The Orlando Pride (5-10-7, 22 points) ended their 2022 NWSL campaign with a 3-0 loss to OL Reign (11-4-7, 40 points), getting dominated from start to finish and closing the season on a six-match winless streak (0-5-1). Megan Rapinoe, Jordyn Huitema, and Bethany Balcer gave the Reign a three-goal lead inside 31 minutes and held it for the remainder of the game. With the win, OL Reign jumped over Portland and won the NWSL Shield.
Pride Interim Head Coach Seb Hines made two changes to the team that drew 2-2 with San Diego Wave FC last weekend. Celia and Thais Reiss started this game on the bench, replaced by Kylie Strom and Darian Jenkins.
The back four in front of Erin McLeod was Courtney Petersen, Carrie Lawrence, Toni Pressley, and Kylie Strom. Megan Montefusco and Haley Hanson shared the defensive midfield for the second-consecutive game behind Gunny Jonsdottir, Meggie Dougherty Howard, and Darian Jenkins. Leah Pruitt started the game up top.
OL Reign took control of the game in the second minute and didn’t let up. The Pride were slow in defense, had poor clearances, and were unable to maintain control of the ball. As a result, the game was pretty much over in the 31st minute when the Reign increased their lead to three goals.
The hosts had the game’s first chance in the second minute when a good ball by Huitema looking for Rose Lavelle was cleared out of play by Pressley for a corner kick. The ensuing corner ended up at the foot of Quinn, but the shot was blocked by Lawrence.
The Reign got a second good chance when Lawrence lost the ball in her own end, creating a chance for Jess Fishlock, but the shot was wide. In the fifth minute, Quinn found Balcer out wide and the forward played a great cross for an unmarked Rose Lavelle. It appeared that Lavelle didn’t realize how much time she had, immediately heading it rather than bringing it down. However, she was a little further back and the header went just wide of the target.
OL Reign opened the scoring in the eighth minute, largely because of a Pride mistake. Quinn attempted to send the ball forward from a midfield position but it went right to Strom. The defender tried to clear the ball, but it went off the side of her foot and right to Huitema. The Canadian quickly played it into the middle where Rapinoe was left unmarked, on the quick counter, putting it past McLeod to give the Reign an early 1-0 lead.
“You dig yourself a hole eight minutes in. That’s pretty tough,” Montefusco said about conceding so early. “Especially knowing that they weren’t going to stop. We kind of felt that right out the gate. They were down our throats and I think we were saying to each other in those moments just stay composed and weather the storm. And the storm was continuing to come and we didn’t do that well, but that’s another learning experience for this young team.”
“I think we came out flat and our style of play, which I thought we did really well last game — we’re a pass-and-move type of team, short passes — we started a little bit frantic, including some of the passes that I made,” McLeod added. “And they had an incredible atmosphere here and I think we kind of started a little bit on our heels. We weren’t as sharp as usual.”
The hosts nearly doubled their lead in the 12th minute through a great individual effort by Balcer. Huitema found the forward at the top corner of the box. After a stepover to beat Petersen, Balcer tried to chip McLeod. She sent the ball just over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Fishlock sent a ball for Balcer in the box. Petersen was able to get her head to the ball, but sent it to Huitema in the center of the area. The attacker quickly got a shot off but sent the ball just wide.
The Pride finally got their first chance of the game in the 22nd minute. After Strom’s corner was cleared out of play by Reign goalkeeper Phallon Tullis-Joyce, the Pride took a second corner. This one allowed Lawrence to get a header towards goal but didn’t get much power on it and it was easily cleared. The Pride kept the ball in the Reign third and Pruitt ended up with a shot, but she took it with the outside of her foot. Instead of bending it inside the far post, she sent it well wide of the target.
Two minutes later, the Reign doubled their lead. Quinn picked up the ball at midfield and sent a long, low ball past the Pride defense. Huitema easily beat Pressley to the ball, dribbled around McLeod, and passed it into the net to give the hosts a 2-0 lead.
