It looked like Alex Morgan had given the Orlando Pride their sixth straight win with her goal in stoppage time, but Jessica Fishlock answered almost immediately as the Pride dropped the two valuable points that would have secured the team’s first-ever appearance in the NWSL playoffs. The league’s two highest scoring teams couldn’t find the back of the net until after the 90th minute — and then they both did.
Orlando (10-6-6, 36 points) momentarily jumps over the Chicago Red Stars into third place in the NWSL, and is 1-1-2 all-time against the Seattle Reign (8-7-7, 31 points). The Pride saw their five-game winning streak snapped but are now unbeaten in seven (5-0-2) dating back to the August 5 draw against Chicago.
The elation of Morgan’s late goal being extinguished seconds later didn’t sit well with Head Coach Tom Sermanni or his players.
“It’s difficult at this moment in time because of the frustrations of the emotions,” Sermanni said. “We worked really hard tonight against Seattle. I thought we had more than enough chances in the second half to win the game and then I thought we had won the game. Sport comes back and gives you lessons sometimes.”
“We came out with a point, which is good, but we feel like we lost two instead of gaining any,” said defender Ali Krieger.
Sermanni went with the same lineup that beat the Boston Breakers on Saturday, starting a back line of Steph Catley, Krieger, Monica, and Camila in front of goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris. Alanna Kennedy and Dani Weatherholt flanked Marta in the middle, with Chioma Ubogagu, Morgan, and Rachel Hill forming the attacking line.
The teams played a scoreless and cagey first half, as it felt like a playoff game. The Reign pressed high and made it difficult for the Pride to play out of the back, showing a lot of energy in the opening 10 minutes of the match, earning several corner kicks. Megan Rapinoe nearly scored an Olimpico off of one such corner six minutes in, but Harris was able to do just enough to keep it out.
The Pride started to come into the game with Marta switching play with a beautiful curling pass to spring Ubogagu down the left, but Chi’s cross was cut out. At the 15-minute mark, the Pride earned a free kick from distance and the service found the head of Seattle’s Merritt Mathias and skipped just over the crossbar. Three minutes later, Catley played a superb long ball for Morgan, but the striker’s first touch let her down, allowing two defenders to team up on her, and the attack eventually fizzled.
Kennedy and Morgan each had shots blocked around the 20-minute mark and Catley fired an open shot from the top of the box well over the bar a minute later as the Pride got on the front foot.
Rapinoe tried to put the Reign on the board first with a long-range shot in the 27th minute that curled away from Harris, but the Pride keeper was able to stretch out and punch the ball away.
Five minutes later, Ubogagu showed some shake and bake to blast her way past a defender, but she impatiently tried to play to Hill early and the attack went to waste. At the 39-minute mark, Camila made a cheeky move in her own penalty area to shake free of Rapinoe and ignite the Orlando break, but at the other end, Marta’s cross for Morgan had a touch too much weight on it and sailed over the end line.
The half ended scoreless, with Seattle holding a slight possession advantage (51%) and both teams were around 80% with their passing accuracy. Orlando out-shot the Reign, 8-4 but got none of its attempts on target, while Harris had the game’s only save on Seattle’s lone shot on goal. Marta created four chances in the opening period to lead all players, with Morgan adding two.
Hill nearly broke the deadlock two minutes after the restart, rising to get onto a cross from Camila, but her header smashed off the crossbar and stayed out in the 47th minute. Two minutes later, Camila fired and forced Lydia Williams into a diving save on the Pride’s first shot attempt of the night to hit the target.
The Orlando chances continued with Chi rounding the corner and firing off Williams at the near post in the 54th minute. On the ensuing corner, the ball fell at Marta’s feet and the Brazilian held off three defenders before laying off for Ubogagu again. Chi smashed another shot on target but it was right at Williams.
