The Orlando Pride (5-8-7, 21 points) fell 2-0 to Racing Louisville FC (3-8-8, 17 points), putting a dagger in the team’s playoff chances. Nadia Nadim and Savannah DeMelo scored the goals for the hosts, who hadn’t won any of their previous 13 matches and hadn’t scored more than one goal since July 3 — the last time Louisville faced the Pride.
Sitting in ninth with 21 points, the Pride needed three points out of this game to give themselves any realistic chance of claiming a postseason spot. They are now seven points behind OL Reign for the final playoff spot with only three games remaining. While they can mathematically catch some of the teams currently in playoff positions, they have a -17 goal differential.
Pride Interim Head Coach Seb Hines made two changes to the team that lost 2-0 to the Portland Thorns last weekend. Haley Hanson and Darian Jenkins entered the lineup in place of Celia and Kerry Abello, who started on the bench. The back four in front of Anna Moorhouse consisted of Hanson, Megan Montefusco, Toni Pressley, and Kylie Strom. Meggie Dougherty Howard, Mikayla Cluff, and Jordyn Listro were in the midfield and the attack was Jenkins, Julie Doyle, and Erika Tymrak.
The Pride had more possession and chances in this game but were unable to convert on any of them. They forced Louisville goalkeeper Katie Lund into seven saves but half of their shots were off target. The lack of finishing and an early poor defensive play were the keys to the result.
The Pride had a great chance to score the first goal in the third minute when Dougherty Howard drew a foul just outside of the box. Strom played the free kick short and forward to Dougherty Howard, who immediately touched it to Tymrak. The attacker had a great look but hit the crossbar. The rebound ended up at the feet of Pressley, but she sent it right to Louisville goalkeeper Katie Lund.
Louisville got its first chance a minute later when Wang Shuang found Emina Ekic in the box. The midfielder had enough space for a shot on goal but sent the ball over the crossbar.
In the seventh minute, a defensive mistake by the Pride nearly resulted in the first goal. Ekic sent a long ball over the top for Nadim, who was charging behind the back line. Pressley attempted to slide and knock the ball away, but completely missed, allowing Nadim to take control. The Danish international tried to chip Moorhouse but sent the shot over the goal.
The hosts took the lead in the 10th minute through their leading scorer. A good ball by Lauren Milliet sent Jessica McDonald down the right. The U.S. international let the ball run through her legs, which completely fooled Strom. McDonald used the space to blow past Strom easily and feed Nadim, who beat Montefusco, right in front of goal. It was an easy finish for the striker, who scored her sixth goal of the season.
“It always sucks to go down,” Jenkins said about conceding first. “But we’ve been down the first half a lot of times this season and come back from it.”
The Pride had an excellent chance to equalize in the 17th minute when Dougherty Howard sent a great ball across the box. The ball rolled right to the feet of Doyle who had an open goal in front of her. As she attempted to tap the ball into the goal, she somehow managed to completely miss it, squandering a golden opportunity.
Louisville nearly doubled its lead in the 19th minute when Milliet sent a cross towards the back post. McDonald was at the post but the ball sailed closer to the goal and looked as though it might sneak inside the far post. However, it ended up going out of play and the Pride were able to survive the danger.
In the 26th minute, Jenkins made a nice run into the box. Pulling up at the top of the box, she fired towards the far post but Lund made a nice diving block to maintain Louisville’s lead.
Following the chance by Jenkins, Louisville found its footing again and started to create chances. In the 29th minute, DeMelo found Ekic in the box but her shot was right at Moorhouse. Three minutes later, Emily Fox made a good run into the box. After her initial shot was blocked, she beat Hanson down the end line. Her goal was to find McDonald in front of goal but it was blocked out for a corner kick.
The hosts had another chance in the 43rd minute when Shuang sent a low cross inside the six. McDonald was charging in from the far post but Moorhouse beat her to it. The ball popped free, but the referee blew the whistle for a foul on McDonald.
That was the last real chance of the first half. At the break, the Pride had more possession (54%-46%), shots (7-6), corners (4-1), and crosses (4-3). The teams had the same number of shots on goal (2-2) and both completed 78% of their passes. The difference in the two teams during the first 45 minutes was the Pride’s inability to finish.
“We told the players that we needed just a little bit more energy, closing down a little bit quicker,” Hines said about his halftime message. “In possession move the ball a little bit quicker, threats in behind.”
