The Orlando Pride were expected to be near the bottom of the NWSL standings this season with no hope of making the playoffs. However, a four-game unbeaten run in early May and a three-game winning streak around the 2023 FIFA Women’s World Cup break put them in the hunt. Unfortunately, they squandered a pair of opportunities to climb into a playoff spot the last two games, but the Pride still have an opportunity to make a postseason run.
The Pride welcomed San Diego Wave FC to Exploria Stadium on Aug. 25, two points behind their opposition for the sixth and final playoff place. A win would’ve seen them jump San Diego and a draw would keep them within touching distance. After conceding early and equalizing just before halftime, the Pride gave up the winning goal in the 75th minute to lose 2-1.
They had another chance to get into a playoff position on Sept. 3 against OL Reign in Seattle. It was a tougher task as the Pride have never won away to the Reign, and it was made more difficult when starting goalkeeper Anna Moorhouse was sent off in the third minute. Despite the numbers advantage, it took the hosts until the second half to convert and the Pride fell 1-0 for their second straight loss.
It might seem like the Pride had lost their chance to qualify for the NWSL playoffs for the second time in team history, but it’s not over yet. They currently sit in ninth place of the 12-team league and are four points out of sixth. However, they play the two teams directly in front of them — Angel City FC and Racing Louisville FC — in two of their final four games.
The two most recent losses makes it a tall task to make the playoffs, but the Washington Spirit have to go to Seattle to face OL Reign, and NJ/NY Gotham FC, which is five points ahead, has to travel to Portland to face arguably the league’s best team. If the Pride can win their final four games, they might only need one of the teams to drop points in one other game. The key to that situation is that the Pride probably need to win their final four games for any chance of making the playoffs.
A major factor in the last two losses has been the play of the back line. Against the Wave, both goals by the visitors were scored off set pieces. Haley McCutcheon failed to clear the ball off a corner kick on the first goal, enabling Abby Dahlkemper to convert seven minutes into the game. On the second goal, Kyra Carusa beat Mariana Larroquette to the ball to head in the winner. As a striker, it might not be expected for Larroquette to win that challenge, but Rafaelle got caught in the middle without marking anyone, resulting in Larroquette being forced to win a defensive header.
The loss against OL Reign can largely be chalked up to the third-minute red card by Moorhouse. However, the cause of the play was another defensive error. Bethany Balcer split Emily Madril and Rafaelle, getting behind the pair. Moorhouse’s choices were to stay in goal and probably concede, or to come out and attempt to win it. She decided to come out, Balcer got there first, and Moorhouse was given her marching orders.
In all three situations, a lapse in concentration can be faulted for deciding moments in the games. The defenders weren’t focused enough on the set pieces and the center backs weren’t aware of where Balcer was in relation to them, leaving them and their goalkeeper in a vulnerable position. It’s something Pride Head Coach Seb Hines mentioned following the San Diego loss and has mentioned on multiple occasions this season.
On the attacking end, the loss against the Wave was a similar story prior to Adriana and Marta returning from the World Cup. After the red card in Seattle, it was always going to be a defensive strategy for the Pride. But in a game where both teams had 11 players, the Pride outshot San Diego 17-8. However, the Wave put five of their eight shots on target and the Pride only put six of their 17 shots on goal. Creating more chances than the opposition is meaningless if you can’t put those shots on frame.
If you compare those statistics to the team’s 5-0 win over the Chicago Red Stars in the first league game after the World Cup, the Pride only outshot their opponent 13-9. But they put seven shots on target as opposed to Chicago’s one attempt on frame. Hines said after the Wave game that the visitors didn’t allow them good looks at goal, but much of that was the Pride taking long-distance attempts rather than looking for a higher-percentage shot.
The Pride were given a break Friday afternoon when it was announced that the team’s Sept. 21 game against Angel City had been moved to avoid international scheduling. Instead, they’ll play on Oct. 2. That move means that Rafaelle, Adriana, Marta, and Larroquette will be available when the team travels to Los Angeles. Given the way the Pride have played without Adriana, her inclusion in that match could be a deciding factor.
