PISCATAWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J.—They say timing is everything, and in soccer, that’s especially true. Send a pass a split second too early or shoot the ball a hair too late and it could be costly. Time those things perfectly though, and well, you can change the game.
On Wednesday night, that’s exactly what Rachel Hill did. Starting on the bench for the first time since debuting for the Orlando Pride, Hill watched as her team went up a goal early in the game, only to see Sky Blue take the lead in the first minute of the second half. As the game clock ticked down, it was looking more and more like the Pride might walk away from Yurcak Field empty handed once more this season.
But then, in the 67th minute, Hill entered the game, and her presence helped re-energize a Pride team that had begun losing its pace and hunger. In the 86th minute as Marta played Catley on the left flank, Hill slowed her run to get behind defender Kayla Mills. When Catley sent her cross in, Hill sped up a few steps before launching herself into the air, beating Mills to get on the end of Catley’s cross. Her header sailed past Christie Pearce and bounced past goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan for her first professional goal and the late game winner.
“It felt incredible,” Hill said after the match. “Great ball in and I think I might have closed my eyes, but it ended up in the back of the net.”
For the rookie forward, the timing was perfect, not only physically, but emotionally as well. Several members of Hill’s family from the Philadelphia area were in the stands to watch her play.
“I knew as some point [my first pro goal] would come, and when that day was, I didn’t know. But to have it be today in front of my friends and family and for it to be the game winner, I couldn’t have pictured it any better.”
Unlike most NWSL rookies, Rachel Hill did not start the season with her team. Instead Hill, drafted as the No. 14 overall pick by Portland before being traded to the Pride, opted to delay the start of her professional career a couple months while she completed her college degree. The UConn alumna trained with the team during her spring break, which fell during the NWSL preseason, before joining the team following her graduation in May.
On June 3, Hill made her professional debut in the Pride’s 2-0 home win over Boston. She started her first three matches with the club before coming off the bench against Sky Blue. Since Hill’s debut, Orlando is 3-1-0.
“It was great for Rachel to score. She’s been magnificent for our side since she joined us,” head coach Tom Sermanni said Wednesday night. “The advantage that we had was having Rachel and Jas Spencer coming off the bench to give us an injection of pace and energy up front. I think that was important. I think that probably helped turn the game.”
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