hThe Orlando Pride (3-5-5, 15 points) drew 2-2 with the Kansas City Current (5-4-4 19 points) tonight at Children’s Mercy Park. Celia gave the Pride the lead in the 25th minute and Julie Doyle doubled the advantage just after halftime. But the hosts came storming back with goals by Elyse Bennett and CeCe Kizer, pulling out a draw.
Pride Interim Head Coach Seb Hines made two changes to the team that played to a scoreless draw with the Washington Spirit two weeks ago. Carrie Lawrence replaced Toni Pressley in the starting lineup after missing the Washington game in COVID protocol. Darian Jenkins missed tonight’s game after being listed as questionable with a knee injury. She was replaced up top by Doyle.
The back four in front of captain Erin McLeod consisted of Kylie Strom, Megan Montefusco, Lawrence, and Celia. Jordyn Listro and Meggie Dougherty Howard were in the defensive midfield behind Kerry Abello, Erika Tymrak, and Viviana Villacorta, with Doyle up top.
Neither team got off to a good start in this game with both unable to maintain any possession in the opposing team’s half of the field. The Pride got the first opportunity in the seventh minute when Taylor Leach took down Doyle near the Current box. Strom sent the ball into the box, but it was headed out for a corner kick. The ensuing short corner was right to a Kansas City defender who cleared it away.
The hosts should’ve taken the lead in the 15th minute when Victoria Pickett sent Kristen Hamilton through into the box. The forward was one-on-one with McLeod, but the Pride goalkeeper did well to come off her line and block the shot. The rebound went to Lo’eau LaBonta but McLeod got right back up and knocked that away too.
It seemed as though the Current had taken control of the game, but the Pride shocked everyone by scoring first. In the 25th minute, Tymrak sent a cross into the box. It was a soft ball that most expected to be cleared away, but Celia flew in from her right back position and headed it past goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
So unexpected was the header that Franch barely moved. It was the defender’s second career NWSL goal and her first as a member of the Pride. Her only other goal came on July 5, 2019 as a member of OL Reign against the Portland Thorns.
“I found myself on the left side, which Seb kind of tells us to be fluid, so I was kind of on the left side,” Tymrak said about setting up the goal. “And I think I was passing with Bello and Meggie and I took a look up and I saw Celia running into the box. So I kind of just looked at it and her finish was unreal. And it definitely silenced the crowd “
Late in the first half, the Pride committed two fouls near the top of the box that provided Kansas City with some good chances. In the 39th minute, Listro took down Pickett, resulting in a booking and a free kick. LaBonta tapped the set piece to Hailie Mace but the midfielder sent the shot wide.
In the 43rd minute, Lawrence was called for a foul on Mace. Again, LaBonta and Mace stood over the ball. Whether it was confusion or an attempt to trick the defense, both players ran past the ball before Mace sent the ball into the box. But it went wide of the target.
At the half, the Pride had more possession (52%-48%) and the half’s only corner kick. Despite holding onto a 1-0 lead, the Pride had fewer shots (4-1) and shots on target (2-1) in the first 45 minutes.
The second half got off to a surprising start as the Pride went right down the field and doubled their lead. It started when Doyle sent Abello into the box. The midfielder collided with Elizabeth Ball and Franch, leaving Franch lying on the ground. Dougherty Howard ended up with the ball, sending it across for Doyle who put it into the empty net for the rookie’s first professional goal.
“I remember Kerry Abello and Meggie doing something, winning the ball, working hard,” Doyle said about the play. “And then I knew that it popped out to Meggie and I had to make that run that Seb kept getting on me this week for, being in the width of the goal. So I just got there and it came right to me and I hit it left foot and I think I got a charley horse on the right side of my leg, but it went in.”
Following the goal, the Current dominated play. Coming on as a halftime substitute, Bennett was effective on the right, taking Pride defenders one-on-one and creating chances for herself and for teammates. As a result, Kansas City had the Pride on their heels and eventually got back into the game.
In the 50th minute, McLeod nearly made a mistake that cost her team a goal. After the ball was played back to the goalkeeper, she attempted to send it up field. Meanwhile, LaBonta was charging into the box. The clearance slammed off LaBonta’s face and went just over the crossbar.
