The Orlando Pride (0-1-0, 0 points) began their 2022 NWSL regular season tonight with a 3-0 loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC (1-0-0, 3 points) at Exploria Stadium. The visitors scored three goals in 11 minutes late in the first half to seal the game before halftime. McCall Zerboni, Midge Purce, and Kristie Mewis accounted for the scoring and the Pride remain winless in NWSL regular-season openers (0-4-2).
Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell displayed almost the exact lineup that drew Gotham FC last weekend in New Jersey. The only difference in the lineup was the return of starting goalkeeper Erin McLeod, who missed the last four games of the Challenge Cup due to an injury. Sydney Leroux and Erika Tymrak also returned from injury but started the game on the bench.
The Pride won a corner in the seventh minute when Estelle Johnson cleared the ball out of play. But rather than creating a dangerous chance on the set piece, the Pride took a short corner toward midfield, which was quickly won by Ifeoma Onumonu. The Gotham striker appeared to have a breakaway into the Pride half, but Celia did well to catch her and clear it away.
Gotham got its first chance on goal two minutes later when Mewis found Purce to the left of goal. The dangerous attacker fired a shot but missed to the left. Purce had a chance to set up a chance in the 13th minute when she sent a dangerous ball into the box, but this one was cleared away.
A minute later, Imani Dorsey sent a cross into the box that ended up more like a shot. The ball sailed toward the Pride goal, forcing McLeod to tip it over the crossbar for another Gotham corner.
After about 10 minutes of dominant play by the visitors, the Pride started to find their way into the game. It started in the 17th minute when Angharad James found herself with the ball at the top of the box. She took a shot but it was blocked.
The ensuing corner ended up with Mikayla Cluff at the top of the box. The rookie took her own shot at goal but it rolled wide of the target.
In the 20th minute, Leah Pruitt sent a ball into the box from the right looking for Gunny Jonsdottir in front of goal. The midfielder slid into the ball, redirecting it towards the far post. However, it went just wide and another excellent Pride chance went by.
Two minutes later, Kerry Abello sent a low cross into the box looking for Jonsdottir. The ball just missed the midfielder and Gotham goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris was able to clear it away.
Then it was Darian Jenkins sending a dangerous ball into the box for Abello. The two midfielders were the best attacking players for the Pride in the first half and nearly connected for the first goal but it was just beyond Abello’s reach.
The Pride seemed to be the closest to scoring as the half hour mark neared, but that’s when Gotham took over. A bad giveaway by Cluff in the 28th minute allowed Onumonu to take a long distance shot. But McLeod was up to the task and made the save.
The ensuing corner kick resulted in the game’s first goal. Mewis took the set piece, sending the ball into the box. It found the head of Gotham captain Zerboni, who redirected the ball on goal, giving Gotham the lead.
It didn’t take long for the visitors to score their second. Off a throw-in, Dorsey sent a long ball behind the Pride defense. Purce beat Toni Pressley to the ball, gaining a breakaway on goal. The veteran kept her cool, dribbling around the oncoming McLeod, and placing it inside the far post.
The Pride did get a couple of opportunities following Gotham’s second goal. In the 35th minute, James sent a free kick into the box but it was over everyone. Three minutes later, quick passing by Jenkins and Pruitt allowed the latter to get off a cross. However, it was blocked away and the Pride were unable to get a shot.
Gotham effectively put the game away in the 41st minute. Purce sent a cross into the box that reached Mewis on the far side. The U.S. international’s second touch allowed her to avoid the coming Megan Montefusco and provided space to shoot. The shot was toward the far post where it beat McLeod and nestled into the net, making it 3-0 Gotham.
“It definitely is hard,” Pruitt added about the three quick goals. “I think I tried to just forget about it and move on and we had the momentum in the beginning, so it sucks to get a goal against and then to try to switch it and stay positive and keep going down their throats. But once you get another one it’s draining. And the third one really was a heartbreaker. But I think we did fine in the second half.”
The first half wasn’t as lopsided as the score line. Gotham had more possession (54.3%-45.7%), but both teams had six shots. The primary difference was that the visitors put four of their six shots on goal and the Pride only got one on target.
