The Orlando Pride (1-1-0, 3 points) held onto a 1-0 lead for 87 minutes to beat Angel City FC (1-1-0, 3 points) for the team’s first win of 2022. Sydney Leroux scored the game’s lone goal in the third minute, giving Amanda Cromwell her first NWSL win as head coach and ending the club’s 12-game winless streak in all competitions.
Cromwell made two changes to the team from last week’s 3-0 loss to NJ/NY Gotham FC. Carrie Lawrence re-entered the starting lineup in place of Angharad James, who suffered an ankle injury against Gotham. Additionally, Leroux got her first start since March 30 against Gotham FC in the Challenge Cup. She took the place of rookie Kerry Abello who played well in Leroux’s absence.
The team also had a significant change by moving starting center back Megan Montefusco into the midfield. Lawrence, who played outside back during the Challenge Cup, joined Toni Pressley as a center back.
“Amanda texted me and was just like, ‘Can you do it?’ Montefusco said about the change. “And I just said without a doubt and I know that she believes in me in every way and that belief gives me confidence. So I was excited to do it and it was a fun night.”
The Pride have been good in the first 15 minutes of games this season and got off to their best start in this one. In the third minute, Gunny Jonsdottir sent a low cross into the Angel City box. Goalkeeper DiDi Haracic mishandled the ball, allowing Leroux to get a chance at goal. While it appeared to be a tap-in, Angel City defender Morgan Reid got a piece of it before it went in, knocking it over the line.
“Last week was an eye opener for us,” Leroux said about the three late first half goals scored by Gotham FC last weekend. “Obviously, having three goals scored against us in the first 45 is a really big hill to climb so we wanted to come out very strong. And that’s exactly what we did.”
Despite Reid getting the last touch, the official scorer gave the goal to Leroux, as the shot was headed in even without hitting the defender. It was the third-fastest goal in Pride history — the team scored a pair of second-minute goals in 2018. It was also the fifth time that the Pride have scored within five minutes of the start of the game.
Angel City got its first chance of the game three minutes later. A Cari Roccaro header found Tyler Lussi inside the box. The midfielder attempted a first-touch flick, trying to beat Erin McLeod to her far post. However, the ball was just off target and the Pride survived a potential equalizer.
Leroux had her second chance of the game in the 16th minute. A dangerous run into the box saw her sprint past two Angel City defenders. It appeared as though she’d get a shot off, but she took too long, allowing Vanessa Gilles to come across and knock the ball out of play.
The ensuing corner went all the way across the box to Leroux at the back post. She quickly played a nice ball in for striker Leah Pruitt. Unfortunately, the header went just wide and the Pride missed their second great opportunity to double their lead.
Leroux nearly doubled the lead herself in the 20th minute. A good run by Darian Jenkins on the right saw the midfielder send a low ball through the legs of the defender to Leroux near the penalty spot. Having lost her defender, Leroux had an open chance on goal but sent the shot high.
It appeared as though the Pride had paid for their missed chances in the 27th minute. Savannah McCaskill’s flicked header sent Christen Press behind the Pride defense and the forward beat McLeod to the far post. However, the flag was up as Press was deemed to be just offside.
Back the other way, a turnover on the Angel City side of the field in the 40th minute resulted in a Pride break. Jenkins took control of the ball and darted up the right as two teammates ran alongside, waiting for a ball through. But Jenkins held onto it too long, allowing Roccaro to get back and win the ball off the Pride midfielder.
A minute later, Jun Endo sent Press through on goal. After being judged offside the first time, Press was onside this time. Toni Pressley attempted a slide tackle but Press evaded the challenge, creating a one-on-one opportunity with the goalkeeper. McLeod was up to the challenge on the second attempt, closing down the attacker and making a huge save.
The final chance of the half was for Angel City and was a good one. The hosts’ corner kick went back to Endo who sent a quick pass to Lussi. The midfielder sent a high ball toward the back post where Gilles beat three Pride defenders to the ball. Fortunately, the header went high and the Pride were able to make it to the half with a 1-0 lead.
The Pride dominated the first half hour but the final 15 minutes were all Angel City. At the break, the Pride had more possession (53.6%-46.4%), shots (6-3), corners (6-2), crosses (16-6), and passes (168-152). However, the Pride only put one of their six shots on target, which is why it remained a one-goal game.
