The Orlando Pride (5-5-6, 21 points) defeated NJ/NY Gotham FC (4-11-0, 12 points) 2-1 at Subaru Park in the fourth meeting between the two clubs this season. After a scoreless first half, Orlando gained the lead thanks to a goal from Celia and Ally Watt doubled that lead in her first match with Orlando. Kristie Mewis scored for Gotham just minutes after Watt’s goal, but the Pride were able to hold on for the win and extend their unbeaten run to seven games (3-0-4).
Orlando’s current streak equals the club’s second-longest such run in club history.
Pride Interim Head Coach Seb Hines opted for the same starting lineup that won 1-0 on the road last weekend against San Diego Wave FC. The club acquired Watt and defender Haley Hanson earlier this week and both players came off the bench in this one.
Erin McLeod started in goal behind a back line of Celia, Megan Montefusco, Toni Pressley, and Kylie Strom. The midfield consisted of Meggie Dougherty Howard, Jordyn Listro, and Viviana Villacorta, with Kerry Abello, Erika Tymrak, and Julie Doyle forming the attacking line.
The Pride’s best chance of the first half came in the third minute as Tymrak dribbled towards goal and slipped a great pass between defenders for Abello in on goal. Abello had time to pick out her shot and beat Michelle Betos but not the post and the ball didn’t take a favorable bounce for the Pride to pounce on.
It was just one of a flurry of early chances for the Pride. Doyle’s shot in the seventh minute was deflected out for a corner. Although the Pride’s ensuing short corner didn’t yield much, Villacorta did well winning the ball back before Gotham could get it out of its half and won a free kick in the eighth minute. Dougherty Howard’s free kick found Montefusco at the far post, but the defender’s shot from a difficult angle went wide of goal.
Gotham was active on the attacking end as well. With Midge Purce out, Taylor Smith fueled Gotham’s offense and had a shot in the 15th minute that Pressley deflected for McLeod to easily collect.
Tymrak and Doyle connected in the 17th minute as Tymrak snuck another ball past Gotham’s defense, but Betos made the save.
Gotham applied pressure throughout the match and it nearly cost the Pride in the 20th minute. While trying to play out of the back, McLeod sent the ball straight to Nicole Baxter in the box. With Pride players closing down on her, Baxter had to get a quick shot off and it was directed at McLeod for the easy save.
The hosts started to find more opportunities as the half went on. Paige Monaghan had a try from distance in the 22nd minute that went wide of the net. In the 31st minute, Ifeoma Onumonu raced down the wing and cut in towards goal to shoot, but her shot went over the crossbar.
Gotham’s best opportunity of the first half was in the 39th minute as Smith and Monaghan charged toward Orlando’s goal on a counter attack. Smith sent the ball into the box for an open Monaghan, but McLeod made a big save to deny her and keep the game scoreless.
Fueled by Tymrak, the Pride had a few opportunities late in the first half as they aimed to score the game’s first goal. Tymrak and Doyle wreaked havoc in the attacking third again in the 43rd minute, but this time Doyle laid the ball off for Dougherty Howard in front of goal and her shot went wide. In stoppage time, Tymrak applied pressure that forced Betos into playing the ball out of bounds. Moments later, after the throw-in, Tymrak dribbled the ball across the top of the box and fired a shot. It was on target, but Betos made the save and the first half ended scoreless.
At the end of the first half, Orlando edged Gotham in possession (51.7%-48.3%). The Pride also had more shots (9-6), although both sides put three of their shots on target. Both goalkeepers came up with three saves, with McLeod’s stop as the biggest one from either side in the half.
Whereas the first half was filled with end-to-end action, the Pride had a bit more control at the start of the second half and it led to them taking the lead. With numbers in the box, Abello used some fancy footwork to turn her defender around and lob a nice cross to Celia at the far post. Celia’s header was saved, but Gotham couldn’t clear it and she pounced on the rebound. The defender’s shot bounced off of Tymrak on the ground and into the back of the net.
After the goal, Gotham understandably dialed up its pressure and found more of the ball. Hines made changes to address the pressure in the 56th minute as Hanson came on for Celia to make her Pride debut and Mikayla Cluff relieved Abello. Watt made her Pride debut as well in the 63rd minute, coming on for Doyle to give the Pride some speed to capitalize on counters.
