The Pride remain undefeated and top of the table with a 1-1 draw against the Washington Spirit at Audi Field, as the team split the points for the second time in the 2021 NWSL regular season. Ashley Hatch scored the game’s opening goal, her second in two games against the Pride (3-0-2, 11 points) this season, but Taylor Kornieck’s first career NWSL goal was enough to keep Orlando’s unbeaten streak intact. Washington (2-1-2, 8 points) is in third place after the draw and the Pride are now 5-5-4 in all competitions against the Spirit.
“Really hard-earned draw in a tough place,” said Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner. “We got to a point in the game where even when we conceded we felt that we were comfortable and that we could get back into the game and obviously contest it from there. So, what that showed is the players' mentality, their togetherness, their spirit and it’s resonating through the group. It was a really good mental point for us today and again on the road when you come to these places if you can pick up points that’s what we’re going to aim to do.”
There was a slight change in the starting XI today. Sydney Leroux, who was listed as questionable before the game with a thigh injury, was not part of the game day roster. Instead, Marisa Viggiano got the start, her third of the year.
It was an evenly matched game. The first 30 minutes saw both teams have chances on goal, but only one good chance apiece.
Alex Morgan stole the ball in the 18th minute and moved into the penalty area in the 18th minute, but she fired her shot right at Aubrey Bledsoe, who snuffed out the chance. Morgan ultimately ended up being held off the score sheet for the first time during the 2021 season.
In the 26th minute, Washington won a free kick. Ashley Sanchez sent a good ball in. Emily Sonnett headed it low to the far corner, but Ashlyn Harris was there to make the fingertip save.
Both teams struggled to connect in the final third. Morgan got into good spots a few times but was all alone. Orlando’s few chances came from direct play. The Spirit played a slower-paced game that allowed Orlando to drop behind the ball.
The last chance of the half happened in the 45th minute. Kelley O’Hara had the ball and took on Ali Riley. The ball went out of bounds, but the ref didn’t stop play. O’Hara then sent a good cross in, and Rodman headed it on the wrong side of the post. Harris let the referee hear it and clearly was not happy that play was not stopped.
The game went into the break tied 0-0. Washington out-shot the Pride 12-3, but only one had a chance of beating Harris. The Spirit also led in the possession battle (53%). Still, Orlando defended well and limited what the Spirit were able to do while in possession.
Orlando’s attack looked a little better in the second half. The final ball was still missing, but Orlando had more numbers going forward. It no longer was just Morgan isolated in the final third.
“We weren’t as sharp in our mind of how we wanted to play the game as we could have been,” said Skinner. “We knew what we wanted to do but, for example, because of the heat, Washington allowed us to have more space for center halves. And then, basically, Taylor [Kornieck] then was mixing up positions between if we had to play direct to avoid that kind of central trap that they were trying to set for us. They’ve got a 10 and two sixes in that central trap, so, you know, we’re trying to avoid that, but we’ve got our distances wrong by five or six yards. And then once we addressed that at halftime maybe they could refocus — because you know they got a cooling break — they could then go in and be more effective.”
Washington opened the scoring in the 64th minute. O’Hara sent a cross into a great location. Hatch and Jordan DiBiasi were both wide open in the box, and it was Hatch that got there first, beating Harris to the ball and heading home, giving the Spirit a 1-0 lead.
The Pride hit right back. After a wayward shot gave Washington a goal kick, Bledsoe made a terrible pass and Marta was able to intercept it. The Brazilian took one touch to pass to Kornieck, and the rookie sent a low shot into the far corner to tie the game at 1-1. It was Kornieck’s first regular-season goal with the Pride, although she did have one in the Challenge Cup at Louisville.
“It all started from before the game,” said Kornieck. “In our huddle, you know, Ash [Harris] gave a really great speech that motivated all of us. We’re at the top of the table and it’s easy to get there but it’s hard to maintain. So, you know once we went a goal down we all just kept fighting and fighting and we found our chance and made a great opportunity out of it. So, really just really pleased with how we came back from that goal.
“I’ve been telling everybody, ‘It’s due time for me.’ I had my first header against Louisville in the first game of the Challenge Cup and I’ve been in a little drought. I really haven’t shown my top play and everything I can do and that was just a little glimpse of me as a player. So, I’m hoping to bring more of that as the games go on.”
The game got sloppy as it went on. Both teams turned the ball over. The Pride struggled significantly to pass out of the back and created some problems for themselves in the final 20 minutes of the match.
“We train in this (heat) every day so we’re somewhat used to it, and I was hoping that they were going to die down at the 60th minute and we were going to take the game away,” Krieger said. “But it’s something that you just have to deal with. Unfortunately, the two o’clock game in the middle of June is not ideal, but we have to figure it out and both teams have to play in it, and I think we did well, considering.”
Morgan took a few knocks in the dying minutes. She looked to get hit in her ribs/stomach region a few times and was down on the field in obvious pain. She was able to see the game out and the Pride were able to hang on for a hard-earned road point.
Washington out-shot the Pride 21-9, but the shots are target were much closer (6-2). The Spirit held a 52%-48% advantage in possession and an edge in passing accuracy as well (83.1%-77.1%). Orlando had a slight edge in corners (4-3).
The Pride are on a little break now because of the international break. Orlando plays next on June 20 against NJ/NY Gotham FC at Exploria Stadium.