After scoring in the third minute, the Orlando Pride (7-9-7, 28 points) gave up three unanswered goals, falling to Racing Louisville FC (5-12-5, 20 points), 3-1. The loss was Orlando’s fourth in a row and officially ended the Pride’s hopes of qualifying for the NWSL playoffs for the second time in team history.
Pride interim head coach Becky Burleigh only made one change to the starting lineup from the team’s 1-0 loss to Chicago midweek. Erin McLeod started in goal and Ashlyn Harris wasn’t in the team. Backup goalkeeper Kaylie Collins and midfielder Emily van Egmond both started on the bench, the first time on the team sheet for the team’s newest players.
The Pride came into this game needing a point to stay alive in the playoff race and three points to realistically have any chance of getting to the postseason. In the previous three games, the team had conceded inside the first 10 minutes, but got off to a great start in Louisville.
In the third minute, Alex Morgan did well to find Jodie Taylor making a run behind the Louisville back line. The leading pass found the English striker, allowing her the time and space to easily slide the ball past Louisville goalkeeper Katie Lund.
It was the first lead for the Pride since Sept. 11, when they beat this same Louisville team 3-1 in Orlando. It was Taylor’s third goal of the season, and her first since Aug. 14 against the Portland Thorns.
“I just saw Alex get the ball and start dribbling and I saw some space to run into,” Taylor said about her goal. “And a really good ball from Alex. I watched some clips of the goalkeeper earlier and kind of knew her tendencies and knew she’d try to stay in goal so I was able to just slap it past her.”
In addition to scoring first, the Pride were able to keep Louisville from getting an early goal, something that has plagued the team in recent weeks.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better start, for sure,” Burleigh said after the game. “I mean, to keep a clean sheet at the beginning was something we really put an emphasis on. But then also to get on the scoresheet for ourselves, that was huge. It just sort of gives you a chance to kind of catch your breath a little bit and not be chasing. I mean, we’ve been chasing games from five minutes in the past few weeks, and I think it was really nice to be on the other side of that.”
The good start continued after the goal. In the 17th minute, Morgan took her own chance at goal after being set up by Marta. The Brazilian midfielder did well to play it back for Morgan, whose first touch was to her left and then a shot toward the inside of the post. Lund’s dive appeared to be late, but the shot was just wide of the target.
In the ensuing minutes, the Pride had multiple opportunities from Courtney Petersen on the left side. Taylor kept making a back post run, looking for her second of the game. However, both of Petersen’s crosses were too close to Lund, allowing her to catch the aerial passes.
The first good chance for Louisville didn’t come until the 34th minute. Lauren Milliet won the ball from Marta in the Pride’s third of the field and took a quick shot on goal. The shot was close enough to elicit a dive from McLeod, but the ball rolled just wide of the near post.
Two minutes later, the Pride nearly doubled their lead. Taylor beat her defender to the left of goal and found Leroux in a central position. The good work of Taylor combined with a slip by the defender set Leroux up for a shot on goal. However, she leaned back on the shot and hit it well above the target.
Louisville nearly equalized in the 42nd minute when Ebony Salmon sent a dangerous ball across the six-yard box. McLeod stayed on her line, allowing Yuki Nagasato to nearly get on the end of the pass. She reached her foot out but couldn’t quite get to it.
A minute into injury time, the hosts found their equalizer. A lazy pass from Gunny Jonsdottir to Ali Riley was blocked by Nagasato and went directly to Salmon at the top of the box. The forward curled a shot toward goal, around the outstretched arm of McLeod, and in.
The goal was the last play of the half and sent the Pride into the locker room with an even game, despite dominating much of the first 45 minutes.
While the Pride had a great start to the first half, the start of the second period of play was similar to what has been seen in previous games. Louisville immediately put the Pride under pressure and started creating chances from the early minutes.
The first Louisville chance of the second half came in the 48th minute. Katie McClure took a shot that was aimed for the upper part of the goal, but McLeod was able to get a strong hand to it and tip it over the crossbar.
