The Orlando Pride defeated the Washington Spirit 1-0 in their third match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup. Orlando needed to get all three points to have any chance of advancing in the competition, and the Pride were able to do so thanks to some good performances from their veterans. Alex Morgan made her return, Sydney Leroux found the back of the net, and Ashlyn Harris stood on her head in goal.
Here are my takeaways from the match:
It has been a while since Morgan started a match for the Orlando Pride, and she certainly put in a good effort. She and Leroux combined their efforts early on, and it paid off in the 11th minute when Morgan stole the ball and put an inch perfect pass forward to Leroux, who scored the Pride’s first and only goal of the match. Both Morgan and Leroux made several good defensive plays. Morgan also drew the foul that sent Kelley O’Hara off in stoppage time. Morgan put in a very good shift for the Pride in her first match back.
A Bit of Luck
The Spirit seemingly had a goal off a free kick in the 25th minute on a quick restart, but the referee called it back after the celebration had begun. She hadn’t blown the whistle, and according to reports, told Spirit manager Richie Burke that the players hadn’t asked to play it quickly. This was a lucky break for the Pride, allowing them to maintain the early lead. To be fair, I’ve seen that same set piece called both ways, and if it had gone against Orlando, I might have been pretty upset. Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
A Pressing Attack Pays Off
Marc Skinner has been telling us for a while that he wants his team to press and attack. The challenge has been doing so effectively. It finally clicked against the Spirit. The Pride pressed the attack, pressed high on defense, and were often able to win the back back in the opponent’s half. The Spirit like to keep possession, but the Pride were able to maintain 48% possession on the night. To put that in perspective, Burke wanted his team to have 60% of the possession and the Pride were able to put them off that strategy. It was effective until midway through the second half, when the Pride got complacent about pushing forward and got penned in for a spell.
A Needed Defensive Shift
Previously on The Mane Land PawedCast, our own Michael Citro suggested that moving Ali Krieger into a center back role might be a way for the Pride to go on defense. It took a few matches, but Skinner finally did that very thing. Ali Riley occupied her usual role on the left, Phoebe McClernon started at center back, and Gunny Jónsdóttir earned her first start on the right. The Pride have historically been a bit porous in the center of the defense, and having a player with Krieger’s experience anchoring the line helped. Not to mention that it meant she didn’t have to run quite as much. Unfortunately for Krieger, she was injured in second half stoppage time, and had to sub off. Even with the switch in starting personnel, there is still plenty of room for improvement. The reality is that the Spirit had too many chances, and Orlando had a tough time clearing the ball out of the area effectively. If not for a certain Orlando keeper, it may have turned out very differently.
Harris proved once again that she is one of the best keepers in the world. The Spirit had several chances through the match, but there was a a flurry of attacks from about the 55th minute until the 70th minute, when she nearly single handedly maintained the Pride’s lead. The biggest save during that time was her second penalty kick save in as many matches in the 65th minute. As Harris said after last week’s save, it was not luck. She studies her opponents, and knows their tendencies. She puts in the work and it paid off again. As important as Leroux’s goal was, without Harris the Pride easily could have lost this match. All told, Harris had nine saves and was easily the Player of the Match. She is a near shoo-in for the “Ashlyn Harris” NWSL Save of the Week award. It’s not actually called that, but it might as well be.
That’s what I saw, let me know what caught your eye in the Pride’s win.