The Orlando Pride (3-4-1, 10 points) handed the Washington Spirit (4-1-3, 15 points) their first loss of the 2023 NWSL season, beating them 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. A 23rd-minute penalty by Marta gave the Pride the lead, but the Spirit answered in the 28th minute through Sam Staab. The Pride found a winner in the 77th minute when a Marta corner found the head of Kylie Strom, securing the team’s fourth consecutive result.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made one change from the team that had remained the same for the last three games. Kerry Abello got her first regular-season start since April 15, replacing Erika Tymrak. He also changed from a 4-2-3-1 formation to a 4-3-3 setup. Anna Moorhouse was in goal in front of the now-normal back line of Strom, Emily Madril, Megan Montefusco, and Haley McCutcheon. Mikayla Cluff, Viviana Villacorta, and Abello were in the midfield behind a forward line of Marta, Adriana, and Messiah Bright.
“We had to respect Washington and there are some really good individuals on that team and we changed the way that we pressed tonight,” Hines said about the team’s formation and style. “It was a little bit different. We went with a 4-3-3, and it does require a lot of work in that pressing, but, you know, the players fully bought into what we’re trying to do. And it was a little bit unusual for them because they hadn’t experienced it and we did some work in training leading up to this game.”
Despite facing a Spirit team atop the NWSL standings, the Pride created more chances in this game. However, they were unable to hit the target with most of those chances, keeping the opposition close. Fortunately, Moorhouse had arguably her best game of the year to maintain the lead and eventually claim the win.
The game got off to a rough start when McCutcheon collided with Trinity Rodman eight seconds after kickoff. McCutcheon’s elbow appeared to contact the back of Rodman’s head, so Washington’s medical staff came on to look at the star forward. After taking her off the field for a few minutes for a concussion test and to test her mobility, she returned to the field.
The Pride had the first dangerous attack in the eighth minute when Cluff won the ball near midfield. Bright picked it up and dribbled down field, attempting to play it around Tara McKeown. She beat the center back, but Amber Brooks did well to catch up from behind and clear it away.
In the 18th minute, the Spirit got their first chance of the game, when Paige Metayer lifted the ball to the far post from the top of the box. Ashley Sanchez was left unmarked and shot on goal from a tough angle. But Moorhouse was there to make the easy save.
A minute later, Bright had a chance on the other end. Dribbling into the box on the right, the striker’s first shot was blocked by Staab. But it went right back to the rookie, providing a second attempt. Similar to Sanchez’s shot, it was from a tight angle, enabling Aubrey Kingsbury to make the relatively easy stop.
The Pride broke through when Adriana made a nice run down the left in the 21st minute. She used her speed to beat Brooks, forcing the right back to make a desperate dive to stop the Brazilian. Adriana immediately went to the ground and referee Thomas Snyder pointed to the spot.
Unsurprisingly, Marta stood over the ball, ready to take the penalty. Kingsbury dove to her left and the Pride captain sent the ball the other way, giving the hosts a 1-0 lead. It was the Brazilian’s first goal since she tore her ACL during the 2022 Challenge Cup, keeping her out all of last season.
“I’m so happy that I scored my first goal,” Marta said about her first goal for the Pride since 2021. “You know, I just didn’t think about it so much, maybe because of the moment in the game. And I just think like, ‘Yes, we score.’ I scored a penalty, you know? I think it’s more like double pressure because if you miss, you don’t know how the game is gonna be for you and for your team. So I was so happy that I did (score).”
“Any forward wants to get that feeling back, and it’s a testament to her and her recovery coming back from a longterm injury,” Hines said about Marta’s penalty. “And you don’t want anyone else stepping up for that penalty other than her. She’s been in them moments so often, on the biggest stage, so we have full confidence in her hitting the back of the net in that moment.”
It’s the second time this year that the Pride have scored first against the Spirit. On May 10, it was Tori Hansen scoring a backheel in the Challenge Cup. This one was more expected, as it was created and converted by two of the Pride’s best attacking players.
Unfortunately, the lead didn’t last long as the Spirit answered right back. In the 28th minute, Marta wasn’t quick enough to the ball near the top of the box, giving the ball up to Brooks. The right back’s cross was deflected out by Adriana for a corner kick.
Ashley Hatch took the corner, playing it short to Ines Jaurena. The French midfielder sent a cross into the box that found the head of Staab. Cluff was defending the center back, but fell as the ball came in. Since Cluff was between Montefusco and Staab, the center back couldn’t challenge for the ball, and Moorhouse initially decided to come out, then changed her mind, getting caught in between decisions, as Staab put it past her to even the game at 1-1.
The Pride had a decent chance to regain the lead in the 39th minute, when quick play between Marta and Abello resulted in the latter attempting a cross. Gabrielle Carle blocked it out of play for a corner kick. Adriana’s cross found Montefusco at the near post, but her header was wide.
