The Orlando Pride ended their four-game unbeaten run Saturday night, falling 1-0 to the Chicago Red Stars at SeatGeek Stadium in Bridgeview, IL. Despite the final score, the Pride dominated the entire 90 minutes, putting the opposition under constant pressure. Better finishing likely would’ve seen the Orlando-based side win by multiple goals.
It might seem like a step back, losing to the team at the bottom of the standings a week after beating the league-leading Washington Spirit. However, the performance was something Pride fans haven’t seen much of for years — a game that the team controlled.
The Red Stars got the first shot of the game from a tight angle that went right to Pride goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse. In the 22nd minute, they scored when Megan Montefusco lost Yuki Nagasato at the back post and Casey Krueger found her with a cross. Those were the only two shots Chicago had the entire game. The Pride had out-shot the Red Stars 4-2 at that point and ended up out-shooting the hosts, 19-2.
More impressive was how the Pride approached the second half. They had eight first-half shots and took 11 attempts in the second 45 minutes. Two of their second-half shots hit the crossbar and Alyssa Naeher made her best save of the season in the 49th minute, when Mikayla Cluff’s attempt off the crossbar fell to Marta. In addition to taking 17 more shots, the Pride had nine more corner kicks, 25 more crosses, more possession, and better passing accuracy.
The Pride won three of their previous four games before the loss to Chicago. But of those games, only the match against Gotham FC — a 0-0 road draw — approached the way the Pride dominated the Red Stars Saturday night. They were out-shot and out-possessed by the San Diego Wave in a 3-1 win and Racing Louisville in a 1-0 victory. They were better in last weekend’s 2-1 win over the Spirit, but still conceded more possession. They also haven’t had anything close to their 19-shot performance in Illinois.
The fact that the Pride dominated the game wasn’t a surprise. The young team has been getting better and healthier during its four-game unbeaten run, and Chicago hadn’t won in six games. The Red Stars had only claimed one point in their previous five games and were coming off back-to-back performances that saw them lose by a combined score of 7-0.
The scorelines and problems the Red Stars have had this season, especially without their best player, Mallory Swanson, might make it seem as though they scored and parked the bus. However, this wasn’t the case. Chicago attempted to play the ball out of the back but had trouble because of the Pride’s effective press. Messiah Bright, Adriana, and Marta were on the defenders before they received the ball from Naeher and won it back immediately on multiple occasions.
Chicago only had sustained possession twice in the second half, spending some time in the Pride’s third of the field. But didn’t get any shots off in either of those moments. They felt they should’ve had a penalty in the 84th minute when Cook was played into the Pride box and challenged by Marta. Cook went down when Marta lowered her shoulder, but it wasn’t enough contact to deserve a penalty.
Meanwhile, the Pride continued to create chances and near-chances on the other end of the field. Whether it was out of fatigue or frustration, the Pride weren’t as accurate in the second half. They put four of their eight first-half shots on target and only two of their 11 second-half chances on frame. They had some other opportunities, primarily on crosses that just missed connecting with teammates in the box.
The Pride likely would’ve come back to win in the second half had they hit the target like they did in the first half. It’s something that Pride Head Coach Seb Hines spoke about during his postgame press conference.
“It’s frustrating, of course, because we’re not just talking about half chances. We’re talking about clear-cut opportunities,” Hines said. “There was some really good deliveries in the box, some opportunities from distance, and I think Naeher had probably the game of her season so far.”
“We had a lot of the ball,” Cluff added. “We had plenty of opportunities and we just had to finish our chances when we had them.”
The 2023 NWSL season was always going to be one of steps. The Pride are one of the youngest teams in the NWSL with a very experienced starting lineup. While the lineup often features veterans like Montefusco, Marta, and Erika Tymrak, they also have five players who were drafted in the last three years. That’s not including Julie Doyle, who was drafted in 2022 and started at the beginning of the season, but missed the last six games with an ankle injury suffered on April 2.
The first step for this young team was putting results together, which they did during their four-game unbeaten run. They even secured back-to-back wins against San Diego and Louisville. Saturday night showed that the team can put together a full performance for 90 minutes, something that Hines said he’s been looking for in his team.
The next step for the Pride is to convert their chances and put away teams they should beat. According to Hines, that’s the difference between a team struggling to climb into a playoff position and competing with the league’s top teams.
“If we want to be a top team, competing in obviously the playoffs, we have to win games like this,” Hines said. “It’s a reminder that we can’t take the foot off the gas.”
A big question going into this past weekend was whether the Pride would be motivated facing the team at the bottom of the standings after beating the team at the top. Despite the result, they definitely outplayed their opponent Saturday night. Now the question will be whether they can rebound after a disappointing result and get back on track. That will be something to watch when the Pride take on the Houston Dash in Texas Saturday night.