The Orlando Pride (7-5-7, 28 points) used goals by Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, and Marta to defeat Racing Louisville FC (4-9-5, 17 points) 3-1 tonight at Exploria Stadium. Morgan scored in her first game since June and Leroux came away with a goal and an assist as the Pride recorded their first ever win over Racing Louisville.
Pride Interim Head Coach Becky Burleigh made a couple of changes to the side for this game. Ashlyn Harris was out after suffering a neck injury during last week’s 1-1 draw with the Houston Dash, so Erin McLeod got the start in goal. Taylor Kornieck also joined the starting lineup this week after scoring against Houston, replacing Erika Tymrak. It was Kornieck’s first start since July 31 against the North Carolina Courage.
The first half hour looked like Louisville was the home team sitting in a playoff spot rather than the Pride. The visitors got off to a strong start, putting a lot of pressure on the Pride’s back line and their backup goalkeeper.
In the fifth minute, Savannah McCaskill sent a cross into the box for the dangerous striker, Nadia Nadim. The Danish international got her head to the ball, but sent it wide of the target.
Three minutes later, Amy Turner did well to block Jorian Baucom’s cross out for a corner. McCaskill sent the ensuing corner into a crowded box. McLeod got her hands on it first, but dropped it at the top of the six. Fortunately for the Pride, the attackers had already passed the goalkeeper, allowing her to easily collect it on the first bounce.
A scary moment occurred in the 15th minute when a collision sent Nadim to the ground. She tried to get up, but teammates and the Louisville medical staff instructed her to stay down. Eventually, the striker had to be stretchered off the field.
The injury seemed to spark Louisville as the visitors had multiple opportunities at goal shortly after. The free kick that followed the foul was punched out by McLeod, but only to the top of the box. With the goalkeeper down, CeCe Kizer attempted to chip the defense. However, Turner did well to get back and clear it away with her head.
A minute later, Louisville had a couple of chances right in front of the goal. Emily Fox’s shot was saved by McLeod. The rebound went to Lauren Milliet, who immediately fired on target. However, McLeod’s quick reaction allowed her to save the second shot, keeping the game scoreless.
In the first 27 minutes of play, Louisville had five shots with two on target, while the Pride had failed to get a shot off. It appeared as though it would be a long night for the hosts.
“I still felt like we started off a little slow and then we gained momentum, of course,” Leroux said about the start to the game. “But I think we can do better in the first 20 minutes.”
After nearly a half hour of pure domination by Louisville, the Pride came to life. The home side’s first shot came in the 28th minute when Marta sent a lovely ball toward the end line for Jodie Taylor. The striker set up Leroux at the top of the six but the shot soared high of the goal.
Two minutes later, Leroux got another chance and didn’t squander it. Sent in behind the defense on the left, Leroux was 1-v-1 with Louisville goalkeeper Michelle Betos, who made the save on the first shot. The Pride forward collected the rebound, dribbled to the top of the box, and sent a shot past Betos and inside the far post to make it 1-0.
“What so impresses me about Syd is just her relentlessness and that goal was such an epitome of that,” Burleigh said about Leroux’s goal. “She just stayed with it.”
The Pride doubled their lead in the 34th minute, and Leroux had another big part. After getting sent down the left again, Leroux sent a low cross into the box. Nealy Martin got her foot to the ball, but Marta was right there to collect it and put it past Betos, giving the Pride an unlikely 2-0 lead.
“I think we grinded it out a little bit in the beginning of the first half,” Morgan said. “But were able to pick it up once we got that first goal.”
“They played a really high line in the first half and we were able to expose that,” Leroux added. “I think that’s where our goals came from in the first half.”
The second half started similar to the way the first half did, with Louisville controlling possession. In fact, the Pride had trouble getting the ball to the halfway line in the first 10 minutes of the second period.
Shots by Milliet and Yuki Nagasato were blocked inside the 49th and 51st minutes before Louisville finally broke through.
In the 51st minute, Nagasato’s blocked shot went right back to her. Phoebe McClernon was tracking Kizer’s run, but the Louisville midfielder got goalside, leaving McClernon behind. Nagasato timed her ball perfectly, sending Kizer through on goal. The midfielder’s first touch was a chip past McLeod, cutting the Pride lead in half.
Louisville continued to push forward after the goal, looking for an equalizer. Fox had a shot blocked in the 55th minute before Kizer hit the target in the 56th. However, Kizer’s shot was directly at McLeod for the easy save. The stop by McLeod allowed the Pride to clear for the first time in the half and ended the sustained attack by Louisville.
The 61st minute saw the return of Morgan, who hadn’t played for the Pride since June 26 against the Houston Dash. It was a big lift for the Pride and the star striker made her presence felt early.
In the 65th minute, Leroux carried the ball near the Louisville box and sent a pass aimed for Morgan. Freja Olofsson blocked the pass but it went right back to Leroux. Her second attempt to connect with Morgan was successful and the U.S. international sent a lovely shot toward the far post, pushing the Pride lead back to two.
Beautiful first touch from Alex Morgan pic.twitter.com/empx6OMREm— National Women’s Soccer League (@NWSL) September 12, 2021
“I was happy to come in and get a goal as well,” Morgan said about her goal. “Get on the scoresheet and just get back to playing with the team because it’s just been way too long.”
The Pride’s third goal took a lot out of the visitors and they were unable to create the same attack they had before the goal. The best chance following Morgan’s strike came from the Pride in the 85th minute. Marta’s corner was redirected by Leroux, who was looking for her second of the night. However, the header was wide of the target.
With a two-goal lead, the Pride were able to hold onto possession for much of the last 10 minutes, holding on for an important 3-1 win.
“A great way to get into a little time off period for us, a brief time off period,” Burleigh said about her team’s performance. “I thought some of the goals were really great efforts. To have Alex score on her return, that’s amazing. I thought Syd really, really battled on the goal that she scored. To get Parker (Roberts) her debut. And just to kind of have a full team effort again. I think this team continues to show their resilience. We gave up a goal but didn’t panic, and were able to continue to apply the pressure and go ahead by (two).”
Despite Louisville dominating the first 30 minutes, the Pride ended up leading most statistical categories, including blocked shots (5-0), duels won (45-35), and passes (448-440). While possession was nearly even (50.1%-49.9%), Louisville ended up with more shots (12-6) and corners (5-2).
The big difference in this game was the shooting accuracy of both teams. While Louisville only put four of its 12 shots on target, the Pride put four of their six shots on the frame and converted three times.
It’s a big three points for the Pride, especially after the Washington Spirit were forced to forfeit their scheduled game this weekend against OL Reign due to COVID-19 protocol violations. The Pride are now alone in fourth, two points ahead of the Chicago Red Stars and one point behind the Courage for third.
“Every game is so important at this point,” Morgan said about getting all three points. “We want to have the best finish possible to get a higher ranking in the playoffs. So all the points matter. There’s a lot of ties going on in the league, Reign just picked up a win from a forfeit of Washington, so we knew that we have to keep climbing the table, getting points that we need, especially at home behind our fans. So this was a very important game for us.”
The Pride will now receive an extended break, not playing again until Sept. 26 when they travel west to take on OL Reign.