With the return of the majority of the international players, the Orlando Pride (2-8-2, 8 points) finally found their offense. The Pride found the back of the net four times as they beat the Washington Spirit (5-3-3, 18 points) 4-3 in front of 3,703 fans in Exploria Stadium. Rachel Hill opened her 2019 scoring account, Marta netted a brace, and Chioma Ubogagu got her third goal in as many games.
“You can't keep conceding three goals and scoring four at home,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “I know American sports loves the drama and it’s all well and good but, guys, we can’t concede three goals at home and win every game. I thought we were very, very dangerous today in possession. I thought out of possession we were quite controlled and had moments of madness. I’m pleased with all the girls’ attitudes and I'm pleased they got the win, for them.”
The head coach was not on the field during the game. Instead, he was upstairs in one of the boxes. Skinner said that this is something that he has wanted to do all season, and it helps him see the game more tactically. He said he prefers to be upstairs because he “has to see the game,” and went down at halftime to share with the team what he saw.
“I need to see the game tactically,” said Skinner. “For me, I need to be calm and make decisions, not react off emotions. I’ll marry that information with the information I have, keep calm, and put it together.”
Alanna Kennedy, Shelina Zadorsky, and Emily van Egmond came right back from France and into the starting lineup. Morgan Reid swapped out for Zadorsky as the rest of the back line remained the same. Both of the Australians played in the midfield with Joanna Boyles and Marta, Ubogagu, and Hill led the forward line.
After a 50-minute weather delay, the game started fast and furious. Both teams needed just a handful minutes to get into the game, and the rest of the half was filled with goals.
“Honestly, I don’t really like when all that happens,” Marta said of the weather delay through an interpreter. “We always just keep waiting and keep waiting and that’s not really good at times. But I think also it helped cool down, and we played really well so I think it was great for us.”
After just seven minutes, Washington took the lead. After a good spell of possession, Cheyna Matthews got down the line. She beat Toni Pressley and sent a low cross into the box. Bayley Feist somehow flicked it between her legs, while falling down, and got the game’s first goal.
The Pride looked out of the match after the opening goal. The Spirit held possession well, and Orlando was chasing the game. Marta changed that in the 21st minute.
The Brazilian created space for herself and played the ball to Boyles. Boyles used a one-touch pass over the top, and Ubogagu was then one-on-one with former Pride goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. Chi dribbled right around the ‘keeper and leveled the game at one.
Just five minutes later, the Pride took the lead. Hill forced a turnover and immediately got down the field. Kennedy and van Egmond passed among themselves, got down the field, and van Egmond played a perfect through ball to Hill. The striker took one touch and powered the ball in off the crossbar as Orlando went up 2-1.
“Obviously they’re top class, they’re great players and they know the game well,” Hill said about the international players returning. “It brings a lot back into our team. Obviously we worked a lot while they were gone and they’re adapting to that, kinda forgetting about the whole World Cup and what their national teams do. They’re back here and fitting in really well. It’s definitely helped us and they’ve done well.”
“It feels good,” Hill said of scoring her first goal of the season. “It’s a relief in a sense. As a forward you obviously always want to score but it feels even better to get that win.”
The lead did not last long, and four minutes later, in the 30th, Washington tied it. Tori Huster sent the ball from her own half, and Matthews blew by Zadorsky. Matthews took one touch to create more space and sent the ball into the back of the net with her second.
Not much happened for the remained of the half. Both teams had a few chances but nothing too threatening. Kennedy could have scored, but her shot was way too close to Bledsoe. In the dying minutes of the half, Haley Kopmeyer punched the ball, and it hit Greening in the head. The ball luckily rolled harmlessly out for a corner.
Washington took more shots in the half (7-5), but Orlando had a better conversion rate putting three on target, compared to the Spirit’s two. Washington led the possession battle (59%), but it was mostly in its own half.
The second half got off to a firing start. Washington won a foul in the opening seconds, and the free kick was headed just wide of the post. Orlando got right down the field then and retook the lead. Greening sent in a low cross towards Marta. The Brazilian struggled to control it at first but stuck with it before calmly sending the ball into the side netting.
The goal put Orlando up 3-2. The three goals were the most that Orlando has scored since June 16, 2018, when the Pride beat Sky Blue by that same scoreline.
The game settled down after that goal. Both teams had looks on the net, but the game was played mainly in the middle of the field.
Bledsoe again came up huge in the 60th minute. Hill sent in a perfect cross to Pressley. The defender headed it towards the goal, but Bledsoe used a potential Save of the Week to deny Pressley her second of the year.
Three minutes later, Huster should have tied the game. She was all alone in the box with time and space but sent her shot directly into Kopmeyer’s chest.
Marta got her brace in the 78th minute. Zadorsky stood over a free kick in Orlando’s half. The defender rocketed the ball downfield, Marta got on the end of it and behind the defense, and did what she does best. That was Marta’s third goal of the season, all in the last two games after returning from the World Cup.
The Pride should have gotten a fifth goal when Ubogagu was sent down the left flank and crossed to second-half sub Marisa Viggiano with the entire net to shoot at. The rookie lost her composure and fired well over the net.
Washington got a late consolation goal in stoppage time. Orlando failed to clear the ball, and then five Pride players closed in on Jordan DiBiasi. They somehow all failed to clear the ball, DiBiasi got past them all, and she beat Kopmeyer to the near post.
The Spirit finished the game with more shots (19-15) but the Pride had more shots on target (8-5). Washington also edged out in the possession battled with 56%, but the Pride were ahead with the final scoreline. The four goals scored were the most by Orlando in a game since May 26, 2018, when the Pride beat the Chicago Red Stars 5-2.
“I think we [have improved] on how our coach wants us to play,” Marta said. “We still lost points in the past games. But I think, for example, in this first half we lacked defensive and we need to get better and get those mistakes fixed.”
The Pride are back in action on Sunday, July 14 when they travel to Providence Park to take on the Portland Thorns.