The Orlando Pride (7-6-5, 26 points) won their 2017 season series against Sky Blue FC (7-9-2, 23 points) with a 5-0 shutout at Orlando City Stadium. Both Marta and Alex Morgan scored braces in the match, while Dani Weatherholt scored her first professional goal to round out the night’s scoring. The shutout matches the largest in NWSL history and (at least temporarily) sees the Pride overtake the Seattle Reign in the final playoff contention spot.
The match was also the last in Maddy Evans’ professional career, as the midfielder announced on Friday that she was retiring to take a job in her home state of Pennsylvania. In the 18th minute, the Crown, the Pride’s supporters group, began clapping and cheering for Evans as she warmed up on the nearby sideline. She then entered the match in the 62nd minute and, just minutes later, stepped to the spot to take a penalty kick for the Pride. Although Evan’s shot was on target, Sheridan made the diving save to deny her a goal in her farewell match.
That is most likely because, at the time, Sheridan had already given up five goals. The first of those goals came in the opening minutes as Marta played a ball up to Alex Morgan, who juked left to shake off Christie Pearce before firing a left-footed shot to give Orlando the lead. The Pride wouldn’t score again until just before the half, as Sky Blue gained momentum and began testing Ashlyn Harris, returning to goal after being sidelined for several weeks with a quadriceps injury, but despite Sky Blue’s best efforts, it would be Dani Weatherholt getting on the score sheet next, scoring on a cross from Camila to give the Pride a 2-0 lead at the half.
Just as she did in the first half, Alex Morgan came out and immediately tested Sheridan with multiple shots on target. The first one Sheridan tracked the entire way and easily collected. The second attempt had a different ending as Morgan made a run as Spencer split the Sky Blue defense with a perfectly-weighted through ball, which Morgan put into the side of the goal to extend the Pride lead.
Marta then scored a brace inside of five minutes to close out the scoring for the night. In the 54th minute, Jasmyne Spencer, in one of her best performances for the Pride yet, sent in a cross from wide right, which Sheridan got a touch on but not enough to prevent Marta from heading it in. Four minutes later, Marta makes it 5-0 after getting on the end of a long pass from Alex Morgan.
That Morgan-Marta connection was one of the biggest takeaways for the Pride after tonight, as the two seemed to find each other all over the field to continuously create dangerous opportunities on goal for the home side. That combination will likely come in very handy as, for the first time all season, the Pride look like a serious playoff contender.
As for Sky Blue, it appears they’ve reached the part of the season where they begin dropping off, unable to keep up the momentum created early in the season. Kailen Sheridan has played through injuries to play every minute of the season, and it was never more evident than tonight. What the rookie goalkeeper needs is some rest, which she’s unlikely to get with the multitude of injuries and lack of defensive depth that is currently plaguing Sky Blue. A number of other players, including Sam Kerr, are also having to play through minor injuries, and the playing at less than 100 percent is catching up to the collaborative team performance, just as it did last year for the same reason. Christy Holly’s going to have to find a way to get his squad healthy and rested if he wants to finish in the top half of the table come September.
The Pride, riding high off tonight’s win, will next travel to Boston, where they will take on the Breakers on Saturday, August 19 at 4 p.m. ET. Sky Blue returns home to Yurcak Field, where they will attempt to earn three points from the Reign, a slightly easier task without Megan Rapinoe, who is currently out recovering from knee surgery. That match will also take place on Saturday, August 19, but at 7 p.m. ET.