The Orlando Pride and the Washington Spirit came into tonight's National Women's Soccer League on the back of two very different results. The Pride allowed the Chicago Red Stars to come back and tie the game in their previous match while the Spirit put on what could be their best performance of the season against Sky Blue FC. In the end, it was the home side who wanted the win more and thanks to Marta, Camila and Alex Morgan, Orlando picked up a big win to keep their playoff hopes alive.
Orlando 'half and puff' but can't find the breakthrough
Being at home, the Pride started off the game on the front foot. Chioma Ubogagu broke from midfield in the third minute of the game and made a fine through pass to find Marta, who had gotten in behind with her run. The Brazilian battled with Kasey Kallman to try and get her shot off but ultimately, sent it wide with Kallman matching her step for step inside the box. Marta appealed for a penalty but referee Christina Unkel had no interest in her protests and waved play on.
Next up to test the Washington defense was Alex Morgan in the 39th minute. The US international used her pace to bare down on goal before taking a shot from outside the box which had to be parried out for a corner by goalkeeper Stephanie Labbé. Marta produced a mazy run in the 41st minute to bypass most of the Spirit's backline but once through on goal, she put her effort high over the cross bar.
The Spirit barely threatened in the first half but a good run from Cheyna Williams in the 23rd minute almost made for a spectacular opening goal had her shot not gone narrowly wide of the goal, with Audrey Bledsoe scrambling to get across in time.
Ultimately, the first half belonged to the Pride and Washington welcomed the half-time whistle as a chance to regroup and take a break from the onslaught that Orlando had produced in the first half.
The Spirit defense buckles in 12 minute spell to seal the win for Orlando
The half-time break did nothing for the Spirit as Orlando picked up right where they left off. The attacking triumvirate of Morgan, Marta and Camila paid dividends in a 12 minute salvo to give Orlando the win. The first goal of the match came in the 52nd minute when Morgan and Marta played a lovely one-two that set Marta through one goal. The former FIFA World Player of the Year rounded Labbé and then proceeded to tuck the ball home from a narrow angle and score her ninth goal of the season. Next on the board was Camila in the 57th minute with an absolutely audacious attempt. Morgan had beaten the offside trap and Labbé had to come a long wya off her line to head the ball away before Morgan reached it. Her clearance went straight to Camila who took a quick look up and lobbed the ball into the net from a good 30 yards out.
Morgan then rounded off the scoring in the 64th minute after a gorgeous ball from Steph Catley found her just outside the box. This time Labbé stayed back and was punished for it as Morgan used her weaker foot to volley powerfully into the top of the goal for Orlando's third of the night.
Just as in the first half, the Washington Spirit had a few chances here and there but nothing that tested Bledsoe in Orlando's goal. After a sterling performance over the weekend, the Spirit's attack was stifled and limited to long range efforts by Orlando. It was a let down of a performance after their exploits against Sky Blue FC and one that the Spirit will have to remedy quickly as they go into their remaining fixtures this season.
As for Orlando, they are now one point away from a playoff spot, albeit having played a game more than their nearest competition. An up-to-speed Alex Morgan will certainly help them push for that last playoff spot but it's their backline that will have to show the same resolve as they did tonight if they want to get into the NWSL Playoffs for the first time in their history.