The Orlando Pride (3-5-1, 10 points) ended their four-game unbeaten run in a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Red Stars (2-6-1, 7 points) Saturday night at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, IL. Despite the Pride controlling the chances, Yuki Nagasato’s 22nd-minute goal was the difference as the Pride fell for the first time since April 23.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made one change to the starting lineup that beat the Washington Spirit 2-1 last weekend. Viviana Villacorta exited the lineup in favor of Erika Tymrak, who made her sixth start of the season. Tymrak moved into an attacking midfield role and Kerry Abello played alongside Mikayla Cluff in Villacorta’s place.
The back line in front of starting goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse remained the same with Kylie Strom, Emily Madril, Megan Montefusco, and Haley McCutcheon. Cluff and Abello were the defensive midfielders behind Abello, Marta, and Adriana with Messiah Bright up top.
The Pride dominated this game from start to finish. Chicago had an early chance and scored its goal, but created nothing beyond two shots. Meanwhile, the Pride kept the ball in the Chicago third for the majority of the game, creating chance after chance. In the end, the Pride should’ve won by multiple goals.
The first opportunity of the game came in the sixth minute when Ava Cook moved outside and found Bianca St-Georges making a diagonal run. The midfielder split Montefusco and Madril, receiving the ball in the box, but her shot was right at Moorhouse. It appeared as though she was offside, so it likely wouldn’t have counted anyway.
The Pride had their first chance of the game in the ninth minute. After receiving the ball from Abello, Bright played it back to McCutcheon and made a long run down the right. McCutcheon quickly played it forward for the sprinting striker. Bright made a long run, knocking it past Tatumn Milazzo and shielding Tierna Davidson before playing it across for Adriana. With a defender in front, Adriana dumped it off for the oncoming Abello, who shot right at Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
A minute later, the Pride almost opened the scoring when Strom sent a dangerous ball into the six-yard box. Cook got back to defend the back post, heading the ball down but right in front of goal. It went off Arin Wright’s thigh and McCutcheon was able to poke the ball towards the Red Stars’ net, but Naeher was able to keep it out.
Bright took her first shot of the game in the 15th minute. Tymrak played the ball for the rookie, making a diagonal run towards the right sideline. After dribbling into the Chicago box and cutting inside to beat Davidson, Bright’s shot was blocked by Milazzo. The deflection rolled across the top of the six, but Adriana wasn’t close enough to redirect it on goal.
In the 16th minute, a poor St-Georges pass was intercepted by Tymrak, who immediately played Bright up field. The striker made another long run into the Chicago half, passing through Milazzo and Cari Roccaro for Abello making a run up field. Abello had plenty of space behind the Red Stars back line and shot, but it was right at Naeher.
The Pride almost had a great chance in the 20th minute when Marta found Strom to her left and the defender sent a low pass into the box. Adriana was making a run into the six behind Milazzo, but the center back was able to break up the play. If the ball had reached Adriana, the Brazilian would’ve had a free shot on goal.
The Red Stars got the game’s lone goal in the 22nd minute, after Abello fouled Sandra Starke near midfield. Wright took the free kick, sending it wide right for Casey Krueger. The defender cut back to lose Adriana and lifted the ball towards the far post where Nagasato got behind Montefusco, heading it past Moorhouse to give the Red Stars the surprising 1-0 lead.
“I think it came off of us giving the ball away and, you know, that happens and we need to deal with it,” McCutcheon said about the goal. “An uncontested ball in the box and then they just had numbers and we need to do better with our line and do better with marking up.”
The Pride tried to respond quickly after the restart. Abello entered the Red Stars box, but found resistance so she played it back for Strom. The left back quicky played it across for Abello, who fired from just outside of the box, but the low attempt curled well wide of the far post.
Bright had another chance in the 34th minute when Adriana and Tymrak blocked a St-Georges pass that went right to the big striker. The rookie turned Davidson, who slightly blocked the ball, and it went right to Naeher, who made her fourth save of the night.
