Playoff chances slipped further out of reach for the Orlando Pride on Wednesday night as they took a third straight loss, falling 1-0 to the host Chicago Red Stars.
The Pride (7-8-7, 28) struggled to create chances as they dropped 4 points below the postseason cutoff line. With two matches left in the regular season, their playoff fate slipped out of their control.
Despite a flurry of late opportunities, the Pride’s best hope for an equalizer crumbled in the first half when star striker Alex Morgan missed her second penalty shot of the season.
Interim coach Becky Burleigh said Orlando has a pre-selected pool of players to take a potential penalty, but the athletes on the pitch ultimately make the decision in the moment. Marta is the only Pride player to score a penalty kick this season.
“We leave that up to the players,” Burleigh said. “It’s tough to dictate that because you kind of feel it when you’re ready to take a penalty. I wouldn’t want to identify that without letting them have some opportunities. It’s not like it’s open to anyone but there’s definitely a few people who are in that rotation, and Alex is one of them.”
Captain Ashlyn Harris provided one of the only bright spots of the match for the Pride. The keeper made 8 saves to keep Chicago from running away, including a leaping save to tip the ball into the crossbar in the first half and a series of point-blank blocks in the second.
In the final minute of regular time, Harris scrambled backward over half the field to cut off Mallory Pugh, punching the ball away from her feet to force an awkward wide shot and prevent a second goal.
“I’m exhausted,” Harris said. “I feel like every game, other teams are figuring [us] out. They’re manipulating our backline. There’s a ton of movement. There’s people popping in; there’s people hitting behind. These are the things that make it really difficult for backlines.”
The Pride still managed to create chances despite a stagnant first half. Morgan and Jodie Taylor placed a shot apiece on goal, and Sydney Leroux almost landed a scissor kick after settling a long cross from Morgan with her chest.
Erika Tymrak placed 2 shots on frame in the dying seconds of the match, but both were blocked.
After a second scoreless finish in the last three games, the Pride’s offense is struggling to consistently create.
“There’s a massive disconnect between our attacking players and our defensive players,” Harris said. “We can’t just kick balls in behind and run … There has to be sophistication. This game is not easy. It’s a chess match. We’re just relying too heavily on athleticism.”
Wednesday’s match was rescheduled from its original date of Oct. 2. All games that weekend were postponed at the request of the NWSL players association following uproar and overhaul sparked by reports detailing abuse and harassment by coaches throughout the league.
The Pride need to win their last two matches against Racing Louisville on Saturday and Chicago on Oct. 29 to have a chance at making the playoffs.
Even if they win out, they still need at least one of three teams — Houston, North Carolina or Gotham FC — to lose out to make up the 4-point gap in the table.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at firstname.lastname@example.org.