The Orlando Pride (2-5-3, 9 points) came back from a two-goal deficit to draw Racing Louisville (2-4-4, 10 points) at Daytona International Speedway as part of the 2022 Daytona SoccerFest event to play. The visitors went 2-0 up in the 51st minute with goals from Emina Ekic and Savannah DeMelo, but the Pride came back with goals from Kylie Strom and Darian Jenkins.
This game was an NWSL regular season match, but it was the first game in the league ever to be played at a superspeedway. As a result, the infield and pit road areas were converted into a full-size soccer field. Before the Pride took the field, a legends game was played and Chance the Rapper performed during the warm-up.
Gunny Jonsdottir missed this unique event as she is on international duty with Iceland. Also, Courtney Petersen started on the bench and Angharad James is excused. As a result, the lineup for this game looked a little different. The back row in front of Erin McLeod consisted of Celia, Megan Montefusco, Toni Pressley and Strom. Jordyn Listro and Meggie Dougherty Howard were the defensive midfielders behind Viviana Villacorta, Erika Tymrak and Thais Reiss with Jenkins at the helm.
The Pride got off to a better start and had the most possession in the first 20 minutes. As a result, the hosts got their first chance of the game in the third minute through Dougherty Howard. The midfielder faked two defenders to create space but her shot was saved by Katie Lund.
Another chance came for the Pride in the eighth minute when Jenkins set up Tymrak near the penalty spot. However, the midfielder, making her first regular-season start, sent the shot well over the bar.
Louisville got their first chance of the game in the 10th minute when Freja Olofsson found Kristen Davis in the box. The striker shot quickly but missed the goal on the left.
In the 14th minute, Dougherty Howard had another good chance when Reiss found her with a good ball inside the box. However, the Pride midfielder couldn’t dodge the ball enough and sent it wide.
Louisville had a golden opportunity in the 23rd minute when a Strom turnover allowed Jess McDonald to set Ekic up in the box. The forward fired from point-blank range but McLeod did well to close her angle and block the shot.
A minute later, McLeod saved the Pride again. Lauren Milliet found Ekic in the penalty area and the striker fired on goal. McLeod was able to reach the ball with his fingertips and knock it off the bar.
In the 32nd minute, the guests almost opened the gate again. Milliet sent McDonald on target, but McLeod’s quick decision making allowed her to slap McDonald to the ball and collect it before Louisville’s top scorer could reach it.
Two minutes later, Louisville finally converted. It looked like McLeod would catch Louisville’s cross, but the ball bounced off their hands and straight to Ekic. After a brief touch, the Louisville forward shot at goal and sent it between Celia’s legs on the opener.
“I told them that a goal doesn’t determine how well we’re playing,” said interim head coach Seb Hines of the first-half goal. “You know, you could see that. As soon as a goal was scored, we were discouraged. But we have great players who want to keep doing the right thing and try to get the ball and get back into the game. And it was a slip. That was it. It was just a small stain. And like I said, we created opportunities that we could have achieved and that’s the final stage where we need to improve.”
While the Pride was better in the early moments of the game, Louisville took the lead after about 20 minutes. As a result, the Pride had more possession (56.7% – 43.3%) but fewer shots (8-6). Meanwhile, the teams had an equal number of shots on target (4-4), but Louisville counted one of his tries.
Unlike in the first half, Louisville was the better team at the start of the second 45 minutes. Two Pride players came into play shortly after kick-off when Dougherty fouled Howard Olofsson, which resulted in Davis’ shot being blocked after 47 minutes. Three minutes later, Montefusco was booked for a foul on Savannah DeMelo just outside the box.
The foul placed the ball almost on the edge of the box. Ekic and DeMelo stood over the ball, with the former making the first run and kicking over the ball. DeMelo then stepped forward and put a screamer in the corner, past the diving McLeod’s arms, doubling Louisville’s lead.
The pride responded well, pulling one back in the 59th minute. Substitute Kerry Abello’s cross into the box for Jenkins was batted away but not far enough as Jenkins gained control. With her back to goal, the forward played back to Strom, whose second touch rolled into the far post. It was Strom’s first goal since joining Pride last year and her first in the NWSL.
“I almost don’t even believe that happened,” Strom said of her goal. “But D (Darian Jenkins) gave me a great pass back I think and just saw the opportunity and took it. We’ve had a bit of trouble scoring goals in recent games. So that’s been a focus of the last few weeks of training. So it was really nice to get when we went for them. And yes, it was definitely nice to go in.”
“That’s a big confidence boost,” Hines added. “You know, if the first goal goes in, can we score another one and then can we control the game?”
The goal broke a 329-minute goal drought for the Pride dating back to the team’s May 27 game against Washington Spirit, when Cluff and Jenkins scored two goals in second-half injury time to equalize. Since that goal, the Pride had gone 14-0 in a 5-0 loss to Houston Dash, a 1-0 loss to the Chicago Red Stars, a 6-0 loss to the Portland Thorns, and fell 2: 2 back. 0 tonight at Racing Louisville.
After more than three and a half games between goals before Strom converted, it took just 11 minutes for the Pride to score their next goal. After starting the attack, Jenkins continued her run into the Louisville box. Tymrak received the ball and quickly played it forward. The Louisville defense tried to bolster Jenkins, but Gemma Bonner kept her on the side. Jenkin’s first touch with her right foot rolled a shot around Lund and equalized.
“We said at half-time that we knew it was coming,” Strom said of two quick goals. “And once we had one, they would keep falling.”
Louisville almost took the lead again in the 78th minute. Tymrak’s foul on DeMelo just outside the box resulted in a set piece from a similar distance and angle as DeMelo’s goal. This time Ekic was the only one with the ball. The first-half goalscorer’s goal seemed to go into the near post, but McLeod made an excellent save and blocked it.
Two minutes later, the Pride nearly took the game’s first lead. Tymrak ran Jenkins through in a ball similar to the one that led to Jenkins’ goal. The striker tried to play the ball deep into the far corner but Lund did well to come down and save with her right foot.
As time went on, both teams looked for a winner. Despite losing 2-0 in the second half, the Pride felt they could take three points.
“I thought we’d end up getting one,” Strom said. “And it would have been nice to get it.”
“For the last 10 minutes, I kept yelling at people, like three minutes, three minutes,” Celia added. “Give me three more minutes because I really thought we had it in us and I could taste it.”
In the final minutes, neither team managed to score and the game ended in a 2-2 draw.
The Pride finished the game with more possession (54.4%-45.6%), but the game was statistically very even. Louisville had more shots (15-13) but the teams had the same number of shots on goal (8-8), corners (4-4), and crosses (16-16).
“Bittersweet,” Hines said of the result. “I think the team showed a lot of courage to come back from being 2-0 down. You know, we’ve been in this position too many times. But I felt like we didn’t deserve to lose that game today. I think the players played great. They played the way we wanted to play. We wanted to control the game with our passes and indent and create chances. Of course we have to work on the last part of it. But I can’t fault their attitude after this week. From one day to the next, today’s game was top-notch.”
Though there was technically only a tie in a technically home game, the point ends a three-game losing streak that saw the team edged 14-0. It also ended a goalless run of 329 consecutive minutes.
The Pride is having a short week as they are back on the field Friday night against the Houston Dash at Exploria Stadium. The team will look to build on that result to claim their first win since May 18 in North Carolina.