Less than a minute later, Rodman showed her skill and speed, dribbling past McCutcheon and into the Pride box. She had a split second before Madril came over for support, getting her shot off between the two. Rodman got over the ball, but it was right at Moorhouse, who caught the attempt.
The Pride had another chance in the 44th minute when Strom played the ball for Bright making a diagonal run in the box. Bright received the ball with her back to goal, but McKeown knocked it out for a corner. The ensuing set piece by Adriana found Strom near the back post, but she couldn’t get over the ball and it sailed over the target.
After 45 minutes, the Spirit had more possession (55.9%-44.1%), shots on goal (4-2), crosses (9-7), and passing accuracy (80.6%-72.5%). The Pride had more shot attempts (6-5), and both teams had three corner kicks.
The Spirit almost got the first chance of the second half when Sanchez played a great ball down the left for Rodman, sending her behind McCutcheon. The forward sent a dangerous ball through the Pride box, but nobody was there to get on the end of it.
The Pride’s first second-half chance came in the 49th minute when Bright made a long run from near midfield into the Washington box. She used her speed to get by Staab, but the center back was able to stay with her, forcing Bright’s shot into the side of the net.
Moorhouse has taken some criticism for her early-season play, but she came up with some big saves to keep her team in the game. In the 53rd minute, Jaurena found Rodman on the right and the forward sent Sanchez through on goal. Moorhouse came off her line to greet the attacker, taking it off her foot. However, the assistant’s flag went up for the initial ball to Rodman.
Two minutes later, Andi Sullivan attempted a long-distance shot. It looked to be headed just under the crossbar, but Moorhouse did well to tip it over.
The ensuing corner landed at the foot of Dorian Bailey, who came on at halftime for Brooks,. She attempted her own long shot, but Moorhouse dove to her right to knock it wide.
“She didn’t have a lot to do last week against Gotham, but today she came up massive for us,” Hines said about Moorhouse’s performance against Washington. “It’s so important that everyone does their job. You know, the work that the players in front, have to run, have to battle, have to fight, and she’s there as a safety. And the saves that she made really, they were so important for us to get the three points today.”
The Pride had their own close attempt in the 63rd minute. After Bailey knocked the ball out for a corner, Adriana sent the ball to the near post where Strom was charging in. The left back got her head on the ball, flicking it towards the far post, but missed just wide.
In the 66th minute, Strom sent a long ball into the box for Bright, just missing the striker. That was the last action for the rookie, as she was replaced by Ally Watt, the Pride’s first substitution of the game.
The Pride retook the lead in the 77th minute from a set piece. It started when Adriana’s shot was blocked wide by McKeown. Marta’s corner was perfectly placed, sailing just over Lena Silano and finding the head of Strom at the back post. The left back’s header was past Kingsbury, giving the Pride a 2-1 lead.
“We’ve been working on that exact play,” Strom said about the game-winner. “(Pride Goalkeeper Coach) Paul (Crichton) has drew that up time and time again, every game, scouting set pieces, so credit to him. Marta, absolutely perfect service. I really honestly didn’t have to do too much. I was just in the right place at the right time. And yeah, it was great. Great delivery, great goal.”
“Today it was not my best day with the set pieces, especially in the corner. Maybe I have three or four on my side and two was so bad,” Marta said about her assist. “And then I come to the third one, and then I talked to myself and talked to God and say, ‘Hey, I know I can do that.’ And then I put the ball in the right place and then she was there to score.”
In the 84th minute, the Pride had a chance when McKeown pushed Adriana down from behind near the Spirit box, picking up a yellow card in the process. Marta stepped up to take the kick, sending a low shot towards the bottom of the near post. But Kingsbury did well to get down and save it.
On the other end, Carle had a chance when she got behind Marta. She moved in towards goal from the left, allowing Marta to catch up to her. The Brazilian deflected the shot into the arms of Moorhouse at the near post.
The Spirit had one last chance at the end of the game when McCutcheon fouled Rodman just inside their own half of the field. Stabb sent the set piece into the box, but Moorhouse came out to catch and fall on it. That was the last play of the game as Snyder blew the final whistle.
The Pride ended the game with more shots (14-9), but the Spirit had more possession (55.9%-44.1%) and shots on target (6-4). Additionally, the Pride had more corners (7-5) and the Spirit had more crosses (18-17).
“We knew it was gonna be a tough game,” Hines said about the performance. “You know, Washington are unbeaten in the league. Very physical and I thought we managed the game really well. Pleased with the goals. You know, we changed shape, we changed our formation, having played them earlier on in Challenge Cup, so we knew what they’re capable of. We knew that they were threatening and I thought it was a big collective effort to get the three points.”
With this win, the Pride have now won three of their last four regular season games and their last two at home. After losing their first four games, they’re now on a four-game unbeaten run (3-0-1), lifting them up to seventh in the NWSL standings, with 10 points from eight games.
Having beaten the NWSL’s first-place team, the Pride will now look to continue their unbeaten run against the team at the bottom of the standings, when they face the Chicago Red Stars next Saturday night in Illinois.