With the Orlando Pride season coming up in a couple of months and the team staying basically the same from last season (so far), many people are wondering if this team has what it takes to go to the next step: making it to the NWSL Cup final. After a disappointing match in Portland during the semifinals, the Pride have had a long off-season to reflect and come back even stronger.
The team has yet to make any moves thus far in the off-season. Tom Sermani hit the ground running as soon as the season had concluded, traveling to Europe and Australia to scout new talent for the team. The front office was able to re-sign Dani Weatherholt who had a very good season in the midfield for the Pride. The club was also able to send a handful of players to Australia and Europe to ensure that they continue to compete at the highest level. I would argue that this has done wonders for the players who went.
Five players from the squad went off to play in winter leagues this year. Rachel Hill went to play for Perth Glory for her first season in Australia. Toni Pressley also went to Australia for the first time, playing for Canberra United. Steph Catley and Alanna Kennedy returned to their homeland to compete for Melbourne City. Monica also played in a winter league but did not travel to Australia. She has been playing for Atlético Madrid. Later on in the season, Sydney FC received Aubrey Bledsoe on loan from Orlando Pride due to some goalkeeping issues they had. This made the total rise to six players playing abroad and I can’t forget to mention that Alex Morgan and Ashlyn Harris were getting regular call-ups with the U.S. Women’s National Team.
With all this work in the off-season, the Pride are poised to have an even better season this year. You could basically go position by position on a team with this much talent when discussing who to watch for in the coming year, but here’s who I’ll be keeping an eye on for 2018.
One of the most exciting players to watch going into this season might not be Marta or even Morgan (though both of those ladies are certainly exciting to watch). I have my eyes on 22-year-old forward Rachel Hill, a player who originally was not selected by the Orlando Pride in the 2017 draft but was traded for shortly after. The Pride gave up a few assets to grab the young striker out of UConn last year and she is poised to have a breakout season.
Last year, Hill signed with the Orlando Pride in May shortly after graduating from college. She took a bit of time to break into the starting 11, finally getting an opportunity on June 28 to show what she had. Hill had three goals, and one assist in 713 minutes over 15 appearances. Though Hill only had the fifth most minutes out of the forward group, her play off the ball, as well as her link-up play, were something to be delighted with.
The W-League has has done wonders for the young forward this winter, as she has lit up the league in the offensive end. I would argue she has had the best off-season of any Pride player that went off to play.
Hill joined Perth Glory in the beginning of the W-League season, playing alongside NWSL Golden Boot winner Sam Kerr. Boy did Hill take off from the start. She scored seven goals with three weeks left to play in the league. Hill currently sits second in goals right behind Kerr, who has eight.
The issue with this kind of form in the W-League begs the question: will she be able to bring over her goal scoring to the Pride when she returns? I believe she will. The opportunity that Rachel has had to not only have more professional soccer under her belt but to also study the game of Kerr has been invaluable.
This is not to say that working with Morgan and Marta hasn’t been influential but having as many opportunities to learn the forward position from some of the best strikers in the world does not hurt. Though Hill was fifth in minutes last year among strikers, I would not be surprised if Tom Sermani found ways to get her on the field more in 2018. The one thing that could help her is Camila’s absence from the team in the first few months as the Brazilian makes her way back from her ACL/MCL injury. If Hill can make an impact early for this team, she could not only see her minutes rise with the squad but she could also become an instant fan favorite.
Prediction: If Hill can grab a starting spot she could easily have a ten goal/five assist season.
If there is anything Pride fans can hope for going into next season, its the idea that their two biggest stars hit the ground running. Marta’s play in the 2018 season can set the tone for the Pride.
The five-time World Player of the Year took the NWSL by storm last year, joining the team right before the home opener against the Washington Spirit. Though she did not start that game there was a different feel in the air. The Orlando Pride had signed one of the best women footballers in the world. As she came on in the 59th minute the crowd erupted and you knew that she was going to be special for the Pride.
Marta did not waste any time leading the Pride as she bagged her first goal on May 7 against FC Kansas City. She was the leader of the Pride up until June 21 when Alex Morgan returned from Lyon. During the time Morgan was gone, Marta had five goals and three assists, with her numbers improving each week. Even when Morgan returned, Marta had eight goals and three assists, ending the year as the Orlando Pride leading goal scorer with 13 goals along with her six assists.
So where does Marta go from here? Having a full preseason with the Pride can only bode well for team chemistry, especially with all the stars this team has. Expect Marta to continue to split time between the attacking line and her midfield facilitator role, depending on the opponent and the team’s shape.
Prediction: I would expect Marta to score a bit less if Hill is able to seize a starting role up top and look for the Brazilian to finish with about seven goals but a boost in assists, most likely hitting double digits.
