ORLANDO, Fla. — Five minutes into the Pride’s match against the Washington Spirit, midfielder Kristen Edmonds called the entire team into a huddle at the top of the box.
During the first five minutes of play, the team had already ceded a goal, a booming kick from Ashley Hatch at the top of the box. With most of Orlando’s veteran core called up to their national teams, Edmonds wore the captain’s armband. She shouldered the responsibility of leading the Pride (4-16-3, 15 points) through the early deficit, offering quick words of encouragement — the team was playing strong, made one mistake and still had plenty of time to balance it out.
Yet during a 3-0 Pride loss the Spirit, Edmonds said she felt Orlando fell flat.
“We didn’t want it more than them,” Edmonds said. “They came in our backyard and beat us and it didn’t seem like we were threatening to win that game at all. Whether you’re comfortable or not, you have to give everything you have. Tonight we didn’t play with any urgency or any pride. It showed in the result.”
Pride coach Marc Skinner always planned to use the game as a testing ground for players who hadn’t seen as much time on the pitch throughout the season. That focus was made clear when he started goalkeeper Lainey Burdett — a rookie who had never previously played an NWSL minute — over seasoned backup Haley Kopmeyer.
The Pride slowly built chemistry after the early goal, applying more pressure as the first half continued. The team’s effort, however, didn’t translate into shots on goal, and the Spirit (9-8-46, 33) added a second goal in the 62nd minute when Crystal Thomas buried the ball in the side netting. A final chip flew over Burdett’s fingers for a third goal in the 85th minute, and the Pride fell 3-0.
It was the team’s 16th loss of the season. For Skinner, the level of energy that he felt from the team was more disappointing than the final result.
“From a collective of players who quite frequently want to come and knock on your door to see if they can play, I just don’t think that’s good enough,” Skinner said. “It’s not acceptable. We can look at all the stats in the world, but we win 47 percent of our duels. Half of our duels, we just give it away. That’s not good enough. I feel like I’m repeating myself, but it’s just not good enough.”
The game highlighted one of the Pride’s weaknesses throughout this season — without top attacking threats such as Marta, the team lacks bite on the offensive end. Orlando took only one shot in the first half despite creating a series of chances in the box. By the end of the match, the Pride had managed seven shots, but they only placed three of them on frame.
The Pride continued to build their possession through passing combinations in the midfield, but the lack of finishing targets limited winger Claire Emslie’s ability to create any scoring chances. The forward consistently sent balls arcing over and through the box without any connection.
“We just weren’t dangerous going forward,” defender Carson Pickett said. “That’s for everyone, it’s not the forwards, it’s not the defenders, it’s the collective team. We need to send some more into the box, and we need to stop the counterattack because when you’re attacking, you’re actually defending. As a team, we need to be more dangerous.”
The match also highlighted key opportunities for players who hadn’t seen many this season. Burdett notched her first career save in the second half, leaping to bat away a long-range bomb in transition with one hand, and finished the match with three saves.
On the attacking end, Danica Evans rifled off the team’s only shot, cutting up the Spirit midfield several times with runs on goal. Abby Elinsky flicked a pair of dangerous close range headers, providing two of the team’s three shots on goal. And Sydney Leroux entered in the 75th minute, earning a significant increase in game minutes from her first appearance since her pregnancy last week.
However, Skinner felt that the majority of the team didn’t live up to his expectations for the match.
“I’m sure there were positives out of the game, but there were naive mistakes as there have been all year,” Skinner said. I have got a reel of mistakes that have led to points lost, positions lost, games lost. I’m sure that there’s some people who gave their all, but it’s hard in a moment like this.”
The Pride will finish their season next weekend at home against Reign FC during the club’s first Breast Cancer Awareness match.