The Orlando Pride lost their second straight game and remain winless in the state of Washington after a 1-0 loss to OL Reign at Lumen Field in Seattle. Things unraveled early for the Pride (7-10-1, 22 points) as goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse was sent off in the third minute, reducing Orlando to 10 players and making the uphill climb that much steeper. Jordyn Huitema scored early in the second half off an Orlando turnover to lift OL Reign (8-7-3, 27 points) to a vital win in the NWSL postseason race.
With the loss, the Pride fell to 3-21-9 in all competitions in the months of September and October in their history and to 0-5-3 in road games against the Reign. What’s worse is that it was the Pride’s second consecutive loss in which a win would have vaulted the team above the playoff line at the expense of the opponent that night.
“I think everyone could see there was a real togetherness today,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said after the match. “You do all the preparation to win a game of football and then within two or three minutes you’re down a player, so then you have to be adaptable and you have to adjust and, you know, it really challenged our players, obviously, defensively.”
Hines’ lineup included Moorhouse in goal behind a back line of Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Madril, and Haley McCutcheon. Jordyn Listro and Mikayla Cluff started in central midfield behind an attacking line of Kerry Abello, Marta, and Julie Doyle, with Messiah Bright up top.
Orlando attacked from the opening whistle and Marta won a corner. The ball was cleared off to OL Reign’s defensive left side, where Marta picked it up and brought it back into the box. She fired a shot but it was right at goalkeeper Claudia Dickey. It was the Pride’s lone shot on target in the match.
The game was ruined for Orlando fans moments later. A through ball for Bethany Balcer got behind the Pride’s back line and Moorhouse came out of her box to try to beat the Reign attacker to the ball. She got Balcer’s foot instead of the ball and was immediately sent off for the foul, putting her team down a player for the final 87 minutes. It was the earliest red card by any player in NWSL history. Listro subbed off for backup goalkeeper Carly Nelson.
“You’re literally never ever hoping that your first string (goalkeeper) goes down. But you’re always ready when it does happen,” Nelson said. “These are the moments we prep for. It felt good to be back out there after I was able to settle into the game.”
The game became a shooting gallery for OL Reign after the Pride were reduced to 10. It started with Megan Rapinoe’s free kick from the spot of Moorhouse’s foul, but her delivery hit the wall and skipped out for a corner. Jess Fishlock fired just wide in the sixth minute on the recycle of a second corner after the first one deflected out.
OL Reign had to sub out Balcer, who picked up a knock, bringing on Canadian international Huitema.
Marta nearly scored an epic own goal with a crazy back pass toward her own net that Nelson had to head off the line. It was the first of two scary moments in her own end for the Brazilian.
Bright fired a shot from long range in the 17th minute but it wasn’t close to the goal frame.
Fishlock then got a pair of chances. The first was a shot right at Nelson in the 18th minute. A minute later, Marta again made a terrible back pass that Fishlock jumped in front of and stole just outside the area. Her shot was again denied by Nelson, who got up to tip it over the bar.
In the 27th minute, it was Madril nearly knocking a Huitema cross into her own net, but it was wide of the near post, giving OL Reign a corner. The corner pinged around the Pride box dangerously before being cleared. The recylcled possession ended up on Rose Lavelle’s foot and Nelson made a huge stop to keep the game scoreless in the 29th minute.
OL Reign again nearly unlocked the defense in the 30th. Rafaelle tried to head the ball back to Nelson but didn’t get anything on it and Huitema was able to chip the ball toward goal but it skipped wide to the right.
Huitema shook free of Doyle in the box and forced a terrific diving save by Nelson in stoppage time off another Reign corner on the last good look for either side in the opening period.
As one would expect, OL Reign dominated the stat sheet at the break, leading in possession (55.3%-44.7%), Shots (13-3), shots on target (5-1), corners (5-3), and passing accuracy (81.6%-74.3%).
“I think we were just trying to regroup at half, because that (red card) happened so early on,” Cluff said. “We were kind of scrambling, but we did really well to get into halftime and keep it tied and not concede in the first half, and we kept it close. And that was what we were trying to do the remainder of the game, is just keep it within reach so that we could keep trying to chase the game and manage the game.”
The hosts came out firing again in the second half, with Rapinoe sending a shot over the bar in the opening moments after the restart.
OL Reign’s breakthrough came off an Orlando goal kick. The Pride had been sloppy in passing all game and it finally caught up as the ball was handed to Lavelle, who fed Huitema in the middle near the top of the box for the easy finish. The hosts took the lead in the 49th minute.
“I saw Kylie open in space, and I literally just mishit the ball. That was it,” Nelson said of the turnover to Lavelle. “I do that a thousand times in a week hitting that ball, and I think just it was unlucky. It was unfortunate. You know, it was execution.”
The Pride learned nothing from the goal, as Huitema nearly doubled the lead a minute later. This time it was Cluff who turned it over in her own defensive third, but the shot from Huitema was off target.
Perhaps Orlando’s best chance of the match came on a corner kick in the 69th minute. Marta’s curling effort was likely meant for second-half sub Ally Watt, but Dickey had to leap over Watt and knock it off the line to keep it out. Had Watt jumped, she may have been able to head it in or at least could have prevented Dickey from seeing it to keep it out.
Sofia Huerta had a chance to double OL Reign’s lead in the 72nd minute when the Pride defense fell asleep, assuming a ball would go out for a goal kick. OL Reign hustled to keep it in play and the ball found Huerta, but the U.S. international shot over the crossbar.
Orlando was unable to maintain possession for most of the match, but the Pride fashioned a chance in the 81st minute, when substitute Brianna Martinez got down the right wing and crossed in for Watt, who couldn’t direct it past Dickey in front. The rebound sat in the six-yard box for a couple of seconds but Dickey recovered before Mariana Larroquette could arrive.
From there, OL Reign mostly tried to run out the clock, looking for opportunities to sneak in behind but not sending numbers forward.
The Pride had one last gasp in stoppage time on a corner kick. Both Strom and Larroquette were unmarked at the back post but they ran into each other and the ball appeared to go off of Strom and fizz wide of the left post in the team’s last opportunity.
Despite the valiant effort under difficult circumstances, the Pride dropped a vital match and the team’s playoff aspirations are on life support with four matches remaining.
OL Reign finished with lopsided advantages on the stat sheet, leading in possession (55%-45%), shots (18-4), shots on target (7-1), corners (7-5), and passing accuracy (79.7%-74.3%).
“I’m really proud of the players and how they coped with a lot of difficult moments, and their real togetherness,” Hines said. “And obviously disappointed with the result, but not too much on the performance.”
“I think there’s a lot of learning and growing opportunities and you know, the circumstances —we’re playing with 10 players — and we fought hard,” Nelson said. “I’m disappointed, definitely. I know the team is. We want to win, and we’re going to look back on this and learn and grow.”
The Pride have next weekend off and will host the North Carolina Courage on Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.