After a lackluster first season with the Pride, Morgan decided to join Lyon for half of the year on a loan to provide another opportunity for herself. While with Lyon she was able to score five times in eight appearances, regaining top form. Due to the fact that she was away from the Pride for half of the season and returned with an injury, it took Morgan a bit of time to acclimate to the team. She eventually ended the season with nine goals and four assists, creating a kick in form for the Pride in the back end of their season leading them to the playoffs. Though it didn’t end how Morgan wanted it to, the season was a boost for her.
Alex can only continue to improve next season. She has not been on loan this off-season but she has spent time with the USWNT, continuing to work on her game. With having an entire preseason with the team, Marta being right at her side, and the improved form of Chioma Ubogagu and Hill, Morgan should expect to have an even better season than last year.
Prediction: I would expect Morgan to score at least 12 goals this season. If healthy, she’ll be one of the top scorers in the league.
She would need to sign her contract offer to be in Orlando in 2018, but Chi has found a place among the Orlando Pride attack after joining the team last season. Ubogagu was acquired by trading a 2017 third-round draft pick to the Houston Dash. It was a move seen to bolster the attack that had been so lackluster the season before. Even with the additions of Marta in the beginning of the year as well as a few other attacking plays, Chi was able to make her presence known on the pitch.
She played over 1,300 minutes for the Pride in her first season with the club, scoring three times and providing three assists. Ubogagu played all but three games and was used in a variety of attacking spots. Her versatility is something that the Pride can value especially with some injuries and holes they will have to inevitably deal with next season.
Though she did not play in a winter league this off-season, Chi received a USWNT call up. Many believe that the reason she was brought into the USWNT was because of her position flexibility. This is a big step for Chi and if she can continue to play well and receive call-ups it’ll only improve her stock.
Chi in the 🔴⚪️&🔵 🙌 pic.twitter.com/bzD4yEevar
— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) November 6, 2017
Chi could have an interesting season for the Pride but could certainly hold on to her spot in the starting 11 (I do not foresee Jamia Fields or Danica Evans taking over those spots, although Nadia Gomes could provide pressure). Her main area to improve is consistency in the final third.
Prediction: I would expect Ubogagu to net at least seven goals this year if she can hold onto a starting 11 spot. Even if she cannot, she could be a huge spark off the bench and provide goals to close out games. Though I would prefer to see her start, this could be a possibility.
Most of Weatherholt’s game goes under the radar. Unfortunately, that is a common thread with more defensive players. Nonetheless, she was a key cog in the wheel for this Pride team since she was drafted in 2016. Though it took some time for her to see the field, she has been consistently locking down teams and connecting the defense to the offense in transition.
Last season, Dani went from playing just under 800 minutes in year one to almost 1,500 minutes in year two. She was asked often to play a double pivot (two defensive midfielder set up) to bolster the defensive end of the field. Weatherholt and Kennedy were a dynamic duo in the defensive part of the pitch. Like stated above, this type of play is not recognized as much because there aren’t a whole lot of stats to bolster the argument but when it comes to more defensive players that can be a good thing.
With Dani being only 23-years-old, she still has room to grow and I fully expect that to continue going into next year. With the uncertainty of Kennedy up to this point, Dani could be asked to hold down the defensive midfield position solo. Even if Kennedy comes back (which at this point we expect to happen) Weatherholt can blossom even more becoming one of the best defensive midfielders in NWSL. As long as Weatherholt can continue to settle into the team and work well in possession, she will undoubtedly continue to hold down that defensive midfield spot.
Prediction: I would expect Weatherholt to work on her passing stats, not that she was terrible in that department, but having better possession and passing percentage would go a long way for this team. If Weatherholt can hold the ball more often or even distribute at a better rate, this Pride team could be even more potent. I expect even better growth out of her becoming an enforcer at the defensive midfield spot.
The Goalkeeper Position: Ashlyn Harris & Aubrey Bledsoe
When it comes goalkeeping, the Orlando Pride had the goal locked down last season. When Ashlyn Harris went out with a quad injury, Bledsoe came in and did a great job keeping the team in the fight for a playoff spot. With both goalkeepers doing well last season this could create a potential issue: If a team needs a goalkeeper, could one of these players be dealt?
As the season approaches, teams around the league could start inquiring about the availability of one of the Pride’s keepers if injuries occur. But for now Harris and Bledsoe return for the Pride and could be the most dominant one-two punch in terms of goalkeepers.