The Pride’s current two-game losing streak has put them in a tough position. Not long ago, they were playing directly for a playoff spot, but now they find themselves four points behind that coveted sixth position. Despite recent failings, they can climb into seventh with a pair of upcoming games and have a favorable schedule to some currently in playoff spots. However, the team will need better performances offensively and defensively to qualify for the postseason for the second time in team history.
Orlando Pride vs. Angel City FC: Final Score 1-0 as Pride Claim Huge Win On the Road
Adriana’s 22nd-minute goal was enough to lift the Pride over Angel City for a crucial three points.
The Orlando Pride (9-10-1, 28 points) found an early goal and held on for 68 minutes to beat Angel City FC (6-7-7, 25 points) 1-0 in Los Angeles. Adriana’s 22nd-minute goal was the difference as the Pride defended for their lives in the second half. The win brings them even on points with OL Reign for the final playoff spot with two games remaining.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines made one change from the team that beat the North Carolina Courage 2-1 on Sept. 17. Anna Moorhouse returned from her one-game suspension, replacing Carly Nelson in goal. The back line in front of the English shot stopper was Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Madril, and Haley McCutcheon. Jordyn Listro and Mikayla Cluff were in the defensive midfield behind Julie Doyle, Marta, and Adriana with Ally Watt up top.
The start was Marta’s 100th appearance in all competitions. She became the first player in Pride history to reach that mark.
This was a pretty sloppy game by both teams, with several bad turnovers that created opportunities for the opposition. The first half was close, but Angel City completely dominated the second 45 minutes. The Pride barely held on, desperately clearing the ball away inside their own box. The hosts claimed handballs twice on McCutcheon, but neither resulted in a penalty, enabling the visitors to escape with all three points.
Angel City created the first opportunities four minutes into the game. A good run from the left by M.A. Vignola saw the defender send a dangerous ball into the six-yard box, but the Pride were able to clear. Seconds later, a poor pass out of the back resulted in Clarisse Le Bihan finding the head of Claire Emslie in front of goal. However, the header was over the target and the assistant’s flag went up for offside.
In the 10th minute, Cluff received a pass from Strom near midfield, but gave it up under pressure. Savannah McCaskill took possession and charged towards the Pride box. Before she reached the 18, the midfielder attempted a long-distance effort that went straight into the arms of Moorhouse.
An Angel City cross into the box in the 18th minute was headed out, but only to Alyssa Thompson near the top of the box. The teenage attacker quickly put a shot towards goal, but Strom was there to block the attempt.
While the hosts dominated the chances in the first 20 minutes, it was the Pride that took the surprising lead. A give-and-go between Adriana and Marta enabled the latter to shoot from the top of the box. Sarah Gorden blocked the shot, but it went to the foot of Adriana, who volleyed the ball towards goal. The ball went off the arm of Angel City goalkeeper Angelina Anderson, who started in place of regular starter DiDi Haracic, and in to give the Pride a 1-0 lead.
“We were really dangerous on the transition. We knew their fullbacks really like to get, to join in their attacks. So that was a big emphasis for us was finding Adri in that space,” Strom said about the goal. “We’ll give her the ball all day and what a goal that was. I think we actually did create a few other moments that we didn’t capitalize on. But that goal was massive. And I’ve never heard that stadium, it was so loud and it went so quiet.”
“The goal is remarkable,” Hines added about Adriana’s strike. “The ball’s hanging in the air so long and then to connect the way she did and get it on frame, it was brilliant.”
Angel City nearly found an equalizer in the 31st minute when Vignola was sent behind McCutcheon by Emslie. The left back shot from a tight angle and the ball was blocked by Moorhouse. It bounced around the six-yard box, hitting Thompson in front of the goal, but eventually ended up with McCutcheon, who sent it out of play.
In the 34th minute, Cluff sent Adriana down the right. Watt was making a run into the box, but Adriana took on her defender on her own and shot from outside of the 18. The shot was too hard for Anderson to catch, so she blocked it away instead. The decision by Anderson enabled the Pride to create a second chance when Doyle sent a cross into the box. Watt was there to redirect it on goal, but Anderson was able to catch it.
The Pride should’ve doubled their lead in the 39th minute when Adriana made a long run from midfield into the Angel City box. She cut back to lose her defender and found Marta with plenty of space near the penalty spot. The Pride captain’s first touch was towards the far post, but she opened up a little too early and sent the attempt wide.
