Since starting the season slowly, the Pride have put together a number of decent performances that find them in the race for a possible playoff berth, bolstered by the play of such stars as Marta and Alex Morgan, as well as their more supporting players like Jasmyne Spencer and Jamia Fields. On their end, Chicago has been cruising in the top three spots of the standings for some weeks now, and have always looked solid and have occasionally looked brilliant.
Perhaps due to their different places in the standings at this point in the season, Chicago chose to make USA internationals Christen Press and Casey Short unavailable after a long week of travel due to the Tournament of Nations (with Julie Ertz on the bench after taking a hard knock in Thursday’s game against Japan), while Orlando started Morgan and Ali Krieger and made Marta available on the bench, along with Camila and Alanna Kennedy. Chicago’s depth was destined to become a factor with so many big name players out, though keeper Alyssa Naeher and midfielder Sofia Huerta were in the starting lineup for the Red Stars.
Starting on the front foot
The game started with a quick back and forth from both teams, though Orlando looked like the team with the more aggressive game-plan. Orlando’s possession-based style of play shone through in the early minutes, and they had some early attempts on goal that were only kept from the back of the net by some bad luck (and the crossbar).
Chicago couldn’t hold them off for long however, when in the 24th minute Chioma Ubogagu got a cross over to Spencer who slotted the ball to Morgan, who calmly closed her angle down with her left foot and caught the inside of the far-side netting to put Orlando up 1-0. Even after the goal, Orlando looked the more promising side, though the 1-0 scoreline held all the way to the end of the first half.
Getting back into it
The second half found the Red Stars working their way back into the match, due to the play of Taylor Comeau in the outside midfield, and to the energetic play of halftime sub Stephanie Mccaffrey, who had her best game in a Chicago jersey in some time on Saturday. This allowed Jen Hoy and Huerta to connect more often in Chicago’s attacking third, and Huerta was able to get off a fantastic effort in the 53rd minute, curling the ball past Aubrey Bledsoe to even the score at 1-1.
Chicago backed off again somewhat after their equalizer, and Orlando pushed late in the match for the game-winner (and were possibly cheated out of a penalty kick when a handball in the box by Arin Gilliland wasn’t called by the referee in the 87th minute), but Chicago’s last-ditch defending was enough to hold off the Pride and close out the match in a draw. Orlando must have felt that they could’ve walked away with the full three points, but this was the first time they were able to avoid defeat against the Red Stars, and they’ll have to be bolstered by an even performance that took it to a team that they’ve historically struggled against.