Harris began the season as the starting goalkeeper, a role she held in 2016 as well, when the team came into the league. She played the first six games of the season for the Pride putting in solids performances in all those games. Though she did not grab any clean sheets, she only let up about 1.5 goals per game and had four saves per game, also tallying a 10-save game against North Carolina Courage. However, against Seattle, Harris went out in the 26th minute and emergency backup Caroline Stanley was forced into action. Harris returned Aug. 13, grabbing a clean sheet in her first start back. She then led the Pride to the playoffs. Harris has done a bit of off-season work as well, playing with the USWNT, keeping her in form.
Bledsoe was pushed into action the week following Harris’ injury. She started 10 games for the Pride, allowing 1.5 goals per game and averaging 3.5 saves per game. Bledsoe also had two clean sheets. She slid right into a team that needed her to step up and boy did she. During the off-season, Bledsoe is currently with Sydney FC, where she’s made the most of her opportunities, chalking up five starts and two shutouts so far. The time with Sydney FC has done wonders for her thus far and only helps improve her stock.
Could it be possible that the team deals one of these bright stars to gain a missing piece? Bledsoe could be an attractive player to trade for due to her performances and her age. However, Harris also has her own appeal with a plethora of experience in the professional game, 14 USWNT caps, and the ability to inspire the players around her. I’m not suggesting that either player needs to leave the team but this could be something that the team entertains if there are needs that can’t be solved with just finding a player.
Prediction: Harris will retain the starting job by the time the season begins but if there is any slip in form or if Harris gets injured again, we could see a changing of the guard, allowing an opportunity for Bledsoe to come in and compete for the job. If this team needs to grab one more piece and can do so by trading one of its keepers, it could be possible that Harris or Bledsoe are dealt.
After having an explosive year last year, Camila had an unfortunate ending to her season after tearing her MCL & ACL in the final regular-season game. Camila played 1,900 minutes last year in 24 games. In that time she scored four goals with five assists, creating a lot of chances on the attacking front but also was able to get back on defense. The unfortunate injury was something the Pride were not expecting and may have hindered them from going all the way to the NWSL Cup final.
Camila began her career at the age of 18 in Brazil, bouncing around a few teams. She also had a small stint in Houston before returning to Brazil. However, when Camila joined the Pride there were high expectations for the young defender/midfielder and she did not fail to disappoint. Though her stats may not be as high as some would have hoped, her effect on the field could not be missed.
The number one goal for Camila in 2018 is for her to get healthy. Tearing one of either your ACL or MCL is tough enough but having to come back from both is no easy task. The Pride will do everything in their power to ensure that she rehabs correctly and gets back on the field. Injuries like Camila’s can take about six to nine months to properly heal pegging a summer to early fall return. Best case scenario for the Pride would have them above the line at that time with Camila gently sliding in so she can rehab back in time for a playoff run. Even so, this team should have enough depth to fill in for her even if the player isn’t as explosive.
Prediction: I would expect Camila to have a slow return to the squad, easing back into the lineup midseason. With that, she could have a handful of assists and a goal or two by the end of the season.
Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage: Final Score 2-1 as Ally Watt and Adriana Lead Pride to Vital Win
The Pride used two first-half goals to beat the North Carolina Courage, moving up to seventh in the NWSL.
The Orlando Pride (8-10-1, 25 points) returned home in a must-win game and took care of business, beating the North Carolina Courage (8-7-4, 28 points) 2-1 at Exploria Stadium. Ally Watt scored the earliest goal in Pride history, giving the hosts the lead inside the first minute. Adriana doubled the advantage in the 32nd minute, which was all the Pride needed. Manaka Matsukubo got one back in the 52nd minute, but North Carolina couldn’t find an equalizer and the Pride took all three points.
Despite being on the road, the Courage dominated possession in this game. The Pride played like the typical visiting team, defending fiercely and hitting the opposition on the counter attack. It was successful, as they scored twice with that method and nearly had more. The task became easier when Malia Berkely was sent off in the 78th minute, enabling the Pride to control the dying minutes.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made three changes to the team that lost 1-0 to OL Reign on Sept. 3 in Seattle. Carly Nelson started in goal for the suspended Anna Moorhouse, who was sent off in the third minute in the team’s most recent game. Watt entered the lineup in the striker’s role for Messiah Bright, and Adriana returned to the lineup after missing the trip out west, replacing Kerry Abello. Bright and Abello started this game on the bench.
The back line in front of Nelson was Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Madril, and Haley McCutcheon. Mikayla Cluff and Jordyn Listro were the starting defensive midfielders behind Julie Doyle, Marta, and Adriana. Watt was the lone forward up top.
Cluff and Viviana Villacorta started the season as the defensive midfield partnership. That changed to a Villacorta and Abello partnership with Cluff and Listro coming off the bench. However, Cluff and Listro have started the last two games, an interesting switch as the season nears its end.
