The Orlando Pride (2-2-1, 7 points) were dominated by the Chicago Red Stars (2-1-0, 6 points), falling 4-2 at Exploria Stadium. The Pride didn’t get their first shot until the 61st minute, at which point they were trailing 2-0. A late flurry saw three goals and two penalty saves in six minutes before the game ended.
Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell displayed a much different team tonight compared to the one that played Wednesday night against the North Carolina Courage. The Courage were missing several key players due to COVID protocol, which allowed the Pride to come away with a 2-1 win earlier this week. Tonight, the team was similar to the one that beat Angel City FC and drew the Kansas City Current last weekend. The only difference was that Viviana Villacorta returned to the lineup, replacing Mikayla Cluff.
After claiming an unlikely point in North Carolina, the Pride were expected to have a great showing in front of their home crowd. But they were flat from the jump and were never a threat in the game, even when they scored two late goals.
“I think there’s some chemistry issues with the lineup,” Cromwell said after the game. “Actually, Michelle Akers turned to me right before the game and was like ‘I really liked this lineup.’ But it didn’t come to fruition. So I think we had a look at some of the partnerships and why they don’t work. Because clearly there was a partnership that didn’t work.”
Despite deploying a more experienced lineup, the Pride found themselves defending from the start. The game’s first attempt came in the second minute when a giveaway by Megan Montefusco allowed Yuki Nagasato to send Ava Cook into the box with a chip. The forward had the time to get a shot on goal, but it was well off target.
While Chicago played with high pressure early in the game, it was the poor passing by the Pride that created the most trouble. Rather than sending balls into spaces where a teammate could reach it, most balls went directly to the opposition. It was a problem that plagued the team all night.
After failing to convert on their first chance, the visitors opened the scoring in the 11th minute. For the second time, Chicago got behind the Pride defense as Zoe Morse played a through ball for Vanessa DiBernardo. The Red Stars captain played Sarah Griffith into the box right in front of goal. Carrie Lawrence blocked the initial shot, but it went right back to the midfielder and she put it in, giving the Red Stars the early lead.
Griffith got behind the Pride defense again in the 16th minute, sent through by Danielle Colaprico. She had a decent angle to shoot on Erin McLeod, but the shot wasn’t taken very well and she sent the ball well wide of the far post.
In the 22nd minute, Sydney Leroux turned the ball over on her own side of the field, resulting in a break by Chicago. Griffith’s shot from outside the box was on target, but McLeod did well to block it over the crossbar for a corner kick.
Former Pride forward Rachel Hill got in on the action for Chicago in the 25th minute, taking a shot from just outside the box. However, Lawrence was there again to make the block.
A minute later, DiBernardo took a shot that was blocked before regaining control of the ball and heading towards the end line. As a result, the midfielder’s second shot was from a very difficult angle and McLeod made the relatively easy save.
The Pride finally got a chance in the 29th minute when Courtney Petersen received the ball on the left and sent in a low cross. She had teammates in the box, but the cross wasn’t hit well and went straight to Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher. Leroux and Jenkins also had crosses in the 37th and 38th minutes, but both were easily cleared away.
A poor clearance by Celia just outside the box in the 42nd minute traveled into the middle of the field and Griffith took over directly in front of goal. Fortunately, Lawrence was there again to make a good challenge and Griffith was unable to get a shot off.
It was a dominant first-half performance by the Red Stars. At the break, they had more shots (7-0), shots on target (3-0), corners (1-0), passes (303-219), and better passing accuracy (85.8%-78.5%). The only stat led by the Pride were crosses (5-4) and duels won (20-19).
“The possession to me was the number one thing that caused the chaos in the first half,” Cromwell said after the game. “But I thought we were lucky to get out of there. One nil, I mean, right off the bat. I think they had a chance in the first five minutes.”
“I feel like we did come out a little slow,” forward Leah Pruitt added. “I don’t know if it’s like a lack of chemistry, because I think we all wanted to work for each other.”
Chicago started the second half where they left off the first, dominating possession and the chances. In the 53rd minute, halftime substitute Mallory Pugh dribbled through the Pride back line, finding enough space for a shot on goal. McLeod blocked the shot away, but it was right at Hill, who fired from close range and hit the post.