In the 31st minute, the Reign scored the third goal of the first half. Fishlock sent a great ball into the six-yard box from the left side where Balcer beat her defender to the face of goal. The forward volleyed the ball with her shin guard, but she didn’t need much to tap it in and give the hosts a commanding 3-0 lead.
The third goal was the last chance for either team. During the final 14 minutes of the half, OL Reign controlled most of the possession but weren’t in a hurry to go forward. When the Pride had possession, the Reign remained behind the ball and allowed the Pride to pass it around the back.
“This is why we play the game. This is why we grow up wanting to play these occasions and play in these stadiums with fans and against the top teams and I felt that we got a little bit of stage fright,” Hines said about the first half. “Almost deer in headlights kind of feelings.”
At the end of the first half, OL Reign had more possession (54%-46%), shots (9-2), shots on target (3-0), crosses (7-4), and passing accuracy (80.5%-78.4%). The only attacking statistic the Pride led in was corners (2-1) and both came during the same attack.
“It was just focused on the details,” Montefusco said about the halftime message. “Want the ball, get on the ball, check your shoulder, scan. I think we were just turning into people and they were playing faster and getting in the spaces quicker than we were and we were just playing a little bit too slow. So I think we just had to get on the ball and be confident on it and do the little things right and I think we definitely did that in the second half and picked up the speed of it to match their pace of the game.”
The Reign got the first chance of the second half in the 46th minute when Lawerence fouled Rapinoe, creating a free kick. The set piece ended up with Fishlock, who took a shot, but the shot aimed for the top left corner just missed.
Hines didn’t make any changes at halftime, but brought on three substitutes in the 56th minute. Julie Doyle, Celia, and Jordyn Listro entered the game for Pruitt, Pressley, and Hanson. He made another change in the 65th minute when Haley Bugeja came on for Jenkins.
The Reign got the second shot of the half in the 73rd minute when Tziarra King created a chance seconds after coming on for Rapinoe. Fishlock found the substitute on the left side and the forward used a nice touch to flick the ball over the head of the defender to find space. She was aiming for the far post but it missed wide.
The Pride finally got their third shot of the game in the 76th minute from Listro. The second-half substitute found enough space for a shot from outside of the box but it was right at Tullis-Joyce and didn’t provide any trouble for the Reign goalkeeper.
The Pride had a couple of chances late to get a goal in the game. In the 87th minute, Dougherty Howard took a shot from outside of the box but it sailed over the crossbar. Two minutes later, Celia found Kerry Abello in the box. The substitute got her head to the ball but sent it just wide of the near post.
The Pride had much more possession in the second half, resulting in the visitors ending the game with slightly more time on the ball (50.4%-49.6%) and better passing accuracy (76%-73.7%). But the Reign had more shots (14-5), shots on target (3-1), and crosses (10-8). Additionally, both teams ended the game with a pair of corner kicks.
“Obviously, disappointing start to the game,” Hines said about the performance. “It’s never good going three goals down at halftime. But I felt that we were better in the second half. But, you know, it was too late by that time.”
With Racing Louisville’s 1-0 win over the Kansas City Current earlier in the day, the Pride dropped to 10th in the standings, finishing one point behind Louisville. They ended the season three points ahead of the Washington Spirit and nine points ahead of NJ/NY Gotham FC.
“We spoke about them,” Hines said about what he said to the players after the game. “They’ve been through hell and they saw a bit of light when we were in that run. And the message was don’t let this last end of the season dictate how far you’ve come and what you’ve gone through and the adversity that you’ve shown and the togetherness that you’ve had to bring this group together and have a direction.”
The Pride’s seventh NWSL season is over and there will be more changes in this off-season. The roster, as it stands, was not good enough to consistently compete in 2022, especially against most of the league’s better teams. There are some holes to fill up and down the roster.
The off-season should be an interesting one.