“It’s tough decisions, right? There’s not a lot (of separation) between the four midfielders, between Jordyn, Kayla, and Vivi. They’ve all done really well this season,” Hines said about the change. “So it’s being adaptable, giving players opportunities. We felt like it was a good balance in the midfield with Kayla and Jordyn.”
The Pride got off to the best possible start in this game. Listro intercepted a Matsukubo pass at midfield and played Adriana forward. Watt ran around left back Emily Fox, reaching the ball at the top of the 18. Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy came out and got a piece of the shot, but not enough as the ball rolled in to give the Pride an early lead.
“Ally took her goal really well,” Hines said about Watt’s strike. “Very pleased for Ally because she’s put so much work into her craft the last couple of weeks. And she gets a reward with a goal.”
“I think you just realize you have — we have — full trust and faith in them with anything,” Watt said about playing with Marta and Adriana. “Adriana is called the wizard for a reason. She gets balls off in the most magical way I’ve ever seen, honestly. So, I think we just have full trust in them. So when we make the run, we fully know that we’re going to get that ball if we execute properly. And when they’re on the ball, they might do some magic on their own, but they’re going to feed it to you as well. So, we always have to be prepared for whatever they’re going to be providing, because they’re very unpredictable players. And that’s what we love about them.”
The goal crossed the line 38 seconds after kickoff, making it the earliest goal in Pride history. It was only 16 seconds off of the league record of scoring 22 seconds into a game.
“We talk about starting the game quickly,” Hines said. “You know, the first pass, first dribble, setting the tone straight from kickoff. And it’s the best way to start a game, scoring a goal.”
The Courage had their first chance of the game in the eighth minute when Ryan Williams’ cross was headed out of play by McCutcheon. Haley Hopkins jumped over Doyle to reach Berkely’s corner kick at the back post, but sent it straight to Nelson.
In the 13th minute, Williams received the ball from Kerolin and dribbled into the Pride box. The right back cut inside and played a short pass where Kerolin had run past Rafaelle. The midfielder found forward Tess Boade wide open at the top of the six-yard box, but Boade couldn’t get over the shot and sent it over the target.
A Pride goal kick in the 16th minute ended up with Rafaelle, who attempted to play it short to Strom on the side. But Kerolin intercepted it. After quickly playing a pass to the middle for an open Boade, Rafaelle took down her international teammate, earning the game’s first booking.
The ensuing free kick by Narumi Miura was short to Kerolin and the Brazilian lifted the ball to the top of the six. Nelson came out strong, initially fumbling the ball after midair contact with an opposing attacker, but eventually collecting it. Kaleigh Kurtz charged into Nelson and both players went to the ground. Referee Danielle Chesky called a foul on Kurtz, ending the North Carolina threat.
The Pride had a chance to double their lead in the 24th minute when Watt found Adriana in the box from the left. Miura got in front of the shot, blocking it back to the midfielder. Adriana took a second shot, but Miura got in front of that one as well, enabling the Courage to clear.
The Pride scored their second goal right after the restart of the first-half hydration break. Nelson restarted with a goal kick to Strom, who sent the ball forward for Adriana. The attacker left it for Marta, whose back heel was blocked by Berkely, but it went right back to her. The second pass attempt by Marta was wide to Doyle, who sent Adriana behind the Courage back line with her first touch. As Miura attempted to catch up with the Brazilian, Murphy stayed on her goal line. Adriana put it into the corner of the net from the top of the six-yard box, giving the Pride a 2-0 lead.
“I saw Marta get it, and whenever Marta gets it on her left foot, that means I’ve got to run into the back space, because I know that she can find me through. And that’s what she did,” Doyle said about her assist. “And then I saw Adriana had a ton of space in behind, because they were really high. And Adriana’s so fast. I’m just like, all I have to do is get it to her and I know that she’ll do great things. And that’s what we saw.”
Poor passing in the 44th minute nearly gave the Pride a chance for a third when Murphy played a short ball to Berkely in the Courage box. The center back nonchalantly sent it back to her goalkeeper, wide of the target. Watt, one of the league’s fastest players, attempted to beat Murphy to the ball and got a piece as Murphy attempted to clear it. But the visitors were able to get it away without any damage.
At halftime, North Carolina had far more possession (69.4%-30.6%), but couldn’t do much with it. Meanwhile, the Pride were happy to hit them on the counter, resulting in a halftime lead. While both teams had four first-half shots, the Pride put two on target and the Courage put one on frame. North Carolina also led the Pride in corner kicks (1-0) and crosses (6-1), and passed more accurately (91.6%-74.2%).