Just a minute later, the visitors did get their second goal. Bianca St. Georges was left with plenty of space on the right side of the Pride box and Pugh fed her the ball. The right back quickly shot on goal with no defenders near her, beating McLeod to her far post from a narrow angle.
It took 61 minutes before the Pride were finally able to get a shot off. Pruitt had space from long distance and decided to take a shot on goal. The shot wasn’t very close to the target, sailing well to the left, but it was the first attempt of the game for the home team.
The Red Stars got their third goal in the 64th minute. It started from an innocuous situation, with Amy Turner playing the ball out of the back. However, like many of the Pride’s passes in this game, the ball went straight to a Red Star. Pugh tipped the pass to Cook, who immediately gave it right back to her. Pugh’s accurate shot beat McLeod, making it 3-0 Chicago.
Pugh nearly scored another goal in the 69th minute. She found some space to the left of goal and fired on target, but McLeod did well to tip it over the crossbar.
It appeared as though the Pride might get one back in the 81st minute when Amanda Kowalski pulled Leroux down as she entered the box. The referee pointed to the spot and the Pride had the game’s first penalty.
Leroux stepped up to take the kick herself and appeared confident in her approach. However, it was a poorly taken penalty and didn’t take much for Naeher to make the stop. The goalkeeper guessed the right way and was able to block the kick with her leg, keeping the three-goal advantage.
The Pride were able to get one back two minutes later when Morse fouled Leroux just outside the box. Petersen stepped up to take the kick, sending it toward the far post. Turner was first to get her head to the ball, putting it past Naeher and making it 3-1.
The comeback didn’t last long as the Red Stars got their own penalty in the 85th minute. Receiving the ball in the box. Ella Stevens got behind the Pride defense and Petersen tripped her up near the corner of the box. The referee pointed to the spot and Chicago was issued a spot kick.
Pugh stepped up to the spot to take the kick. It was down the middle, allowing McLeod to block it away. Unfortunately, the ball went right back to Pugh, who quickly closed in and put it past her for her second goal of the game.
The wild sequence of events continued two minutes later when the Pride got its second goal. Abi Kim dribbled into the box near the end line, finding Pruitt between two defenders. The forward had a tough angle, but beat Naeher for her first Pride goal to cut the deficit to two.
“I’m a forward so I really want to score goals,” Pruitt said about the goal. “So it was nice to get my first one under my belt and hopefully there’s a lot more to come.”
The Pride continued to press in an attempt to score another goal before full time, but the attempted comeback was too late. That would be the last of the scoring as the Pride fell 4-2.
In the end, it was a dominant performance by the Red Stars. They had more possession (55.9%-44.1%), shots (14-5), shots on goal (9-3), corners (3-0), passes (492-376), and better passing accuracy (84.6%-78.2%). The Pride only ended the game with more crosses (11-8).
“Our passing percentage was poor, our pressure covered defense was poor, our ability to track. Obviously we had tired legs. We had three games this week, they did not, but there’s still no excuse for that at halftime,” Cromwell said after the game. “We rested players so we would be ready for this game. We had multiple players get minutes on the Wednesday game so the lack of energy is inexcusable.”
“We were watching the first 20 minutes and we’re like what is going on?” she continued. “It wasn’t even that we were under that much pressure. Some of the balls we were giving away. There was lack of movement for each other. It was very stagnant, very predictable, in the play. So it wasn’t just the player on the ball that was having an issue. I think our movement off the ball was poor. We didn’t work for each other, which is what we’ve been doing. The last three games we’ve been working really hard for each other. So that was lacking.”
“Tonight, we were really spread,” Montefusco added. “We didn’t have enough numbers around the ball defensively and offensively. So I think that it starts there. We need to work together. We can’t do this all individually and I think we kind of had some individual performances tonight and you can’t win in this league with just one or two people. You got to have numbers around the ball at all times.”
The Pride will now have to put this tough loss behind them and bounce back quickly. After playing three games in nine days, the team will have a short week as they host the Washington Spirit Friday night at Exploria Stadium. Cromwell says fans can expect a different lineup than the one that started tonight.
“We have to play a lot better for Friday, that’s for sure,” Cromwell said. “And the lineup will look different for sure.”