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Stars shine bright in Orlando’s first win over the Spirit

It was a quick turnaround for the Washington Spirit (4-9-3, 15 pts.) and the Orlando Pride (6-6-5, 23 pts.) on Tuesday evening, as they followed up their matches from this weekend with a match in Orlando merely 72 hours later. Despite heavy legs from last week’s Tournament of Nations and the short time-frame, the stars of the Orlando Pride showed out in true fashion, defeating the Spirit, 3-0, behind goals from Marta, Camila, and Alex Morgan.

Going into Tuesday night, Washington was coming off a big win on the road at Sky Blue, their first road win of the season, and the Pride were coasting off of a draw with the Chicago Red Stars, their first time stealing points from the perennial playoff contenders. Washington head coach again Jim Gabarra went with a similar lineup, deciding again to bench center back Shelina Zadorsky in favor of Kasey Kallman, and to go with a speedy lineup, particularly on their left flank. Orlando also went with similar lineup to last weekend, but moved Chioma Ubogagu back into her natural forward position after having her experiment at outside back on Saturday to cover for the absence of Steph Catley (who had a welcome return on Tuesday) in the starting lineup due to the Tournament of Nations.

Perhaps because of the lack of rest, both teams struggled to put together any solid rhythm for most of the first half of play, especially with Orlando having trouble breaking through Washington’s very high line of defense (a moment indicative of this being at one point when Orlando was called offside in their own defensive half). Of the two teams, however, Orlando did look the most dangerous, especially when Morgan and Marta were able to combine with one another to try to break their teammates through in front of the Washington goal. But it was slow going for the first 45 minutes, and the half ended scoreless.

The second half began in similar fashion, though again it was Marta who consistently showed individual ways to frustrate the Washington defense. Her combination play with Morgan finally broke the Pride through, when in the 52nd minute the Brazilian striker settled the ball at midfield, did a quick give-and-go with Morgan and struck the ball home towards the far post from close range.

This seemed to open up the game for Orlando, and almost immediately after the initial goal, in the 57th minute, Washington goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe had to come off her line to clear a ball destined for Morgan with her head, but was only able to succeed as far as the Pride’s Camila, who made a great heads up play to chip the ball over Labbe and into the Washington goal, doubling Orlando’s lead. After that, it was all Orlando, and Morgan finally got a goal of her own in the 65th minute when Steph Catley went direct from Orlando’s defensive end to send a perfectly weighted ball to a streaking Morgan, who calmly finished the chance with her first touch, hitting the final scoreline of the game at 3-0.

Both teams looked tired at the end of this match, but Orlando finally put the pieces together in the second half to keep a clean sheet for the first time in nine games and to show how dangerous they can be going forward, especially as Marta and Morgan continue to jell up front. Washington will be disappointed with how they were unable to make Orlando’s backline pay with their quickness, but also two quick games on the road for a young team was always going to be a challenge. This sets up a very big game for the Pride next week when they host Sky Blue, who are one of their top challengers for the fourth NWSL playoff spot. Washington will try to pick up where they left off when they host the Boston Breakers.

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