The Orlando Pride returned home and beat Sky Blue FC 1-0 at Exploria Stadium in front of 9,415 fans. It was the third-largest crowd at a home Pride game and the largest since the 2017 home opener. Marisa Viggiano got her first professional goal in the first half, and Orlando (3-9-2, 11 points) was able to hold on for the rest of the game to get the win over Sky Blue (2-8-2, 8 points). It was the first time all season Orlando shut out the opposition and the first shutout win since June 23, 2018.
“You literally feel alive [in front of that crowd],” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “There’s only some moments in life — like when my daughter was born — you feel alive, you break out of the norm of the monotonous day. When the energy of the crowd, it drives you on that extra bit. I don't think we’ve given them enough throughout the season to be cheerful about and come support us. I’m hopeful now that we've seen an increase in the attacking part of our game, then I think we will have that ability to draw that crowd in. I want these fans to be excited.”
Skinner made four changes from the loss to Portland last week. Ashlyn Harris replaced Haley Kopmeyer in net. On the back line, Ali Krieger slotted in at left back, Shelina Zadorsky and Toni Pressley partnered in the middle, and Erin Greening was at right back. Alanna Kennedy, Joanna Boyles, and Marisa Viggiano made up the middle three. The forward line of Chioma Ubogagu, Marta, and Rachel Hill remained unchanged.
It was a mostly uneventful first half. There were just a few moments that were threatening, and Harris was never really bothered. However, the game changed just before the half-hour mark.
In the 23rd minute, Ubogagu sent a ball down the left wing to Viggiano. The rookie dribbled down the line, cut inside, and took a shot from just inside the box. Her rocket went into the top corner, Viggiano got her first professional goal, and Orlando went up 1-0.
“Chi pulling out and into the midfield opened up that lane for me,” said Viggiano. “So I was able to get the ball, face forward, and just drive at the defenders. Honestly, it kind of just happened and I shot and it went in. It’s really, really cool.”
Ubogagu was the best player on the field for the majority of the game. She nearly found the back of the net at the half-hour mark. She made a great run, got behind the defense, and took a shot that went inches wide of the post. Julie James slid into her after she took the shot, and Ubogagu stayed down after the play. She got up with the help of the trainers and then was able to continue.
Fans thought that the Pride went up 2-0 in the 36th minute. Kennedy sent the ball into the back of the net, but Hill was called for a foul moments earlier. The stadium erupted, the supporters let the flares loose, but the goal did not stand.
The Pride out-shot Sky Blue 7-5 in the first half, but the New Jersey side had two shots on target compared to Orlando’s one. Possession was fairly even, with the Pride having 52% and there were no corners by either team. For the third time all season, the Pride took a 1-0 lead into the break.
“I’m so proud of the players,” said Skinner. “One of the things we’ve been asking them for awhile is a clean sheet. You’ve heard me say many times that we want a clean sheet because then you only have to score one goal. And that’s the difference.”
The second half was much of the same. There were not many chances in the game, and the few that were there were not put away.
Pressley almost doubled the Pride’s lead in the 49th minute. Ubogagu played a great cross into the box. Neither team could get a good control of it, and it bounced around. Pressley pounced on the opportunity and toe-poked the ball as she was falling down. It was heading towards goal, but Kailen Sheridan made an excellent reaction save to deny the chance.
Hill had two chances around the hour mark. First, Boyles played a great through ball. Hill was one-on-one with Sheridan but took too many touches and couldn’t even get off a shot. Minutes later, Marta played an even better through ball. Hill was again one-on-one with Sheridan, and the ‘keeper again got the better of Hill.
That was Hill’s last moment of the match, and Claire Emslie subbed on for her, making her Pride debut after practicing for just two days with the team. The Scottish international was excited to finally get into her first match with the Pride.
“It was amazing,” said Emslie. “Even watching from the sidelines, just seeing the atmosphere. The crowd was incredible and the atmosphere was incredible. I think the girls, you can tell they’ve been working really hard. It was a good hustle first half and just excited to get on the pitch with the girls and excited to get a win.”
Emslie showed immediately why Skinner wanted her so badly. She used speed to get down the right wing, made a move to create space, and sent in a low cross to Marta. It was a rare moment as the Brazilian missed the golden opportunity and sent the ball wide.
There were not many chances after that. At the end of the game, Orlando had a couple of corners but couldn’t do much with them. Sky Blue defended with everyone in the box, and the Pride struggled to get off shots. The best one came from Pickett at the penalty spot, but it sailed over the post. Van Egmond had a golden opportunity in stoppage time all alone in front of goal, but she missed the net.
For the first game this season, the Pride were on top of the majority of the stats. Orlando led in shots (21-10), shots on target (6-2), corners (7-1), and possession (52%). It was a mostly uneventful game though and Sky Blue did almost nothing offensively. Orlando was the better team and left at least three goals on the field.
“I think that was the first shutout in a year, so that was something that we were always aiming to do this season,” said Viggiano. “It’s been a really, really good ride with these girls. Every day in training sessions we’re giving it our all. It’s there, and we saw it tonight. It’s really exciting.”
The Pride are now off until Aug. 10, when the Houston Dash visit Exploria Stadium.