The Orlando Pride (7-8-7, 28 points) fell 1-0 to the Chicago Red Stars (9-8-5, 32 points) tonight in Bridgeview, IL after allowing yet another goal within the opening few minutes of the game. The hosts had several opportunities to take a multi-goal lead, but in the end it was Kealia Watt’s sixth-minute goal that was the difference. Alex Morgan also missed a penalty attempt that could have earned the Pride a road point.
The Pride displayed the same starting lineup as Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC. Only two changes were made to the bench, as Carrie Lawrence and Crystal Thomas made the trip. Parker Roberts stayed in Orlando and Meggie Dougherty Howard was suspended due to yellow card accumulation.
After giving up a goal in the third minute of each of the last two games, the Pride had a horrible start again in Bridgeview. In the fifth minute, Watt beat Ali Krieger into the box, creating a chance on goal. However, Amy Turner did well to get back, sliding in and blocking it out of play.
The ensuing corner kick was headed to Watt at the back post. The dangerous striker fired off a shot that slammed off the bottom of the crossbar and in for the opener. Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris had no chance to stop the blast.
The Red Stars nearly doubled their lead in the 10th minute when Mallory Pugh sent a low free kick into the box. It traveled through several players but nobody could get on the end of it as the ball went harmlessly out of play.
In the 17th minute, Pugh tried to do it herself. Beating Ali Riley into the box, the forward sent a low shot across the face of goal. Fortunately for the Pride, it was a tough angle for the U.S. international, and the ball rolled beyond the far post.
Former Pride forward Rachel Hill got in on the action from the right side in the 29th minute. Doing well to shield the ball from Krieger, Hill was able to get a shot off. But Harris cut down her angle and made the big save. The rebound was collected by Hill, who immediately fired a second shot on goal. By the time the shot was taken, Krieger had gotten into a defensive position, making the block.
The Red Stars thought they had a penalty in the 31st minute. Watt beat Turner into the box, forcing the defender to chase from behind. Turner made a late lunge, attempting to win the ball and Watt went down. The hosts thought they had a penalty but the referee waved play on.
The Pride had a golden chance to get back into the game in the 43rd minute when Sydney Leroux was played through into the box. She got behind Casey Kreuger and went down. It was questionable whether there was any contact, but the referee pointed to the spot.
Morgan stepped up to take the kick but missed it well wide left. It was the second missed penalty for Morgan this season.
Having Morgan take the penalty in a one-goal game was a questionable decision. The striker had missed her only other penalty this season and Marta, who was also on the field, took a perfect penalty last week against Gotham FC.
“We definitely have a couple people who are sort of in the rotation to take it,” Pride interim head coach Becky Burleigh said about the penalty. “But when it actually comes in game situation, we sort of leave that up to the players because I think it’s tough to dictate that because penalties, I think, you kind of feel it when you’re ready to take a penalty and I wouldn’t want to identify that without letting them have some opportunities. So it’s not like it’s open to anyone, but there’s definitely a few people who are in that rotation. And Alex is one of them.”
Statistically, it would appear as though the Pride had a strong first half, leading in possession (57%-43%), passes (229-176), passing accuracy (72.5%-68.6%), crosses (13-8), and corners (5-2). However, much of their passing and possession was in their own half and had little meaning. Meanwhile, the Red Stars got behind the Pride defense several times. That resulted in the hosts having a commanding lead in shots (8-2) and shots on goal (5-1).
After a slow start to the first half, the Pride were on their back foot in the second as well. Nine minutes into the second period, Pugh almost doubled the lead for the hosts. Beating Turner and Krieger into the box, Pugh hit a high shot on target. The ball bounced off the crossbar, allowing the Pride to clear.
It appeared as though Harris might’ve gotten a finger to it to make the save. Either way, the Pride were fortunate not to concede a second and remain just a goal down.
The Red Stars already felt they had been treated unfairly through first half penalty decisions and that feeling got worse in the 62nd minute. Pugh beat Courtney Petersen into the box and went down as Petersen tried to challenge the forward. The Red Stars felt they should’ve had a penalty, but replays showed that Pugh had slipped and that no contact had been made by Petersen.
