The Orlando Pride (3-11-2, 11 points) failed to find the back of the net in back-to-back games after losing to the Utah Royals, 2-0 in front of 5,279 fans at Exploria Stadium. After a goalless first half, Christen Press and Amy Rodriguez each scored in the last 30 minutes to lead the Royals (8-6-3, 27 points) to victory.
“Obviously the result isn’t what we wanted, but I think everyone on the field tonight gave it their all and that’s not what we’re lacking,” Rachel Hill said. “I think it’s getting better. There’s times that we need to stay more focused. Overall, I think that everyone gave it their all tonight and we did the best we could.”
With Marta and Julie King suspended because of red cards, Skinner was forced to make a few changes to his starting XI. Kristen Edmonds got her first start of the year, slotting in at left back. Shelina Zadorsky remained at center back and partnered with Ali Krieger. Erin Greening played right back. Alanna Kennedy, Joanna Boyles, and Marisa Viggiano played in the midfield, and Chioma Ubogagu, Rachel Hill, and Claire Emslie led the forward line.
The Pride attempted to use a high press in the match and it caused a few problems for the visitors. However, Orlando was limited in front of the net and finished the first half with just one shot on goal.
Press was the best player on the field all game. She created two chances and had three shots on goal. She was faster than any Pride player, and it almost led to a goal in the 16th minute.
She started her run from Utah’s half and got past the entire Pride team and into the box. Approaching the 18, she used a cut against Krieger and glided past the defender. Press sent in a shot, but Ashlyn Harris was able to save it.
“With Rodriguez you get runs and then she likes to kind of hang off your back shoulder, almost in an offside position,” said Zadorsky. “So it makes it tough to know where she is at all times. And then you got Press who’s just a technician and really good with the ball. Obviously one of the best dribblers. It’s really unfortunate she got in behind our line because despite that, and despite those two chances I felt that we were pretty solid.”
Utah should have gone ahead in the 29th minute. Press sent a perfect through ball to Katie Stengel off the volley. Stengel muscled off Krieger and sent toward the near post. Harris just barely got a foot on it and the shot banged off the post.
Orlando really only had one chance in the first half. The Pride won the ball back from Utah inside Orlando’s final third. Kennedy looked up and saw Ubogagu making a forward run and sent a perfect ball over the top. Desiree Scott was right on Ubogagu’s heels and forced Ubogagu to make an awkward shot. Nicole Barnhart was able to deny the striker, and the game remained scoreless.
The match went into half the way it started — 0-0. Utah led in shots (8-4), shots on target (5-1), and corners (3-2). Possession was fairly even with Orlando having 48%, but Utah was the better team in the first 45.
Not much happened to start the second half. Orlando was on the back foot as Utah pressed, but there were not many good chances until the 60th minute. It looked inevitable all game that Press would find the back of the net and it happened when Lo’eau LaBonta sent a perfect ball over the top of Orlando’s defense. Press timed her run perfectly and volleyed it past Harris. The ‘keeper got a hand to it but was unable to keep it out, and the visitors went up 1-0.
The biggest moment of the match for the Pride happened in the 65th minute. Emslie and Barnhart went for a 50/50 ball. The two collided in the box, and the referee called a foul on Emslie. The Pride players immediately ran to the referee for an explanation as they believed Emslie got to the ball first and then Barnhart charged into her.
“Having seen a picture of the challenge, not only is it a penalty, it’s also last player. So, it’s effectively a red card, which we were given last week,” said Skinner. “Which was rescinded by the way. As in terms of we were told that it was a mistake and it shouldn’t have been a penalty. So we shouldn’t have lost the game last week. If that’s going to happen, then I don’t know how you build to win a game of football.”
Alex Morgan came on for Ubogagu in the 68th minute. It was the first time that Morgan has played for the Pride since April 27 when Orlando fell 1-0 to the Royals. Morgan finished with just one shot, 12 touches, and a 25% passes accuracy on eight passes.
Utah doubled its lead in the 73rd minute. Coming from the counter attack, Vero Boquete dribbled down the middle of the field. Rodriguez made a great run to get behind the Pride’s defense and A-Rod just had to chip the ball past Harris to make it 2-0.
The Pride tried to throw players forward at the end of the match but could not find the net. Orlando finished with 12 shots, compared to Utah’s 15, and did not register a shot on goal in the second half — Utah had four. The Royals also led in possession (55%).
Skinner talked almost exclusively about the officiating after the match. He was livid about another game that he felt came down to poor officiating. Two weeks in a row he feels as if the calls did not go his team’s way, and cost the Pride points.
“I think I sit here two weeks in a row and I’ll suggest that referee decision has changed the complexity of the game,” said Skinner. “If I’m judged on my job, they should be judged on their job. I’ve just gone to the referee to ask about the decision. With just gesturing with my hands to say, ‘What was that?’ he told me to put my hands down using his hand. Otherwise, he wouldn’t talk to me. Now I don’t know where the fairness is.
“I’m not talking about him in a personal stance. I’m talking about the decision he has to make is incorrect. And that for me ruined the game.”
Despite the loss, Skinner said he will keep after his players to continue working as the season winds down.
“I’m going to keep driving hunger into my team,” said Skinner. “Because I’ll remind them of this season. If anybody stops running for this team, from now until the end of the season, they won’t touch the floor. They won’t play for the Orlando Pride again. I think I have a good group of people and they’re going to want to fight harder. So we’re going to have to go and fight harder against Chicago. We’re not giving anything away; nobody is tanking in my teams.”
It’s a quick turnaround for Orlando. The Pride play the Chicago Red Stars on Wednesday, Aug. 21 at Seat Geek Stadium.