It certainly wasn’t a very attractive game at times, but ultimately those three points will look beautiful to Tom Sermanni and his Pride squad. The 3-2 win over Sky Blue FC was the eighth positive result in nine outings for Orlando, which always looked like the better team but did a lot to keep the visitors in the match.
Sermanni spoke after the match like a coach who had lost the game rather than won, saying the Pride were fortunate to have gotten the win and could very easily have lost the match. He spoke of the quality of his players and a few individual moments that produced a win where a loss might otherwise have been the result.
The Pride needed three points against winless Sky Blue and got them, but it wasn’t easy. So, what did we learn? Here are my five takeaways from the match.
Suddenly, Syd Scores When She Wants
With two braces in three games, Sydney Leroux is starting to add the punch to the Orlando attack that was expected of her when she was acquired in the off-season. She’s now tied for the team lead in goals (4) with Chioma Ubogagu and Rachel Hill. Her first goal was the fastest in Pride history, coming just 92 seconds into the match. Chi sent a nice cross in that Syd collected, then took a quick step to her left to free herself for a shot to make it 1-0. The second strike was a header that came in a bit low and behind her from Christine Nairn. Leroux was able to get low and position herself to knock it behind Kailen Sheridan to put the Pride back in front at 2-1.
She not only led the Pride in shots on the night (5), but she also leads Orlando in all attempts this season (23). A dangerous Leroux can help provide more space in the area for Alex Morgan, Rachel Hill, Chioma Ubogagu, and any midfielders that get forward, so it’s good for everyone that she’s finding her form.
Tough Game for Kennedy
Alanna Kennedy had perhaps the worst half a game I’ve ever seen her play in the opening 45 minutes. She routinely gave the ball away with poor passes and was dribbled past by Sky Blue players a few times as well. She was culpable on the first Sky Blue goal as she waited for a slow-moving pass to arrive instead of stepping toward the ball, allowing the visitors to steal it and go on the counter, which eventually resulted in Savannah McCaskill’s goal. Sermanni said after the match that Kennedy apologized to him at halftime for the poor performance, which included only 50% passing, no shots or chances created, and no tackles. The Australian international was better in the second half, when she created two chances, added a tackle, and passed at a 79% clip.
Ubogagu Wasteful in Final Third
Orlando shouldn’t have had to find a late game-winning goal in this one. The Pride fashioned numerous dangerous chances early and simply didn’t put them away. One of the biggest reason for that was decision-making and execution in the final third by starting left forward Ubobagu. After assisting Leroux on the first goal, Chi had a tough match.
In the 26th minute, she was played into the area by Carson Pickett, but with time and space she dribbled toward goal instead of shooting, was closed down, and saw her shot deflected away by the defense. She sent a poor cross into the box in the 31st minute with Morgan breaking in on the far side. The defense cut out the pass and if it hadn’t, it would have ended up in the hands of the goalkeeper anyway. Two minutes after Leroux put the Pride ahead 2-1, Chi had a golden opportunity to extend the lead in the 33rd minute, but missed the net from just a few yards out off a nice pass from Emily van Egmond gave her a sitter. A minute after that she broke in 2-v-1 and got her shot blocked instead of playing Morgan in for the easy goal.
It was a really rough night for Ubogagu, who attempted just nine passes in her 60 minutes of play and completed only 43% in the first half. Rachel Hill, her replacement, matched those nine passes while playing half the minutes.
The Marta Effect
Marta was introduced in the 73rd minute and changed the flow of the game instantly. The Brazilian star’s quick movement and passing was infectious and a Pride side that had been playing slowly and methodically throughout the match suddenly began to connect with better accuracy and quicker passes.
Sermanni said Marta was only going to be available for about 20 to 25 minutes due to her calf injury but she made those minutes count. Her movement past a pair of defenders opened up the field to set up the third goal. She released Morgan down the left flank and the striker’s best pass of the night — on a night of mostly poor passing — was a perfect cross onto the head of Rachel Hill for the winning goal. The entire team just looked different after Marta’s introduction and it appeared to be the difference between a win and a disappointing result against the league’s bottom feeder.
Weatherholt the Workhorse
She didn’t start, but Dani Weatherholt also helped change the game with her energy and defensive pressure. Despite playing only the final half hour, Weatherholt led the Pride in tackles (3) and made life much more difficult for Sky Blue in the middle of the pitch. She also nearly got into good scoring position but she was whistled for a foul at the top of the penalty area when she appeared to have made an obvious clean tackle. Weatherholt’s work goes largely unsung, but I’m here to sing it. She ended up with a shot, a chance created and nearly a touch per minute on the pitch, with 28.
Those are the things that stuck out to me. What did you see? Let me know in the comments.