In the 65th minute, Pugh stayed on her feet. Turner gave the player way too much space, allowing her to take a shot on goal. The Red Stars’ number nine tried to beat Harris to the near post, but missed the narrow target, hitting the side netting instead.
Watt had a good chance for her second of the night in the 72nd minute. Receiving the ball on the right side of the box, the forward found herself with enough space to get a shot off. However, the strong shot was just off target, hitting the side netting.
The Pride made some attacking substitutions with less than half an hour remaining, looking to find an equalizer. In the 63rd minute, Taylor Kornieck and Toni Pressley came on for Krieger and Riley, changing to a back three. Erika Tymrak then came on in the 67th minute for Marisa Viggiano.
The attacking changes and fresh legs made a difference for the Pride as they started to push forward and create some chances. In the 73rd minute, a Chicago turnover at the top of the Pride box allowed a counter attack. Tymrak carried the ball most of the way, finding Taylor to the right of the goal. The English striker quickly shot but it went well over the crossbar.
Four minutes later, Morgan fought hard to win the ball and sent a long pass into the box. Leroux was able to bring the ball down with her chest, placing her foot on it before it reached the ground. But she was leaning back on the shot and it soared over the goal.
Katie Johnson found herself with an excellent opportunity in the 83rd minute to double the lead, getting behind the Pride defense. But Harris came up big again, making her sixth save of the night.
The dying minutes created a flurry of chances as the Pride frantically tried to find an equalizer. In the 89th minute, Johnson found Vanessa DiBernardo to the right of the goal. The shot was on target, but Harris used a strong hand to knock it away and keep the deficit at one.
The Pride sprinted the other way, creating a chance on the opposite end. Morgan ended up with the ball in the box and put a low shot on goal, but it was an easy stop for Miller.
Moments later, it looked like the Red Stars would finally score their second when Pugh had the ball behind the Pride defense near midfield. Harris was well out of her goal, but Pugh continued to dribble forward instead of attempting to chip the goalkeeper.
As Pugh got closer to the box, Harris retreated toward her own six-yard box. She came back out when Pugh entered the box and tipped the ball off of the forward’s foot, who was trying to dribble around her. Pugh got the ball back and attempted an off-balance shot, but missed the target.
The Pride had one last, frantic chance three minutes into injury time, which included a backheel right in front of the goalkeeper. But they were unable to get any solid shots on target and Miller easily collected it to end the game.
“I felt like this team really fought to the end tonight, had some great chances,” Burleigh said after the game. “We were taking some major risks at the end. So our defense came up big when we were trying to take those risks. And then the offense, really just unfortunate to not get one. Loved how we fought.”
The Pride ended the game with greater possession (57.1%-42.9%), passes (440-335), and passing accuracy (70.5%-62.7%) than the Red Stars, but the hosts dominated the chances, finishing the game with more shots (17-12) and shots on goal (9-6). The Pride were much better in the second half, recording more shots (10-9) and shots on target (5-4).
The all-time series between the Pride and Red Stars has been largely controlled by the away teams, with the teams combining for seven straight road wins heading into tonight’s game. This was the Pride’s first loss away to the Red Stars since the team’s 2-1 defeat on July 22, 2017.
“I’m disappointed, clearly, and I’m upset and I just have to keep my chin up,” Harris said about the performance. “Sometimes football is cruel and you know tonight, it’s one of those games. It’s heartbreaking and just so unfortunate that we weren’t able to put the ball in the back of the net. We can’t win games if we don’t score, so I’m proud of the team, these things happen, and we fought till the very end and we didn’t give up on each other and those are important aspects to take away.”
Tonight’s loss sees the Pride end the night in eighth place in the 10-team league. They now sit four points behind the North Carolina Courage with just two games remaining in the season.
“I think the last few games have felt like playoffs already for us because we feel like we’re kind of in a must win situation,” Burleigh said about the team’s mindset heading into this weekend’s game. “So I think that these last two games will be no different. Clearly our back’s up against the wall and we need to get results and we’re going to be well aware of that.”
It will be a short turnaround for the Pride as they’ll take on Racing Louisville FC in Kentucky Saturday night at 7:30 p.m.