While the Pride dominated much of the first half, Louisville came out of the break on the front foot. In the 49th minute, McDonald found Jaelin Howell in the box. There was contact in the box and Howell went down but the referee determined that it wasn’t a penalty.
A minute later, the hosts doubled their lead. The goal started as a give-and-go between DeMelo and Wang, allowing DeMelo to find space at the top of the box. The midfielder sent a shot into the top corner of the goal, beyond the reach of Moorhouse, giving Louisville a commanding 2-0 lead.
Racing nearly scored a third in the 52nd minute when Shuang took a shot from the left of goal. Moorhouse got down to block the shot but was unable to collect it, resulting in a rebound at the top of the six-yard box. Nadim was there but went to the ground and handled the ball before tapping it in.
In the 56th minute, the Pride got their first chance of the second half, thanks to a mistake in the back by Louisville. After winning the ball on the right side and in her own third, Satara Murray played it forward for Wang. The Chinese international played it right back to Murray but it was a poor pass, forcing Murray to reach out for the ball.
Tymrak took control and dribbled towards the Louisville goal. She was looking to use her right foot to curl the ball just inside the near post from outside of the box but Lund did well to get a hand to it and knock it away.
Down 2-0 and needing three points, Hines made three of his five substitutions in the 59th minute. Gunny Jonsdottir, Abello, and Leah Pruitt came on for Listro, Strom, and Doyle. While Doyle is a forward, the other two changes were attacking substitutions.
In the 64th minute, Hanson made a good run to the end line and attempted a cross into the six-yard box but it was blocked out for a corner kick. The ensuing corner ended up with Abello but she sent the ball right into the arms of Lund. Two minutes later, a poor clearance gave Tymrak a chance from outside of the box. She hit the ball well, but Lund blocked it away.
Hines made two final changes in the 67th minute as the Pride looked to climb back into the game. However, these changes weren’t quite as attacking as Courtney Petersen and Ally Watt came on for Jenkins and Tymrak.
In the 76th minute, Pressley cleared the ball out for a corner. Shuang’s corner was bending towards the far post, went over the arms of Moorhouse, and appeared to be headed in. There were Louisville players at the back post but none could get on the end of the ball and it went out of play for another corner kick.
A minute later, Louisville came inches away from making it 3-0. Milliet sent a curling ball into the box that met the head of Howell. The midfielder redirected the ball towards goal and over Moorhouse who was caught too far off her line. But it bounced off the bottom of the crossbar, allowing Pressley to clear it away.
Lund nearly made a critical mistake in the 81st minute that would’ve given the Pride some life. Pruitt sent a seemingly harmless shot from well outside of the box towards goal. Even though the ball appeared to be heading wide, Lund decided to play it with her feet. The ball bounced off her foot and out of play for a corner kick. However, a bounce in the opposite direction could’ve easily resulted in an own goal.
A minute later, Pruitt sent Petersen down the right from near midfield. The second-half substitute was behind the Louisville defense and got a shot off from inside the box. She was looking for the far post but sent the shot well wide of the target.
Two minutes into second-half injury time, Watt had a chance to score her second Pride goal when she got her head to a Jonsdottir free kick. But the header was wide of the post. That was the final chance for either team as Louisville finished off the 2-0 win, their first since May 22.
In the end, the Pride had more possession (53.7%-46.3%), shots (14-11), shots on target (7-5), corners (9-5), crosses (12-11), and passed more accurately (74.9%-72.5%). But they were unable to find the back of the net, resulting in a devastating result.
“Disappointed,” Hines said about his feelings about the game. “We felt that coming in here would be a great opportunity to bounce back from the last couple of results. The game’s built on taking chances and Louisville took their chances and we didn’t.”
“Goals change games,” he continued. “We score within the first couple of minutes and that changes the whole momentum of the game and we build on that. But it wasn’t meant to be and resulted in us losing the game.”
“We’re really unlucky to not score in the first half, myself included. We just need to take better advantage of our scoring opportunities because other teams are taking advantage on theirs, especially against us,” Jenkins said after the game. “And we just really need to put away our chances and kind of get on the same page. I think we’re kind of all over the place, which led us down ultimately to the loss in our game.”
It’ll be a short break between games for the Pride as they take the field again on Wednesday night when they welcome the North Carolina Courage to Exploria Stadium.