Chicago had their first real threat after the goal in the 39th minute when Marta turned the ball over near midfield. St-Georges was sent to the end line by Julia Bianchi, but her cross attempt was into the hands of Moorhouse at the near post.
The Pride went the other way with Adriana attacking Krueger one on one. Tymrak sprinted into the box, receiving the ball from the Brazilian playmaker. The veteran midfielder had some space between the defenders and attempted a first-touch shot from near the penalty spot, but mishit it and the ball rolled harmlessly wide.
In the 41st minute, Tymrak took control of the ball after Bright won an aerial duel. Tymrak sent a great cross to the top of the six, where Adriana got her head to it between Milazzo and Krueger. Unfortunately, the Brazilian couldn’t get over the ball and it went over the target.
Despite entering halftime with a 1-0 lead, Chicago only had two chances, the game’s first shot by St-Georges and the goal by Nagasato. Meanwhile, the Pride created eight shots, putting four on target, and should’ve had more opportunities if not for some successful desperate defending by the hosts.
The Pride started the second half where they left off the first. Just seconds after the restart, Starke’s pass attempt was blocked by Motnefusco and chested down by Bright to Tymrak. The midfielder took a long-distance shot beyond the stretched arms of Naeher, but missed the far post.
In the 49th minute, the Pride nearly equalized when Milazzo mishit her clearance attempt, sending the ball towards her own end line, and Krueger helped the ball out of play for a Pride corner kick. Naeher reached out for Adriana’s set piece, but Cluff beat her to it, heading it off the crossbar. Marta attempted an acrobatic shot off the rebound, but Naeher reached back and tipped it off the line to maintain Chicago’s one-goal lead.
The save was Naeher’s 519th in NWSL play, passing former Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris for the most saves in league history.
In the 52nd minute, the Pride almost connected when Strom sent a dangerous ball to the top of the six-yard box. Bright and McCutcheon were both making runs behind the Red Stars back line, but the ball was a little too far in front of both players, going out for a goal kick.
A minute later, Marta sent a curling ball towards the back post, where Adriana beat Krueger. The Brazilians almost connected on the far side, but the ball was just out of the reach of Adriana, going out for another goal kick.
Marta found McCutcheon to her left in the 56th minute making an overlapping run. Cook slid in with an attempt to win the ball, but McCutcheon got past her and lifted the ball into the middle of the box. Tymrak was there, but the ball was just over her head.
The Pride hit the crossbar for the second time in the game in the 59th minute. After receiving the ball on the left from Abello, Adriana took a touch inside and shot before Krueger could get in front of her. The ball was over Naeher, but bounced off the woodwork.
The Red Stars got their first real possession of the second half in the 60th minute. The hosts passed the ball around, looking for their third shot of the game. But the Pride defended it well and Krueger eventually lost the ball to Adriana without Chicago getting a shot off.
The Pride made the first change in the 62nd minute, replacing Bright with Julie Doyle. It was Doyle’s first appearance since she went off in the 23rd minute with an ankle injury against Angel City FC on April 2.
“She’s an exciting player, she’s always active,” Hines said about Doyle. “We felt like it was the right time to bring her in chasing a goal. She’s always on the move, making defenders defend, and it’s nice to have another attacking option come off the bench.”
In the 65th minute, Cluff lifted the ball behind the Red Stars’ back line, where Doyle was calling for it. The striker was challenged by Milazzo, but still got a shot off. Naeher made a great stop with her right shin, but the flag went up for offside.
Cluff created another chance in the 66th minute when she lifted the ball into the box from the right. Adriana chested it down, but lost her balance, allowing Krueger to clear it. However, it went right to Abello just outside of the box. The midfielder used a quick change of pace to beat Krueger and create enough space for a shot, sending it right into the hands of Naeher.
Chicago tried to play the ball out of the back and the Pride continued to apply pressure, nearly creating a pair of opportunities in the 67th minute. After Marta blocked a ball forward, Tymrak and Doyle attempted a give-and-go, but they couldn’t connect the return pass. Quickly winning the ball back, Cluff and Marta attempted their own one-two in the box with the same result.
