The Orlando Pride played perhaps their best game of the season but old problems resurfaced to prevent a win in a 1-1 draw against Sky Blue in front of 8,314 fans at Red Bull Arena. Shelina Zadorsky gave the Pride an early lead that served as the game’s only goal until Carli Lloyd’s unchallenged header off a corner kick cross leveled the game late in the 88th minute.
The Pride (4-15-3, 15 points) ended up undefeated against Sky Blue (5-13-5, 20 points) on the season, finishing with two wins and a draw against the New Jersey side. Unfortunately (or fortunately if you want the top overall draft pick), it will make things difficult for Orlando to avoid finishing in dead last place in the NWSL in 2019. The Pride have two remaining home matches to Sky Blue’s one match, but trail eighth place by five points.
Marta returned to the lineup for Marc Skinner on the forward line, with Rachel Hill and Claire Emslie. Joanna Boyles, Marisa Viggiano, and Alanna Kennedy made up the midfield. Kristen Edmonds started at right back, making her 100th NWSL appearance alongside back line teammates Ali Krieger, Zadorsky, and Carson Pickett. Ashlyn Harris started in goal. Sydney Leroux made the 18 in her return from maternity leave.
The Pride started the match on the front foot and were dominant in the game’s first 20 minutes, out-shooting Sky Blue 9-1 in that span. Jo Boyles started things five minutes in with a shot from distance that trickled in easily for Kailen Sheridan to grab. Two minutes later, Viggiano made a nice turn and run into the Sky Blue penalty area, firing a shot that took a slight deflection and bounced off of the top of the crossbar.
Sky Blue cleared the set piece but Marta stole the ball on the left just outside the area and sent a left-footed shot just inches wide of the right post. In the ninth minute Hill sent a shot just wide to the left from outside the box. Sheridan was forced into a good diving save in the 10th minute to keep out Marta’s near-post effort.
Viggiano was one of Orlando’s best players in the first half, linking up well with her teammates, helping win back the ball from Sky Blue, and earning a dangerous set piece chance in the 13th minute. Zadorsky headed Emslie’s set piece cross just wide on the ensuing free kick.
Kennedy fired wide in the 15th minute from outside the area as the Pride continued to fire shots toward Sheridan’s net. In the 17th minute, Edmonds won a free kick near the right corner of the penalty area and it led to the opening goal. Emslie provided the service and it fell to the ground near the back post where Zadorsky swept it home for her first ever NWSL goal in the 18th minute.
Sky Blue looked to regroup after the goal and started building more patiently from the back, being more deliberate with the ball and keeping more possession, although it didn’t lead to many opportunities. The hosts were able to gain more confidence and stem the tide of Orlando chances by passing the ball more accurately and safely around their own half.
Still, Hill was able to win a free kick in a dangerous spot in the 27th minute. Emslie’s service was knocked down by the defense just behind the onrushing Krieger.
Sky Blue got their first transition opportunity in the 30th minute but Edmonds and Krieger combined to block a shot by Jennifer Hoy. Moments later, Marta stole the ball just outside the area and fired over the bar. Sky Blue came right back down the field and Paige Monaghan fired wide from long distance in the 32nd minute. A minute after that, Imani Dorsey sent in a cross that hit Lloyd and bounced toward goal but Harris got over to grab it.
Emslie sent in a deadly cross in the 40th minute that was just inches in front of Kennedy, who only needed the slightest touch to send it home.
Marta, making her first appearance since before the August FIFA break, nearly doubled the Pride’s lead in first-half stoppage time. Emslie won a free kick just outside the area after a hard challenge from behind by Dorsey. Marta took the set piece and curled a shot toward the upper 90 that didn’t quite bend enough and it smashed off the crossbar.
Although it didn’t take an inordinate amount of time for Marta to line up and take the free kick, for some reason the referee allowed quite a bit of play afterward — a theme that ended up repeating at the end of normal time as well. As a result, the hosts nearly — and should have — leveled in the fourth minute of first-half stoppage. Dorsey sent in a cross for Hoy who muffed her wide-open header and knocked it well over the bar just before the halftime whistle finally came.
