The Orlando Pride (0-4-2, 2 points) held off a furious second half attack by NJ/NY Gotham FC (1-2-3, 6 points) to claim a 1-1 draw in their final 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup game. It’s the team’s second point of the tournament and ends a four-game losing streak.
Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell made several changes to the team from its 4-2 loss to the North Carolina Courage last week. Kaylie Collins made her Pride debut in goal after Anna Moorhouse started the last three games, and Kerry Abello got her first start for the team. Additionally, Gunny Jonsdottir and Angharad James returned to the starting lineup after the former started from the bench against the Courage and the latter was away on international duty.
After Gotham sent the opening kickoff long to Collins, the Pride dominated possession early. However, it was the hosts that got the early chances on goal. Kristie Mewis took the first shot from 35 yards out and Ifeoma Onumonu created a second chance in the eighth minute. But both attempts were at Collins for her first two professional saves.
A scary situation occurred in the fourth minute when Jonsdottir went down injured after a collision. The Pride have already lost Marta for the season and Sydney Leroux and Erin McLeod suffered injuries during the Challenge Cup. Fortunately, Jonsdottir was able to recover and return.
As Jonsdottir ran back onto the field in the 10th minute, the Pride prepared to take their first corner of the game. James’ corner found the head of Jonsdottir inside the six-yard box and the midfielder put it past Ashlyn Harris for the game’s first goal. It was the first time the Pride had led in the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup.
“It was a great ball from Ang,” Jonsdottir said about the goal. “All I had to do was just redirect it. So credit to her.”
The Pride scored four goals in this year’s Challenge Cup with all coming in the first 15 minutes of a half. However, the team continued pressuring Gotham throughout the half, even if it didn’t result in more goals.
In the 15th minute, James found Leah Pruitt in the box. In her second straight start, Pruitt tried to get her head to the ball, but it was a little too high. Four minutes later, Pruitt sent a ball into the box for Jonsdottir. Unfortunately, the ball was just behind her and Gotham was able to clear.
In the 25th minute, Toni Pressley attempted a half volley from the top of the box that was deflected out of play for a Pride corner kick. That was the first of four consecutive corner kicks for the Pride as they kept the pressure on in the Gotham third of the field.
The Pride’s inability to finish those opportunities nearly cost them five minutes later. In the 32nd minute, the defense was unable to successfully clear the ball, resulting in a scramble in the box. Eventually, Onumonu got her foot to it but sent the ball wide of the right post.
Gotham had a shout for a penalty in the 39th minute when Celia made contact with Paige Monaghan in the box. The Gotham attacker threw her arms into the air as the referee waved his finger back and forth, indicating that there was nothing in the tackle.
Monaghan took out her frustration about the call on the other end by taking down Abello. However, this decision gave the Pride a golden opportunity with a free kick near the top of the Gotham box. Three potential takers were standing over the ball, with Pressley eventually taking the free kick. She took a strong shot but it was well high of the target, causing no trouble for Harris.
After being denied a penalty six minutes earlier, Gotham got their spot kick in the 45th minute. Onumonu carried the ball into the box along the end line and Pressley picked her up during the run. As the two got tangled, Onumonu went down and the referee pointed to the spot.
It was the fifth time that Pressley has conceded a penalty since joining the Pride in 2016. The second most number of penalties conceded in Pride history is Ali Krieger’s two.
Mewis stepped up to the ball and, after a few deep breaths, directed the penalty kick toward the left corner. Collins guessed the right direction, but the shot was just beyond her reach, evening the game at 1-1.
Four minutes into first half injury time, Gotham nearly took the lead. Onumonu turned Pressley near the top of the box and fired toward the far corner. The ball got beyond Collins’ outstretched arm, but skipped just past the post, allowing the Pride to reach halftime tied.
“It’s hard that we concede a goal right before half,” Jonsdottir said after the game. “But that’s the game. We had to keep our focus and we could have gotten one. It still could have gone either way.”
The game was quite even in the first 45 minutes. Gotham had a slight lead in possession (50.6%-49.4%) and both teams had eight shots. However, the Pride had more corners (7-1), crosses (19-7), duels won (21-19), and tackles won (6-4). Gotham had more shots on target (3-1), passes (191-172), and better passing accuracy (73.3%-69.2%).
“I was really confident heading into halftime,” Cromwell said after the game. “And there’s times we’ve come out and been good in the second half when we’ve had a poor first half.”
While the game was pretty even in the first half, the second 45 minutes was all Gotham. The attack by the hosts started early and they maintained the pressure throughout the final period of play.
