The Orlando Pride continued their recent good form with an impressive 4 - 2 win over Houston on the road last night. The team were led by a brace from global superstar Marta and included a goal from a first-time scorer for the Pride. But a late-match defensive lapse and mental vacation by the Pride allowed the match to be a lot closer than it should have been, and gave Houston the chance to make stoppage time at least interesting.
- Marta, Marta, Marta - The five-time FIFA Player of the Year was a key contributor for all four goals. Early in the match she got the assist on Camila's 16th-minute opener. Marta's little chip of a pass up to Camila seemed like it was going to be a routine part of a buildup due to the fact that the younger Brazilian was so far out from the top of the penalty area. But Camila saw the keeper off her line and struck an ambitious and powerful 35-yard bomb that arced down perfectly toward the goal. Houston's Lydia Williams got her fingertips on the ball, but could not deflect it enough to prevent it from finding the back of the net.
Then Marta scored two goals of her own. Her first one came in the 22nd minute on a solo counter-attack after a Houston corner kick opportunity was denied. Marta received the ball at midfield and danced up the left side with it, running into the teeth of the Houston defense with gleeful abandon. The Brazilian's hypnotic, samba-like dribbling seemed to mesmerize the defenders and freeze goalkeeper Williams as she carried the ball to the corner of the six yard box and buried a shot into the far side netting of the goal as though she were the only player on the pitch.
And Marta's second goal came with an assist from Jasmyne Spencer, who is fast becoming a partner in crime with her world-famous teammate. The two have combined for more Orlando Pride goals this season than any other player tandem on the roster. This time, Spencer received the ball at midfield and dribbled it forward, then passed it ahead and left to Marta near the top of the penalty box. The Brazilian tapped the ball to herself once and then made a sure left-footed strike from outside the near post that beat a diving Lydia Williams to bury itself at the bottom corner of the far side of the netting. The brace represented her fourth and fifth goals of the season in league play.
Then Marta played a part in the Pride's final goal of the day as well. This time, Marta took a corner kick and placed it beautifully head high in the center of the goal mouth, where Aussie Alanna Kennedy leaped up to nod the ball home into the bottom far corner of the net.
- Hustle Wins Matches - The Pride outhustled their opponents on the match, leading in most of the truly significant categories, which I believe are duels won, tackles won, and clearances. At the risk of boring some readers with repetition, I'll share what I said about these stats in my critique of last night's MLS match for OCSC: Winning duels tells the story of which team is controlling the momentum and direction of the game. Possession is really meaningless for this, because you could theoretically kick the ball around in your own defensive end for 85 minutes, thereby dominating possession, and still lose the game when an opportunistic poacher from the opposing team steals the ball and slots it home. Winning tackles tells you which team is disrupting the buildups and attacking chances of the opponent by picking their pocket of the ball and evaporating the other team's opportunity to score. And clearances tell the story of which team's defense is actually helping the goalkeeper to avoid facing as many shots as they otherwise might have to try to defend on their own.
In last night's match, the Pride led in duels won (45 to 38) and clearances (25 to 10), while they tied with Houston for tackles won at 13 for both teams. In addition to these deeper stats, the Pride also did prevail in possession (51.2% to 48.8%) and they led in total passes created (470 to 444), although they were uncharacteristically sloppy, conceding the passing percentage to Houston (78.2% to 77%).
- Multiple Scoring Threats - The Pride may have started to realize that the offense should flow through Marta, but the team is beginning to figure out that the more scoring threats they can create on the pitch, the more difficult it will be for defenders. There were three different players that put the ball in the net last night, with Camila, Marta, and Kennedy, and Jasmyne Spencer (who is a multi-goal scorer for the team as well) contributed to the party with an assist of her own. The team is really starting to look like a well-oiled machine, and as long as they can keep everyone on roster healthy, they are starting to look like they may be serious playoff contenders before it's all over with this season.
- Late Defensive Lapses - By the time the 88th minute rolled around, the match was starting to look like it was going to be a lopsided blowout for the visitors, stamping their authority on a Houston team that is desperately seeking a way to get off the bottom of the table. But unfortunately for Orlando fans, we saw ghosts of MLS nightmares that have no business being anywhere on a Pride pitch. Ladies--I beseech you to drive out those evil spirits tainting your late-match tired legs and don't let them anywhere near your play again.
Jamia Fields was called for a foul in the 87th outside the top right corner of the Orlando penalty area, giving Andressa a free kick. The ball was well struck, with just enough arc and pace to find Poliana next to Orlando goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe. The Brazilian rose up and glanced the ball off her head to find the back of the goal as Bledsoe clattered to the ground while four Pride defenders stood around and watched the play unfold. It would have been nice to see more players in purple collapse on Poliana as Andressa's pass flew in, but they seemed more timid about potentially colliding with their own keeper than they did about helping to defend. It's the same kind of nonsense that made me pull my hair out about Luke Boden, Seb Hines, and the rest of the sieve-like Orlando City MLS defense in seasons past.
Then in stoppage time, the Pride seemed to take their minds off the pitch and start worrying about the clock as they allowed a sloppy, easy goal from Houston due to a total team defensive collapse. As the 96th minute started, Amber Brooks found Andressa near the top of the penalty area, and passed the ball in between four purple-clad players that seemed to be waiting on a whistle. The Brazilian turned and dribbled briefly ahead before passing the ball off to Nichelle Prince, who managed to race to and reach the ball first, despite Steph Catley having an angle and being nearer the pass. But the Australian defender got turned around and Prince was able to poke it past a diving Aubrey Bledsoe and into the far side of the goal for Houston's second score. Again, it was just that kind of infuriating lapse that over the past two seasons kept Orlando City's MLS fans urging the ref to blow the final whistle as fast as he could whenever the lads in purple entered stoppage time with a lead.
- Record Scoring - The Orlando Pride have reached a new goal scoring total for a match this season with the four-goal performance.
- Brazilian Domination - I already stated that Marta was involved in all four goals for the Pride, including the first goal by Camila. But Brazilians had a hand in every goal scored in the match. The 89th minute Andressa to Poliana goal for Houston was a Brazilian to Brazilian connection, and then Andressa registered her second assist on the day with the build-up to Nichelle Prince's goal in stoppage time.
- Houston, We Have Your Number - The Orlando Pride played Houston four times last season and came away with a 3 - 1 - 0 record. This weekend's win makes the fourth victory over Houston for the Orlando Pride in five tries, and the two teams will face off again in Orlando next weekend. The 4 - 1 record represents the most lopsided win total that the Pride have over any NWSL opponent.
What were your thoughts on last night's match? Were you more pleased with the victory than with the late lapses of concentration, or did the two cheap goals Houston stole at the end of the game kill your buzz just a little? Let me know in the comments below!