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Orlando Pride fall 2-0 to Utah Royals FC despite Alex Morgan’s return

Utah completes regular-season sweep of the Orlando Pride with a convincing win on Saturday

ORLANDO, Fla. — It was only a matter of time before Christen Press was about to break through on goal.

After probing Orlando Pride’s defense during the first half, she got her goal early in the second half. 

Press, Utah Royals FC’s star forward, volleyed home a Lo’eau LaBonta pass in the 60th minute as Utah Royals FC defeated the Orlando Pride 2-0 on Saturday at Exploria Stadium in front of an announced crowd of 5,279.

Amy Rodriguez added a second goal in the 77th minute after she was played through on goal by Vero Boquete.

The win sealed Utah’s three-game series sweep of the Pride this season.

But it was the lack of a penalty call in the 65th minute which drew the ire of Orlando Pride coach Marc Skinner during his postgame press conference. 

Skinner that a foul was not called when Pride forward Claire Emslie collided with Utah goalkeeper Nicole Barnhart. Referee Malik Badawi ruled Emslie was at fault and whistled her for the foul and giving Utah a goal kick.

Immediately following the call, multiple Pride players went up to Badawi to voice their displeasure with the decision. Emslie stayed down for a little bit before getting back to her feet.

It’s the second consecutive game where a potential penalty call has not gone in Orlando’s favor. 

“I think I sit here for the second week in a row and I’ll suggest that a referring decision has changed the complexity of the game,” Skinner said. “Having seen the picture of the challenge, not only is it a penalty it’s also the last player so it’s effectively a red card which we got given last week. 

“If that’s going to happen, then I don’t know how you build to win a game of football.”

Orlando (3-11-2, 11 points) is two for two from the penalty spot this season. 

“It’s unfortunate we don’t get a call like that,” Pride forward Rachel Hill said. “It’s tough. There’s nothing we can really do about it now. It’s just unfortunate and in future games hopefully, we can have the game set and done with and put balls in the back of the net before a turning point like that has to happen I guess.”

Following the non-call, the Pride tried to climb back into the contest by going forward the last 20 minutes of the game, but it led to Rodriguez’s goal. 

The game was tied 0-0 at halftime due in large part to Ashlyn Harris’ goalkeeping. In the 29th minute, Rodriguez made a run toward the Pride’s backline.

Defender Ali Krieger and Krieger slipped inside the penalty area, leaving Rodriguez free on goal.

Harris came off her line and cut down the angle and saved Rodriguez’s left-footed shot and deflected it off the goal post. 

Orlando had a few chances during the game, but the Pride missed the creative playmaking of Marta, who was serving a suspension after picking up a red card against the Houston Dash last week.

Alex Morgan returned to the lineup as she continues to recover from an injury she suffered during the U.S. women’s national team’s World Cup triumph. Morgan entered the game in the 68th minute. 

Morgan had a chance in the 75th minute after Claire Emslie delivered a cross to Morgan. However, Morgan’s header went over the crossbar. 

Orlando has a quick turnaround, playing on the road at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday against the Chicago Red Stars. 

With only eight games remaining, Skinner is still searching for answers as the team continues to struggle in front of goal and defensively. 

“I can see what I need, I can see where we need to go and I can see that I’m going to drive it, drive it, drive it,” Skinner said. “I can see it. I know who we need, what we need. With my drive and the players’ drive, we’re going to bounce (back) from this. This is going to be the best learning season that we’ve ever experienced as professionals.”

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