“Going into the second half, we changed our formation a little bit when we had that water break, so we just went over it again. Because passing information is difficult in that kind of situation,” Watt said about the halftime message. “(Hines) was telling us that I’m going to put the pressure on you. You guys are 2-0 up, and that’s a dangerous lead to have. They can come in and score and get momentum, and they certainly did score, but we did a really good job hanging onto it. And then the red card happened and we were just able to take control of the game and everything.”
The Pride created a pair of chances within the first five minutes of the second half. In the 48th minute, a Kurtz pass across for Miura was intercepted by Watt. The forward sprinted towards the Courage box, pulling up when Berkely got in front of her. Adriana called for the ball, but Watt took the long-distance shot herself. It didn’t cause any trouble for Murphy at the near post, who easily collected it.
A minute later, the Pride went on another counterattack. Doyle turned her defender and played a give-and-go with Marta on the left. The midfielder sent a low cross into the box for Adriana, but it was too far in front of her and Fox cleared it away.
The two missed opportunities proved costly in the 52nd minute when North Carolina got a goal back. Hopkins played the ball wide for Fox and the defender sent a cross into the box. Hopkins had made a run, but let the ball run past her to Matsukubo waiting behind, unmarked. The 19-year-old didn’t miss her opportunity, putting it past Nelson to cut the Pride lead to 2-1.
Three minutes later, the Courage had a chance for an equalizer when Kerolin sent a cross toward Fox in the middle of the box. The left back redirected the ball towards goal, but couldn’t get over it and the attempt went over the crossbar.
Shortly after the miss, Hines made his first substitution of the night. Regular starting striker Bright entered the game for Watt. The Pride made two more changes in the 64th and 65th minutes, replacing Doyle and Cluff with Abello and Villacorta.
A controversial moment occurred in the 66th minute when Adriana dribbled into the North Carolina box. She cut inside to beat Kerolin, before Fox came back to win the ball. The ball popped up and appeared to hit Fox’s arm at the edge of the box, which was up to shield her face. The play is only reviewable for a penalty, but the video assistant referee didn’t call for Chesky to take a look.
“In the 66th minute, the referee observed the ball hit the NC Courage player’s hand, which was in a natural position,” Chesky responded after the game. “At the next stoppage, the VAR checked the incident and confirmed no clear or obvious error.”
The comeback got more difficult for the Courage in the 78th minute when Berkely was sent off. A short free kick to the center back resulted in a bad pass into the box. Madril got to it first, sending it downfield. Adriana was the first to the ball and used her speed to get behind Berkely. The center back, who was clearly the last defender, took down the midfielder and Chesky immediately issued a red card. The VAR checked the play and confirmed the decision, giving the Pride a player advantage for the final 12 minutes.
The Pride nearly took advantage and scored a third in the 82nd minute when Marta’s shot was blocked out by Kurtz. The ensuing corner kick by Adriana found a wide-open Rafaelle beyond the back post. The center back’s header was off the outside of the post, keeping the score at 2-1.
The fourth official showed five minutes of second-half stoppage time, but that was increased when Rafaelle’s inadvertent elbow found the head of Courage substitute Tyler Lussi. Blood was dripping down her face, so the forward needed to change her shirt and shorts. Hines took the opportunity to make two final changes, replacing Adriana and Listro with Brianna Martinez and Celia.
While the Pride had a defensive lineup for the final minutes, the 10-player Courage were unable to create any chances. The Pride did well to maintain possession, continuously taking it to the corner to run the clock out. It was a successful strategy as they held on for a crucial win.
North Carolina ended the game with significantly more possession (67.2%-32.8%), but was unable to create more chances with it. Both teams had 10 shots and the Pride put more on target (3-2). The Courage had more crosses (14-11) and passed more accurately (88.7%-73.2%). The Pride had more corner kicks (4-2).
“Massive win tonight,” Hines said. “Running out of games now. Only three games to go and we have to give absolutely everything. I think looking back, you know, some of the performances are brilliant. We haven’t rewarded ourselves with the three points and you know, I’m so happy that we were able to get up in the game, take our opportunities. And a lot of credit has to go to the players, because they’re the ones who are competing, going out there day in, day out in training and performing at such a high level in the field. We’ve made it uncomfortable for North Carolina, going up in the game and then not giving them too much to try and play through the lines and stop that rhythm. But you have to have the right mindset to do that, and I felt everyone from back to front did their job and they were brilliant at their job.”
“We’ve been working so freaking hard, and it’s so nice to finally get the reward, because I think you’ve seen this team have games like this and sometimes it just doesn’t go our way,” Doyle added. “So for it to finally go our way, it’s just such a relief.”
