The inconsistency that has dogged the Washington Spirit all season came back again tonight, as they followed Friday’s 4-1 road win with a 3-0 road loss to the Orlando Pride. Marta, Camila, and Alex Morgan scored three goals in a twelve minute span during the second half, as Washington saw an even game slowly drift out of their grasp from the 40th minute onward.
Head coach Jim Gabarra made just one change to the team that knocked off Sky Blue FC over the weekend. Mallory Pugh returned to the team after her stint with the USWNT, replacing Kristie Mewis as the second forward in Washington’s 442 formation. Captain Shelina Zadorsky remained on the bench behind center backs Kassey Kallman and Whitney Church.
In the early going, neither team was quite able to find a connection, though Orlando was coming slightly closer to creating big chances. Kallman came up with big defensive plays twice on Marta in the first 15 minutes to keep Stephanie Labbe from having to make a save. On the other side, Washington appeared to tinker with their formation early, with Pugh dropping into the midfield alongside Meggie Dougherty Howard, while Tori Huster dropped into an anchor role.
The first truly good look for either team came from the Spirit in the 22nd minute. Cheyna Williams didn’t appear to have many options as she cut inside from the left, but she used her dribbling ability to open up a seam, escaping Maddy Evans before attempting a 25 yard bid that skipped just wide.
Orlando had an instant reply. Steph Catley’s ball down the left found Chioma Ubogagu running the channel between Estelle Johnson and Whitney Church. The offside flag went up, though, and Ubogagu’s eventual shot into the upper corner was waved off.
The Spirit had a pair of through balls denied in the 40th minute, and on the second the Pride created a dangerous four-on-four break from midfield. However, with no Orlando player making a run for Alex Morgan, the USWNT star opted to just have a go, firing a knuckling shot from long distance that forced Labbe to tip the ball wide for a corner.
Two minutes later, Marta saw a pass for Morgan blocked by Church, but a fortuitous bounce gave her a chance to cut the ball back against the grain to get past Kallman. Marta had her clearest site of goal, only to blaze a shot from the top of the box over the bar.
The Pride were in the ascendancy, and had their closest look yet in the 43rd minute. Marta’s pass in behind for Ubogagu saw Washington attempt an offside trap, which had been largely successful thus far. Ubogagu raced in behind to fire past the approaching Labbe, only to again be robbed by an offside flag. This time, though, replays were less than convincing, and Washington had to count themselves lucky.
Washington had the first look of the second half, with Caprice Dydasco’s cross from the left picking out Williams, who could only volley over the bar while falling away from the ball.
However, the two most famous players on the field would combine in the 52nd minute to give the Pride the lead. Washington didn’t win a goal kick, and Marta quickly pushed the ball upfield for Morgan. No one tracked Marta’s run from there, and Morgan played the simple wall pass for the five-time World Player of the Year, who waltzed in all alone to round Labbe and convert from a low angle.
It was downhill from there for Washington. A ball in behind the defense from Alanna Kennedy appeared to put Morgan through on goal. Labbe read the danger and came out of her box to head the ball away, but perhaps misjudged the bounce and didn’t head the ball up and away. Instead, it went to Camila, who didn’t even take a first touch before lofting a shot from near midfield and into the empty net to make it 2-0.
Another long-range effort came up in the 64th minute, as the Pride went up 3-0. This time, though, Catley’s long ball from the Orlando half managed to pick out Morgan’s run over 60 yards away. The jaw-dropping pass meant Morgan barely had to adjust her stride before powering a half-volley past Labbe from just inside the box.
Gabarra, perhaps with an eye on Saturday’s game against the Boston Breakers, turned to his bench. Cali Farquharson came in for Ship, playing on the left wing with Williams going up top. Later, Alyssa Kleiner came in at right back for Johnson, while Estefania Banini - who had been doubtful before the game with a hamstring strain - stepped in for Pugh for the final 16 minutes.
The Spirit, despite clearly feeling the weight of the scoreline and a humid night in Florida, tried gamely to at least get themselves one goal. However, despite some narrow misses, Bledsoe never had to make a save as Washington finished a rough night with zero shots on frame.
The Spirit stays in 9th place with the defeat, losing their game in hand on the teams ahead of them. Washington will have to dust themselves off quickly, as they host the Boston Breakers this Saturday. The Lifetime Game of the Week will kick off around 3:50pm at the Maryland Soccerplex.