The Orlando Pride totally dominated New Jersey’s Sky Blue FC 5-0 at a soggy Orlando City Stadium last night. With the win, the Pride jump above the playoff line, now sitting in fourth place in the league table with six games left to play.
After a 1 hour 15 minute weather delay, the crowd of 5,243 had no idea of the performance that they were about to witness. Orlando knew that they were a few points away from the 4th and final playoff spot and needed this win to keep their playoff hopes alive. They delivered.
“I was pleased with the performance tonight. I think it was a comprehensive win. I was really happy with how we played. We were really tight defensively, we kept possession better and more consistently than we had been. We can still do a little better, but I felt when we kept possession and broke their pressure, we looked really dangerous,” Head Coach Tom Sermanni said. “I think we had much better cohesion attacking wise, with Alex [Morgan] and Marta and Camila and Jasmyne [Spencer]. If we can keep tight defensively, I think we can create chances in games and score goals. The good thing today is we got ourselves in front. That’s so important.”
The team set several records for Pride history, including most goals in a game, and fastest goal in a match (4 min) by Alex Morgan. Morgan’s goal was on another give and go from Marta, a combination that both players are getting more used to. This was Morgan’s 4th straight goal at home and her 4th goal in five matches.
Midfielder Dani Weatherholt scored her first professional goal in the 43rd minute, scoring what would the the Orlando Pride’s 50th team goal, taking them up 2-0.
Morgan would earn a brace two minutes into the second half, after Jasmyne Spencer sent a pass through two defenders, springing Morgan for an uncontested shot on Sky Blue goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan.
Marta scored the game’s final two goals, picking up a her third brace of the season in a span of five minutes. In the 53rd minute, Marta capitalized on a misplay by Sheridan, waiting to head the ball in at the goal line after a bobble by the goalkeeper. The Brazilian celebrated by running to the sideline to celebrate with Evans, who later made her final appearance in purple.
Morgan and Marta teamed up once more to end the night, with Morgan picking out Marta on a long outlet pass, sending her on a breakaway. The forward made no mistake, putting in her 11th goal of the season, which moved her into a tie for second place in the NWSL’s Golden Boot race.
This match was also notable for the return of Ashlyn Harris in goal. Harris returned with her trademark fierceness, keeping the sheet clear and keeping her back line accountable.
“The defense tonight was great, I really didn’t have to do anything.” said Harris “I don’t let them breathe, to be fair. I am on them, barking at them all game and it’s probably super exhausting for them. But if I organize and do the small things in front of me I shouldn’t have any breakdowns. I don’t recall any time where they broke us down and got behind us. So that’s a credit to the backline and they knew. You know this is my first game back, they had a tough task and I was able to make sure they did their job and kept the ball off the back of the net. I was really proud of them and I think they did a great job.”
The match let night also included a tribute to Maddy Evans, who announced her retirement from professional play this week. Orlando almost went up 6-0 in the 66th minute when Spencer was taken down in the box and earned a penalty kick. Marta ran, scooped up the ball and handed it to Evans to take the penalty kick. Evans, Sheridan dove and deflected the ball.
“Marta sprinted and got the ball and I was like, ‘Don’t do it, Marta. Don’t do it,’ but she came running at me with the ball and she said, ‘Don’t think about it, just take it!” But actually I wanted Marta or Alex [Morgan] to take it so they can get a hat-trick. That would’ve been pretty cool but I don’t think I’ve missed a PK in my life and I just missed it right then. I thought I hit it decently but it was an amazing save.”
It didn’t dampen the outpouring of support for Evans, who was saluted by teammates and her fans.
Saturday’s win closes out a three-match week for the Pride, picking up seven total points and going unbeaten over the homestand. Orlando drew Chicago 1-1 on Aug. 5 and defeated Washington 3-0 on Tuesday.
The Pride will hit the road for their next two matches, first traveling to face the Boston Breakers at 4 p.m. on Saturday, Aug. 19, before featuring on Lifetime on Aug. 26 at FC Kansas City.