The Orlando Pride (4-4-4, 16 points) fell to OL Reign (4-6-1, 13 points) 2-0 at Exploria Stadium tonight. An early goal in each half by the visitors saw the Pride lose their fourth in five games and extend their winless streak to five straight (0-4-1).
In Carl Green’s first and only game as head coach of the Pride, he made some changes to the starting lineup. As expected with the absence of Ali Riley, Ali Krieger moved into her former right back position. This was also the first game that we saw the new partnership of Phoebe McClernon and Amy Turner. Regular starting left back Courtney Petersen moved into the defensive midfield and Jodie Taylor made her Pride debut, starting up top with Sydney Leroux and Taylor Kornieck.
The Pride got off to a better start than they did in Portland Sunday night, creating multiple chances inside the first five minutes. In the opening seconds, Petersen found Leroux at the back post but a poor first touch got too far away.
The Pride had another good chance in the fifth minute when Krieger found Kornieck in the box. The tall attacker got her head to the ball and directed it toward the far post, but it was just wide of the target.
The Reign woke up after those two chances and began to put the Pride on their back foot. In the seventh minute, the Reign were given a golden opportunity when McClernon sent an ill-advised ball back to Ashlyn Harris. With attackers closing in, the Pride goalkeeper fell on it and the referee immediately called for a Reign indirect free kick inside the box.
It was an uncommon scene as the Pride placed 10 players on the goal line and the 11th player at the top of the six-yard box. The defensive strategy worked as Harris made the initial save, the Reign had another shot blocked and the Pride were able to clear.
Three minutes later, another defensive miscue gave the Reign another golden chance. Krieger lost the ball near the right touchline, allowing Tziarra King to take possession with space at the top corner of the Pride box. King found Jessica Fishlock, who also happened to be wide open, and the midfielder put it past Harris for the opening goal.
The Pride did have several chances, primarily with Petersen and Krieger looking for Kornieck or Leroux. However, the majority of those balls were just off the mark, allowing the Reign to clear.
A controversial moment occurred in the 39th minute when Taylor sent a long ball for Leroux on the opposite side. The assistant referee immediately called her offside, though replays appeared to show that Leroux was onside. The NWSL doesn’t have VAR, so the decision was final.
“I felt we had a really challenging moment in the game and we should’ve had a goal, which was wrongfully disallowed,” Green said about the play. “Certainly, from the iPad replay that I was watching. And you know, we all know goals change games. We come in at halftime, level, you know it’s a completely different second half.”
The Pride did get another opportunity in the 45th minute to equalize. Marisa Viggiano sent a ball across the box, which Reign goalkeeper Sarah Bouhaddi came out to collect. However, the goalkeeper missed the ball and it fell to Petersen on the far side. The defender playing in the midfield shot on the open goal but the ball was struck poorly and flew back across the box, ending the chance.
The Reign doubled their lead in the 51st minute and it came from another Krieger giveaway in her own end. Attempting to dribble out of trouble, Krieger lost the ball to Eugenie Le Sommer, who quickly found King at the top of the box. The ball was well struck by King, beating Harris to the far post.
Eight minutes later, it appeared as though the Reign would get their third goal. Le Sommer received the ball in the box and got behind Turner. The Pride center back attempted to win it back as Le Sommer charged in on goal, but the late tackle from behind caused Le Sommer to go down and referee John Matto pointed to the spot.
There were questions about whether Turner actually got the ball. As Harris was receiving treatment prior to the penalty, Turner appealed to the referee to watch the replay on the video board. But the decision had been made.
Whether it was the delay or Harris’ recent success with penalties, it was a poor attempt by Fishlock. It was at a perfect height for Harris, who was able to block the shot for her fifth consecutive penalty save.
A bad giveaway by Turner gave the Reign another great opportunity in the 69th minute. The center back was too nonchalant with the ball, allowing Bethany Balcer to challenge her. Attempting to avoid the turnover, she played it softly in front of Le Sommer, giving the French striker a golden chance. However, Krieger did well to get her body on Le Sommer in the box, forcing her to take a poor touch wide of the goal.
Just 10 minutes later, Green made an attacking sub as the Pride looked to get back into the game. As Abi Kim came on for Kylie Strom, the Reign mounted yet another attack. Substitute Balcer set up Sofia Huerta at the top of the box, with the latter firing on goal. It was a low, strong shot on target, but Harris was able to get down and make the one-handed save.
While the Reign dominated the chances in the second half, the Pride did have some opportunities to get back into the game. In the 74th minute, Marisa Viggiano sent a lovely ball towards the head of Kornieck. The midfielder got her head to it but sent it over the crossbar.
They had another good chance in injury time when a Meggie Dougherty Howard free kick flew into the box. Gunny Jonsdottir headed it on for Kim, who was charging on goal, but she was unable to control it. The ball bounced off her chest and went wide of the post. That was the final chance for the Pride as they fell 2-0.
“For starters, I want to say I’m really proud of this group,” team captain Harris said after the game. “We fought to the very end. And even though we didn’t get the result, and that’s clearly disappointing, I’m very proud of the way the team has reacted to this week and the last few weeks.”
The possession in this game was quite even, with the Reign holding a slight advantage (50.8%-49.2%). The teams also had an almost identical number of passes, with Pride completing three more (388-385). The difference in this game was the number and quality of chances created by each team. The Reign dominated the Pride in shots (18-7) and shots on target (12-0). If not for the 10 saves made by Harris, the final score could’ve been much worse for the hosts.
“I think overall structure,” Harris said about the team’s lack of chances created in the game. “And preparation is key. I don’t know that we’ve necessarily been prepped and I think confidence is based on preparation. And I think we’re lacking that.”
The loss sees the Pride continue their current slide, which includes four losses in five games. It’s a shifting situation with new ownership taking over this week and a new interim coach arriving in the near future to replace Marc Skinner, who resigned on Friday.
“I’m looking forward to someone coming in with new energy and new guidance, a new perspective to help carry this team for the rest of the season,” Harris said about the coaching change. “Because we have an incredible group of female players, an incredible staff and ownership.”
“These kids have been tremendous,” Harris said of her teammates. “They have had a tough week, to say the least. And they showed up every single day and they put their head down and they wore it like professionals.”
While it was a tough week for the players, it was also tough for Green. Skinner’s immediate departure meant that Green, who had also resigned, would lead the team for the only time against the Reign.
“I think what they showed was togetherness as a set of players,” Green said about the team. “You look at the end of that game and how hard they worked for each other. And the spirit they showed. I just think it will bode so well for the team going forward for the rest of the season.”
The Pride will look to rebound next Saturday when they travel to North Carolina to take on the Courage at 7 p.m.