In a back-and-forth match, the Orlando Pride needed some Marta magic to help them earn three hard fought points against winless Sky Blue FC (0-9-2, 2 points). Sydney Leroux got a first half brace and Rachel Hill came off the bench to record the game winner as the Pride (5-3-4, 19 points) earned a 3-2 win in Orlando City Stadium in front of 4,445 fans on Pride In Our City night.
“It was bits of frustration intermingled with bits of good soccer,” Head Coach Tom Sermanni said after the match. “Bits of bad habits, and times when we actually could have finished the game off. And as I’m going over all the 90 minutes, I think, I kinda like to be honest when dealing with our performances, I think that we were kinda a wee bit fortunate to come away with a win tonight.”
The Pride were certainly not at their best. Chioma Ubogagu and Alanna Kennedy both struggled with the ball and Ashlyn Harris could have done a better job on both of the goals she let in. Chi finished the game with just nine passes — the same amount as Rachel Hill, who came in for Ubogagu in the last half hour — and Chi had just a 56% passing accuracy. Kennedy was slightly better with 64%, albeit on a game high 56 passes.
Prior to the start of the match, one of the surprises was that Camila was not in the starting XI, but as Sermanni said just because she is cleared to play does not mean she will play having had just a week of training after missing eight months. Marta started on the bench with a left calf strain but came on in the 73rd minute and was a crucial part of the win.
Fans were still finding their seats when the Pride went ahead 92 seconds into the game. Ubogagu put a cross into the box from the left wing. Two Sky Blue defenders missed on the clearance attempt and the ball found Leroux. Leroux cut inside and took a left-footed shot that went underneath Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan for the fastest goal in Orlando Pride history.
The Pride continued to control the game early on but then out of nowhere, the New Jersey side started to press forward in the 14th minute and found the back of the net. Savannah McCaskill took a shot from distance that hit the post and Katie Johnson was there for the put-back. Luckily, Johnson was offside so the goal did not count.
However, three minutes later it looked like the same exact play. After the Pride turned the ball over in midfield, Imani Dorsey got down the field, played a one-two with McCaskill, and took a shot. Harris made the save but the ball fell right to the feet of McCaskill, who passed the ball into the back of the net. The ball went just behind Christine Nairn and Kennedy was too slow in recovering.
Leroux got her brace in the 31st minute. Nairn put in a cross from the left side, after a throw-in, looking for Leroux. The striker made a diving header to the back post to put the Pride up 2-1.
“It was a great ball in from Nairn,” said Leroux. “It was a little behind me so I kinda had to get around it and it just ended up hitting my head perfectly. I like to put myself in positions to score and to do whatever I can to put the ball into the back of the net.”
A minute later, Chi should have got on the board. Emily van Egmond hit a long ball over the top and Ubogagu was one-on-one with Sheridan, as Morgan ran alone on the back post. Chi decided to take it herself on a disappointing effort and much to the dismay of Morgan. Morgan was yelling at Chi that she should have passed instead of taking it herself.
With the Pride failing to convert their chances, Sky Blue was able to get back into it. Harris once again made the first save, this time on Johnson, and the rebound went right to the feet of Madison Tiernan, who took one touch and beat Harris on the near post.
The game went to halftime with a score of 2-2. The Pride dominated possession with 58% but the story of the first half was the passing of Kennedy and Ubogagu, who finished the opening period with 50% and 43% respectively, and the Pride’s inability to maintain possession. The visitors led in shots (8-7) but the shots on target were tied at four each.
The second half started out a bit slowly but then in the 54th minute Orlando had multiple opportunities. Morgan and Chi both were in the box but could not make good contact on the ball. Sky Blue cleared it out but Nairn ended up getting on the end of it and put in a ball aiming for Leroux. Leroux took a shot towards the back post and it just narrowly missed.
The game continued on with both teams struggling to keep possession. When the Pride got the ball they tried to play long balls but oftentimes it went to the opposition and it looked like Orlando was just playing kickball. Pickett got a shot off in the 60th minute that went well over the bar, then worked to win a corner a few minutes later. Carli Lloyd finally got in on the game with a header attempt in the 70th, but Harris made the comfortable save.
Then, in the 73rd minute, the intensity picked up due to Marta coming in off the bench. Passes were crisper and more accurate, and the game tempo all of a sudden doubled. In the 78th minute, Sheridan somehow kept the game tied at two. Marta, with time and space inside the box, fired a rocket but Sheridan made the save. The ball came back to Marta, who headed it over to Morgan but Morgan could not head it on frame and the visitors were able to clear.
“[Marta] immediately gives the team a boost but the thing that she does really well is she rarely makes bad decisions,” said Sermanni. “And that’s the difference. I thought at times throughout the game, and the players, a couple of them have already spoken to me, we just made some really poor decisions, or poor execution. Marta, as well as adding a spark, makes good decisions.”
Five minutes later, Marta showed everyone why she is the GOAT. The Brazilian took on two Sky Blue players, before passing it off to Morgan. Morgan put a cross in for Rachel Hill and Hill buried it with a header.
“Alex [Morgan] put a fantastic ball in so I really didn’t have any other option than to get my head on it and it happened to go into the back of the net. So, all from Alex [Morgan],” Hill said about her game winner.
Sky Blue then tried to fight back and get another game-tying goal. Dorsey got a shot off in the 88th minute but it went wide. Then, Poliana turned it over leading to a shot from Lloyd but that went wide as well. Once stoppage time started the Pride, led by Marta, went to the left corner and wasted all of the three minutes. Nifty footwork from Marta and great team passing is what killed the game off.
Orlando finished the game with 56% possession, 20 shots, 465 passes, and a 77% passing accuracy — all higher than Sky Blue. Harris finished with five saves but it was the substitutes that made the difference. Dani Weatherholt, who played just 30 minutes, led the Pride in tackles. Marta created two chances and was all over the ball with 33 touches in just 17 minutes of action. And Hill brought a new energy to the game which led to her game winner.
“I’m a little upset that we were up twice and then we conceded,” Leroux said. “Obviously there are some things that we need to clean up defensively, but I’m supper happy that we got three points out of this.”
The Pride are back in action on Saturday, June 23 as they take on the Washington Spirit in Maryland SoccerPlex.