The Orlando Pride (4-0-3, 15 points) traveled west this week for a midday, midweek battle with Kansas City (0-5-2, 2 points). A brace by Sydney Leroux and a near midfield shot by Marta led the Pride to a 3-1 win as Orlando swept the season series from Kansas City.
After playing Sunday night in Orlando, Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner made several changes to the starting lineup. The only differences in the back were Erin McLeod in goal and Gunny Jonsdottir moving to right back, replacing Ali Riley. Marta was placed on the bench, while Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris were left out of the team altogether.
The quick turnaround gave Skinner a chance to show what the team might look like when Morgan and Marta are away at the Olympics. Abi Kim made her first appearance of the 2021 NWSL season, while Erika Tymrak and Chelsee Washington were given their first starts of the year.
“For some reason, we have to then travel to Houston at the end of the week, which is a team that has only played one game,” Skinner said about the lineup after the game. “I’m going to have an eye on both of them. And the players that came in to start the game with their team have that freshness...that energy.”
The Pride got off to a fast start, creating multiple chances in the opening minutes. It started in the third minute when Washington got her head to a Courtney Petersen cross, but the shot knocked off the post. Four minutes later, Tymrak set up Leroux at the top of the box. However, the shot was right at Kansas City goalkeeper Abby Smith, allowing her to make an easy save.
It looked as though Kansas City had taken the lead in the eighth minute when Lo’eau LaBonta’s shot was deflected in by Amy Rodriguez. The celebrations were cut short when Rodriguez was judged to be offside, keeping the game scoreless.
Two minutes later, Mariana Larroquette nearly gave the hosts the lead when she sent a long shot flying towards the goal. The ball went high of the goal, though it appeared as though McLeod had it the whole way.
Kansas City had another chance in the 29th minute when the Pride were unable to clear the ball off a set piece. Back from international duty, Rachel Corsie found herself with the ball in front of goal but McLeod did well to come off her line and make the stop.
The hosts finally broke through in the eighth minute of first-half injury time. A corner kick found its way to the back post where Larroquette was waiting for it. The usual set piece taker didn’t miss her opportunity and put it past McLeod for the game’s first goal.
The Pride didn’t wait long to respond and it was an individual effort from Leroux. The Pride striker carried the ball into the box, weaving between defenders, and fired on goal. Smith seemed to have the near post covered, but the ball deflected off of Corsie and got past Smith for the equalizer.
The offensive and defensive struggles during the first half convinced Skinner that some changes were needed. Coming out of the break, the Pride brought on regular starters Ali Riley, Taylor Kornieck, and Marta for Marisa Viggiano, Tymrak, and Kim.
“We were looking for a little bit more of the experienced players that have played more often,” Skinner said about the halftime changes. “Just to give us that focus and emphasis on finishing the attacks.”
After scoring just before the half, Leroux struck again shortly after the break. In the 49th minute, Jonsdottir found Leroux across the field with a long ball. Dribbling toward the box, Leroux was able to create some space and sent a rocket toward the far post. Smith had no chance and the striker had her second goal of the game.
“Syd’s (goal) was truly delicious,” Skinner said after the game. “The way she couldn’t see and she was changing the pace, finds that far corner.”
Once the Pride took the lead, the game slowed down considerably. That was partly because the Pride were attempting to see out the game and partly due to the hot day causing fatigue.
While there weren’t many chances throughout most of the second half, Marta decided she’d put the game away. In the 81st minute, the Brazilian playmaker weaved through traffic and got a shot on goal. But Smith got down to the near post and blocked the shot out of play.
Five minutes later, Marta spotted Smith well off her line from near midfield. The midfielder took a shot from the center circle and beat Smith from long distance, doubling the Pride lead and securing the three points.
The Pride out-shot the hosts, 14-13 (10-4 on target). Both teams earned four corners, and the hosts led in possession (51.2%-48.8%) and passing accuracy (69%-63.3%).
“I think we battled our way back,” Leroux said following the game. “We took a lot of pressure in the last 15 of the first half and we were able to come back and tie it up and I think that allowed us to come in and play in the second half and that’s exactly what we did.”
“We were able to put players into a team, able to rotate, and able to show that we can be competitive,” Skinner said about the performance. “Also, show that whenever the chips are down, we can be counted.”
Apart from the goals, injuries were a story in this game. The Pride saw Kim, McLeod, and Jonsdottir go down and receive treatment. While Jondottir was down in the second half, trainers had to help Ali Krieger stop an apparent bloody nose. With about 10 minutes left, Kornieck went down pointing at her knee. She was immediately replaced by Crystal Thomas.
While there were several injuries throughout the game, none seemed to be too serious so it shouldn’t cause any problems for the Pride going forward.
With the win, the Pride remain unbeaten in the 2021 NWSL regular season through seven games. They’ve also yet to concede multiple goals in a regular-season game, having only let in two goals in Louisville during the team’s first Challenge Cup match.
The two goals by Leroux drew her even with Alex Morgan for the league lead, with four. The two assists for Jonsdottir launched her to the top of the league with two on the year.
After playing two games in four days, it will be another quick turnaround as the Pride will travel to Houston to take on the Dash Saturday night.