Orlando Pride

Orlando Pride vs. Washington Spirit: Final Score 4-2 as Pride Lose in Challenge Cup

The Pride couldn’t hold onto their early lead, falling 4-2 to the Washington Spirit in the Challenge Cup.



Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride (0-1-1, 1 point) continued their 2023 NWSL Challenge Cup campaign with a 4-2 road loss to the Washington Spirit (1-1-0, 3 points). The Pride took an early lead with Tori Hansen’s first professional goal, but the Spirit ended the first half with three unanswered strikes by Lena Silano, Sam Staab, and Marissa Sheva.  The Pride got one back right after the break through Ally Watt, but Ashley Sanchez put it away in second-half injury time.

Pride Head Coach Seb Hines used a heavily rotated lineup for this game, replacing every position from the team’s 1-0 win over Racing Louisville FC Saturday night. Kaylie Collins got the start in goal in front of a back line of Brianna Martinez, Caitlin Cosme, Hansen, and Celia. Thais Reiss and Jordyn Listro were the defensive midfielders behind Haley Bugeja, Kerry Abello, and Amanda Allen, with Watt up top.

Seven of the 11 starters for the Pride had made fewer than two appearances this season. Cosme’s four starts this season were the most, but she’s fallen out of favor recently and been replaced by Megan Montefusco in regular season games. The only three players with more than one start in the starting lineup were Cosme, Abello, and Watt, with the latter two starting three games each this season.

“The only way you’re going to be able to manage games is by playing games,” Hines said about his youthful lineup. “And we saw this as an opportunity to play a lot of the players who haven’t been playing minutes in the season.”

The Pride had the first chance of the game when Celia’s cross attempt was blocked out by Maddie Elwell for a corner. After Camryn Biegalski knocked the first corner out of play, the second ended up with Listro, who found Cosme behind the Spirit defense. Unfortunately, the center back’s shot was just wide of the far post.

The Pride won their third corner of the game when Allen’s shot was blocked out of play by Staab. The corner kick by Thais Reiss went into the six-yard box and bounced around until Hansen back-heeled it past Aubrey Kingsbury for her first professional goal.

“Thais played a great ball in and, honestly, I thought I was going to head it in,” Hansen said about her goal. “And then I think I headed it and there was a big jumble. And then the ball was at my feet and I just tapped it with my back heel and it went. So, very happy about that. I’m more of a header scorer, so it’s nice to get one with my feet and a back heel is even better.”

The first chance for the hosts came in the 13th minute when Maddie Elwell sent a cross into the Pride box. Civana Kuhlmann came flying through the air to get her head on the ball, but sent it just over the crossbar.

The Spirit had an even better chance to equalize in the 24th minute when a cross into the Pride box was flicked on by Staab and found the foot of Amber Brooks at the far post. The defender was behind the Pride back line and should’ve gotten her shot on target, but tipped it wide.

The hosts dominated possession in the first half and found their equalizer in the 33rd minute. It started when Abello fouled Chloe Ricketts, giving the Spirit a free kick. The initial ball was cleared and Sheva’s attempt was blocked. It went right to Silano, whose low shot went between the legs of Cosme and past the diving Collins to even the game at 1-1.

Washington felt it should’ve had a penalty in the 36th minute when Kuhlmann got goalside on Martinez. The defender leaned into the forward and both went to the ground. The Spirit players and fans were audibly upset as referee Joshua Encarnacion waved play on.

Washington didn’t dwell on the call, scoring a second goal two minutes later. Martinez fouled Paige Metayer, giving the hosts another set piece. Staab stepped up to take the kick and curled it into the box. It went around the two-player wall and over the arm of Collins to give the Spirit a 2-1 lead.

It was a great goal that gave Collins little chance and Sheva topped that strike just five minutes later. The Pride’s inability to clear again gave the midfielder a look at goal from long distance. Surprisingly, Sheva’s second touch was a shot. It got over the diving Collins and grazed the bottom of the crossbar to give Washington a 3-1 lead just before halftime.

“I think we just started having to defend more. And kudos to the Spirit, they had some really, really great finishes,” Hansen said about conceding the long-range goals. “But we can’t let off the brake and we have to keep going once we do score that goal, because we’re in the driver’s seat when we’re up 1-0, and we let them back into the game. And we’ve got to learn from that.”

“They were some worldies,” Abello said about the three first-half goals from outside of the box. “Sometimes you’ve got to hold your hands up and say dang, that was a really good goal. But I still think that means we need to get some better pressure on them outside of the box.”

It should’ve been 4-1 just two minutes later when Kuhlmann dribbled into the Pride box and played it back for Sheva. Collins came off her line towards Kuhlmann, who drew two defenders, leaving Sheva open with an empty goal in front of her. Fortunately, she hit it wide of the target.

