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Orlando Pride earns 1-0 win over Sky Blue with USWNT stars on pitch

Rookie Marisa Viggiano netted her first goal in NWSL to lift the team to its fourth win of the season.

The Orlando Pride’s Alana Kennedy runs forward to join her teammates congratulating Marisa Viggiano, who scored a first-half goal against Sky Blue FC on Saturday night at Exploria Stadium. (Roy K. Miller/ISI Photos)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Bolstered by a lineup peppered with World Cup stars, the Orlando Pride notched a 1-0 win over Sky Blue FC Saturday night at Exploria Stadium in front of the largest home crowd in more than two years.

The Pride claimed their first shutout win since June 2017 and fourth victory of the 2019 season.

Orlando deployed a more dominant attacking pace than it saw last week against Portland, beating Sky Blue in the possession battle and spending more time on the offensive end of the field. The team took 20 shots on the game, 10 more than Sky Blue. It was the first time the Pride outshot an opponent since the team’s May matchup against the Portland Thorns.

Settling into an offensive rhythm early in the game, the Pride took advantage of the speed of its front two attackers, sending long passes over the top of the Sky Blue backline to allow forwards Chioma Ubogagu and Marta the opportunity to vie one-on-one for 50-50 opportunities.

After pressuring Sky Blue intensely in the opening half, the Pride finally broke through in the 23rd minute when Ubogagu sprinted up the left flank. Ubogagu cut inside and fed a pass into Marisa Viggiano, who sized up the space in front of her. With three defenders sagging back toward goal, she took a couple touches into the box, then pulled up in the left corner and immediately fired a shot. The ball rocketed forward, hitting the keeper’s gloves before hitting the back of the net.

The goal was Viggiano’s first in NWSL play, although the rookie forced the own goal that gave the Pride a 2-1 victory during their previous meeting with Sky Blue.

“Honestly, it just kind of happened,” Viggiano said. “I’m surrounded by some of the most incredible players in the world and I just want to come in every day and give it my all and always be ready to step up.”

Coach Marc Skinner used a German term to describe Viggiano — raumdeuter, a word coined by attack Germ Muller that means “space investigator” or “space finder.” He said that the rookie’s ability to weave herself into gaps in an opponent’s formation was one of the main reasons the fourth-round draft pick earned a spot in the starting lineup alongside stars fresh back from the World Cup.

“She can really pick at pockets and on the ball she has a lot of quality,” Skinner said. “For such a small player, she has a good power in her legs. I’m really pleased with her because we have international players of really high quality, but I challenge the kids to step up and be part of the team.”

Although the team pressured offensively to secure a win, the main victory that Skinner celebrated was the clean sheet for the defense. The Pride locked down the Sky Blue offense to secure its first shutout win since June 2018, holding the team to ten shots and allowing only three on frame. In her first game back with the team since the World Cup, Ashlyn Harris was only forced to make two saves, both of which were soft snags for the keeper.

Forward Claire Emslie added an additional boost to the Orlando attack in her first appearance with the Pride after her signing before the World Cup. The forward entered the game in the 65th minute and immediately ripped off a shot on frame. She added an extra layer of pressure along the right side, feeding Marta for several point blank opportunities in the box on breakaways in transition.

Emslie arrived in the U.S. earlier this week and only trained with her team twice before Saturday’s game, but she said that she felt comfortable in her transition into the Pride’s attack.

“I had to jump straight into training, so it’s been a lot of learning on the tactical side of the game,” Emslie said. “I jumped in at the deep end. They told me that my role is to be a winner, to be creative and … they gave me a license to play.”

The game drew an announced crowd of 9,415, the most since April 2017. Fans turned out for to welcome the nine athletes on the Pride roster who played in the World Cup — Americans Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger and Harris; Australians Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond; Brazilians Marta and Camila; Emslie; and Canadian Shelina Zadorsky.

The team felt the crowd added an extra intensity to the game. Emslie described it as “electric.” Skinner said it made the team feel more alive. For the Pride, Skinner said the game set a new goal for what the club hopes to produce both on and off the field.

“I don’t think we’ve given them enough to be cheering about,” Skinner said. “I want these fans to be excited. I thought we were exciting tonight. I want them to come back, I want them to excite them and I want them to be part of the project we’re building. We’re going to build a team for Orlando to be proud of and I won’t rest until we do that.” 

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