The Orlando Pride remain winless in season openers after a 1-1 home draw to open the NWSL regular season against the Washington Spirit. Alex Morgan’s chip of former teammate Aubrey Bledsoe lifted the Pride (0-0-1, 1 point) to an opening day point against the Spirit (0-0-1, 1 point) at Exploria Stadium.
It was an evenly matched game, and both teams had chances to win it. Ashley Hatch scored in the 76th minute off a header before Morgan pulled the Pride back level.
“It was always going to be tight against Washington. They are very good and have lots and lots of talent coming through, as well,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the match. “So, to come back in the way that we did was very very pleasing. So, it’s the consistency. It’s the message of once you go down, you’re not beaten anymore and that team has come around and done that. And we’ve been able to get minutes for players again tonight so super pleased with their efforts, with their attitudes, and that can only give us a great platform to build forward as we look for those wins throughout the season.”
There weren’t any surprises in the starting XI. Ashlyn Harris started in net, with Ali Krieger and Pheobe McClernon at center back. Gunny Jónsdóttir continued to get minutes at right back, and Courtney Petersen started on the left. Alex Morgan started up top. Marta, Sydney Leroux, and Taylor Kornieck played underneath Morgan, and Meggie Dougherty-Howard and Marisa Viggiano played defensive midfield.
Although that was how the Pride lined up, the players rotated often. Marta roamed around the midfield in space. Morgan, Kornieck, and Leroux switched spots in the attack. Dougherty-Howard and Viggiano alternated at who stayed back and who played more a more attacking role. Even the defenders were not constant. McClernon and Krieger moved back-and-forth between left and right center back.
“I feel like we’re able to read each other really well,” Morgan said about her and Leroux. “I feel like the chemistry is there and we were unlucky not to link up on a goal together today, but I think that it’s just really exciting playing with her and getting a lot of minutes together. It’s really the first time that we’re both healthy, we’re both on the field consistently, feeling good, and I think that there’s a lot of good things to come from that.”
The first half was fairly even. Both teams had a few chances, but the game was mostly played in the middle of the field.
In the third minute, Leroux connected with Morgan, who had a great look on goal but was offside. The Spirit got down the field and nearly found the opening goal from Trinity Rodman, but Harris got the better of the young forward.
Leroux had a shot go just wide in the 14th minute. It was a good sequence for the Pride. Marta played a pass to Kornieck, who then quickly played in Leroux. Bledsoe made a fingertip save to keep it scoreless.
Washington led the half in shots (5-4), but both teams had just one shot on target. The Pride held more possession for most of the half, but Washington used a solid final few minutes to end the half with 53% possession.
Both teams picked up the pace in the second half. Orlando had a great opportunity in the 51st minute. Marta sent a ball over the top to Leroux. Leroux got a foot on the ball before colliding with Aubrey Bledsoe. It looked like the ball was going to trickle in but went just wide of the post.
Moments later, the Spirit nearly found the back of the net. Ashley Sanchez made a nifty move and then powered a shot at Harris. The ‘keeper was unable to hold the ball, and it bounced around in the box. McClernon made a heads-up play and dove at the ball to clear it from danger.
Morgan had a chance just before the hour mark. She took a touch around Blesode, but the ‘keeper got a fingertip on the ball. Morgan regained control of it and had a golden opportunity to score, but she hit it over the bar from inside the six-yard box.
Washington broke the deadlock in the 76th minute. Tori Huster played a perfect ball into the box. Hatch outjumped Krieger and headed the ball into the back of the net. Washington had a numerical advantage as Viggiano was down near the midfield with a cramp.
Orlando hit right back to tie the game at 1-1. McClernon played a fantastic ball from the back up top to Morgan. Morgan hit it off the half volley right over Bledsoe. It was her first goal with the Pride since 2018.
“A pretty big part of our game plan was exploiting the fact that they play a pretty aggressive backline, which is something that I, in the last game, wasn’t as keen to exploit,” said McClernon. “So, I just wanted to make sure that I was giving us opportunities with those long balls and behind and I looked up and I saw Alex on sides and I know she’s always willing to make that run and it bounced well, and I was just elated. It was really spectacular.”
“We were down 1-0 and I felt like we were pushing for a goal,” Morgan said. “We needed to push for a goal and so Phoebe [McClernon] was coming up and they have a really high back line and we kind of worked on that in training. It was really route one, direct ball but it works with a high back line.”
Washington finished the game with more shots (12-10) and shots on target (4-3). The Spirit also held 55% possession.
Orlando is back in action on Saturday, May 22, when the Pride travel to Sahlen’s Stadium to take on the North Carolina Courage.