“We had some of our best building moments out of the back and created some chances early on the first 30,” Cromwell said after the game. “I think right before their first goal, we had some chances. Again, we can’t let one goal affect us.”
“I think it would have been a way different game if we finished those chances in those, like, first 30 minutes,” Pruitt added. “But yeah, we’ve just got to keep working on it and those finishes.”
With a 3-0 lead, Gotham didn’t push much as the second half began. The first chance of the half came in the 53rd minute when Jenkins did well to win the ball in the Gotham half. However, she took a long-distance shot on goal that never really had a chance. It was on target, but Harris had no trouble collecting it.
The Pride had another chance in the 57th minute when halftime substitute Carrie Lawrence sent a free kick into the box. It found the head of Pressley but the header was wide and caused no trouble for Gotham.
A scary moment occurred a minute later. A seemingly innocuous ball for James saw the midfielder reach her leg out for it. After touching the ball, James immediately went down holding her right ankle. While it initially appeared bad, she soon got up and was able to resume.
After an injury kept her out for the final three games of the Challenge Cup, Leroux entered the game at halftime for Cluff. She got her first good chance in the 65th minute when a long ball by Lawrence sent her toward the end line. Leroux pulled the ball back and fired but her first shot was blocked. She immediately gained control of the ball for a second shot, but that one was right at Harris.
The Pride got another good look in the 67th minute when a blocked cross was headed across by Pruitt for Courtney Petersen. The left back had plenty of time to take a shot but not enough accuracy to put it on goal.
The Pride had a great chance in the 76th minute to get their first goal of the season when Jenkins played the ball across for Leroux near the penalty spot. The forward quickly took a shot on goal but it was just over the crossbar.
The Pride’s final chance of the game was also their best. In the 87th minute, Pressley sent a low cross into the box that found Leroux near the penalty spot. It was a little behind the halftime substitute, who tipped it back to James coming across the field. The Welsh international was set up for a clear shot on goal and attempted to curl it around Harris. But the former Pride captain did well to get down and make the save.
With a 3-0 lead at halftime, Gotham was happy to sit back and defend. As a result, the visitors only took one shot in the second half and it was off target. They were outshot 10-1 in the final 45 minutes but were able to keep the Pride off the scoresheet.
In the end, the Pride led in shots (16-7), corners (7-4), crosses (31-12), passing accuracy (82.4%-74.9%), and possession (50.5%-49.5%). However, the most important stat was that Gotham put four of its seven shots on target and the Pride only put four of their 16 shots on frame.
Cromwell has spoken multiple times this year about the team’s inability to put together a full 90 minutes. It was the same tonight, as the team was strong at points but a brief 11-minute period cost Orlando dearly.
“Obviously some frustration with those 10 minutes again and I think Seb (Hines) said very well in the huddle at the end,” Cromwell said. “We can’t let parts like 10 minutes, five minutes of games dictate how our season’s gonna go. We have to play a 90-minute game and we get to do that.
“We’ve talked to sports psychologists. We’ve talked about what kind of resources do they have in the moment. They have to be able to, either as a team, as a cohesive unit, say things to each other. Whether it’s holding each other accountable, make sure we’re still motivated and positive reinforcement, but also have individual tools to keep yourself out of that because I can almost see it happening. There’s a spiral mentally and we just had someone come talk to them about what kind of exercises they can do to get out of those moments. And so I think things aren’t going to happen overnight. But if we’re going to have chances in games to get a result we can’t have one goal be our downfall.”
The Pride’s three goals conceded is the most allowed in a regular-season opener since the team started in 2016.
A positive from the night is that Viviana Villacorta made her professional debut. The 2021 NWSL first-round draft pick (ninth overall) tore her ACL during her final season at UCLA and it’s been a long road back for the 23-year-old.
“She’s worked extremely hard to get back and you can see probably just by her movement, she’s fit,” Cromwell, Villacorta’s college coach at UCLA, said about her return. “She only played 20 minutes, but she’s fit. She’s agile. She’s quick. I think she reads the game very well. So, she’s someone that I think has a sophistication in the midfield to come in and help us and in and out of possession. She’s very dynamic.”
The Pride will look to shake off the season opening loss as they travel west to play expansion side Angel City FC in Los Angeles next Sunday night.