The Orlando Pride (4-2-4, 16 points) needed a late equalizer by Sydney Leroux to draw 1-1 with Racing Louisville FC (3-4-2, 11 points). The draw broke a two-game losing streak and placed the Pride even on points with the North Carolina Courage atop the NWSL standings for the time being.
The Pride had three of their regular back line starting in this game. Ali Riley is still with the team before she departs for the Olympics. Ali Krieger was questionable heading into the game after leaving injured just before the half against the Courage last weekend, but she played every minute in this one. A difference in this game was the 4-3-3 formation, with Taylor Kornieck and Crystal Thomas joining Leroux up top. Erika Tymrak also received her second start of the year and her first at home.
It was a slow start for the Pride as Louisville had most of the early possession. The visitors primarily played down the right with Lauren Milliet and Erin Simon picking on the Pride’s starting left back, Courtney Petersen.
While Louisville had most of the early chances, it was the Pride that nearly struck first. In the 10th minute, Crystal Thomas picked out Tymrak at the far post. In her second start of the season, Tymrak was able to get a shot off but it was deflected over the crossbar.
After coming close on multiple occasions, Louisville finally broke through in the 21st minute. Cece Kizer played a long ball for Ebony Salmon, who beat Toni Pressley with her long run. Krieger was able to get back to cover the striker, but was quickly pushed out of the way and Salmon put the shot in the far corner.
Five minutes later, the Pride had their best chance of the first half. After failing to find space through Louisville’s back line, Leroux found Kornieck on the opposite side of the box. The midfielder got a shot off but it was blocked, ending the attack.
“I think we had a very poor first half in terms of winning our individual battles, the one-v-ones, it was too easy,” Riley said after the game. “Our organization was all over the place. They looked like a World Cup team, you know, and we looked like amateurs so I think we got a good talking to in the locker room.”
“We didn’t have the character in the first half as a group,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said about the first half. “Needed to spend time on the ball on a Louisville team who quite clearly, with the ability that they have, were going to unlock us through the counter attack. So that’s what happened obviously for the goal.”
While there weren’t many good chances in the first half, there were even fewer in the second 45 minutes.
Louisville did have some opportunities in the 54th and 57th minutes, but Milliet and Salmon were caught offside. The Pride’s offside trap worked again in the 71st minute when it caught McCaskill too far forward.
The first good chance in the second half for the Pride came in the 79th minute when Abi Kim sent a long cross into the box. Louisville had two defenders in the area but Leroux went charging into the six. She won the ball, but it traveled just wide of the post.
Leroux had another chance in the 83rd minute. After her first cross was blocked, Riley sent a second ball to the far post. Leroux was all alone to head it on goal, but the soft header was directly at Louisville goalkeeper Michelle Betos, who easily collected it.
It appeared as though the Pride were going to lose their third consecutive game until they found the equalizer. In the fourth minute of injury time, Ashlyn Harris sent a desperate ball into the box. The ball traveled through multiple players, just getting over the head of Kornieck, and it fell to the feet of Leroux near the back post. The striker’s first touch was a half-volley to the far corner for the last-minute equalizer.
“I think we just sent everyone up and she (Harris) put a great ball in,” Leroux said about her goal. “To be honest, I have no idea what happened. I blacked out. And the next thing you know, the ball was in the back of the net. So no, we haven’t really worked on that but hey, it worked.”
The Pride goal was only the team’s second shot on target. However, Louisville only had one shot on target, the opening goal in the first half. The Pride ended up outshooting the visitors 8-5 in the 90 minutes, with only five of those total shots coming in the second half.
“We told them to hold our shape better to be more disciplined in midfield, so that we’re not leaving huge spaces,” Skinner said about his halftime speech. “And once we had that, we have more control and it was a slightly better second half.”
Louisville had the majority of possession in the first half, keeping the ball 55.2% of the time. The Pride were better in the second half, maintaining possession for 52.5% of the second half. In the end, Louisville out-possessed the Pride by a slim margin of 51.5% to 48.5%.
A major factor in this game was the lack of accurate balls in the final third. Louisville was better in the first half, with a passing accuracy of 79.5%. However, both teams hovered around 70% passing accuracy for the game, with many of those inaccurate passes coming on the opponent’s end of the field.
“There’s no hiding that that’s our worst performance as a team,” Skinner said after the game. “But the take home for us is that we have a spirit where the players never give up. And when you have a spirit like that you can build and build and build.”
While this was likely the worst outing of the 2021 season for the Pride, it showed once again that the team refuses to give up when the game appears lost. It’s something Skinner has spoken about on a weekly basis and tonight it earned the team a much-needed point.
“I think that’s been the biggest difference for us, is we always feel like we can come back,” Leroux said about the team’s resilience. “We always feel like we can play ourselves back into any game, and I feel like we’ve done that this season and we need to continue to push. And I feel like, you know, it’s never over when you’re playing the Pride.”
Leroux’s goal allowed the Pride to end a two-game losing streak that included a 2-1 loss to the Houston Dash and a 2-0 loss to the Courage. While the Pride are even on points with North Carolina at the top of the NWSL standings, the Courage have two games in hand and will play the Washington Spirit tomorrow. The Pride will take the field again next Sunday night when they take on the Portland Thorns in Oregon at 10:30 p.m.