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Late Marta goal lifts Orlando Pride to 2-1 win over Washington Spirit

Orlando player Marta (middle) celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal during the Washington Spirit at the Orlando Pride NWSL soccer game at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, July 7, 2018. Orlando won the game 2-1. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Entering their game against the Washington Spirit at Orlando City Stadium, the Orlando Pride knew they had to turn things around to keep themselves in the playoff picture. 

Back-to-back home losses have seen the Pride slowly slide down the standings, but on Saturday night, the Pride delivered a much-needed win.

A late goal from Marta sealed the Orlando Pride’s 2-1 victory over the Spirit in front of an announced crowd of 4,621 at Orlando City Stadium.

“I’m really proud of the players tonight,” Orlando coach Tom Sermanni said. “It was a really tight game in the end in the score line, and we had seven good chances to score in the first 12 minutes, and it’s important when you get those chances, that if you take one or two of them, it gives you that little barrier.”

“In this league, teams are going to come into the game and going to create chances, and that’s exactly what Washington did,” he added. “So, they consolidated a little bit and got that opening goal, which made life a lot more difficult, but I think the players deserve a lot of praise for coming back, keep plugging away, keep playing the way that we wanted to play, and I think we did enough to win the game and deserve to win the game.”

The Pride (7-5-4, 25 points) opened the game dominating the final third, but the Spirit opened the scoring in the 26th minute when a corner kick from Whitney Church connected with Ashley Hatch, who headed the ball into the net for the lead. 

The goal snapped Washington’s scoring drought of 476 minutes without a goal. 

Orlando tied the game before halftime when a ball played from Alanna Kennedy into the penalty area found Sydney Leroux, who made a quick turn to strike toward the far post and past Aubrey Bledsoe for the equalizer. 

“Today was a must win… that was it, we all knew that,” Leroux said. “Going down, we knew we were going to come back, and we were happy to get a goal before [halftime], but we need to finish our chances and need to figure it out, [and] we did that today.”

It was Leroux’s fifth goal of the season. 

With the match looking like it was heading toward a draw, Marta scored the go-ahead goal in the 86th minute after a solo effort saw her beat a defender and strike the ball toward the upper-left corner, off the crossbar and into the net for the 2-1 lead.

The victory snapped Orlando’s two-game losing streak. 

Orlando player Marta (right) scores the winning goal past Washington Spirit player Whitney Church (left) during an NWSL soccer game at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, July 7, 2018. Orlando won the game 2-1. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

Camila, who’s been recovering from a knee injury since October, made her first appearance of the season for Orlando. The Brazilian entered for Emily van Egmond in the 65th minute. 

Washington goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe, who played for the Pride last year, made her first return to Orlando on Saturday and finished with 10 saves. 

The Spirit (2-10-4, 10 points) extended their winless streak to seven games. 

Alex Morgan, who was listed as questionable entering Saturday’s game, did not play due to a right calf strain. Danica Evans also did not play because of an excused absence. 

Up next, Orlando embarks on a two-game road swing, beginning with the Houston Dash Wednesday at BBVA Compass Stadium at 8:30 p.m. The Pride finish their stretch against the Utah Royals on Saturday at Rio Tinto Stadium at 7 p.m. 

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