The Orlando Pride returned to Exploria Stadium with fans for the first time since Oct. 12, 2019, but those fans ultimately left disappointed after a 1-0 home loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC — the team formerly known as Sky Blue. Orlando did well in the first half, and even for the first 15 minutes of the second half. However, Gotham hit the Pride on a counter attack in the 79th minute for the lone goal of the match by Paige Monaghan. The Pride fell to 0-1-1 in the 20201 NWSL Challenge Cup standings.
“Extremely frustrating result,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the match. “We got suckered into a very good counter attack, which is this league, isn’t it, in a nutshell? But if you don’t take the opportunity to score when you’re on top, you have an opportunity for the opposition to force an error, or to force a kind of focus mistake and obviously they get an opportunity at the end and they finish it well. So, it’s a good smash-and-grab win for Gotham.”
Skinner made one change to his starting XI from the weekend. He kept the 4-2-3-1 formation. Meggie Dougherty Howard was not on the game day roster due to a right knee injury. Instead, Courtney Petersen slotted into the midfield, instead of her typical fullback role.
“Mark and (Assistant Coach) Carl (Green) just told me to play free,” Petersen said. “You know, I used to play winger in college, so it wasn’t anything really new to me. I love attacking and I love getting up the flank. So, honestly, it was just, get at them and attack and get crosses in and try to get in the box as much as possible. I had a ton of fun on that flank and being higher up the field.”
It was a completely different start of the match for Orlando than on Saturday. The Pride came out on the front foot and had a few chances early on.
“I think it’s always something that we want to implement, especially this year with the personnel that we have,” said Marisa Viggiano about the start of the match. “The first half of Saturday, it was raining, the sun was in our eyes. So I think we were just able to really implement it today knowing that we were on our home pitch, in front of our fans, and we really wanted to be on the front foot for as long as we could be.”
Just seconds into the match, Petersen played a low cross into the box to Sydney Leroux. Leroux slid onto it but it went inches wide of the post. A little later, Leroux and Petersen both took shots from outside the box but neither were threatening.
The best chance of the half for Gotham came in the 11th minute. Nicole Baxter played a cross into the box. There was not any Gotham players in the area, and Konya Plummer tried to use her chest to pass the ball to Ashlyn Harris. Unfortunately for the defender, it bounced up off her arm and the referee awarded a penalty kick.
Naiomi Kawasumi stepped up for the visitors. She hit a lot shot to Harris’ right and the Pride goalkeeper was able to make a diving save to keep the game goalless.
Orlando’s best chance of the half came in the 38th minute. Phoebe McClernon played a great ball to Leroux, and the forward got behind the Gotham defense. One-on-one with Gotham ‘keeper Didi Haracic, Leroux was expected to score. However, Leroux left the ball at a comfortable height, and Haracic came up with the huge stop, and the game went into halftime tied at 0-0.
Gotham held 62% possession in the first half, but Orlando had the better chances. The Pride had out-shot Gotham (9-2), put more shots on target (4-1), and won more duels (24-19), and tackles (9-5).
“I think it’s very important to dictate the game early,” said Petersen. “Because then we’re putting them on their heels and running at them. And wave after wave putting the ball in the box and creating chances. It’s just at the end of the day we have to put the chances in the back of the net if we want to win.”
Petersen looked much better playing as the left midfielder than she did last year as a fullback. She continuously made space for herself and put crosses into the box. Her crosses could have been better, while her teammates also did not do much to help.
“I thought [Petersen] did great in terms of that she can be way more aggressive at times and really use her ability to counter press, to move the ball, to run at players, and then she’s got a great delivery, too,” Skinner said. “So the idea was to give more delivery zones for Syd [Leroux] and for Taylor [Kornieck], and then Marta for any cutbacks.”
Not much happened in the first 15 minutes of the second half. Jade Moore had a shot in the 54th minute that just went wide. A few minutes later, Petersen took a shot from distance. It looked like a simple save but Haracic bobbled a little.
After the hour mark, Gotham seemed to take control of the match. The visitors were more dangerous and started to press their attack. Around the 70th minute, Gotham had a few chances that forced Harris into saves. The Pride were extremely poor in defending and unable to clear the ball. Luckily, Gotham was not able to score.
The goal came in the 79th minute. Ifeoma Onumonu sent in a perfect ball after a run down the right wing. Her low cross fell right to a wide open Monaghan at the back post, who passed the ball into the net. Harris made a good effort to prevent the goal but had little chance at it.
“What you’re going to get in this league is always a chance to counter attack,” said Skinner. “I think if you look at whether it’s tactical or kind of a lazier kind of recovery, they just end up numbers up on the back zone. I’m sure it’s a million kind of critique points that we can put towards it. Can we stop it early? Can we stop it going down the side? Can we defend narrow in the box? Can we lock on? Could we keep the ball?”
Orlando only had one good look on goal after the opener. Ali Riley sent in a cross that bounced around. Kornieck ended up on it and took a shot, but it sailed off wide.
Orlando dominated the stat sheet in almost everything except for possession. Gotham finished with 61% of the ball. Orlando had more shots (17-7) shots on goal (7-3), and crosses (17-14).
The Pride are back in action next Wednesday, April 21 at 7 p.m. against the Washington Spirit at Exploria Stadium.