Five minutes later, the Current had a good opportunity with numbers. LaBonta carried the ball into the Pride third and looked to either side for an overlapping run. However, she didn’t see anyone coming quick enough and fired on target. It was a low, long distance shot and McLeod didn’t have any trouble.
The Current got one of the goals back in the 57th minute. Bennett dribbled into the box from the right and took Lawrence on. She was able to turn the center back enough to create space for a shot. Despite the tight angle, the ball was on target towards the back post. McLeod got a hand to it, but not enough as it went inside the far post, cutting the Pride lead in half.
“They changed shape and they changed formation and we have to adapt to how we press effectively in that moment,” Hines said about the goal. “It was a domino effect, which allowed Bennett to get in behind and drive out our center backs.”
In the 63rd minute, Bennett got into the box on a run that was similar to her goal. She took a low shot that got underneath McLeod, but it was cleared off the line by Lawrence.
A minute later, Bennett and her teammates felt as though she had earned a penalty. After receiving the ball in the box, she turned Strom the wrong way. The right back attempted to get her heel to the ball to get it off the dangerous attacker and Bennett went to the ground. However, as Bennett was on her knees with her arms up, referee Greg Dopka didn’t see any contact from Strom and waved play on.
The Pride nearly regained their two-goal advantage in the 72nd minute when Bennett charged into Strom just outside the Kansas City box. The free kick was towards the back post where Mikayla Cluff, who came on in the 69th minute for Tymrak, headed it right into the legs of a defender. It went right back to Cluff who fired on goal but Franch made the save.
The Pride had another opportunity for a third goal in the 74th minute when a turnover by the Current gave Cluff the ball in the Kansas City half of the field. The midfielder found Dougherty Howard coming forward and the latter shot from the top of the box. However, the shot was right into the arms of Franch.
Kansas City found the equalizer in the 82nd minute. LaBonta sent a long ball over the top for CeCe Kizer, who was running alongside Montefusco. Kizer got behind the center back, forcing McLeod to come off her line. However, slight indecision meant that Kizer was able to beat McLeod to the ball, chipping it over her and in to tie the game at 2-2.
“They were hungry, they’re a great team, and they had a lot of momentum,” Tymrak said about the comeback. “So they definitely came out hungrier than we were. We probably got a little complacent.”
After coming back from a two-goal deficit and having the home crowd on their side, the hosts pushed for the win while the Pride tried to hold on for a draw. The Current nearly found the winner two minutes into second-half injury time.
LaBonta found Hamilton making a run into the box, but McLeod did well to make the stop. However, she allowed a rebound in free space which Hamilton ran onto. Fortunately, McLeod was able to jump on the ball before Hamilton could knock it in, allowing the Pride to hold on for a 2-2 draw.
In the end, the hosts had the better of the game. Kansas City had more possession (54.1%-45.9%), shots (13-7), shots on target (7-4), corners (2-1), and crosses (12-10). Despite having a two-goal advantage in the second half, the Pride were somewhat fortunate to get a point.
“Disappointed because we put ourselves in a great position to win the game,” Hines said after the game. “We knew how important this game was as it comes to a certain playoff position and we’re chasing to get into them playoff positions and we said before the game that we want to walk away from here with three points.
“Really pleased with the first half. Took it to Kansas, who are on good form right now. I think now they are unbeaten in eight. Got our goal, started the second half extremely well, got another goal. And I think the evolution of us will be, when we are in games, to weather storms and when the opponent starts pushing more players forward, can we get ourselves out of them situations where we can defend effectively and attack with penetration passes and play our style of play. Even though the emphasis is on them to try and get an equalizer and get back into the game.”
“I think all of us are pretty disappointed,” Tymrak said. “We really wanted three points, especially as we push for the playoffs. I think there are positives and what we can take away from it. Two goals on the road and a point, but I don’t think any of us are happy with that.”
Both teams came into this game with unbeaten runs. While the Pride were on a three-game unbeaten run, the Current had gotten a result in their last seven games and entered on a three-game winning streak. The Pride have now drawn three of their last four games and continue to claim points, something that seemed unlikely when the team was thrashed by the Portland Thorns on June 19.
The Pride will return home next Sunday night as they welcome Angel City to Exploria Stadium.