The Orlando Pride (8-9-6, 30 points) are officially out of the playoffs. Needing to get all three points tonight, the Pride fell apart in the final minutes of the first half. Sam Kerr recorded a brace and provided an assist to propel the Chicago Red Stars (8-4-10, 34 points) to a 3-1 victory in front of 5,016 fans in Orlando City Stadium.
“I’m a little bit embarrassed by the performance tonight,” Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni said. “Fundamental aspects of our game that should be automatic are not an automatic. If you can’t go out and set a match effort and willingness and work rate and organization and pick up some of the some cues that we should be picking up and be able to run, then you're going to struggle in this league. It’s been the story all season. We’ve been a team that seems to be waiting about for something to happen whereas all the other teams go out and make the best of it and make things happen.
“It’s difficult to rectify when, frankly, there are so many players that haven’t lived up to what our expectations have been. That might be down to a failure of me, and how we've coached them and set them up, I don’t know. It’s just some of the fundamental things that we do, or don’t do, are really coming back to haunt us.”
One of the least surprising parts of the night was that Sermanni changed up his starting XI yet again. This time, he deployed his team in a 4-3-3. Carson Pickett got her first start since July 11, when the Pride lost 3-1 to Houston. Up top, Sermanni went with Chioma Ubogagu, Alex Morgan, and Marta, and Alanna Kennedy returned to the midfield.
Your Pride starting XI for #ORLvCHI. #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/5wr2nYdRlr— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) August 25, 2018
“On the field, I think it’s building those relationships with each other,” said Ali Krieger. “Maybe we didn’t have the same lineup every game, which might have caused some problems with building relationships. And then some injures so you have to switch out, or you’re resting people at times during the season. I don’t know if that’s an issue but I think the consistency of switching some lineups and personnel, that’s always tough to build that relationships that you need to build with the players around you.”
The game lasted just seven minutes before it had to be stopped because of a lightning delay. Kerr had the only good chance in this period when her shot in the first minute went wide.
Once the game resumed it did not take long for Chicago to get an opportunity. In the 11th minute, Vanessa Di Bernardo had the chance to put Chicago up a goal but her header went on the wrong side of the post.
The Pride’s game plan was to find Morgan off of crosses but they were unable to find the back of the net from it. Routinely they played long balls into the box but Chicago’s defense would not let Morgan get a good look.
“I think our style is adjusting to our opponent and that’s really difficult because we don’t necessarily have that style that we can go out and have that presence and confidence and know this is how we are going to play every single game,” said Morgan. “We are adjusting to every opponent. We were changing formations this game after going to a three-back the last couple of games.”
As for the Red Stars, they looked to play through balls and at first were having trouble with it as they could not stay onside. Once they got the timing correct the Pride had no answers for the attack.
“We’ve played against Sam Kerr a number of times and we’ve talked about how she can’t get in behind,” said Sermanni. “She’s probably going to get in behind your defense once or twice a game if you’re alert but to get in seven, eight, nine times, it’s unacceptable for the quality of players that we’ve got.”
In the 27th minute, Alyssa Mautz was in the 18 but Ashlyn Harris made a great save to tip the ball over the bar and keep the game goalless.
27' | Chi picked out Alex on the break but the shot is deflected and then Ash makes a class save on the other end!— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) August 26, 2018
0-0 | #ORLvCHI pic.twitter.com/SHg8UQlYs1
Four minutes later, Harris made another huge stop, this time off of Kerr.
31' | @Ashlyn_Harris, everybody!— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) August 26, 2018
0-0 | #ORLvCHI pic.twitter.com/Oex237EXEG
It was looking like the game would go into the half without any goals but Chicago had something to say about that. The Red Stars scored two goals in the final two minutes of the half, the first coming from Kerr. Nagasato played a perfect flick-on to Kerr, who was left wide open. Kerr got right around Shelina Zadorsky, took a right-footed shot that left Harris rooted to the ground, and the Red Stars took the lead.
.@samkerr1 gets hers. @chiredstarsPR take the lead before the close of the first half!#ORLvCHI | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/G4RBayzkJi— NWSL (@NWSL) August 26, 2018
It then went from bad to worse as Orlando was left flat footed and Chicago hit right back. Kerr found Di Bernardo with about as easy a goal as they come. Two defenders were nearby but neither Krieger nor Kristen Edmonds closed down Di Bernardo.
Another one. @vdibernardo10 finishes the pass from @samkerr1, and @chiredstarsPR take a 2–0 lead!#ORLvCHI | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/hMo3hKOwd9— NWSL (@NWSL) August 26, 2018
“I think it was just silly errors that gave up the goals and obviously we didn’t have enough chances on goal,” said Morgan. “We shot ourselves in the foot in the first half not hanging onto to that 0-0 coming into halftime.”
Chicago was clearly the better team in the first half. While possession was fairly even — 51%-49% in favor of the visitors — Chicago outshot Orlando, 11-2, and Orlando did not threaten offensively much at all. The lone shot on goal for the Pride was from Marta from distance that did not trouble Alyssa Naeher at all.
After the beginning of the second half saw no noticeable difference, Sermanni wasted no time in bringing on Rachel Hill in the 54th minute and she provided a much-needed energy. However, she was unable to do much with that energy, and it slowly dissipated, and in the 59th minute Kerr got her brace and put the game out of reach.
It's @samkerr1's world, we're just living in it. @chiredstarsPR up, 3–0.#ORLvCHI | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/Hxcbh0JhWI— NWSL (@NWSL) August 26, 2018
In the 64th minute Sermanni made a sub that changed the momentum of the match. Camila made way for Monica as the Pride moved to be as attacking as possible and this led to a goal just a minute later. Marta put the ball on a platter for Morgan and Naeher could do nothing to stop the perfectly placed header.
That Marta to @alexmorgan13 connection is back! @ORLPride push their way back into this one, down 3–1 now.#ORLvCHI | #NWSL pic.twitter.com/ymWYm5qO0o— NWSL (@NWSL) August 26, 2018
Chicago was able to hold out for the remainder of the game. The Pride tried to push forward but just could not hold onto the ball long enough to have any true chance at getting back into the game. The off-the-ball movement was almost nonexistent and players were left to fend for themselves. Overall, the play was far too slow and there were hardly ever more than one or two players in the box.
“It’s disappointing,” said Sermanni. “Disappointing for the fans; we’ve got a great set of fans. Disappointing because if anything that you want to see from a team, you want to see effort. Our effort just seems to be, when I say nonexistent I mean just very slow. It’s just made us look very vulnerable and it’s made us look like a poor team.”
After the match, Sermanni, Krieger, and Morgan were all honest with how they felt the season went and what needs to chang next season. All three talked about the quality of players and how disappointing the season has been.
“Having a team of great players doesn’t make a great team,” Morgan said. “We’ve tried to make it fluid where it does transcribe from the paper onto the field but unfortunately that’s not the way the season went. We have been on different pages a lot this season between players, between each other, between coaches and players. I think it’s been a little disjointed. I think frustration began to come out mid-season, probably last month when we started losing and dropping points and I think it went downhill from there.
“There hasn’t been a turning point where we've been able to turn it around, unfortunately. I think just dropping points against Jersey, against Houston; these are teams we should have picked up points against, should have won. Coming out lethargic after a weather delay, or whatever it may be, in the past, it all added up and frustrations have definitely boiled over.”
The Pride will play in their final game of 2018 on Sept. 8 when they travel to New Jersey to play Sky Blue at Yurcak Field after next weekend’s international break.