The Orlando Pride have made late comebacks in three of their first six games of the 2022 NWSL regular season. Two of those games ended in 2-2 draws, with the other falling short in a 4-2 loss to the Chicago Red Stars. The comebacks show the team’s resilience, but also indicate the Pride would have much better results if they could put together a full 90 minutes.
After losing to NJ/NY Gotham FC and beating Angel City FC in Los Angeles, the Pride returned home for their third game, welcoming the Kansas City Current. The game was scoreless until the 51st minute when Gunny Jonsdottir gave the hosts the lead. The team went into a defensive shell, looking to hold onto the lead for the next 40 minutes. However, the Pride conceded in the 78th minute and one minute into injury time, seeming to have lost the game.
Six minutes into injury time, Kylie Strom was taken down in the box. Initially, the referee didn’t call the foul and awarded a free kick outside the box. But an assistant referee indicated that Strom was fouled inside the box for a penalty. Toni Pressley stepped up and drilled the penalty into the roof of the net, allowing the Pride to come away with a 2-2 draw.
Two weeks later, the Pride returned home after a 2-1 win over the North Carolina Courage in Cary, NC. The opponent was the Chicago Red Stars, a team missing some of its key players. After displaying a secondary lineup in North Carolina, designed to rest some key players during a three-game week, Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell put out a lineup almost identical to the win over Angel City and draw against the Current.
The first 80 minutes was arguably the worst performance of the season from the Pride, conceding in the 11th, 54th, and 64th minutes. They likely would’ve conceded more if not for some excellent play by goalkeeper Erin McLeod and a couple of first-half blocks by Carrie Lawrence. The game seemed to be dying down to a 3-0 win for Chicago when it broke loose.
In the 81st minute, Sydney Leroux drove into the box and was taken down for a penalty. She stepped up to take the spot kick, but Alyssa Naeher made the stop on a poor attempt by the forward. Two minutes later, Amy Turner headed in a Courtney Petersen free kick, cutting the deficit to two. Mallory Pugh’s penalty in the 86th minute was saved by McLeod, but the Red Stars forward put in the rebound to make the score 4-1. However, the Pride didn’t give up. Just a minute later, Abi Kim set up Leah Pruitt in front of goal to make the final tally 4-2.
The most unlikely comeback came Saturday night when the Pride welcomed the Washington Spirit to Exploria Stadium. Goals by Trinity Rodman in the 19th minute and Ashley Hatch in the 66th minute gave the Spirit a 2-0 lead and they appeared to have the win sealed away as the game reached stoppage time. But five minutes into added time, Mikayla Cluff scored to get one back and Darian Jenkins netted the equalizer three minutes later, ending the match in a 2-2 draw.
These late comebacks show two things about this year’s Pride squad. The team is extremely resilient, not giving up until the final whistle, and would be more competitive if it did not put itself in a position where it has to come back in the first place.
In two of the three games the team has rallied back in, it has been out-shot, out-passed, and out-possessed. The Pride had more passes and possession against the Spirit, but the good play came at the very end of the game when they were already down 2-0.
A more pressing issue is the team’s passing accuracy in those three games. The Pride only completed 70.8% of their passes against Kansas City, 78.1% against Chicago, and 74.2% against Washington, far worse than the opposition.
While the comebacks have resulted in goals in the dying minutes, it’s not as though the team has only been good when the game seems out of hand. In fact, the team has been quite good at the start and around halftime. All of the team’s nine goals scored during the regular season have come within seven minutes of the start or end of a half. The Pride have scored twice within the first five minutes of a game and three times in second-half stoppage time.
Meanwhile, the team falls apart as the game goes on. In addition to failing to score in the middle of halves, the opposition has scored eight of their 12 goals outside of the first or last 10 minutes of a half. This shows that the Pride are playing much better to start and end halves than they are throughout the game.
The Pride’s resilience is to be admired. The season would be going much worse if they were to give up when down multiple goals. But they’ve only been playing well for specific parts of games. More consistency could result in turning some draws and losses into wins.
Playing a full 90 minutes is something that’s been spoken about by Cromwell and several of her players early in the 2022 season. We’ll see if they’re able to begin putting together complete performances and coming away with three points more often.