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Marta, Spencer score in Pride shutout of Breakers

The Orlando Pride (2-3-3, 9 points) took an early lead and never looked back, shutting out the visiting Boston Breakers (2-4-2, 8 points), 2-0. The Pride dominated the Breakers in everything but yellow cards as they fought their way to three much needed points at home.

Neither team entered the match looking like they did in weeks prior, with both teams incorporating starting lineups that saw many changes. Some of those changes were out of necessity as both teams had players unavailable for various reasons, while others seemed to be tactical.

Boston’s backline suffered two changes as a result of Allysha Chapman was suspended after receiving a red card last week against Portland and Megan Oyster was unavailable because of a right knee sprain. Before Oyster’s injury, she had played every minute of the season for Boston. Amanda Frisbie started at center back for the Breakers, and Brooke Elby saw the start at left back. Amanda Da Costa started in the midfield, and Tiffany Weimer got the start up top while Adriana Leon and Rosie White, staples in the Boston XI until tonight, started on the bench.

Orlando also made a number of changes to their lineup with Tom Sermanni implementing a 4-5-1 in which he pushed Kristen Edmonds back to right back while Ali Krieger returned to center back, where she started the season. Alanna Kennedy appeared with Monica in the midfield, and Marta played in the 10 role while Jasmyne Spencer was the lone player up top. The Pride were without Dani Weatherholt, who was unavailable for tonight’s match because of her call-up to the U.S. U-23 national team. Aubrey Bledsoe once again started in goal for the Pride, as starting goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris is currently sidelined with a quadriceps injury.

Although Sermanni’s lineup was a bit of a head scratcher, it did get results, with the Pride gaining an early lead and never relinquishing it. The team’s opening goal came in just the 9th minute, when Jasmyne Spencer used her speed to break into space before splitting the Boston center backs to play a ball in to Marta. Abby Smith came off her line to try to stop Marta, which she did a little too aggressively, sending the Brazilian flying in the box. As a result of the play, Smith was shown yellow while Orlando was awarded a penalty kick. Marta easily slotted the ball past Smith to put the Pride up a goal within the opening 10 minutes.

The Breakers countered and nearly capitalized on it after left back Brooke Elby drove the ball all the way to the Orlando end line, where she was heavily defended by Kristen Edmonds. Somehow despite heavy pressure from Edmonds, Elby managed to keep the ball in bounds and send the ball to Tiffany Weimer, who waited a split second before taking a shot, only to have it deflected off the Pride. Had Weimer taken a shot with her first touch, she might have been able to send the ball past the Pride defense to test netminder Aubrey Bledsoe, who once again got the start in the wake of Ashlyn Harris’s quadriceps injury.

Orlando extended their lead before the quarter-hour mark, when Camila drove the ball down the left flank and to the end line before sending a cross right in front of the goal. Jasmyne Spencer got to the ball inside of the six and was able to easily tap it in to put Orlando up, two goals to none.

Boston answered with an attempt on goal themselves in the 18th minute. Weimer played Elby, who was making a run just left of center, and Elby took a shot, but it was just wide of the far post. It was the first real attempt on goal by the Breakers.

Shortly after the 30-minute mark, both teams had near chances once again, only to be denied both times. The first of those came from the Pride in the 32nd minute, when Steph Catley played a ball in from the left flank, and Rachel Hill, making her first appearance for the Pride, redirected the ball on goal, but Smith was able to make the stop. The second Boston awarded a free kick in scoring position after Catley fouled Elby. Weimer took the free kick, but the Pride got to the set piece ball first. The ball was then played back in and nearly went out for a Boston corner kick, but Aubrey Bledsoe got to the ball to prevent another Breakers set piece.

The Pride dominated the first half, much the same way they dominated the second half despite a bit of a resurgence by the Breakers in the second 45. It started shortly after the half when Hill played Marta, and the attacking pair went 2v3 against the Boston backline as Marta continued pushing towards goal. She fired off a shot, only to have it deflected by Christen Westphal. The ball stayed in bounds though, and Marta was able to cross it in front of goal, but it was cleared to prevent another Pride goal.

Matt Beard followed Marta’s attempt on goal with two substitutions, inserting Adriana Leon and Rosie White in for Weimer and Da Costa. The two immediately added a punch that was more than just fresh legs, as the pair’s skill and assertiveness on the field have been potent for Boston this season. In the 64th minute, Leon put a dangerous shot that looked right on target for the upper 90, but Bledsoe took to the air to deny her the goal. 

Camila also nearly found her way onto the score sheet in the 64th minute, beating Boston’s defense to a long free kick and getting enough of a lead to get off a shot from the far corner of the 6. However, Smith came off of her line and was successful in cutting off Camila’s angle, and the Brazilian sent her shot just wide of the mark.

Down two goals and with less than 30 minutes left to play, Beard made the Breakers final substitution of the night, subbing in Morgan Andrews for Amanda Frisbie. The substitution was a tactical one as Beard attempted to shift numbers from an already weakened defense into the midfield in search of a finding a late goal.

The Breakers nearly did get on the board in the 74th minute, moments after Steph Catley recovered from a hard challenge from Adrian Leon. The play restarted with a Breakers free kick on the left flank, which White took. Her ball found Julie King’s head, but Bledsoe was able to make the catch to preserve the shutout.

Marta nearly earned a brace just 10 minutes later, and again Smith came off her line to try to deny the five-time FIFA Player of the Year. This time, however, Smith was able to cleanly make the stop, denying Marta of a second goal.

In the final big play of the night, Chioma Ubogagu, who entered the game in the 72nd minute for Camila, made a move on goal, but Julie King denied her. Somehow on the play Morgan Andrews went down and stayed down on the pitch, in visible pain as she clutched her calf. Andrews was eventually able to walk off the field with some assistance from the trainer.

All in all, the Pride was the dominant team of the night, leading the Breakers in everything but yellow cards. The three points earned sees them move ahead of the Breakers and into seventh place in the NWSL standings.

Both teams will receive a much needed break as both teams are off next weekend in observance of the FIFA window, although a number of their players will report to duty with their national teams for various friendlies around the world. NWSL play resumes on June 17, when Boston will travel to North Carolina to take on the top-ranked Courage while the Pride will set out to earn three points on the road in Houston.

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