After controlling most of the first half, the Pride just tried to hold onto the lead in the second 45 minutes. As a result, Angel City had more possession and more chances in the second half. The first chance for the hosts came just two minutes into the half when Endo set up Press at the top of the box. The forward took a shot on goal but it was wide left of the target.
They had a second opportunity 10 minutes later when Press took another shot from distance. McLeod initially looked as though she would catch the rolling ball but it appeared to take a weird hop just before reaching her and bounced off the goalkeeper’s shoulder. However, it hit her hard enough that the Pride were able to clear it away.
A minute later, it was Lussi taking a shot from distance. While Angel City was taking multiple shots on target, all were long enough that they didn’t cause much trouble. The third shot of the half was right at McLeod and the Canadian easily collected it.
While Angel City had most of the second-half chances, the Pride did have some opportunities to double their lead. The first came in the 66th minute through Leroux. Pruitt found the midfielder to her left and Leroux beat former Pride player Jasmyne Spencer to get a shot on goal. Leroux tried to hit it above the hand of Haracic and beat the goalkeeper, but the ball glanced off the top of the crossbar and went out of play.
Five minutes later, poor play by the hosts gave Leroux another chance. After Haracic rolled the ball out for McCaskill, the usually dependable midfielder immediately lost it to Cluff. The rookie found Leroux entering the box, but Gilles came in to make another good block.
It looked like Angel City might finally convert in the 76th minute when Press sent a ball toward the far post between two Pride defenders. The U.S. international had McCaskill at the back post, but the ball was just a bit too high, going over her head and out of play.
The hosts had another great opportunity in the 90th minute when a quick one-two between Endo and McCaskill allowed the former to send a low cross to the near post. Endo’s ball found the foot of Lussi who redirected it on target, but McLeod made an excellent reaction save to keep the Pride’s 1-0 lead.
Angel City continued to pressure the Pride as the clock continued through injury time. The hosts had a late claim of handball in the box by Leroux but replays showed that it never hit the arm or hand of a defender. They eventually were able to clear and hold on for the 1-0 win.
While the Pride led most statistical categories at the half, Angel City’s second-half dominance resulted in the game being very even. The teams both had 10 shots and possession was 51.3% to 48.7% for the Pride. The Pride had more corners (8-6) and crosses (23-15). However, the Pride only put one shot on target while Angel City put four on frame.
“First win feels great,” Cromwell said after the game. “Starting the game like we did, scoring early, keeping the pressure on, almost getting another one, and creating corner kicks and just being dangerous in the attack. I thought our midfield played great with new players in there. With Megan playing as a six and Mikayla and Gunny in there. Their ball winning and their work rate was tremendous. Carrie played a new position at center back, the whole back line. Erin, I can talk about Syd, Darian, and Leah. Everyone had such an important role and they stepped up in a big way.”
“I think it was extremely important for us to come back and show what we’re capable of. And I think we showed that today,” Leroux added. “It was a tough 90 minutes and everyone came to play today. So I’m very happy for the team and I think we deserve that.”
“Amanda said at the end of the game we fought and we fought together. And the key word was together,” Montefusco also said about the game. “This team has it in them. And we always have. It’s just a matter of putting the pieces together. And tonight we showed that we could do that.”
With the team scoring three minutes into the game and missing several chances throughout the first 30 minutes, the final hour was primarily spent defending. Everyone tracking back into the box allowed the team to hold on for 87 minutes and claim the season’s first win.
“I think that’s a big reason why we won,” Leroux said about the defensive effort. “I mean, we track back..I think I was playing center back for the last 10 minutes but we’ll do whatever we need to do to put our team in the best position to win.”
“We knew we needed everyone and we needed everyone in the box fighting until the very last minute,” Montefusco said about the team defense. “We looked at the stats from when we were conceding in the last games and it happened to be the first five minutes or the last five minutes of a half. And we knew that going into this game, so we were constantly checking in with each other and making sure that everyone was fighting and everyone was getting back.”
The win is the first for Cromwell in her first season as an NWSL head coach. It also breaks a 12-game Orlando winless streak that dates back to Sept. 11, 2021, when the Pride beat Racing Louisville 3-1 at Exploria Stadium.
With their first win under their belts, the Pride will return to Exploria Stadium next weekend when they face the Kansas City Current.