Pugh’s late strike lifts Spirit to draw
Mallory Pugh stood at the penalty spot, the roar of a crowd of 5,200 at the Maryland SoccerPlex growing. It was the 90th minute of a steamy afternoon, and all that stood between Pugh and an equalizing goal against Orlando was goalkeeper Aubrey Bledsoe.
Bledsoe guessed correctly — and still she had no chance. Pugh, the 19-year-old rising star for the U.S. national team, delivered a strike low to the left corner. Bledsoe dove to the correct side and got a hand on the shot but could not stop it as the Spirit salvaged a 2-2 draw. Pugh scored both Spirit goals, while Brazilian star Marta matched her with a pair for Orlando.
“I was very proud of the team — that they were able to create chances going into the fifth minute of injury time, and a bounce here and a bounce there and we come out of here with three points,” Spirit Coach Jim Gabarra said.
Orlando (4-5-4) came in having scored seven goals in its past two road games and was beginning to integrate U.S. star Alex Morgan into its attack. Morgan was playing in just her second game of the NWSL season after suffering a hamstring injury last month while playing for her European club, Olympique Lyonnais. Morgan was taken out in the 63rd minute. Defender Ali Krieger, the former Spirit captain the team surprisingly traded to Orlando for draft positioning last fall, played the entire game for the Pride.
The Spirit (3-6-3) came in with a two-match home shutout streak. That ended in the 10th minute when Orlando midfielder Camila Martins Pereira dribbled into the box and drew contact from Spirit defender Kassey Kallman, resulting in a penalty. Marta, not Morgan, stepped up and took the kick, delivering a blast to the upper right corner as Washington goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe dove left.
Fourteen minutes later, Pugh got Washington even. Midfielder Estefania Banini stole the ball at midfield, dribbled down the left side, then passed to forward Francisca Ordega. Ordega noticed the right side of the field was wide open. Pugh saw it, too, and sprinted into space. Ordega’s cross was a little behind Pugh, who settled it and fired a low drive to beat Bledsoe.
“I thought for the first 25 minutes we controlled the game, controlled the tempo, and then we go up and then we self-destructed,” Orlando Coach Tom Sermanni said.
Eleven minutes into the second half, Marta gave Orlando the lead again, culminating a run of sustained pressure from the Pride after halftime. With the Spirit’s defense scrambling, Marta had enough room to beat a diving Labbe from 21 yards out for her eighth goal of the season, one behind league-leader Megan Rapinoe of the Seattle Reign.
But Orlando couldn’t finish the deal.
In the 88th minute, Spirit substitute Cheyna Williams sent a powerful cross into the penalty area as Washington’s Kristie Mewis and Orlando’s Toni Pressley made plays on the ball. As Mewis went down, the referee blew the whistle and pointed to the spot, setting the stage for Pugh.