The Orlando Pride (0-2-0, 0 points) were dealt a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to Angel City FC (1-1-0, 3 points) tonight in their home opener at Exploria Stadium. Former Pride forward Claire Emslie gave the visitors the lead with a first-half penalty before Messiah Bright equalized after the break. But Katie Johnson scored the winner with the last meaningful kick of the game, dooming the Pride to another tough loss.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made two changes from the team that fell 4-0 to the Portland Thorns in the season opener. Erika Tymrak and Ally Watt joined the starting lineup, replacing Marta (hamstring) and Bright. The Pride lineup consisted of Anna Moorhouse in goal behind a back line of Kylie Strom, Caitlin Cosme, Emily Madril, and Haley McCutcheon. Mikayla Cluff and Kerry Abello were the defensive midfielders behind Adriana, Tymrak, and Julie Doyle, with Watt up top.
The Pride got off to the better start, using a high press to put the Angel City back line under pressure. They nearly got the first chance of the game just two minutes in when McCutcheon sent a low ball across the box, but nobody was there to get on the end of it.
A minute later, Tymrak dribbled across the top of the box and found some space to shoot. But her low shot was right at Angel City goalkeeper DiDi Haracic, who easily collected it.
The visitors had their first chance in the seventh minute through a pair of corner kicks. Jun Endo took the first, but Savannah McCaskill’s shot was blocked out of play. The second corner by McCaskill found the head of Madison Hammond in the box, but her header went over the crossbar.
The Pride nearly had a chance in the ninth minute when Strom attempted to play Doyle into the box. Doyle raced Haracic to the 50-50 ball, but the Angel City goalkeeper was the first to it.
Watt won the ensuing ball out of the back from Dani Weatherholt and quickly took a shot from distance. But Haracic was up to the task, tipping it wide of the goal.
In the 18th minute, Alyssa Thompson found herself surrounded by Pride defenders, but got out of the trouble and fired from the top of the box. She was a little off balance on the shot, resulting in it going well over the target.
The Pride were forced into an early change in the 19th minute, when Paige Nielsen went in hard on Doyle. Nielsen didn’t get any of the ball and was booked for the challenge, which caused Doyle to receive medical attention. The Pride attacker attempted to get up, but shook her head when putting pressure on her left ankle. As she headed straight for the locker room, she was replaced by Bright.
In the 23rd minute, Strom attempted to cross the ball into the Angel City box from the left side. She sent the ball too close to the goal, but over the arms of Haracic and it bounced off the crossbar.
The Pride nearly converted in the 32nd minute when McCutcheon found Cluff on an overlapping run. Cluff sent a high cross into the box before reaching the end line with Strom running towards the back post. It likely would’ve reached the defender, but Haracic got her fingertips to the ball, tipping it over the leaping Strom.
The deadlock was finally broken in the 37th minute when Thompson got sent behind the Pride back line. Madril chased from behind, finally reaching her in the box. Moorhouse appeared to have her near post covered, but Madril slid in and Thompson went down. Referee Danielle Chesky didn’t hesitate to point to the spot and, after a VAR check, the visitors had a kick from the spot.
Former Pride attacker Emslie stepped up to take the kick. She sent Moorhouse the wrong way in the 39th minute, sliding it into the bottom right corner to give Angel City the lead for the second consecutive week.
The Pride almost found an equalizer four minutes into injury time when Cluff sent Adriana forward on the right. The Brazilian sent her shot beyond the outstretched arms of Haracic, but it bounced off the far post.
The rebound landed at the feet of Watt who, after a touch, took her own shot. She should’ve hit the target from the short distance, but couldn’t get around it and hit it wide, and Angel City went into halftime with a 1-0 lead.
The first half was pretty even, with Angel City recording more possession (53.6%-46.4%), shots (6-5), duels won (28-26), and passing accuracy (76.5%-71.5%). The Pride had more crosses (10-5), but both teams had two shots on target and one corner kick.
The Pride got off to another strong start in the second half and only took six minutes to find the equalizer. Tymrak sent a low ball through for Bright, sending the rookie into the Angel City box. The 5-foot-9 forward held off two defenders to get an opportunity on goal and put her shot into the corner to tie the game at 1-1 in the 51st minute.
“ I think, just through the run of play, Erika played the through ball and at first I didn’t really see it,” Bright said about her goal. “But I think I saw it and I got enough time to where I could make contact to the ball and really just, you know, keep my body steady and just driving through. Doing what I do best, being strong on the ball, holding it, and eventually creating a path for myself. And I saw the keeper not really sit and I just toe-poked it pretty early.”
It was the first professional goal for the rookie, who was taken by the Pride with the first pick of the second round in the 2023 NWSL Draft out of TCU.
“I’m really, really pleased for Messiah to get a goal,” Hines said about the rookie. “She was a beast as well. And, you know, there’s moments where, because she’s too strong, the ref gives away a foul and it’s not a foul and she was a pest. She was hard to play against, and that’s what we need from her. We need her to be difficult to play against and her goal has justified her performance.”
