Ashlyn Harris came back to haunt her old team, as the Washington Spirit were denied time and again by their former goalkeeper in a 1-0 loss at the Orlando Pride. Sydney Leroux’s first half goal gave Orlando their first win since August 21, 2019. Harris was the star though, with a penalty kick save among her nine stops on the night.
With all of his USWNT players back in the fold, Richie Burke gave competitive club debuts to Emily Sonnett and Kelley O’Hara, while Andi Sullivan returned to captain the side. Sonnett replaced Paige Nielsen (who missed out for precautionary reasons due to a thigh injury), and Burke retained the 433 formation that Washington were successful playing out of in the second half in their win last week over Louisville.
While the Spirit had a bit of trouble with Orlando in the opening moments, Sullivan’s vision created the game’s first big chance in the 9th minute. The captain sent a pinpoint ball over the top of the Pride defense for Ashley Hatch, who attempted to loop the ball over Ashlyn Harris. Sadly for the Spirit, Hatch’s shot landed on the roof of the net.
O’Hara forced Harris into an excellent save a minute later, but Orlando had an instant reply, going up 1-0 in the 11th minute. In transition, Alex Morgan picked up the ball after dropping off the front line, and had just enough time to slip a through ball in behind for Sydney Leroux. Racing away from Saori Takarada, Leroux made no mistake with a low finish past Aubrey Bledsoe.
Trinity Rodman created two good chances in the next few minutes, but Bledsoe had to make the next big stop to deny Leroux after Taylor Kornieck tackled the ball off of Sonnett inside the Washington box.
The Spirit were sure they had an equalizer in the 25th minute. Hatch drew a foul about 25 yards out, and while Orlando moved to set up their wall, Washington played a quick free kick. The Pride were completely unprepared, and O’Hara fired past Harris with no trouble. The Spirit celebrated, but moments later referee Alex Billeter called the goal back, apparently indicating that the free kick was taken before her whistle.
If the Spirit were aggrieved by that choice, Billeter was again in their sights after two Ali Riley challenges on Rodman. The first got Riley a yellow card, and the second arguably could have seen her sent off just five minutes later, but Billeter opted just for a talking-to.
Sonnett pushed out from her center back spot to create Washington’s first look of the second half, playing Hatch in behind the Orlando back four. From a narrow angle, Hatch tried to pick out the bottom corner, only for Harris to get a foot to it in the 56th minute. Tegan McGrady then came inches from an olimpico in the 58th minute, bending a corner kick over the entire crowd in the box only for it to bounce off the far post and away from danger.
Just three minutes later, Harris came up big twice in a wild sequence. Another McGrady corner picked out Sullivan, whose volley was pushed away by a reflex Harris save. Washington couldn’t bury the loose ball in the scramble, but before the Pride could clear it out completely, a shot from O’Hara from long range was tipped barely wide by the former Washington goalkeeper. Then, Dorian Bailey then matched McGrady in the 61st minute, with her corner kick clipping the crossbar as Washington put the Pride goal under withering pressure.
Finally, in the 64th minute, Sanchez found Hatch in the box, and Phoebe McClernon’s attempted tackle swiped the striker’s legs out from under her. Billeter pointed to the spot, but Hatch’s spot kick was too close to the middle, allowing Harris to make a penalty kick save for the second straight game.
Washington were all over Orlando, but nearly saw the game put out of their reach in the 71st minute. Marta stripped Sonnett of the ball just as she went to push play upfield, and the Brazilian legend squared into the box for Morgan. From ten yards, Morgan seemed sure to score, but Bledsoe rushed out to block her shot, keeping the scoreline at 1-0.
Orlando were showing clear fatigue, with coach Marc Skinner making several defensive-oriented substitutions to help hold Washington off. The Spirit, meanwhile, were pushing numbers aggressively into the box, with both fullbacks and all three central midfielders at times getting into dangerous spots.
The Spirit felt like they might have another penalty kick in the 89th minute, but O’Hara was given a free kick less than a foot outside the Pride box instead. However, Washington’s best chance came in the 91st minute, with substitute Kumi Yokoyama somehow dancing away from a crowd only for Harris to again come up with a great save.
Orlando pushed a counter the other way, and O’Hara — who had been booked in the 86th minute for a collision trying to win a header — tripped Morgan up, getting sent off via a second yellow card, compounding a frustrating night for the Spirit.
With the loss, Washington cannot advance out of the group stage in the Challenge Cup. They’ll conclude their East Division slate Tuesday, April 27, with a 7:00pm kickoff against NJ/NY Gotham FC.
NWSL Challenge Cup - East Group
Orlando Pride (Leroux 11
Pride (4231): Ashlyn Harris (C); Gunny Jonsdottir, Ali Krieger (Toni Pressley 94+), Phoebe McClernon, Ali Riley; Jade Moore (Courtney Petersen 74), Marisa Viggiano; Sydney Leroux (Chelsee Washington 94+), Marta (Meggie Dougherty Howard 82), Taylor Kornieck; Alex Morgan
Spirit (433): Aubrey Bledsoe; Kelley O’Hara, Emily Sonnett, Saori Takarada, Tegan McGrady; Tori Huster, Andi Sullivan (C), Dorian Bailey (Julia Roddar 75); Trinity Rodman, Ashley Hatch (Kumi Yokoyama 67), Ashley Sanchez (Anna Heilferty 84)
Pride - Marta 13, Riley 36, Harris 80
Spirit - Sonnett 5, O’Hara 86, O’Hara 91+ (sent off)