It was a unique home game for the Pride because the hosts usually have the majority of possession. It was the opposite in this one because the Courage dominated possession and the Pride had to maintain their concentration. That’s something the team has had trouble with this season, especially on set pieces.
“We knew they’re a team that gets 500 passes per game. So credit to them,” Doyle said. “They’re a super good football team, so we knew we had to be disciplined in our defensive shape. That’s what we’ve been working on all week and we really just had to stay compact.”
The win sees the Pride jump the Houston Dash, Racing Louisville FC, and Angel City FC, from 10th to seventh place. They’re now only one point behind the Washington Spirit for the sixth and final playoff spot. While they’re tied with Angel City on points, the Pride currently hold the tiebreaker on goal difference.
The Pride now have a two-week break before they take the field again. They were supposed to play Angel City in Los Angeles on Thursday night, but that game was delayed until Oct. 2 because of the upcoming international break.
Orlando Pride vs. North Carolina Courage: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
The Orlando Pride return home after a two-week break to face the North Carolina Courage at Exploria Stadium.
Welcome to your match thread as the Orlando Pride (7-10-1, 22 points) welcome the North Carolina Courage (8-6-4, 28 points) to Exploria Stadium. This is the fourth meeting between these two teams this year and the second in the NWSL regular season.
Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s game.
The Pride and Courage have played 22 times since the Western New York Flash moved to North Carolina and became the Courage. The Pride are 4-13-5 in those games (4-10-1 in the NWSL regular season, 0-0-2 in the Fall Series, and 0-3-2 in the NWSL Challenge Cup).
The most recent meeting between the two teams was a July 29 Challenge Cup contest in North Carolina. The Pride didn’t show up for that one, getting demolished by the Courage. Brittany Radcliffe and Malia Berkely gave the hosts a 2-0 halftime lead before Frankie Tagliaferri made it three, and a late brace by Haley Hopkins completed the 5-0 result.
The game prior to that was on June 17 in North Carolina and, again, it was all Courage. Kerolin and Meredith Speck gave the hosts a 2-0 lead before a Haley McCutcheon own goal made it 3-0 to North Carolina. On April 19 at Exploria Stadium, the Pride took the lead after halftime when Summer Yates set up Ally Watt for the opening goal. But Denise O’Sullivan equalized in the ninth minute of second-half injury time, resulting in a 1-1 draw.
Prior to that game, they last played on Sept. 21, 2022, at Exploria Stadium. The Courage got off to a great start when Debinha scored in the second minute. The Brazilian then assisted Tess Boade in first-half injury time to double the lead, and later added another, dooming the Pride to a 3-0 defeat.
The previous 2022 meeting came on May 18 in North Carolina. The Pride got off to a great start in that game, with Sydney Leroux scoring early. Mikayla Cluff doubled the lead with her first professional goal. A late goal by Brianna Pinto got the Courage back within one, but it wasn’t enough as the Pride took the 2-1 win.
The Pride and Courage were placed in the same division for the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup, so the teams played twice before the regular season started. The first game was on March 26 in North Carolina. Merritt Mathias converted a penalty after Gunny Jonsdottir was called for a handball in the box, lifting the hosts to a 1-0 win. The return match in the tournament took place on April 16 in Orlando. The Courage got off to a fast start in this one, scoring three goals in the first nine minutes. Darian Jenkins netted a brace to make it 3-2, but a late Debinha goal put the game away and North Carolina won 4-2.
The teams played three times during the 2021 NWSL season. On May 22 in North Carolina, goals by Leroux and Alex Morgan gave the Pride a 2-0 lead late into the game. Jessica McDonald scored late to pull one back but the Pride held on for a 2-1 win. On July 4 in Orlando, Debinha and Havana Solaun goals helped the Courage take home a 2-0 win. The final game came on July 31 in North Carolina. Leroux opened the scoring but Brittany Ratcliffe equalized moments later and the teams drew 1-1.
The two teams were also matched up in the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup but they only played once in that tournament. Neither team was able to find the back of the net in that game in a scoreless draw.
Similar to the Challenge Cup, the teams were in the same group of the 2020 Fall Series, meeting twice. The first was on Sept. 19 in North Carolina and ended in a scoreless draw. The second was on Oct. 17 at Exploria Stadium. Led by a Debinha brace, the Courage went up 3-0. But the Pride came back with goals by Marisa Viggiano, Kristen Edmonds, and Ally Haran for an exciting 3-3 draw.
The Pride and Courage played three times during the 2019 season. The first game was on April 17 in North Carolina. The Courage took a 1-0 lead into halftime but scored four times in the second half to win 5-0. They played a second time on June 1 in Orlando. Again, it was a dominant performance by the Courage as the Pride fell 3-0. The final meeting that year was another thrashing by North Carolina. The Pride got a goal in that one but still fell 6-1.