Two minutes later, the Pride had the chance to take their first lead of the season. After forcing a turnover near midfield, Bright picked up the ball and found Watt to her left. She took a shot on goal with her first touch, but hit it well over the crossbar.
The hosts had another opportunity in the 59th minute and it was Bright creating the chance again. Playing the ball around Nielsen, Bright sent a low cross into the box for Adriana. However, it was just a bit too far in front of her, allowing Angel City to clear.
Watt had another shot in the 67th minute, one of her team-leading four on the night. Like her other three chances in the game, she was unable to put the shot on target, sending another one over the goal.
Angel City finally had a second-half chance in the 68th minute when substitute Simone Charley found Weatherholt near the penalty spot. She was aiming for the bottom left corner, but it was just wide of the post.
McCaskill had a chance to get the lead back for the visitors in the 70th minute, but Moorhouse made her best save of the game. The ball appeared to be on target, but the Pride shot-stopper tipped it over the crossbar.
As the game wound down, it opened up as both teams pushed for the go-ahead goal. In the 81st minute, Cosme fouled Charley near the top of the Pride box, giving the opposition a great chance. Emslie stepped up and went for goal, but just missed the target.
In the 86th minute, Angel City won its second penalty of the game, but this one was unfortunate for the Pride. A low cross across the box found Scarlett Camberos, but her touch was too strong. However, it went right to Weatherholt, who quickly shot. McCutcheon went down to block it and the shot hit her right elbow as she braced to hit the ground. Chesky pointed to the spot for the second time, giving Angel City a great chance for a late winner.
“I don’t like saying it but two weeks in a row the referees have been against us,” Hines said about the two penalty calls. “There needs to be a change in that and, you know, it’s frustrating for everyone that’s here that it keeps happening. And I don’t know what the solution is, but it just keeps happening and I don’t know whether it’s like they give the authority to the players who’ve been within the league or, you know, we’ve got to earn respect, but it should be a fair game and it hasn’t been fair the last two games.”
Once again, Emslie stepped up to take the spot kick. While the first attempt was into the corner, the second was a poor penalty, allowing Moorhouse to catch it and keeping the score tied.
As the game entered second-half stoppage time, both teams continued to press for a winner. Three minutes into added time, it looked like Angel City might have their third penalty of the night. McCaskill went down after entering the Pride box and Chesky immediately pointed to the spot. Fortunately, the assistant’s flag was raised for offside. Video review showed an Angel City coming back from an offside position after the pass and touching it.
Going the other way, the Pride had an opportunity five minutes into stoppage time when an Adriana corner kick found Summer Yates, who had replaced Tymrak in the 68th minute. The rookie’s first touch was a volley towards goal but was just wide of the right post.
With time winding down, Angel City pushed forward. Eight minutes into stoppage time, M.A. Vignola took a low shot, but Moorhouse was there for the stop. A minute later, it was Camberos’ chance, but her shot was deflected out for a corner kick.
After Adriana sent the first corner out of play, the visitors had one more opportunity. Emslie sent her attempt towards the top of the six and Moorhouse came out to punch it away. But Johnson, who was only on because Charley was injured in the 84th minute, got her head to it first, putting in for the game-winning goal.
The goal officially came in the 10th minute of stoppage time — the latest game-winning goal scored in an NWSL match.
Chesky blew her final whistle as soon as the Pride restarted. It was a different loss for the Pride in this one, but just as painful as their 4-0 defeat last weekend in Portland.
In the end, Angel City had more possession (56.7%-43.3%), shots (15-12), shots on target (6-3), corners (6-4), and accurate passes (74.6%-69.3%).
“Disappointed,” Hines used to describe his feelings about the game. “You want to win your games at home, and at minimum you want to take a point away. And to concede in the manner that we did right at the end is really frustrating and disappointing.”
“Obviously, we’re really disappointed with that result,” Tymrak said after the game. “I thought we controlled the game and we thought we had a lot of chances and that’s on us to finish on. But the positives are that we did possess the game and we did control the game and we had the chances but we have to be ruthless in front of goal and in both boxes. And to get scored on the last play of the game, it hurts but we’ve got to learn from it.”
After a strong preseason that saw the Pride go 5-0, they’ve dropped their first two games in difficult fashion. The first was a blowout in Portland and they lost the second on the final kick of the game. However, the Pride played much better tonight. They created enough opportunities to win but were unable to put those chances away.
Despite the tough start to the season, Hines says his young team will learn from the losses.
“It builds character,” Hines said “You have to build character in these moments and you know that our players will build character every moment that they go for. Every minute that you spend on the field is going to build them and be the players that we all believe in at the end of it.”
The Pride will take the field again on April 15 when they welcome NJ/NY Gotham FC to Exploria Stadium.