The Pride were fortunate to have the early lead, but the stats were a reflection of how the 45 minutes actually went. The Spirit had more possession (58.5%-41.5%), shots (10-4), shots on target (3-2), crosses (12-8), and passing accuracy (81.4%-71.9%). The Pride had more corners (4-1), with one resulting in their only first-half goal.

“Just to be a little bit more aggressive with our press,” Hines said about his halftime message. “I think there was moments where we allowed Washington to dictate the play. And that’s okay in certain moments, certain areas, but now we’re down 3-1. We have to start putting pressure on them. Start creating turnovers and being threatening in the attack.”

The Pride made one halftime change, bringing Summer Yates on for Bugeja and the rookie made an immediate impact. In the 49th minute, the midfielder won the ball from Kuhlmann from behind and sent a long pass forward for Watt behind the Spirit back line. Watt handled the ball well and played it past Kingsbury to get the Pride back within a goal.

“We came out on fire,” Hansen said about the early second-half goal. “Obviously, being down 3-1 at halftime is not something you want to go into halftime doing, but we believed in each other and we came out. Summer Yates, great player, played an amazing ball to Ally. It was a great finish and it kind of shifted the momentum towards us.”

It looked like the Spirit might get that goal back in the 53rd minute when a Biegalski shot was tipped by Collins. It went right to Silano to the right of goal, but the flag went up for offside.

Aiding the Pride in staying in the game was a halftime substitution by the Spirit. Staab’s set pieces caused problems for the Pride defense in the first half, but she was replaced by Tara McKeown at halftime. The Pride continued to give up free kicks, but they were falling into the arms of Collins.

As the game crossed the hour mark, both teams made changes. The Spirit went to their all-time leading goal scorer Ashley Hatch, who replaced Kuhlmann. Meanwhile, Hines made his second and third changes of the game. In the 61st minute, Maliah Morris made her second professional appearance, coming on for Allen. For more experience, Erika Tymrak came on in the 66th minute for Reiss.

The Spirit had their second decent chance of the half in the 71st minute when Silano played the ball back for Sanchez, who had just come on for Nicole Douglas. The Washington star tapped the ball to her right and shot towards goal, but the shot was blocked.

Looking for an equalizing goal, Hines made his final substitution in the 76th minute an attacking one, bringing on Messiah Bright for Celia.

The Pride almost had a chance in the 82nd minute when a long ball was sent into the box for Bright. But Kingsbury did well to come out strong and snatch it out of the air. A minute later, Bright attempted to send Watt behind the Spirit defense. Watt was unable to keep control, but was deemed offside anyway.

Four minutes into second-half injury time, the Spirit put the game away. Collins came way out of her box to the right of goal to clear the ball away, but she sent it directly to Sanchez. The Spirit star quickly played the ball towards the far post of the empty goal. Collins spirited back to her net and might’ve gotten a touch to it, but the U.S. international extended the score to 4-2, putting the game away.

It was a deserved result based on the performances of both teams. Washington had more possession (58.8%-41.2%), shots (18-7), shots on target (4-3), crosses (27-13), and passing accuracy (74.5%-61.5%). The Pride had more corners (6-5), but not enough possession or chances to get a result.

“Disappointed,” Hines said after the game. “You know, you never want to lose the game by (allowing) four goals. It’s a hard one because we took the lead, Tori scored a terrific goal, and you go 1-0 up early on in the game and you’re looking for the team to manage it from that moment and I don’t think we did. I don’t think we managed the game too well. I think we showed a little bit of naivety within the team, and we allowed them to get back into it. The goals were disappointing. And I don’t know how many goals they’ll score like that in the season, let alone in one game. But we have to learn from it. We had a really young team, a team that hadn’t played together. And again, we use every game as a learning moment for us.”

“I’m proud of the team,” Abello added. “We got ahead. We started off strong and they scored some pretty great goals against us. And some of those we can’t do anything about. But I was proud of the way we came out in the second half. It was a winnable game, so it’s frustrating that we didn’t come away with the win or even an equalizer. But at the end of the day, I think we learned a lot and I think that’s the exciting thing about Challenge Cup games is we have so many young players on the field that got a chance to play a full 90 or close to a full 90 and that will only help us going forward.”

The fact that the Pride lost this game wasn’t a surprise after making 11 changes to the starting lineup. However, a familiar situation popped up again at the end of the game. While the team was without its starting goalkeeper and both starting center backs, Sanchez’s last-minute goal was the fifth the team has given up in second-half stoppage time. Even if this one was a different situation because they were chasing the game.

With their midweek Challenge Cup game behind them, the Pride will look to build on the two-game league winning streak when they travel to New Jersey to face NJ/NY Gotham FC Sunday evening.


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