Controlling possession and chances but needing a goal, Hines made an attacking change in the 68th minute. After making a like-for-like change earlier in the half, forward Ally Watt came on for Tymrak.
Marta used a stepover in the 71st minute to create space from Cook, sending a dangerous ball into the box. Doyle and Watt were making runs towards goal, but the ball was a little too far in front again, going out of play for a goal kick.
The Red Stars felt they should’ve had a penalty in the 84th minute when Ella Stevens, who came on for Starke in the 74th minute, sent Cook into the Pride box. Marta defended her with a shoulder challenge and Cook went down, but referee Rebecca Pagan decided it wasn’t enough for a spot kick and awarded the Pride a goal kick.
The Pride made their final change in the 85th minute and it was another attacking one. This time rookie attacking midfielder Summer Yates replaced left back Strom.
“It shows that we were being more aggressive towards the end of the game trying to get ourselves back in it,” Hines said about the attacking changes. “We felt with the likes of Julie, Ally, Adri, Marta, Summer, we had an opportunity to get back in the game and ultimately win the game in the end.”
A Marta corner in the 86th minute looked to be heading in, but was palmed out of play by Naeher. Adriana took the corner from the other side, but Krueger came up with it and cleared. The Pride players raised their arms because they felt Krueger had handled the ball, but Pagan thought otherwise.
In the 89th minute, Yates made a good run to the top of the box and sent the ball out wide for Doyle. Reaching the ball just before it went out of play, the forward sent a cross into the box. Watt did well with her first touch, bringing it down and setting up a second-touch shot, but sent it just wide of the near post.
The final chance of the game came in the fourth minute of second-half injury time. Marta sent a cross into the box from the left that was headed out by Wright. Yates kept it in and her block went right to Doyle. The second-half substitute had room for a shot, but her first-touch attempt was off her shin and way off target.
At full-time, the Pride led in every offensive statistical category. They had more possession (54.5%-45.5%), shots (21-2), shots on target (6-2), corners (9-0), crosses (29-4), and passing accuracy (81.8%-76.6%). After their 22nd-minute goal, Chicago didn’t create a single chance, but held on for the 1-0 win.
“Disappointed with the result,” Hines said about the game. “You know, it was a great opportunity for us to keep that momentum going. Anytime you play a team like Chicago who are short of confidence, you have to not give them any hope and that’s what we did. We gave them hope by allowing them to score first. But, at the end of the day, you can’t dominate a game the way that we did and not come away with three points and that’s the disappointing thing. The game is built on goals and we didn’t take our opportunities.”
“We played some good football tonight,” McCutcheon added. “The second half, we had them on the back foot the entire half. Even in the first half, there were some good moments, and so we just need to know what we’re capable of and continue to push in training. Continue to reach higher levels as a group, individually, collectively.”
The story of this game is the Pride not putting away their chances. They hit the crossbar twice and had multiple opportunities that missed the target. That’s in addition to the eight shots on frame and excellent goalkeeping by Naeher that kept the Red Stars in front.
“It’s frustrating, of course, because we’re not just talking about half chances, we’re talking about clinical opportunities,” Hines said after the game. “There was some really good deliveries in the box, some opportunities from distance, and I think Naeher probably had the game of her season so far.”
Hines has said several times this year that each game is a learning experience, especially with a young team like the Pride. The recent four-game unbeaten run has shown that they can compete with the top teams in the NWSL, but they need to put away the teams at the bottom of the standings.
“If we want to be a top team competing in the playoffs, we have to win games like this,” Hines said. “So it’s a reminder that we can’t take the foot off the gas. We can’t take anyone for granted. Whether it’s Washington at home in front of our fans or coming away to Chicago sitting bottom of the table. Every game is a tough game in this league. So it’s a reminder that we have to keep going, have to keep fighting and challenging.”
The Pride will finish off their two-game road trip next Saturday night when they take on the Houston Dash in Texas. Then they’ll return home to face the league-leading Portland Thorns at Exploria Stadium on June 11.