, 15 points), 3-0, in front of 4,273 at Orlando City Stadium.
Orlando dominated the majority of the match, getting goals from Marta, Camila, and Alex Morgan en route to a much-needed win. The victory pushes the Pride to a fifth-place tie with Sky Blue FC — this Saturday’s visitors to the Purple Palace — in the NWSL standings, and with a better goal differential, although SKFC has more wins. The Pride are currently one point in back of the final playoff spot.
“Obviously a terrific win for us and a rare clean sheet, which is fantastic,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the game. “Difficult in the first half because they really high pressed us and we kind of expected that. I thought when we broke the press we had opportunities to create opportunities and we did it quite well a couple of times but we could have done it a little bit better.”
Just three days after a 1-1 draw vs. Chicago, and with another match this Saturday against Sky Blue FC, Sermanni switched up his lineup a bit with a 4-2-3-1 look.
The first half wasn’t the best played 45 minutes you’ll ever see, and it yielded no goals, but it was a bit back-and-forth, although Orlando had the better chances.
Chioma Ubogagu nearly sent in Marta alone on goal three minutes into the match, but Kassey Kallman did well to shoulder the Brazilian and force a weak shot that trickled wide. Two minutes later, Mallory Pugh was nearly in alone but, with some good team defending, Monica was able to knock the ball out for a throw.
Marta fired a left-footed effort in the ninth minute from outside the box but her shot missed the back post by a few feet. The Spirit’s Estelle Johnson got forward from her right back spot in the 13th minute and got in a cross that landed on top of the net.
Orlando had a good chance on the break two minutes later, when Marta stole the ball off Tori Huster’s foot to ignite the break. The Brazilian passed to Morgan, who opted not to try chipping Stephanie Labbe — who was well off her line — and instead gave it back to Marta, who had her shot blocked. In the 19th minute, Camila stole a ball and the break again seemed to be on but she waited too long to try to play Morgan in behind the defense and the transition broke down with the Pride striker being well offside.
In the 23rd minute the Pride appeared to finally put it all together when Ubogagu put the ball in the net, but the offside flag was up. It appeared the far side defender was keeping Chi onside but the goal didn’t count. The AR’s flag ruined a fantastic play by Marta, who spun away from one defender with a deft two-footed move on the ball and then sent a perfect pass to Ubogagu to send her in.
Marta was incredibly active throughout the first half, firing six shots — one off the club record for a full game — in the opening 45 minutes. She registered the Pride’s first shot on goal in the 28th minute, sending one right at Labbe. She fired a shot just over the bar in the 41st minute, just moments after Morgan fired on frame from distance that handcuffed Labbe and went out for a corner.
In the 42nd minute, Chi again put the ball in the net but the flag was up again and this one was a legit call. Two minutes later, Alanna Kennedy pushed a shot just wide right.
The Pride held 52% of the first-half possession and out-shot the Spirit, 10-4 (2-0 on target).
Orlando picked up where it left off after the restart. Ubogagu sent in a cross for Morgan in the 51st minute but the ball got tangled in the striker’s feet and deflected out for a goal kick. But a minute later, the Pride found a breakthrough.
Marta played a ball for Morgan, who laid it back off for the Brazilian, sending her in on goal alone. She patiently waited for Labbe to go to ground, rounded the keeper and slotted into the empty net for the opening goal.
The goal by Marta was her ninth of the year, to extend her single-season club record, and it was her seventh shot of the game, tying Morgan’s club record. She would later break that mark with her eighth of the night.
The goal was the result of a halftime conversation Sermanni had with his team.
“The main thing we talked about at halftime is that if you were the furthest player (up field), instead of actually trying to get in behind, that you were the player that dropped off,” Sermanni said. “And that happened on the first goal when Alex dropped off and played a little one-two and we got in behind then. You have to just keep persisting because you only need to break the line once or twice and you score. So, I wasn’t too concerned about it at halftime, but we did address it in the meeting.”
“The first goal happened from a very fast play that we actually talked about during the half,” Marta said through a club interpreter. “Their defense line was very high. So, instead of just playing the ball to one another, we talked about doing this fast play. Of course, [Morgan] passed me a very good ball and at the end it was my decision to put it in the goal.”
Five minutes later, the Pride doubled their lead when Alanna Kennedy sent a ball over the top for Morgan. Labbe came off her line and outside the penalty area to beat Alex to the ball, but headed it straight to Camila, who chipped the Washington keeper from distance to make it 2-0.
Morgan scored for the third straight home game in the 64th minute to make it 3-0, taking a long ball from Steph Catley on the bounce and pounding it into the top of the net.
“I’ve played with Alex for a little while now and it doesn't really take much for me to see when she's making a darting run forward and I like hitting them from that pocket,” Catley said. “And she’s so fast off the shoulder and she’s such good finisher, so I knew if I just got it in behind she’d get onto it somehow. So, I mean it was an incredible finish.”
Kennedy nearly made it four goals on a corner kick but got under the ball on her header in the 69th minute. From that point on, it was all game management from the Pride, who subbed on Danica Evans, Nickolette Driesse, and Jamia Fields came on for Morgan, Marta, and Camila, respectively, with another game coming up on the weekend.
“We always felt the game would open up in the second half and when it did that we would create opportunities, and that’s exactly what happened,” Sermanni said. “I was really delighted with our second-half performance with how we played, with how clinical we were with our finishing, and then how well we managed the game after that. I thought it was an extremely good performance in the second half.”
The Pride not only kept their second clean sheet of the season for Bledsoe but didn’t even allow a shot on target. Orlando possessed the ball 51% for the game and out-shot Washington, 17-8 (6-0 on target).
The Pride will be back in action Saturday night at home against Sky Blue FC at 7:30 p.m.