“I feel like when I have the ball, I always have a couple of options to play out,” Hanson said about dealing with Gotham’s press in her first game with new teammates. “The players are first class and the coaches want us to play free football. Even though they were high pressing, we can always find a solution out.”
Nahomi Kawasumi came off the bench for Gotham in the 63rd minute as well and things started to open up for Gotham’s other players as a result. McCall Zerboni had a shot that went just wide of the left post in the 67th minute. Jenna Bike then took a crack at goal in the 69th minute. Her attempt was from long range, but that gave it enough time to dip towards goal and McLeod had to tip it over the crossbar for a corner.
Orlando then doubled its lead in the 72nd minute. Dougherty Howard did well to poke a loose ball further up the field for Watt to take it towards the goal. Watt dribbled past Mandy Freeman and then expertly got her shot past Betos and off the far post and in.
“I remember that the coaches always were telling me during the only two practices I had with the team to just dribble, dribble at people, drive at them. So I just made sure I did that,” Watt said in regards to her thoughts during the goal. “I could hear in my head ‘just go, go, go, dribble, dribble, dribble at them,’ and I did. I was so happy that it hit inside the post instead of the other side of it and it didn’t bounce out, but just to drive at them was what I was telling myself.”
It was Watt’s first goal in NWSL this season.
“That’s why we brought them [Watt and Hanson]. We brought them in to make an impact,” Hines said. “Ally being a forward, we spoke about how to turn goals into wins and one of the things is putting the ball in the back of the net and that’s what she did, so she makes an immediate impact by scoring.”
Gotham didn’t take long to respond though. In the 74th minute, Kawasumi faked a cross to create space away from Hanson and then whipped in a cross that Kristie Mewis headed past McLeod to give Gotham life.
The Pride didn’t take long to resume its attack after that, eager to widen the lead again. Just two minutes after Gotham’s goal, Tymrak fired a shot that forced Betos to knock it away for a corner kick. The corner was cleared though and Gotham went on the attack. Smith had a shot inside the box, but Montefusco was there to deflect it before it could trouble McLeod.
But as the game neared its conclusion, Gotham started to find more of the ball as it hunted for an equalizer. However, the Pride did well preventing Gotham players from finding dangerous areas and Gotham had to take its chances from tough spots. Mewis sent a shot from distance wide of goal in the 80th minute and Kawasumi didn’t make clean contact on her shot in the box following a corner in the 81st and sent the ball high into the sky.
Like with their second goal, the Pride’s best opportunities following Gotham’s goal came when counter attacking. Watt was able to find Tymrak with a cross in the 85th minute, but the forward’s header wasn’t on target. A minute later, Cluff won the ball in the midfield and then dribbled to take a shot at the top of the box. There was enough behind it that Betos had to make a diving save before scrambling to clear away the danger before Watt could jump on the rebound.
Orlando then applied pressure of its own late in the match to keep the ball pinned in Gotham’s half of the field and burn minutes off the clock. In stoppage time, Zerboni won the ball from Cluff in the midfield and got the ball to Imani Dorsey, who then sent in a cross that connected with Mewis’s head but went off target. McLeod had to make a save on a low shot from Mewis as well and the Pride were able to hold on for all three points on the road.
Gotham finished with more possession (51.8%-48.2%). The Pride had more shots (17-16) and also put more of them on target (8-6). McLeod finished the game with five saves while Betos had six. After a scoreless first half, both sides were able to find the back of the net by the end of the game, but Watt provided the winner for Orlando.
“Every game by now is massive,” Hines said. “We’re not settled with where we’re at and we want to be in the playoffs. This is another big step to where we want to be. We have some tough games coming up, and we’ve just got to continue with this momentum that we have. Players have a lot of confidence, a lot of belief, and really sticking to the game plan we want to play.”
The Pride are in eighth in the NWSL standings, but are now just two points behind the Chicago Red Stars for a playoff spot. Orlando will aim to keep this momentum going when it returns to Exploria Stadium on Friday to host OL Reign.