A minute later, Angel City should’ve scored an equalizer when a McCutcheon foul on Emslie gave the hosts a free kick. Le Bihan took the set piece, sending it to the top of the Pride’s six-yard box. Paige Nielsen got behind the back line and should’ve connected with it, but the center back couldn’t get her foot on the ball, enabling the Pride to survive the threat with the lead.
At halftime, Angel City had more possession (57.8%-42.2%), shots (8-5), corners (2-0), and crosses (11-5), and passed more accurately (78.5%-71.3%). Meanwhile, both teams put three shots on target. The Pride probably should’ve had a two-goal lead at halftime, but Adriana’s 22nd-minute goal was the difference at the break.
“We needed to take care of the ball a lot better. We’re causing ourselves our own problems,” Strom said about the halftime message. “Seb said at half, you know, don’t make this a tennis match. Don’t make this back and forth and turn it into transition. So we needed to find, you know, in defending we were gritty and had a high tempo and then we need to find a way to calm down and possess.”
Angel City had a positive start to the second half and nearly found a quick equalizer. Madril blocked the ball out of play in the 48th minute, giving the hosts a corner kick. The set piece found the head of Vignola near the penalty spot, but her attempt hit the body of McCaskill, enabling the Pride to clear.
Two minutes later, Nielsen sent a cross into the box that found the head of Emslie. The midfielder got her head to the ball, but it was blocked wide. The Pride quickly sprinted the other way with Marta playing Adriana in the middle of the field. The Brazilian’s second touch was a pass forward for Watt, who shot from the top of the box. Unfortunately, her attempt sailed over the target.
In the 55th minute, Amandine Henry sent a long ball for McCaskill in the box. The midfielder headed the ball down and it went off McCutcheon. The Angel City players immediately raised their arms claiming a handball, but the flag was up for offside.
Two minutes later, it looked like McCutcheon would control a long ball into the Pride box. But the right back was nonchalant, allowing Emslie to beat her to it. The midfielder tapped the ball past Moorhouse, but into the side netting, enabling the Pride to escape the lapse of concentration.
Hines made his first change in the 60th minute, bringing Kerry Abello on for Doyle. It was a difficult night for Doyle, who turned the ball over multiple times in the first half and wasn’t able to get involved in the attack.
In the 64th minute, Strom and McCaskill collided over a Vignola cross. The ball bounced to Le Bihan near the penalty spot, giving the forward an attempt with space. However, she couldn’t get much on it and the shot went to Moorhouse.
The onslaught by Angel City continued in the 67th minute when McCaskill found Morgan Reid in the box. The center back’s shot was on target, but Madril did well to get in front and block it away.
Hines made his second substitution of the game in the 70th minute. It was a change up top with Messiah Bright coming on for Watt.
Second-half substitute Jasmyne Spencer created a chance in the 74th minute, sending a shot towards goal. Fellow substitute Sydney Leroux was in front of Moorhouse, but Rafaelle did well to get in front of the shot and blocked it away.
In the 77th minute, the Pride had one of their few second half chances. Adriana dribbled down the right and had Bright with some space, but continued forward. By the time she sent a cross into the box, the striker was covered. The ball was too far in front of Bright anyway, going all the way through the box.
Angel City players felt they should’ve had a penalty in the 82nd minute when a ball into the box appeared to hit the arm of McCutcheon. Several players’ arms went up claiming a handball and Video Assistant Referee Shawn Tehini took a lengthy look at the play. But they decided it wasn’t enough for a clear and obvious error.
Jun Endo sent a low cross into the box in the 85th minute that found the foot of McCaskill, who was continuing her run. The midfielder was the only one to reach the ball, redirecting it towards goal, but sent it over the crossbar.
An Angel City corner kick in the 86th minute was headed back across the box where it found Leroux. The forward headed the ball on target, but Moorhouse tipped it over. The ensuing corner kick was caught by the goalkeeper, enabling the Pride to clear.
The fourth official showed eight minutes of second-half injury time, a number much higher than the Pride wanted to see. Hines made his final three changes all defensive ones as the game entered the final stage. Megan Montefusco, Brianna Martinez, and Celia came on for Marta, Adriana, and Cluff.
