The Orlando Pride went on the road to the left coast this past weekend to face expansion side Angel City FC. Unlike most expansion teams, both Angel City and the San Diego Wave seem to have the right pieces in place to be competitive in their first year in the NWSL. Indeed, both won their regular-season openers and San Diego is still at the top of the table after two weeks. Angel City’s opening win came a week ago against a good North Carolina Courage side that won the Challenge Cup.
So, it was a bit of a nice surprise to see the Pride go on the road and come home with a 1-0 victory. Orlando gets the bragging rights of being the first NWSL team to win a road game at Banc of California Stadium in NWSL regular-season play, and the first team to beat Angel City in the regular season, thanks to Sydney Leroux’s goal in the third minute and some emergency defending late.
Below is a list of my handful of takeaways from the match, which gave Amanda Cromwell her first victory as the Pride’s head coach.
Megan in the Middle
Center back Megan Montefusco stepped into the midfield as the team’s No. 6 on Sunday as injuries continue to mount throughout the squad. She popped up all over the place and at times kind of slid back as a third center back — probably more out of instinct than out of necessity — helping protect the back line and goalkeeper Erin McLeod. Ever since Jade Moore was injured early last year (and subsequently left the club), the Pride have been looking for a stopper in central midfield. Gunny Jonsdottir might fit the bill there but her willingness to attack and her instinct for the game combine to make her more necessary elsewhere. Montefusco wasn’t perfect on Sunday but she handled stepping outside her usual spot with gusto and made life difficult for Angel City. There were some opportunities for Angel City (particularly Tyler Lussi) to go for glory from distance, but it would have taken something spectacular to beat McLeod from that far out. I felt like Montefusco teamed up well with right back Celia, midfielder Mikayla Cluff, and other players to help keep the talented Jun Endo mostly quiet in the match.
Lawrence Lends a Hand
Carrie Lawrence joined the Pride for the 2020 Fall Series and has always looked the part of a potentially valuable NWSL player. She missed much of 2021 due to injury and hasn’t always been given opportunities in the starting lineup, but she’s played hard and seems on the cusp of becoming a strong player for the team. With Montefusco moving up to central midfield against Angel City, Lawrence partnered in central defense and her recovery speed was vital several times when the hosts tried to play directly. Since the team’s inception, Toni Pressley has struggled with long balls over the top that isolate her in a footrace — often against the opponent’s fastest forwards. In this case, it was Christen Press creating the danger for Angel City. Lawrence helped with that and had a strong game. It’s just one man’s opinion, but in my view, Lawrence has earned more playing time.
Pruitt Pushing Forward
Leah Pruitt’s energy in the high press paid off a number of times. Angel City struggled to avoid her when playing out of the back, and she won several balls back either directly or indirectly through her pressure. While other parts of Pruitt’s game haven’t been quite at the level Orlando needs so far this season from a forward, her relentless running and prescient anticipation of where the ball will go next helped Orlando stay on the front foot for the first half an hour on Sunday night in Los Angeles, and she was able to force some opportunities in the second half as well, even though there weren’t as many.
Step Forward for Cluff
Cluff had her best performance so far in a Pride uniform at Angel City. It wasn’t a perfect outing for the rookie by any means, but it showed some progress. Cluff still had a few moments when the speed of the game caught her off guard, as she felt secure in possession but was closed down and dispossessed, despite having had that moment of opportunity to find an outlet. Those didn’t turn out to be critical in the end, but that area still needs some work. Cluff’s skill set is well suited to bringing the ball forward in the open field and picking out options among the forwards. She sent in a great through ball for Leroux that deserved a finish, but the shot was blocked. Most of Cluff’s decisions were improved from previous outings, and her anticipation helped her and her teammates recover the ball in the midfield several times. The Pride are counting on players like Cluff and Viviana Villacorta to develop, which is more important to the club in the wake of Mia Fishel’s decision to sign with Tigres instead of Orlando.
Still Work to Be Done
A win is a win, but being extremely wasteful in front of goal, and hoping the opposition is also not clinical at the other end, is not a sustainable way for the Pride to proceed. Orlando scored in the third minute but could have put the game completely away before the half-hour mark. Leroux scored the opener but even that was nearly cleared off the line due to a bit of a nonchalant attempt on goal with plenty of net at which to shoot. Leroux also completely missed the net from around the penalty spot on what should have been a second sitter — this one provided by a Darian Jenkins cross. She had a couple of more difficult finishes that also went wanting, hitting the crossbar in the second half, and taking an extra beat to put the ball on her right foot on another chance, which allowed the defender to get into position to block her shot. As the Pride’s most accomplished goal scorer (by far), the team simply needs more from Leroux in front of goal. No forward is going to connect on every chance, but one would expect that Leroux herself would feel she could have done better on the night. Thankfully, it was enough in this instance.
Additionally, Pruitt missed a free header wide of goal. In the second half, with a chance to put the game away, Jenkins stole the ball and led a 4-on-3 counter-attack but was far too passive and indecisive to either try a shot on DiDi Haracic or play a ball for one of her options entering the box. As a result, the Pride didn’t even get a shot off as a defender ran Jenkins down from behind and took it away.
Throw-ins continue to result in turnovers far more often than they should, far too many crosses from left back Courtney Petersen are getting blocked due to a lack of making that last little move to clear the defender, and McLeod got away with a horrible rebound and a kick directly over the end line to hand Angel City a free corner. Many of these errors are unforced and are the kinds of things that good teams do only rarely or not at all.
I’m not trying to dunk on the win here at the end of the piece, but it’s fair to say that a better opponent would have punished Orlando on Sunday for all of the missed offensive opportunities and careless mistakes, and Angel City nearly did steal points toward the end.
That’s how I saw the Pride’s win in LA. What stood out to you? Let me know the points with which you agree/disagree (and why) in the comments below.