The Orlando Pride remain undefeated in the NWSL after a 1-0 win against Kansas City (0-2-2, 2 points) in front of 4,044 fans at Exploria Stadium. Marta scored her first goal since Oct. 12, 2019, and Alex Morgan got a goal contribution for the fourth consecutive game with an assist. With the win, the Pride (3-0-1, 10 points) stay in first place in the league and are the only unbeaten team in the NWSL.
“That’s probably the best win,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “Not technically, but the attitude, commitment to play for Orlando Pride, to change the ethos of the culture of the club has just been the most refreshing wind for our team that we can even imagine. So wonderful, wonderful, collective effort. I said it last time, I couldn’t be prouder of them but you’ve got to win ugly — especially on a three-game week. To take nine points is something that we couldn’t have done in year one, but now we can and I’m so proud of every single member of staff and every single player.”
Skinner made just one change from Wednesday’s 2-1 victory over the Portland Thorns. Meggie Dougherty Howard started on the bench. Marisa Viggiano started in her place. Skinner used mostly the same starting XI in the three games over the last week. After the game, he said, “it tells you about our mentality more than our physicality.”
The first real chance of the game came in the 15th minute. Ali Riley got the ball out wide. She played a great cross into the box, and Morgan headed it towards goal. Kansas City goalkeeper Abby Smith was in a perfect position to make the save.
The Pride had a few corners after this until Orlando finally broke the deadlock. Courtney Petersen sent in a cross and Morgan was first to head it towards goal. It bounced in front of the net, and Marta flicked it on. It looked like Smith made the save, but the assistant referee said it crossed the line, and the Pride went up 1-0. It was Marta’s first goal since Oct. 12, 2019.
“I thought [Marta] was great tonight,” said Skinner. “We had to play some situations that don’t necessarily suit Marta and the way she plays but what she did brilliantly was find the spaces away from the ball.”
Not much happened in the remainder of the half. It was a sloppy period. Both teams held possession for periods before turning it over — especially in the final third.
In the first half stoppage time, it looked like Orlando won a penalty kick. Alex Morgan had the ball in the box. She cut in, and Elizabeth Ball stuck out her leg to defend. Ball missed the ball, and there was clear contact with Morgan. The referee, however, waved play on.
The first half ended 1-0. Orlando had the better of opportunities and could have scored more. Kansas City rarely threatened, and Ashlyn Harris did not have to make any saves. The Pride held 51% possession and outshot the visitors 11-3 (4-0 on target).
Kansas City started the second half out strong. Orlando was defending deep, and Kansas City had a few half chances. But the visitors never managed to get a shot off, and the Pride defended well.
“They were 1-0 down so we knew they were going to put numbers up to try to get that goal,” Gunny Jónsdóttir said. “I know they were wanting to win and came here for those three points, so we knew they were maybe going to put more pressure on us and we just knew we needed to weather the storm — which we did.”
Morgan got revenge for the penalty call in the first half. The forward made a dangerous run in the 65th minute before she was taken down by Katie Bowen. Morgan took the spot kick and shot to her right. She beat Smith but hit the post, and the game remained 1-0.
Like the end of the first half, much of the rest of the game was played in the middle of the field. Kansas City made a few attacking substitutions to try to get the tying goal, but the Pride’s defense held strong.
“I have an incredible back line, and we have incredible depth, and I’m very proud of the players in front of me,” said Harris. “I don’t think it’s just the back line. I think all 10 players in front of me are willing to defend and it starts with our attack. Our attacking players are working back, 360 degrees defending. People don’t realize a lot of our defenses started from the attacking players. When they work back and poke balls and make it difficult and disruptive, it helps the success of the team collectively as a defensive unit.”
On the other end, Orlando had little going. The Pride kept players back to defend the lead, and this left little in the attacking department. Like Wednesday, Morgan tended to be the lone player in the middle of the field as the rest of the team defended deep.
Kansas City had some success in creating havoc by sending long, direct balls into the area from distance but couldn’t fashion a clear-cut chance, despite some nervy moments. In the final 10 minutes, Orlando could do little with the ball except kick it down the field and wait for the next attack.
As a result of lying so deep and not even trying to work the ball up the field in the game’s late stages, Orlando finished the game with 44% possession but dominated the rest of the stats. Orlando had more shots (15-10), shots on goal (5-0), duels won (53-52), and clearances (22-11). Harris was not forced into any saves.
“It’s been an incredible week for our club and for the players of this team,” Harris said. “We’ve put in a lot of hard work, and I’m happy to see us finally getting results. We knew how important finishing this week off with nine points in three wins. So, super, super happy for the team and happy about the clean sheet tonight.”
Orlando’s next game is away against the Washington Spirit on June 6.