The Orlando Pride knew only a victory would suffice against the Chicago Red Stars.
A loss would eliminate the Pride from playoff contention. A draw wouldn’t allow the team to gain any ground and would be all-but useless.
In Orlando City Stadium with the season on the line in front of an announced crowd of 5,016, the Pride couldn’t deliver.
The Pride (8-9-6, 30 points) fell 3-1 to the Red Stars on Saturday, extending their winless streak to five matches, ending their push for the playoffs and leaving the team in a state of flux heading into next season.
“Where to start… where to start,” Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni said in his post-match press conference.
“To be honest, a little bit embarrassed by the performance tonight, if I’m being frank. Fundamental aspects of our game that should be an automatic are not an automatic. If you can’t go out and sort of match effort and willingness and work rate and organization and pick up some of the soccer cues that we should be picking up and be able to run, you’re going to struggle in this league.
“I think it’s been the story of the season that we’re kind of a team that seems to be waiting about for something to happen, whereas all the other teams we play roll their sleeves up and get out there and get on with it and make things happen.”
Goalkeeper and captain Ashlyn Harris said before the match there would be questions for the club to answer if the Pride couldn’t beat the Red Stars and keep their hopes of a playoff berth alive.
Because with this year — with talent on the roster and last season’s run to the playoffs — was supposed to be the year. Sermanni and the Pride entered 2018 with high expectations after key additions, including striker Sydney Leroux, joined the club in the offseason.
“We can’t have some of the performances that we’ve had this year,” Sermanni said. “That has to be rectified. We perhaps do that in several ways. One is you change personnel. The other is you change for your coaching philosophy. You change your training regime and you do things differently to make the team effective.
“The difficult part I’ve found this year is when I look at our team compared to last year, as I’ve said on many occasions, I think we’ve probably improved the quality of our team on our squad, as a whole, but we haven’t gotten close to matching the performances we had last year.”
The story of the season has been one of collapses, particularly in the second half of the year. The Pride gave up two goals in two minutes to end the first half after opening the match strong.
“It’s tough, because when you have such high expectations for the season and you don’t meet those expectations with the caliber of players that we have, it’s a bit frustrating,” Pride defender Ali Krieger said.
“I don’t really know the answer because we all want to be here. We all want to win and we have the mentality to win. We’re just not performance out on the field and that’s all of us. I think that’s where the answer lies. I think we all need to just take a hard look at ourselves and figure out what we can do better for next season and where we went wrong.”
Star forward Alex Morgan, who will depart for the U.S. women’s national team this week, said all season the club’s players have been on different pages.
“Having a team of great players doesn’t make a great team,” Morgan said.
“We’ve tried to make it fluid where it does transcribe from the paper onto the field, but unfortunately that’s not the way the season went. We have been on different pages a lot this season, between each other, between coaches and players. I think it’s been a little disjointed.”
Red Stars forward Samantha Kerr opened the scoring in the 44th minute after repeatedly getting in behind the Pride’s back line. She received a through ball from Yuki Nagasato and calmly put a shot by Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris — who had already denied two one-on-one shots in the first half — to give the Red Stars a first-half lead.
Two minutes later, in the first minute of first half stoppage time, Kerr made her way to the end line and cut the ball back for midfielder Vanessa DiBernardo, who one-timed it into the back of the net and double the Red Stars’ lead.
The possession in the first half was just about even, though the Red Stars fired 11 shots (six on target) compared to just two shots from the Pride. Orlando’s only shot on from was a weak one from Marta that went right at Red Stars goalkeeper Alyssa Naeher.
Kerr got her brace in the 59th minute, pouncing on Pride midfielder in the final third and stealing the ball in the penalty area before putting another shot by Harris.
The Pride managed to get a goal back in the 65th minute after Marta’s cross from the left side of the penalty area found star forward Alex Morgan, who headed the ball home. The Pride played with a bit more fire after that, but couldn’t find a second goal to put pressure on the Red Stars.
The first half was interrupted in the eighth minute by a 46-minute lightning delay.
Orlando wraps its season on Sept. 8 with a road match against winless Sky Blue FC.