Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni urged his players to take control.
The Pride boast enough talent to clinch an National Women’s Soccer League playoff spot, but lapses in focus and uncharacteristic miscues led to a surprising 3-1 loss at Houston Wednesday and threatened to derail their season.
He was thrilled to see his team play with a new level of intensity, rumbling to a 2-1 road win over the Utah Royals Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium.
“Really delighted. Particularly after coming off the midweek loss and during a tough road trip,” Sermanni said after the victory. “The team, I thought, was fantastic today. Our level of concentration, work ethic, control of the game and cohesion were all excellent. I think we deserved the win.”
The Pride (8-6-5, 28 points) remain in third place in the NWSL table, while the Royals (5-5-7, 21 points) sit in sixth place. The top four teams make the playoffs and Orlando now owns a tiebreaker with Utah.
Sermanni shook up his starting lineup Saturday, inserting five new players and adjusting his shape to get the freshest players on the field.
It led to a rough start for the Pride.
The defense left Utah star forward Amy Rodriguez unmarked in the box and she was able to chip a shot over the head of Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris in the eighth minute.
“It just took a little bit to get our formation sorted out and we got caught up early on there,” Sermanni said of the goal. “After that, we played really, really well.”
The Pride looked sharp and dangerous the rest of the first half, pushing back against a physical Royals side.
Orlando forward Alex Morgan was vying for a ball in the midfield when she took a foot to the kneecap and crumbled to the ground. She was treated on the field and the Pride briefly played with 10 women while Morgan got more medical attention on the sideline.
She eventually returned and helped start the Pride rally.
“It wasn’t a serious injury, but it was really painful,” Sermanni said.
Morgan recently missed a penalty kick and had just stepped off the field, but she was eager to lead her team when the Pride earned a penalty kick opportunity off a corner kick in the 47th minute.
“It was great to see her step up, grab the ball and stick it in the back of the net,” Sermanni said. “Look, credit to the striker, they want to get the ball.”
In the second half, Kristen Edmonds delivered a chip shot from far outside the box to push the Pride ahead 2-1.
Edmonds started in the midfielder spot for the Pride, one of five newcomers in the lineup.
“The wonderful thing about Kristen, she’s a utility player,” Sermanni said. “She can play anywhere. You get 100 percent from minute one to minute 90. She’s a great player, very good footballer. She’s got that ability to read the game. She made critical interceptions, critical runs, played great defense.”
Orlando competed without Brazilian star Marta, who served a red card suspension.
Pride defender Ali Krieger started the game, competing in the 100th NWSL match of her career.