The first real signs of the team the Orlando Pride could become were on display Sunday night in Tacoma, Wash.
The Pride (0-2-1, 1 points) earned their first point of the season with a 1-1 draw against Reign FC (0-0-2, 2 points) at Cheney Stadium. Orlando remained stout in the face of pressure from the Reign and held on to end a brutal three-game stretch on a positive note.
“What it shows it the brutality of the travel,” Pride coach Marc Skinner said in a phone interview after the match. “Playing the three of the four playoff teams from last year, I found that the girls gave everything tonight. You know what? Each step, each minute, every game, every half, we’re growing in more discipline. We’re growing in more understanding of what we’re asking them to do.”
He added, “My overriding emotion is pride. It sounds cliché, but pride for what they’ve actually done in this week. Because that was tough. That was one of the toughest weeks you’ll find. So tonight, they were better and I’m just really pleased with what they’ve done this week.”
The match was the sixth-consecutive draw between Reign FC (formerly Seattle Reign FC) and the Pride. Reign FC played Sunday’s match without USWNT star Megan Rapinoe.
Orlando got off to a dream start thanks to Australian international Alanna Kennedy. The centerback – who had one of the Pride’s most stunning goals last season – opened the scoring with a bicycle kick in the sixth minute after a free kick from fellow Australian Emily van Egmond fell to her.
It was the Pride’s first goal of the season. Skinner said Kennedy told him she didn’t want to give away a goal against Reign FC after a poor back pass from her set up a goal for the North Carolina Courage on Wednesday.
“She can be so effective in both boxes,” Skinner said. “But again, she’s growing, she’s learning, she’s going to be some player in the future.”
Reign FC answered in the first half. So far this season, Orlando has had trouble clearing the ball out of the penalty area, which has led to second and third chances at shots for opposing sides. Reign FC defender Kristen McNabb sent in a cross that fell to van Egmond. Her attempt at a clearance bounced off Reign defensive midfielder Allie Long and to rookie Bethany Balcer.
Balcer curled a shot inside the far post to level the match at a goal apiece in the 21st minute.
Orlando held on throughout the second half. The Reign created multiple chances and tested goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, but the Pride kept the match level. Harris was kept busy during the final 45 minutes and barely kept a header from Rumi Utsugi out with a diving, one-handed save in the 57th minute.
Overall, the match was a stark turnaround from the 5-0 midweek loss to the North Carolina Courage. That match ended without a single shot on goal for the Pride. Skinner said the Pride had much more control at times against the Reign.
“We don’t need any press or any stats to tell us we didn’t have enough shots against North Carolina,” Skinner said. “We know. We know what we’re doing. But you’ve got to get them to believe in the process first before you jump to the end outcome. Because otherwise, they would have been successful before. They would have already had this formula they were winning from. That’s not happened at this club for at least a year or two.”
The Pride’s best chance of the second half came in the 86th minute. Reign goalkeeper Michelle Betos punched away a cross intended for Pride forward Alex Morgan, but the ball landed at Marta’s feet. Marta send a shot from distance toward the goal, but Betos got back in time to knock the shot away for a corner.
“It was a little glimpse more of what we’re doing,” Skinner said. “But again, just because it’s more of a positive result than North Carolina — there’s still good parts in that game, but the result obviously kills what people see and think about the game that haven’t watched it.”
The stretch of games against 2018 playoff teams is over, but the games don’t get much easier for Orlando. The Pride host the Utah Royals, who finished in fifth place last season, on Saturday. The Royals are coming off a 1-0 victory over the Washington Spirit.
“The performance tonight, in patches, was more than the North Carolina game,” Skinner said. “The North Carolina game was more than the Portland game. We had more control at times. We had to defend, because you’re going to have to in this league. But the growth of the players to dig in — you’ve got people like Rachel Hill who are out on their feet at the end. Marta, out on their feet. And yet, they still want to win.
“Their growth and their mental attitude and their discipline — if this team can understand discipline, we’ve got the attacking players to take apart any team. You can not just attack teams in this league. You can not because you’ll pay on the reverse of that.”