An early blunder crushed the Orlando Pride, with the team falling 2-1 on the road Saturday to the Washington Spirit.
After opening the game with a scrappy attack of its own, a miscue by Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris forced the team into a 1-0 deficit in the ninth minute. Defender Ali Krieger played the ball back to Harris, who attempted to take several touches through the box before passing up the field. As she handled the ball, however, Spirit forward Crystal Thomas pounced, diving at the ball to steal and score in the same touch. The goal ultimately made the difference for the Pride (4-12-3, 15 points).
“I get to a point where I think too many errors have been strewn across the season this year,” Pride coach Marc Skinner said. “As a collective, we’ve not killed a team that’s there for the taking. You can make all of the excuses, but that’s football. It’s a tough one and I don’t have the answer.”
The Spirit (7-7-5, 26 points) were backed by a sell-out crowd of 19,871 fans at Audi Field, who packed into standing-room overflow to set a franchise attendance record. That number eclipsed the team’s previous record attendance of 7,976 last season.
Despite the defensive error that allowed the early goal, the Orlando played Washington evenly throughout the opening half, pressing high and probing at the Spirit’s backline. Erin Greening and Rachel Hill sliced up the right flank repeatedly until Hill found an opening in the 31st minute, slicing a cross into the box for Marta. In a one-on-one from point-blank range, Marta fired the shot with her first touch and leveled the score at 1-1.
The goal was Marta’s fifth of the season, making her the team’s leading goal scorer. She has scored all five of those goals since her return from the World Cup at the end of June. Saturday’s game marked the striker’s return from a two-game suspension due to a red card.
“Since I’ve been here, there are very few players that I’ve seen that have a better ability to read the game than Marta,” Skinner said. “When she’s in control of the ball, she sees ahead. It’s the positioning that she gets into that makes all the difference. I just wish we had the consistency and the team this year to show that more often.”
Washington came out swinging in the second half, with Ashley Hatch leading the charge. Hatch took five shots — including two point-blank opportunities in the box that flew over the crossbar — before connecting on her sixth chance in the 59th minute.
The goal spurred a heightened offensive pitch for the Pride as Skinner sent in winger Claire Emslie in place of defender Carson Pickett, pushing the team into an attack-based formation.
The Pride saw a prime opportunity in the 71st minute when Krieger intercepted a pass in the Washington half and whipped in a cross from the right flank right to the feet of Hill. The striker stretched out to poke a shot behind goalkeeper Audrey Bledsoe, but somehow she blocked it with her left hand and then fell off-balance directly onto the ball. The Pride continued to pressure, with Marta sending a shot off the crossbar 10 minutes later, but they couldn’t direct their shots on frame.
“We could’ve beaten them today,” Skinner said. “We could have won if we had been more aggressive, if we had been the team that wanted to dominate rather than the team that was just happy to be there.”
After the early error, Harris went on to make five saves, punching away several blazing shots in the box to keep the Pride within range of the Spirit. But the team couldn’t net the equalizing goal, notching its 12th loss of the season.
The Pride will return home for a rematch against the Spirit next week.