The Orlando Pride ended the Washington Spirit’s unbeaten streak and Marta scored her first league goal since 2021 during Saturday’s regular season NWSL matchup at Exploria Stadium.

After Pride forward Adriana was taken down in the box in the 21st minute, Marta stepped to the spot. The 37-year-old Brazilian star successfully converted the penalty, sending Spirit goalkeeper Aubrey Kingsbury diving the wrong way. She celebrated with a scream, and then made a heart with her hands.

“I just thought, ‘Yes, we scored! I scored a penalty,'” Marta reflected post-game. “I think it’s double pressure because if you miss, you don’t know how the game is going to go for you and for your team. I was so happy that I (scored) and that we won this game.”

Marta, who is aiming to compete at her sixth Women’s World Cup this summer, missed the entire 2022 NWSL season after tearing her ACL in March 2022.

“Any forward wants to get that feeling back and it’s a testament to her recovery, coming back from a long-term injury,” said Orlando Pride head coach Seb Hines. “You don’t want anyone else stepping up for that penalty other than her. She’s been in that moment so often on the biggest stage. We had full confidence in her hitting the back of the back of net.”

While the Spirit responded just moments later — thanks to a beautiful Sam Staab header — the Pride regained the lead in the 77th minute when Marta assisted a goal by Kylie Strom. (Video of all three goals is embedded below.)

With the 2-1 win, the Pride are now unbeaten in their last four regular season NWSL games — a strong statement after the squad opened the season with four straight losses. They also handed the Washington Spirit — the final remaining unbeaten NWSL team — their first loss.

“Beating the (team at the) top of the table just shows that the players can go away full of confidence knowing that they can beat anyone in the league now,” Hines said.

“It probably is a statement to the league that we are here to win and here to stay and to perform.”

Seb Hines was told he was interim head coach of the Orlando Pride on Tuesday.

It was the same day he found out head coach Amanda Cromwell and assistant Sam Greene had been placed on administrative leave, effective immediately, pending the conclusion of a joint investigation between the NWSL and NWSL Players Association that explores allegations of workplace misconduct toward NWSL players.

With the Pride (2-3-2) coming off a 5-0 loss to the Houston Dash, Hines, who was hired in 2020 as an assistant coach, didn’t allow himself much reaction to either piece of news. With a road game against the second-place Chicago Red Stars coming up on Sunday, he and the team needed to focus on training.

“I’ve got a job to do,” said the former Orlando City SC player. “I’ll do it to the best of my ability as long as I’m in this role … We’ve got to prepare for Sunday and get a result at Chicago and put on a performance that the players deserve.”

Hines, 34, cannot comment on the suspensions with the investigation still underway. He also did not say how long he expects to serve as the acting head coach. Supporting him will be goalkeeper coach Aline Villages Reis and assistant coach Michelle Akers.

“I take it every day as it comes,” he told reporters Wednesday. “Today is a training session that would be led by myself. Tomorrow we have a day off. Friday we’ll train. Saturday we’ll leave to Chicago, and Sunday we’ll play. So, we’ll take every day as it comes.”

Focusing on the game has also been Hines’ message to the players as they, too, process the suspensions of Cromwell and Greene, who came to the team this offseason.

“Football’s freedom,” he said. “Go out and express themselves, believe in themselves and go enjoy it. We’re all here to play football. We love the game. I love the game. I’ve been at this, it’s all I know, since I was 7 years old. I know how fun it can be and making sure the environments are fun and enjoyable.”

When asked about the club’s environment off the field, Hines again directed attention back to the pitch.

“I focus on the field,” he said. “I can control what’s happening on the field at this present moment, so making sure that it’s a competitive environment, making sure we’re prepared and that players feel free to play and express themselves on the field. That’s what I can control.”

Pride midfielder Gunny Jónsdóttir was on the same page. She said she had no reaction to the suspensions and was focused on the match against the Red Stars.

For her, it isn’t difficult to block out the off-field noise.

“We’ve all had situations in our personal life or on a team that we’ve been on where different things happen, so I think we all have experience with setbacks or anything like that, so I think the team knows what we need to do,” Jónsdóttir said. “We need to just focus on ourselves and our performance and on training … and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Cromwell, who joined the Pride after 25 years at the college level, is the seventh NWSL head coach in the past two seasons to be suspended due to alleged misconduct. Earlier this season, Houston Dash coach James Clarkson was suspended amid an ongoing investigation to “review current and historic complaints of discrimination, harassment and abuse.”

Jessa Braun is a contributing writer at Just Women’s Sports covering the NWSL and USWNT. Follow her on Twitter @jessabraun.