Sky Blue saw more of the ball after the break and looked much more dangerous. The Pride started to get nervous in their own end as they’ve done throughout the season, gifting balls back to the opposition, failing to link up with teammates due to errant passes, and failing to deal sufficiently with routine balls into the area.
This resulted in more corner kicks for Sky Blue, and almost all of them seemed dangerous. The first warning bell of the half sounded after a corner was awarded in the 52nd minute and the cross in was headed by Boyles onto her own crossbar. In the 55th minute, an unmarked Lloyd sent a free header over the bar that she should have put on frame.
Viggiano sent a shot over the bar in the 58th when she had a teammate breaking through the defense. It was a mistake by the rookie in an otherwise solid game. Hill got into the box on a turnover seconds later but before she could shoot from about the penalty spot she stumbled and the chance evaporated.
In the 64th minute a good ball over the top found Hill who fired just wide as the Pride continued to squander opportunities to kill the game off.
A minute later Viggiano gave Hill another perfect ball. This time Hill scored but the flag was up for offside. Obviously the broadcast often doesn’t give a good view of the entire field but it appeared Hill needed to run past at least two Sky Blue defenders to get onto the ball and no good replay was shown, so whether the call was right or not...well, I can’t tell you. Hill didn’t argue it much so she must have thought so.
Marta stole another pass in the 68th minute and spied Sheridan off her line. She tried a shot from distance but didn’t elevate it and it was no trouble for Sky Blue’s goalkeeper. Moments later, Marta cut back a pass for Emslie at the top of the area and the Scottish international missed just wide on another wasted chance. A minute later, Marta again picked out Emslie — this time with a good ball over the top. Emslie brought it down and fired but the shot was blocked by Erica Skroski.
Harris parried away a Lloyd chance at the near post in the 76th minute as the hosts continued to press for an equalizer. Three minutes later, Pickett headed down an aerial ball perfectly for Sky Blue to start the transition but Monaghan sent a shot or a cross wide of goal.
Skinner put Camila in for Emslie and brought on Leroux for Viggiano. It was Leroux’s first appearance since Sept. 8, 2018. Neither sub made much of an impact on the game, except to waste a few precious seconds late. It wasn’t enough, as Sky Blue equalized just two minutes after Leroux was introduced. Lloyd was again free on a corner kick and this time the USWNT star didn’t miss, beating Harris to the far corner late in the 88th minute. Pickett — perhaps not the best player to be marking Lloyd — allowed the U.S. international to get inside of her and, like earlier, Kennedy tried to play the ball in the air rather than putting a body on the Sky Blue striker.
That was just about it, although Zadorsky fired a weak shot in easily for Sheridan to handle in the 90th minute on the recycle of a set piece. Lloyd then nearly won it for Sky Blue in the fifth (nearly sixth) minute of stoppage time of a game that was set to have three additional minutes and only a 45-second delay in getting Hill subbed off for Abby Elinski slowed the play after normal time had expired.
Harris came off her line to smother the initial shot and then knocked it aside as Elizabeth Eddy bundled over her. Harris knocked Eddy over on the play, which could have drawn a late penalty, but a foul had already been given for contact on the goalkeeper. Either way, it was nearly three minutes after the stated added time and it prevented an even worse fate for the Pride.
The Pride led in shots (17-16), shots on goal (5-2), possession (50.1%-49.9%), and passing accuracy (82.4%-76.7%) but managed to let the late lead slip away. Orlando was out-shot 15-8 after Zadorsky’s goal but the Pride got numerous quality chances and simply couldn’t put any of them away. That was obviously compounded by continued weak defending on set pieces. Lloyd is a great player but there’s no good reason not to ensure she’s marked on set pieces.
In the end, the Pride dropped two more points by allowing their 14th goal conceded after the 75th minute this season.
Next up for the Pride is a home date with the Washington Spirit next Saturday in a makeup game of a match that was postponed due to Hurricane Dorian’s approach.