Yesterday the Orlando Pride extended their home winning streak to three. They are undefeated and untied at Camping World Stadium, jealously keeping all nine points at home from the three matches they have played there.
The 1 - 0 victory over the Western New York Flash will not show on the score sheet how dramatic the day was, but the match was filled with strong play and dramatic moments provided by players from both sides. The lone goal was provided by Alex Morgan, and it was a world-class finish from a world-class player. On the aggregate, the Flash will be bitterly disappointed not to take at least a point from the match because it seemed they were the more aggressive side on the night, and it felt from the stands like they were creating more opportunities to score than the home team. But they also squandered more of those opportunities with poor shots, and in the end it hurt them.
- Sabrina D'Angelo - If you don't recognize that name from the Orlando Pride roster, that's because it's not. D'Angelo, the Flash goalkeeper, is worthy of mention to lead off the good, because for 89 minutes of the match she was by far the best player on the pitch for either side. During the match it seemed like the Flash constructed more consistent attacks, but the Pride defensive line did a great job of preventing them from getting very many quality shots, leaving Ashlyn Harris largely an observer of the match without a lot to do other than to catch the occasional slow roller or easy floater. But the Pride were able to make much more quality shots on the chances they created, and D'Angelo was quite impressive in the net, with an aggressive style that put her in perfect position every time... except once.
- Pride Defense - As I alluded to above, the Pride defense played very well on the night. Ashlyn Harris was not challenged many times during the match. On the best chance that the Flash had all evening, it was--in the words of the immortal Ray Hudson--"the keeper's long skinny white friend," (the top bar of her goal) that made the save of the night for the home side.
- Jasmyne Spencer - Jasmyne continues to impress the heck out of me match after match with her tenacity, energy, and growing ability to see the field. She's still a bit inconsistent in knowing when to pass and when to keep the ball, but she continues to be one of the most skillful ankle breakers and possession players on the team. Spencer took one shot last night that reminded everyone in the stadium of our overly exuberant young men on the MLS side, skying the ball into the 20th row of the stands behind the goal. But she contributed a number of quality passes and started a number of good opportunities for Orlando by stealing the ball off the feat of opponents and passing it off to teammates.
- Alex Morgan - If we're going to talk about how well D'Angelo played for most of the match, we have to mention the player who bested her the only time the opportunity presented itself. In the 79th minute, Kristen Edmonds found Alex Morgan sprinting toward the Flash goal and arced a beautiful pass ahead for the Pride striker. As the ball fell, Morgan looked up to find that D'Angelo near the top of the penalty area. Recognizing danger, D'Angelo began backpedaling toward her net, but the effort was in vain. With a deft first-touch strike, Morgan looped the ball over the Flash keeper and dropped it perfectly into the front of the net where it bounced in and registered the only goal of the match. There are not enough superlatives to describe the majesterial quality of Morgan's goal. Even as the keeper retreated and then leaped in the air to swipe helplessly at the ball sailing over her, it found that very tiny gap it needed to drop into the goal and score. It may be the most skillfully executed first-touch goal that is scored in all of 2016 by any FIFA player at any level of competition. That's just how good that goal was. OK, I know you EPL and La Liga and Bundesliga nut-huggers will want to argue, so I'm going to show you just how good that goal was. Check out the 2:13 mark of the NWSL highlight video below (video courtesy of the NWSL web site).
- Player Complaints - The NWSL has a reputation for much more focused play without a lot of extracurricular moaning and whining like we always seem to see in MLS. But last night I thought both teams were a little guilty of melodramatic hysteria, which really detracted from the game. I'll point out just one incident in particular. It was late in the first half when the Flash were driving the ball down the right side of the pitch deep into the attacking third. Kristen Edmonds was marking a winger out near the touch line when the Flash player got by her and she toppled to the pitch. Instead of popping up and rushing back into the play, she stayed on the ground and whined at the assistant on the sidelines as the referee called advantage and allowed play to continue. This delay was enough to open the door for the visitors' best chance to score on the evening, a beautiful gift of a crossing ball in from Samantha Mewis that found the foot of her teammate inside the penalty spot. All it required for a finish was an easy tap into the back of the net, but adrenaline took over and the ball was bounced off the top bar of the Pride goal. A famous movie quote from Tom Hanks says, "There's no crying in baseball," and last night I think the coaches of both teams needed to remind their players, "There's no whining in soccer."
- Disappointing Attendance - Now maybe I'm the one with unrealistic expectations, but I expected more fans to come out every week for Pride home matches. Looking back to 2015, Orlando City's MLS side averaged about 32,000 per match, or roughly half of what the club drew for the historic first MLS match in March of last year. When the Pride drew 23,000 for the opening home match last month, I was expecting the home attendance numbers to settle in at around half of that number, or between 10,000 and 11,000. Last week's Mother's Day match drew a little over 8,000, and last night's attendance was a little over 7,800. If you're reading this, you may feel like I'm preaching to the choir (because you probably attend the matches if you are local). So grab some friends and drag them out to some games later this season. There are five weeks until the next home match, but during that time you'll see that the Crown has watch parties for Pride matches at local family-friendly restaurants, so get your friends to go out and see the quality of players and play in this league, or invite friends over to watch matches at your house on your smart TV. Build some buzz and get people excited to go out and see the team in person!
- Unchanged Starting XI - for the first time in five matches, Tom Sermanni left the Starting XI unchanged, at least in terms of personnel. The starters for last night's match included Ashlyn Harris, Laura Alleway, Josee Belanger, Stephanie Catley, Kristen Edmonds, Monica Hickmann, Kaylyn Kyle, Sam Witteman, Alex Morgan, Jasmyne Spencer, and Sarah Hagen.
- Home Win Streak Extended - In three home matches on the season, the Orlando Pride remain untied and undefeated on the season, taking all the points on offer at Camping World Stadium so far this season. In the past I've speculated about a friendly competition in the Morgan / Carrasco household over whose team can score more goals on opponents from the same city. I would suggest that there should be a friendly competition--perhaps for the prize of a steak dinner--between Tom Sermanni and Adrian Heath to see whose team can score more points at home during the season. At the rate the two clubs are going, the Pride will score more points in 10 home matches than the MLS side will be able to salvage from 17 home appearances. The lads had better step it up if they want to keep pace with the ladies.
- Real Time Expert Commentary - Last night I met a friend of a friend at the match, a real Irish firecracker and former professional women's football (soccer) player named Jackie. As the song says, "When an Irish girl has something to say she's going to let you know." If you ever have a chance to watch a match with an Irish player you should really take the opportunity. Not only did we have some very spirited discussions over the finer points of the game, I also found myself laughing aloud more than I have in a long time while watching any kind of sporting event.
Did you attend the match last night? What were your thoughts on the game? Let me know in the comments below!