The Orlando Pride (5-5-6, 21 points) fell 2-1 to the Washington Spirit (6-5-4, 22 points) in Washington, D.C. this afternoon. Ashley Sanchez scored an 89th-minute winner from distance to sink the Pride. The loss is Becky Burleigh’s first in four games as the team’s interim head coach (1-1-2).
Orlando led on Marta’s second-half strike and seemed in good position to get a road win when the roof caved in, starting with a poor clearance by Kylie Strom that handed Pride-killer Ashley Hatch an easy equalizer. Then Sanchez’s late unstoppable shot prevented Orlando from even getting a point. Orlando fell to 0-1-2 in the season series after drawing 1-1 in the previous two league match-ups against Washington.
The Pride only made one change from the team’s 1-1 draw against the Portland Thorns last weekend as Meggie Dougherty Howard entered the lineup, replacing Phoebe McClernon. The move pushed Courtney Petersen back to her natural left back position. Strom also returned to the bench after missing last week with an excused absence.
The Spirit saw their Olympic medalists return for this game. However, Kelley O’Hara (United States), Emily Sonnett (United States), and Julia Roddar (Sweden) all started the game on the bench.
The first good chance of the game came in the seventh minute when a Spirit cross found the head of Hatch, who has a knack for scoring against the Pride. She got her header on goal but it was right at Ashlyn Harris, who made the easy save.
Dorian Bailey nearly gave the Spirit the lead in the 13th minute when she got behind Amy Turner. Aiming for the far post, the ball got behind the diving Harris, but skipped just wide of the target.
It appeared as though the Spirit would take the lead in the 22nd minute when Trinity Rodman came inches away from opening the scoring. After a long run got her in behind the Pride defense, the forward fired from a tough angle. Harris went down and made the save, but the rebound went right back to Rodman. Her second shot attempt beat Harris high but the ball slammed off the crossbar.
In the 27th minute, Rodman created another chance from the opposite side of the field. After muscling past Ali Riley, the forward was able to get a shot off. Harris seemed surprised that Rodman attempted the shot as it nearly beat her near post. However, the Pride were once again saved by the woodwork as the ball bounced off the post, keeping the game scoreless.
While the first half was dominated by the Spirit, the Pride grew into the match in the final 15 minutes of the opening 45 and had a couple of opportunities late. In the 41st minute, Petersen’s cross was deflected and nearly beat Aubrey Bledsoe, but landed on top of the net.
A minute later, Sydney Leroux got sent through on goal. Bledsoe was able to block the first shot, which went right back to Leroux. The former Pride goalkeeper got down to make the second save with her leg, sending it out of play.
Rodman was the most dangerous player in the first half and that continued into the second. In the 51st minute, the teenage forward made a nice run down the right and found enough space to take a shot on goal. Her shot was searching for the back post but rolled just wide.
In the 63rd minute, Rodman had another chance when she carried the ball into the box. As she got closer to the endline, her angle narrowed and she ended up sending the ball into the side netting. It was fortunate for the Pride because Rodman had two teammates in the box with her and passing up the shot might have resulted in the game’s first goal.
The Spirit had failed to convert on some excellent chances and the Pride made them pay. In the 68th minute, Marta received the ball from Jodie Taylor in what seemed like an innocuous space. However, it was Marta who received it and she took advantage of the situation. The midfielder shot toward the corner, knocking the ball off the post and in for the game’s opening goal.
“I remember she just got it in the middle of the field, was able to turn, face, and take an incredible shot from outside the 18,” Marisa Viggiano said about Marta’s goal after the game. “And I think she, this entire game, was really dangerous with the ball on her feet like always.”
The Pride were fortunate to have the lead but it didn’t last long. In the 70th minute, a Kelley O’Hara ball into the box was blocked by a sliding Strom — who had subbed on for Petersen — near the far post. Unfortunately, the clearance attempt was poor and the ball went directly to Hatch, who put it in for the quick equalizer.
“We just gave them an easy goal,” Gunny Jonsdottir said about the equalizer. “Simple as that. We knew that five minutes after a goal, it’s kind of weather the storm and we didn’t do that. I think we need to learn from that.”
The goal was Hatch’s seventh in nine games against the Pride as a member of the Spirit, and her third against the Pride this regular season. She scored one in each of the three meetings during the 2021 NWSL campaign.
The Pride were able to create some chances in the dying minutes with a couple of nice crosses by Ali Krieger and Strom. However, nobody was able to get on the end of those balls and they went harmlessly through the box.
The inability to convert on those chances costs the Pride as the Spirit went the other way. After taking the shot herself earlier in the half, Rodman passed up the difficult angle in the 89th minute. From the top of the box, Sanchez took the pass in some space, easily stepped around Taylor Kornieck, and took a long shot on goal. She beat Harris to the corner, giving the Spirit the late winner.
“We were just too soft,” Burleigh said about the game-winner. “I mean, you cannot give a player of her caliber that kind of time and space.”
While the Pride were dominated in the first half, they ended up leading multiple statistical categories, including possession (59.8%-40.2%), duels won (41-34), passing accuracy (81.1%-74%), total passes (503-342), crosses (24-14), and corners (6-3). The problem came in the final third as the Spirit recorded more shots (20-12) and shots on target (7-4).
“That was a tough one to swallow,” Burleigh said after the game. “You know, I felt like we kind of grew into the game and felt pretty good about where we were and then, credit to them for coming back and for scoring the two goals, because I felt like that was a game that was ready for us to take. So, disappointed with the result, but at the same time, I think we’ll find some good things in there about the way that we played.”
The loss sees the Pride move from fifth to sixth in the NWSL, the final playoff position this season. However, they’re even on points with Gotham FC for fifth and are only one point behind the Spirit and OL Reign, who sit in third and fourth, respectively.
The Pride will take the field again next Sunday when they take on Gotham FC in New Jersey.