Welcome to your match thread as the Orlando Pride take on the Washington Spirit in Exploria Stadium on opening weekend of the 2021 NWSL regular season. Both teams are familiar with each other; they played a few weeks ago in the NWSL Challenge Cup. The Pride finished a goal better than the Spirit, and Orlando won the head-to-head match up.
The all-time series between the two teams is tied 5-5-2 (W-L-D) in all competitive matches, with the Spirit holding a 5-4-2 edge in regular-season play. The Pride won the previous match 1-0 thanks to an Ashlyn Harris penalty kick save (along with eight other saves). Washington was the better team for much of the game. Orlando was on the back foot and under immense pressure. However, Sydney Leroux scored in the 10th minute after a great takeaway and through ball from Alex Morgan. Orlando did enough defensively to then keep the shutout.
Orlando held the slight advantage in 2019 before back-to-back wins from the Spirit. The Pride lost 3-0 in the last match, on Oct. 5, 2019. Current Orlando Pride forward Crystal Thomas was with Washington for that match, scoring a goal and recording an assist. Marc Skinner talked about “individual errors” costing the Pride the game after that match.
The Pride fell 2-1, thanks in part to an Ashlyn Harris howler on Aug. 24, 2019. Overall, Washington was the better team and deserved to win. The Spirit dominated with 59% possession and finished with more shots and shots on target.
In the first meeting of the 2019 season, the Pride had an offensive explosion and won, 4-3. In that match, Rachel Hill opened her 2019 scoring account, Marta netted a brace, and Chioma Ubogagu got her third goal in as many games. That was the last match Ubogagu played for the Pride before being waived so she could pursue an opportunity in Europe.
The Pride won two of the three meetings with the Spirit in 2018. The first match of that season was on Mar. 31. Ashley Hatch recorded a goal and an assist as the Spirit went on to win 2-0 at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Three months later, the teams met again. This time, the Pride were on the winning end of things, 1-0, via an 11th-minute Alanna Kennedy goal. In the final meeting of 2018, Hatch once again found the back of the net. Sydney Leroux leveled the game in stoppage time of the first half after an incredible cutback move and beat former Pride goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe at the near post. Marta scored the game-winner in the 86th minute, off an assist from Leroux as Orlando won 2-1.
Orlando went undefeated against the Spirit in 2017. In the first-ever Pride game at what is now known as Exploria Stadium, Orlando needed to fight back after falling behind to earn a point in the 1-1 game. Line Sigvardsen-Jensen scored in the 60th minute, but Danica Evans used some nifty footwork to get by the defense and find the equalizer late in front of 14,452 fans — the second-highest home attendance for the Pride in team history.
On July 8, the teams again played to a draw — this time 2-2. Mallory Pugh netted a brace for the Spirit, and Marta recorded a brace for the Pride. Exactly a month later, the teams met again. This time, it was all Orlando as the Pride won 3-0. Alex Morgan, Camila, and Marta all found the back of the net and Bledsoe earned a shutout for Orlando.
Both teams should come into this game with confidence to win it. The previous match-up saw Orlando do enough to hold off the Spirit, but Washington was the better team for much of the match. The Spirit are typically an excellent team in possession, but struggled to keep the ball in the first half. Washington picked it up and put the Pride on the back foot for the a good chunk of the second half. The Pride scored early in that match but did not have many opportunities for the rest of the match. Orlando cannot rely on Ashlyn Harris to make nine saves again.
“It’s going to be a tough game. We’ve played [Washington] recently and took the victory, but they’re a very good team. It’ll be a difficult game,” Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “We need to do what we did last time, but also add quality moments to our game to score more goals. Just looking for that consistency and continuing that energy and start the season off well is what we want to do.”
Inevitably with this Pride front three of Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, and Marta, the pregame talk will be about that trio. Morgan and Leroux connected on the game-winning goal a few weeks ago. The play of this attacking front will be an important part of the match.
But if the Pride are to win, Orlando will need to disrupt the Spirit’s possession. Washington has slowly built and improved its ability to play a slow possession game. This is strengthened by the attacking play of players such as Ashley Sanchez and rookie Trinity Rodman.
Rodman was one of the highlights for the Spirit in the Challenge Cup, and her combination with Ashley Sanchez is something to keep an eye on.
Jade Moore and Ali Riley both did well for Orlando in the Challenge Cup. Both will be out tonight because of injuries though — left knee and right hamstring, respectively. Erika Tymrak (right hamstring) will also be out for the Pride.
The Spirit will be without Averie Collins and Bayle Feist. Both have ACL injuries.
Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris.
Defenders: Courtney Petersen, Ali Krieger, Phoebe McClernon, Gunny Jónsdóttir.
Defensive Midfielders: Meggie Dougherty Howard, Marisa Viggiano.
Midfielders: Sydney Leroux, Taylor Kornieck, Marta.
Forward: Alex Morgan.
Bench: Erin McLeod, Brittany Wilson, Toni Pressley, Carrie Lawrence, Chelsee Washington, Ally Haran, Abi Kim, Konya Plummer, Crystal Thomas.
Washington Spirit (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Aubrey Bledsoe.
Defenders: Paige Nielsen, Emily Sonnett, Kelley O’Hara, Sam Staab.
Midfielders: Saori Takarada, Dorian Bailey, Andi Sullivan, Tori Huster.
Forwards: Ashley Sanchez, Trinity Rodman.
Bench: Anna Heilferty, Devon Kerr, Kumi Yokoyama, Natalie Jacobs, Julia Roddar. Tegan McGrady, Ashley Hatch, Jordan DiBiasi, Tara McKeown.
Ref: Karen Callado.
AR1: Ashlee Varnson.
AR2: Sean-Michael Kemp.
4th: Sarieni Vasquez.
How to Watch
Match Time: 6 p.m. ET.
Venue: Exploria Stadium — Orlando, FL.
Streaming: Paramount+ (U.S.), Twitch (International).
Enjoy the match. Go Pride!