In the 52nd minute, the hosts took their first lead of the game. Taylor Otto played to Salmon, whose first touch backheel sent McClure in on goal. Already behind the Pride defense, it was an easy finish to the back post.
As has often been the case for the Pride, it took an early goal to awaken the team. In the 58th minute, they nearly got it back when Morgan played Petersen through to the left of goal. The defender had plenty of space, but her shot was wide of the far post.
In the 66th minute, it was second-half substitute Taylor Kornieck setting up Morgan. Kornieck sent a lovely aerial ball to the six-yard box, where Morgan had made a run. The ball found the foot of the U.S. international, but she was leaning slightly back and appeared to hit it with her shin, sending the volley over the goal.
With 12 minutes remaining, the Pride were sending numbers forward in a desperate attempt to find an equalizer. Louisville took advantage of the space, sealing the game.
It started when Salmon received the ball near the right sideline and made a long run to the Pride’s box. Simultaneously, Nagasato was making an unmarked run toward the back post. With her head up, Salmon found Nagasato with plenty of space and played a long, low ball to her. Nagasato had plenty of time, easily playing it past McLeod for the dagger.
The Pride did have some late chances, but nothing came of it. In the 80th minute, van Egmond ended up with the ball at the top of the box. She fired on goal but the ball missed wide of the left post.
A minute later, Petersen found Morgan in front of goal. The striker attempted another volley but wasn’t able to get much on it and Lund easily smothered the soft shot.
In the 85th minute, Louisville nearly put in a fourth. Cheyna Matthews played Cece Kizer through, creating an open shot on goal. However, McLeod did well to get down and make the stop.
Moments later, a long cross was looking for the head of Matthews at the far post. McLeod was beaten by the cross, but Toni Pressley did well to head the ball away from danger.
The Pride entered the game four points behind Houston, Chicago, and North Carolina for the final playoff spot with one game remaining. A point would’ve likely seen the team eliminated tomorrow, but the loss officially ended any chance of Orlando qualifying for the postseason.
“It’s obviously a tough one to swallow given the implications of the match,” Burleigh said about the game. “Clearly we started off great, and just couldn’t maintain the momentum. Giving up the goal right before halftime, clearly not ideal. Still felt like at halftime we were very much there for the taking, as far as being in the game. I just think there were some opportunities that we didn’t take advantage of and they took advantage of theirs.”
The Pride ended the first half with five shots and one on target. Four of those five shots came before Louisville got their first in the 28th minute. The game went downhill quickly after that as the hosts out-shot the Pride 4-1 in the final 17 minutes of the first half and scored the equalizing goal seconds before halftime.
Louisville went on to dominate the second half. In addition to their two goals, the hosts had more shots (9-5) and shots on goal (5-2) in the second 45 minutes.
In the end, Louisville led in shots (13-10), shots on goal (6-3), and corners (5-0). The Pride ended the game with more possession (57.7%-42.3%), passes (516-368), and better passing accuracy (78.3%-72.8%).
The Pride had the possession and chances to put the game away in the first 20 minutes, but failed to convert on several golden opportunities. That clearly weighed on the minds of the team and it didn’t get any better when they gave up the late first-half equalizer.
They appeared to come out of the locker room a mentally defeated team, allowing Louisville to create all of the chances. The second goal had the Pride chasing the game, something they’ve struggled with for much of the season.
The Pride now have two weeks before they face Chicago in their final game. They’ll have to find a way to put this one behind them if they want to finish strong.
“Obviously, we want to end on a high. We’re at home against the Chicago team. We want to finish as strong as we possibly can and get as many points as we possibly can,” Taylor said about the last game of the season. “Obviously, playoffs are out of the question now, but we just want to end well for the club, for ourselves, for our teammates, for each other.”
The Pride will welcome the Chicago Red Stars to Exploria Stadium on Oct. 29 at 7 p.m., ending another disappointing season.