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Rookie Evans gives Pride draw in Marta debut

The Orlando crowd clamored for Marta, but it was the rookie off the bench Danica Evans who provided the late fireworks to lift the Pride to a 1-1 draw with the Washington Spirt. Marta made her much-anticipated debut just shy of an hour into the first NWSL match played at Orlando City Stadium but before she had taken a touch the Spirit took the lead through Line Sigvardsen Jensen. Evans equalized in the 86th minute to become the first player from the 2017 NWSL Draft to find the back of the net.

Marta, who only arrived in Orlando Thursday evening, brought the crowd to frenzy simply by shedding her warm-ups and handing in her sub card. She officially replaced Monica in the 59th minute as the Spirit were lining up a long free kick.

The free kick was eventually cleared out for a Spirit corner kick.  Shelina Zadorsky sent the corner to the top of the six where Ashlyn Harris punched it away. Jensen, positioned just inside the 18, beat a gaggle of Pride players to it and looped a header into the right corner for the Spirit’s first goal of the season.

Marta went to work after that, earning multiple corner kicks and drawing defenders her way every time the Pride marched toward the Spirit goal. Yet there were signs of it being the first time she had been on the pitch with her teammates. On two straight attacking sequences, teammates near the top of the box missed an open Marta in space. Camila—who has played with the five-time player of the year with Brazil—missed her for a one-v.-one chance and Kristen Edmonds later forced a shot through traffic when a pass off to Marta likely would have kept the play alive and stretched out the defense.

The breakthrough for the Pride finally came in the 86th minute. It started with Marta winning possession off Jensen deep in midfield. Several passes—and one throw-in—later, Chioma Ubogagu took a pass from Camila and deftly split two Spirit defenders in close quarters to put Evans through. The 22nd overall pick took a touch to spin away from Whitney Church, another to beat keeper Stephanie Labbe, and then finished into an empty net.

The Pride pushed for a winner but the closest they came was a Marta shot from a tough angle that Labbe did well to cut down even further and forced the shot just wide.

For the second straight week the Spirit lost a player to injury in the 1st half. Katie Stengel had to be stretchered off after being fouled from behind by Jamia Fields. She was later seen walking to the bench after halftime with a brace but no other assistance. Last week the Spirit had to replace Joanna Lohman and Cheyna Williams in the 1st half. Williams is due back in a few weeks but Lohman has a torn ACL and will miss the remainder of the season.

The announced attendance of 14,452 is the second largest crowd in Pride history but fell more than 10,000 short of the club’s public push for an opening day sellout. They’ll have to wait for another shot at it. They Pride (0-1-1, 1 pt) next visit the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, April 29. The Spirit (0-1-1, 1 pt) also play next Saturday, back at home against the Houston Dash.

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