Fishlock put the ball in the net in the 59th minute but she was offside and the flag was up even before she got her shot away, as the Reign kept trying to break in behind the Orlando defense. The Pride were wary of the Seattle attack all night, resulting in 10 offside calls against the visitors.
Camila came close in the 61st minute, stepping into one from distance and not missing by much.
The Brazilian right back/midfielder/forward finished with four shots, tying Hill and Kennedy for the most on the team, just ahead of Ubogagu’s three. Hill continued to look dangerous, firing wide in the 66th and then barely missing the back post with a shot fizzed from right to left in the 68th. The second shot was just out of Williams’ reach but sliced wide of the goal.
Seattle got a spell of possession after that for about the next 10 or 12 minutes as the Pride failed to link up passes and had a few giveaways. Finally, Ubogagu broke out of the pack with the ball and her cross was cut out for a corner, but in the buildup she missed a run from Morgan or chose not to slot in her strike partner and the chance went wanting. It was Chi’s final involvement as she was taken off for Toni Pressley, with Sermanni opting to go three at the back and play for the win.
Seattle had a couple decent looks at goal before Camila forced another diving stop from Williams to keep things level as the game headed toward stoppage time.
Just two minutes into injury time, the Pride pounced on a ball in the midfield and Weatherholt slotted in a perfectly weighted ball for Morgan to run onto. Alex had a defender closing but fired a low, left-footed shot that found the inside of the back post for what appeared to be a 92nd-minute game winner.
“Dani was able to play me in a great ball and although there was a defender on me, I felt that Lydia [Williams], the goalkeeper, was kind of hugging her near post. I saw that kind of out of the corner of my eye. I went for it. It went exactly where I was aiming and it was very short-lived, that excitement.”
The celebration for Morgan’s ninth goal of the season — on Weatherholt’s first career assist — didn’t last long. Shortly after the restart, the ball was cleared wide to Orlando’s left flank, where Nahomi Kawasumi gathered it with far too much time and space. She picked out a target in the box and crossed right onto Fishlock’s head. The cross cleared Krieger’s head by maybe an inch or two — she said in the postgame press conference that she felt it brush the top of her bun — and found Fishlock between Krieger and Monica for the game-tying header.
“We were really organized in the back. We were very tight in the box,” Krieger said. “Obviously players score goals, spaces don’t. So you have to make sure you’re tight on players, especially players running in through the midfield. When you’re in the box you have to make sure you’re grabbing onto players. I think that Steph [Catley] did a great job clearing that ball and then it’s trying to get some initial pressure on that service to not allow that. But when you don’t have that, you have to make sure you’re marked up in the box and I think that’s something that we can maybe do a little bit better on.”
From that point on it was pretty much over. Seattle hung on to win the road point and prevent the Pride from clinching as we head into an international break.
Orlando finished with 51% of the possession and a 78% passing accuracy, along with a 20-10 advantage in shots (5-3 on target). But the Reign were tough to break down on this night, blocking six Orlando attempts.
“I thought Seattle were pretty organized and I thought they defended us pretty well,” Morgan said. “I think at times we controlled the game, at times Seattle controlled the game, but I felt like overall we had a lot of really good chances. We were the better team. Obviously we fell asleep in that last minute.”
It was an intense match and Sermanni said afterward that it felt like a playoff atmosphere.
“Both teams knew how important that game was and I think that’s what we saw,” he said. “For them in particular tonight was a cup final. They could not lose the game tonight. For us, had we lost the game we’ve still got other opportunities but it was really important for us not to lose the game and lose momentum. And I think you saw that tonight.”
After the international break, in which seven Orlando starters will be in action — including the three Brazilians and two Australians traveling all the way down under and back — the Pride will face the league’s top two teams needing a few more points to clinch a postseason berth.
Orlando’s next game will be Saturday, Sept. 23 at home against the Portland Thorns. The Pride will finish the regular season on Saturday, Sept. 30 against league-leading North Carolina on the road.