For the Orlando Pride, Wednesday’s match against the Washington Spirit meant a victory would keep Marc Skinner’s side alive in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup competition.
Anything other than that, would make it mathematically impossible to keep fighting for top of the East Division.
In a game that saw USWNT star Alex Morgan make her return cobbled with a heroic nine-save performance from captain Ashlyn Harris and an early goal from Sydney Leroux, it was enough to power the Pride to a 1-0 win over the Spirit at Exploria Stadium during Match Day 3 of the tournament.
“I’m just really pleased with the team’s commitment and performance tonight,” said Harris. “We spoke as a team and we knew that to compete in this league, we have to have a little bite to us, and we need to have that type of mentality throughout every single game winning our individual duels and tackles and 50/50 balls but also keeping the ball better, so we knew we had to be better than last week.”
The goal for Orlando came rather early, in the 11th minute when Morgan managed to thread a ball to connect with Leroux, who slotted the ball past Aubrey Bledsoe to give the Pride the 1-0 lead.
The Pride came close to conceding first, however, in the 10th minute when a left-footed blast outside the 18-yard box from Kelley O’Hara was saved by Ashlyn Harris, stopping also in ensuing rebound attempt.
Harris continued making crucial saves, this time in the 57th minute to deny Ashley Hatch from close to keep the game 1-0 in favor of Orlando.
And moments later in the 65th minute, Harris denied Hatch from the penalty spot.
The Pride came close to doubling the lead in the 71st minute when Marta connected with Alex Morgan but that attempt was stopped by Bledsoe.
Harris’ ninth and final save of the match came in the first minute of stoppage time, denying Kumi Yokoyama.
The Pride (1-1-1, 4 points) concludes the NWSL Challenge Cup on the road when they take on the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, May 1 at Sahlen’s Stadium. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. and will televise on CBS Sports Network.
11′ – Sydney Leroux, assisted by Alex Morgan (ORL)
Here’s how the Pride lined up
Orlando Pride XI: Ashlyn Harris; Ali Riley, Phoebe McClernon, Ali Krieger (Toni Pressley, 90+3′), Gunnhildur Jónsdóttir; Jade Moore (Courtney Petersen, 74′), Marisa Viggiano, Taylor Kornieck; Marta (Meggie Dougherty Howard, 81′), Sydney Leroux (Chelsee Washington, 90+3′), Alex Morgan.
Substitutes: Erin McLeod, Carrie Lawrence, Konya Plummer, Ally Haran, Abi Kim.
For more soccer news, follow the Soccer Journal on Twitter: @osjsoccer