The teams also met three times in 2018 but the results were much closer. On May 23 in Orlando, goals by Alanna Kennedy and Rachel Hill saw the Pride come back from a 3-1 deficit. But McDonald scored a winner in the 90th minute and the Courage won 4-3. The Pride went down by three goals in the final two games that season, but were unable to come back and fell 3-0 in both contests.
The 2017 season saw the teams meet for the first time. The Courage took the first game 3-1 on Apr. 29 in North Carolina. They played a second time two weeks later in Orlando when the Pride took the 3-1 win. The final meeting in 2017 came in the final game of the season on Sept. 30. The Pride took a 2-0 lead but the Courage came back to even it at 2-2. It looked headed for a draw until Kennedy netted a late winner, leading the Pride to a 3-2 win.
Three games ago, the Pride were in a great position to qualify for the NWSL playoffs for the second time in team history. They were two points out of sixth and facing the team occupying that spot in two consecutive games. They fell 2-1 to San Diego Wave FC at home on Aug. 25 and fought valiantly, despite being down a player for almost all of the 1-0 loss against OL Reign.
The Pride now find themselves in a tough position. They’re four points behind the Washington Spirit with four games remaining, but there are three teams between them. Angel City FC and Racing Louisville FC are two of those three teams and the Pride will face both in the coming weeks. Regardless, they’ll likely need to finish the season on a four-game winning streak to qualify for the postseason.
The quest for their longest winning streak of the season and the longest since 2017 begins tonight. The team will be without starting goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse, who was sent off in the third minute against OL Reign two weeks ago. Carly Nelson will take her spot in the lineup after a terrific display in Seattle.
The key attacking player missing against OL Reign was Adriana, whose four league goals are second on the Pride behind Messiah Bright’s six, and her three assists lead the team. She wasn’t on the availability report prior to the game in Seattle but didn’t make the trip. Her return tonight would be a boost to a team that desperately needs three points.
The Courage suffered back-to-back 2-1 losses to Angel City FC and the Portland Thorns on either side of the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup break, but have grabbed draws in their last two games against the Chicago Red Stars and NJ/NY Gotham FC. The latter of those games saw the Courage take a 2-0 lead into halftime only to give up three goals in the second half, drawing 3-3.
While the Pride were off last weekend, the Courage hosted Racing Louisville in the Challenge Cup final. North Carolina won the trophy in a storm-delayed game with goals by Kerolin and Japanese international Manaka Matsukubo.
The player to stop for North Carolina is Brazilian international Kerolin, who leads her team with nine goals and three assists. She’s been a terror against the Pride in the previous games and keeping her off the scoresheet will be key if the Pride hope to get anything from this final meeting between the teams.
The Courage have a balanced lineup with a consistent back line that has resulted in them having the second-best goal difference in the league. Their 26 goals scored is tied with the Wave for second-most, and their 19 goals conceded is tied with Gotham and Louisville for second fewest.
“Obviously, they’ve had some success with winning the Challenge Cup. So they’ll have some good momentum, high spirits,” Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said about tonight’s opponent. “But, as always, we have to focus on ourselves. We’ve lost our last two games, but in that, the performances have been good. Obviously, different circumstances, but the performances have been pretty consistent all season. We want to continue to make this a difficult environment to play. We’re playing against arguably the best footballing team in the league, so it will be a really good challenge for us, but our mindset is win every game that comes towards us.”
North Carolina is without six players tonight. Emily Gray (knee), Clara Robbins (lower leg), and Meredith Speck (knee) are out for the season. Estelle Johnson (thigh), Rikako Kobayashi (knee), and Brittany Ratcliffe (thigh) are also out for this game.
The Pride are only missing two players tonight and both were expected. Carrie Lawrence (knee) is out for the season and Moorhouse is serving her one-game suspension after being sent off last week.
Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Carly Nelson.
Defenders: Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Madril, Haley McCutcheon.
Defensive Midfielders: Mikayla Cluff, Jordyn Listro.
Midfielders: Julie Doyle, Marta, Adriana.
Forward: Ally Watt.
Bench: McKinley Crone, Erika Tymrak, Megan Montefusco, Messiah Bright, Mariana Larroquette, Kerry Abello, Viviana Villacorta, Brianna Martinez, Celia.
North Carolina Courage (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Casey Murphy.
Defenders: Ryan Williams, Kaleigh Kurtz, Malia Berkely, Emily Fox.
Defensive Midfielders: Narumi Miura, Denise O’Sullivan.
Midfielders: Kerolin, Manaka Matsukubo, Haley Hopkins.
