End-to-end action was the theme of the night as the Orlando Pride (8-6-4, 28 points) defeated the Utah Royals (5-7-5, 21 points), 2-1. Both teams tried to stretch the other side’s defense, using every inch of the length of the pitch. In the end, it was a phenomenal goal from Kristen Edmonds that made the difference and moved the Pride one step closer to that crucial playoff place.
There was plenty of rotation from Tom Sermanni on the short week, making six changes to the lineup that was beaten by the Houston Dash on Wednesday night. Ali Krieger returned to the starting lineup, earning her 100th NWSL appearance. Superstar Marta was unavailable thanks to an unfortunate red card in the dying minutes of Orlando’s loss to the Dash.
The first few minutes were up-tempo as both teams felt the pressure of a match with plenty of playoff implications. Utah applied pressure early through Amy Rodriguez. Ashlyn Harris was called into dramatic action in the fifth minute, getting just enough on the ball to allow Monica to clear the ball out of touch. But the breakthrough for the home side came three minutes later as Rodriguez split the defense and got on the end of a cross from Rachel Corsie, chipping the ball just out of Harris’ reach and into the top corner.
Orlando’s defense struggled to contain the Royals all afternoon, picking up 16 fouls and four yellow cards as the Pride tried to keep the Utah attackers in front of them.
Panic struck around the half hour mark when Alex Morgan went down on a rough challenge, as a Royals defender came across and collided with the inside of Morgan’s knee, sending the forward to the turf. Morgan was able to walk off under her own power after a short session with the training staff and returned to the pitch a few minutes later.
The Pride threatened sparingly in the first half and couldn’t quite challenge Utah keeper Abby Smith, putting all but one of their first five chances off target. Orlando caught a break as Alanna Kennedy was held on a corner attempt just before the halftime whistle and Morgan made the Royals pay from the spot.
The second half opened up with as much tempo as the first as Christen Press once again opened up the Pride back line, finding Rodriguez in behind the defense. Luckily for Orlando, the Utah striker decided to shoot first time and skied the ball into the stands.
Orlando broke the deadlock in the 52nd minute. After a poor free kick from Utah, Ashlyn Harris moved quickly to get the ball up field. After some pinballing around, it fell kindly for Ali Krieger, who was able to find Edmonds in behind the Utah back line. Edmonds — noticing Abby Smith was well off her line — beat the keeper with a sublime chip for her first goal of 2018.
The Pride settled in after the go-ahead goal, probing the defense regularly but not able to create a clear enough chance on goal. The Royals pushed back, causing some havoc in the Orlando box but were unable to create enough space to find the equalizer.
Rachel Hill had a glorious chance just past the hour mark, intercepting a wayward Utah pass and finding herself all alone with Abby Smith. But the young forward took a few too many touches and Smith was able to collect the ball before Hill could get a shot off.
The match opened up after that with both teams going end to end playing long balls to their star attackers in Press and Morgan but neither was able to make enough magic happen.
Sydney Leroux made her appearance in the 63rd minute as Morgan made way and the substitute nearly had her seventh goal of the year just a minute after coming on. Hill pinged a ball off of Smith and Leroux found herself with an empty net but Smith recovered enough to push her attempt wide.
It was the Royals’ turn to be concerned a few minutes later as a struggle in the box involving Kennedy and Corsie collided with Smith, who took a nasty fall on her head, neck, and shoulder and was removed from the match with Nicole Barnhart coming on to replace her.
The final 15 minutes kept the assistant referees busy as wave after wave of attacks were called offside in frustrating fashion for Utah. The Pride dealt with some nervy moments as substitute Katrina Gorry brought some late life to the Royals’ attack. The Pride were happy to sit back and absorb pressure, waiting out all seven minutes of stoppage time. Utah was only able to put three of its shots on frame and none in the second half.
Orlando ended the match with just 45.1% of possession but dominated the quality of chances and the Pride were unlucky not to come away with another goal or two. But the Pride got the much-needed victory and moved that much closer to the playoff places. Orlando finished the season series against Utah with a 1-0-2 record and now own the head-to-head tiebreaker against the first-year franchise.
The Pride return home to take on the Seattle Reign next Saturday at 3:30 p.m. ET.