The two most dangerous players for Gotham were Kumi Yokoyama and Monaghan. In the 50th minute, Yokoyama sent a dangerous ball across the box, but it was just beyond the reach of both Onumonu and Monaghan.
Five minutes later, it was Monaghan who sent a cross into the box. The ball was a bit too high for Onumonu, but the striker was able to get the top of her head on it and redirect it to the top of the box. The ball went straight to a waiting Yokoyama, who half-volleyed it toward goal. It appeared to be blocked by Jonsdottir on the way out of play but the referee issued a goal kick.
In the 60th minute, Yokoyama had another chance closer to goal. Her shot from the right wasn’t hit well and headed toward the center of the box. While Gotham players were awaiting its arrival, Collins responded quickly, coming out to collect it.
In the 64th minute, Abello shielded Caprice Dydasco to the left of goal. She attempted to send the ball past Harris, but the former Pride captain made herself big and blocked the shot with her left foot.
A minute later, the Pride’s rookie goalkeeper showed that she was equal to the task. McCall Zerboni sent Onumonu between Megan Montefusco and Pressley, giving the Nigerian international a breakaway on goal. While Abello used the wrong foot to shoot, the more experienced Omumonu attempted to curl it around Collins. But the rookie did well to come off her line to make the stop.
Gotham came inches away from taking the lead again in the 78th minute. Catching the Pride defenders too far up field, Mewis sent a long ball to Monaghan who got behind the defense. Before Pressley could catch up, Monaghan took a hard shot from the left of goal. The ball beat Collins but slammed off the crossbar.
The strength of the shot allowed it to reach Nahomi Kawasumi on the other side. The hosts immediately worked the ball around, looking for another chance. Less than a minute after hitting the post, quick passing by Gotham resulted in a Monaghan cross into the six. Mewis beat the defenders to the ball and redirected it on goal, but Collins made a great reaction save, blocking it away.
While Gotham got most of the chances, the Pride did have some periods of play in the second half. In the 81st minute, Courtney Petersen sent Kylie Strom into the box. The substitute found Abi Kim, but her shot was right at Harris.
Two minutes later, Darian Jenkins attempted to lose Dydasco and free up some space to shoot on goal. The defender did well to stay with her and, when Jenkins finally did shoot, Dydasco was in place to block it.
As time wound down, the Pride were fiercely defending, trying to claim their second point of the Challenge Cup. Meanwhile, Gotham was full of confidence and kept up the attacking pressure.
In the 87th minute, Monaghan found Cam Tucker streaking behind the Pride back line. The substitute’s first touch was a shot from the top of the box, but it sailed well high of the goal. A minute later, it was Tucker looking to connect with a teammate. She sent a cross into the box, but Pressley was there to clear it away for a corner kick.
The final good chance for Gotham came in the 90th minute. Mewis found Monaghan darting behind the Pride defense and Monaghan sent a cross toward Onumonu. But Pressley stepped in front and cleared it away.
Unfortunately, the ball fell right to Mewis who continued her run after the initial pass. The U.S. international took the ball to the right, cutting down her angle, but found some space between two defenders. The ball got past Collins but skipped wide of the far post, allowing the Pride to see out a difficult draw.
In the end, Gotham ended up dominating possession (56.1%-43.9%). However, the other statistical categories showed the game to be quite close. Gotham led in shots (16-14), total passes (484-368), and passing accuracy (76.7%-66.8%), but the Pride had more corners (8-4) and both teams put four shots on target.
“It was a tale of two halves,” Cromwell said about the game. “And that happens in our game sometimes. And that’s what you have to do, get a second to really get the momentum. Take the wind out of their sails a little bit.”
“Some of these players haven’t played a full 90 and they’ve been kind of coming off the bench as reserves,” Cromwell added. “So we knew there was gonna be some tired legs in the second half.”
The big difference in the game was the fact that Gotham was unable to get most of its shots on frame. After putting three of eight shots on target in the first half, the hosts only put one of nine shots on target in the second half.
The fact that the Pride only gave up one goal in this game is a positive heading into the regular season. After strong defensive performances in the first three games, the team had given up four goals in each of the last two contests.
“It was definitely a rough second half,” Jonsdottir said. “They were pretty much down our throat most of the second half but our back line and everyone on the field gave everything to jump in front of every shot, to block crosses, do everything we could to keep it from going into the net. And we succeeded. I think that’s a win for us. Conceding four in the last two games, I think the team can be really proud. We gave everything to not concede more.”
After a tough preseason tournament, the teams will now look ahead to the more important regular season. With the Challenge Cup now behind them, both teams will fly to Orlando and meet again next Sunday at Exploria Stadium.