Forwards: Tess Boade.
Bench: Katelyn Rowland, Brianna Pinto, Sydney Collins, Kiki Pickett, Olivia Wingate, Mille Gejl, Frankie Tagliaferri, Tyler Lussi, Rikke Madsen.
REF: Danielle Chesky.
AR1: Bennett Savage.
AR2: Cameron Siler.
4TH: JJ Bilinski.
VAR: Alexandra Billeter.
AVAR: Joel McKell.
How to Watch
Match Time: 7 p.m.
Venue: Exploria Stadium — Orlando.
TV: FOX 35 Plus.
Streaming: Paramount+ (U.S.), NWSLsoccer.com (International).
Enjoy the match. Go Pride!
Orlando Pride Sign Tori Hansen and Kaylie Collins To New Deals
The Pride have signed center back Tori Hansen goalkeeper Kaylie Collins to new contracts and sent them on loan to Australia.
The Orlando Pride announced tonight that defender Tori Hansen and goalkeeper Kaylie Collins have signed new contracts through the 2024 NWSL season. Both players were subsequently sent on loan, with Hansen going to Melbourne Victory FC and Collins to Western Sydney Wanderers FC of the A-League Women in Australia for the 2023-2024 season.
“Tori has worked hard this season, and we believe she has a bright future ahead. So we’re excited to agree to a new contract and to work with her further on her development,” Pride Vice President of Soccer Operations and General Manager Haley Carter said in a club press release. “It was a priority that we find a high-performance environment where Tori can get valuable match minutes and leadership opportunities and the team and staff at Melbourne Victory offer just that. We are excited for Tori for this next step in her career and look forward to supporting her upcoming season in Australia.”
The Pride selected Hansen with the first pick of the third round (25th overall) in the 2023 NWSL Draft out of the University of North Carolina and signed her on March 29 to a one-year deal with an option year. The center back played sparingly during her first three seasons with the Tar Heels, but started 26 games during her senior year, recording eight goals and two assists. That one season was enough for selection into the first-division league.
Hansen started the first two Challenge Cup games during her rookie season with the Pride, playing all 180 minutes. She surprised everyone during the second game of the competition, scoring the opening goal in the 10th minute of a 4-2 loss at the Washington Spirit on May 10. Despite only making those two appearances, she was on the bench for the other four Challenge Cup games and nine league games. But she didn’t appear on the team sheet after the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup when Rafaelle was signed and Megan Montefusco was sent to the bench.
Collins was initially selected by the Pride in the 2021 NWSL Draft in the fourth round (34th overall) out of the University of Southern California, where she was named to the All-Pac 12 team twice. She didn’t appear in her rookie season with the Pride, but played one Challenge Cup game last year, a 1-1 draw against NJ/NY Gotham FC.
Despite the departure of starter Erin McLeod prior to this season, Collins remained the third choice goalkeeper behind Anna Moorhouse and the newly-signed Carly Nelson. She’s made two appearances, a league start on April 15 against Gotham and a May 10 Challenge Cup start against the Spirit. She’s conceded seven goals in her three professional games, saving 10 of her 17 shots faced.
“Since joining the club in 2021, Kaylie has been a valuable member of our goalkeeping corps and has continued to grow as both a player and a person. We believe she has the potential to become a top goalkeeper in this league, and gaining competitive experience and meaningful game minutes while in Australia is critical to her development,” Carter said about Collins in a press release. “We’re looking forward to cheering her on during the A-League season and keeping track of her progress over the next few months.”
What It Means for Orlando
It might seem odd to give these players new contracts and immediately send them out on loan, but both contracts run through the 2024 NWSL season and they’ll be playing through the winter months. These new contracts enable the Pride to keep them on their books while they play during the off-season and bring them back in the for 2024 campaign. Both will have the chance to develop in a good, competitive league.
Since Hansen’s been on the team sheet 15 times this season, the Pride clearly think she can contribute. They currently have six defenders that can play center back, including Carrie Lawrence, who suffered a season-ending injury during preseason. Three of those six players — Caitlin Cosme (24), Emily Madril (24), and Hansen (22) — are 24 years old or younger, and Hansen is the youngest of the group. Pride Head Coach Seb Hines said during the draft that Hansen was a long-term project, and at just 22, there’s still plenty of time for her to develop.
Collins is the third-string goalkeeper and, at 24 years old, the youngest of the goalkeeping group. Moorhouse is only 28 and Nelson is only 25, but Moorhouse’s contract expires after this season. Meanwhile, Nelson’s runs through 2024. Whether Collins will be second or third on the depth chart next season largely depends on whether Moorhouse returns next season.
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