PISCATAWAY, N.J. — In a battle between the National Women’s Soccer League’s bottom two teams, the visiting Orlando Pride prevailed 2-1 courtesy of an own goal in the 81st minute at Yurcak Field.
The opening two goals came via penalty, both earned through handballs. The first penalty went the way of the visitors after Elizabeth Eddy committed a handball on her first start. Chioma Ubogagu was easily able to finish, giving the Pride a 1-0 lead in the 31st minute.
For Pride head coach Marc Skinner, the penalty and the eventual game winner were “scrappy goals,” but they were part of the success he wanted to see against Sky Blue.
“We’ve asked our girls to be braver in the box,” he said following the match. “I’m screaming at the top of my lungs to switch the play because that’s what we work on all the time.”
Before that, the two sides played each other in a back-and-forth match that saw a limited number of true scoring opportunities. The match was played at a slower pace, with neither side commanding the other. Ubogagu’s goal tilted the momentum in the match, but in favor of Sky Blue, which responded well to going down a goal.
The hosts finished the first half strongly with a flurry of shots at the Pride goal. In what was Sky Blue’s best chance of the first half, Gina Lewandowski had a header that hit the crossbar before bouncing out in the 45th minute.
“I would say that any break in the game, the next five minutes are crucial and we know that so we just always kind of have that mentality where it’s a big five minutes,” Sky Blue captain Sarah Killion said. “Every dead ball, and we’ve got to step it up another level, every single time. … I would say we’re good at that piece but in the first place, we don’t want goals scored on us.”
After dominating the beginning of the second half, Sky Blue earned a penalty of its own with a handball being called on Bridget Callahan. Killion similarly converted her penalty in the 67th minute.
Once the match was level, it evened out once again, and eventually the Pride were able to capitalize. In the 81st minute, Marisa Viggiano made a cross near the endline, which deflected off Lewandowski and bounced in. There were claims from home fans that the ball may have gone out ahead of Viggiano’s cross, but the goal stood.
Again, Sky Blue made the effort to score an equalizer, but Pride goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer made the necessary saves to keep her side’s lead.
“From my view, I think we dominated from start to finish, so I feel like we got robbed,” Sky Blue head coach Denise Reddy said. “The amount of chances that we had, the amount of ball. That’s what I would call robbery for me.” The team finished the match with 22 shots, five on goal, compared to the Pride’s six shots, three on goal.
“I can’t say we need to change this [or that],” Reddy said. “We can press them. … Once again, we probably dominated every single category but the final score, and yeah, that’s not good enough, 100%, but we got to work on maybe finishing.”
Skinner gave credit to Sky Blue, calling them “dangerous,” and opted to “[pay] them respect and we [sit] deeper.” He admitted that the execution, and ultimately the play, was not perfect, but that this victory is a statement that his vision for the Pride is beginning to take hold.
“Could the quality be better? Of course it could,” Skinner said. “We need to play better but what we got tonight was grit, determination, and fight to block the ball in front of their own goal. They were giving it up last year.”
The Pride’s first win of the season takes them ahead of Sky Blue, who know occupy the league’s bottom spot. Though it was a positive night for Orlando, the visitors were dealt a blow when Dani Weatherholt came off with an ankle injury in the 24th minute.
Sky Blue next heads to the Chicago Red Stars on July 6.