The Pride put all 11 players behind the ball and Angel City struggled to find a chance in the dying minutes. The closest they came was eight minutes into injury time when Gorden lifted a ball that was too close to Moorhouse. It was a nervy second half as Angel City continued to push, but the Pride held on for the 1-0 win.
Angel City ended the game with more possession (63.7%-36.3%), shots (21-8), shots on target (7-4), corners (11-0), and crosses (35-10), and passed more accurately (77.9%-64.4%). However, the Pride were able to clear away the many attempts and hold onto the one-goal lead for 68 minutes.
“It’s a monumental result today. I think we showed a different side to us,” Hines said about the game. “You know, it wasn’t pretty from our side but Adri takes a shot and, you know, it’s a great finish. And, you know, you’re 1-0 up. We weathered a lot of their attacks. They played well, Angel City, they put us under a lot of pressure. They made us defend, and the players stood up to the challenge. It wasn’t an easy environment to (overcome), but most importantly, we come away with three points and keep moving on that table.”
The win pulls the Pride even on points with OL Reign for the sixth and final playoff spot, but they sit seventh because the Reign have a better goal differential. They’re also only one point behind the Washington Spirit and North Carolina Courage. Since the Reign play the Spirit and the Spirit end the season against the Courage, the Pride will qualify for the postseason if they win their final two games, regardless of results elsewhere.
This is only the second season that the Pride have traveled to California and they’ve found those trips prosperous. The team is now 4-0-0 away to San Diego Wave FC and Angel City FC, outscoring their opponents 6-1.
The Pride won’t be able to celebrate this big win very long as they have another game Friday night against Racing Louisville. The next opponent is four points under the playoff line and desperately needs to win.
“I think recovery is key right now,” Madril said about preparing for the quick turnaround. “I mean, I’m gonna live in the training room and we all have everything that we possibly need for recovery. So I think that’s going to be the next focus for the next 48 hours and then back to training to get ready for Louisville. I think we are entering into this new mentality where we know that it’s do or die right now. And so I think everyone’s kind of stepped it up a notch and in all realms. I think on the field during training, you know, recovery, all those things. And I think that continues this week to get ready for Louisville.”
“I think leading up to this game, we take one game at a time,” Hines added. “You can’t look too far ahead. So looking towards Angel City, we prepared, we put a lineup out there, get a game plan to ultimately get three points. We’ve now got that three points, recovery’s going to be involved now. So yeah, we set off to Louisville tomorrow. Make sure the players are all rested. They gotta obviously adapt to the time zones as well. So we’ll see what bodies are fit and ready to go against Louisville, which is going to again be a difficult environment to play in. But it always helps after a win and getting three points. So I’m sure the players will be hungry to go out there and get another three points out in Louisville.”
As Hines said, the Pride will rest tonight in Los Angeles and head to Louisville tomorrow in preparation for the upcoming match. They face Racing Louisville in Kentucky on Friday night — their penultimate game of the regular season.
Orlando Pride vs. Angel City FC: Preview, How to Watch, TV Info, Live Stream, Lineups, Match Thread, and More
The Pride continue their playoff push with a trip out west to face fellow contenders Angel City FC.
Welcome to your match thread as the Orlando Pride (8-10-1, 25 points) take on Angel City FC (6-6-7, 25 points). This is the second and final time the two teams will face off in 2023 and both are within reach of a playoff spot.
Here’s everything you need to know about tonight’s game.
Angel City was one of the NWSL’s two expansion teams entering the league in 2022. As a result, the Pride have only played tonight’s opponents three times. The Pride are 1-1-1 in the three games, all in NWSL regular-season play.
The most recent matchup between these two teams took place on April 2 at Exploria Stadium. Emily Madril took down Alyssa Thompson, giving the visitors a penalty. Former Pride forward Claire Emslie stepped up and converted to give her team a 1-0 lead. Messiah Bright responded just after halftime to make it 1-1, and the game appeared to be heading for a draw. But Katie Johnson scored the winner in the 10th minute of second-half injury time — the latest goal in NWSL history.
The first-ever game between the teams took place on May 8, 2022 in Los Angeles. In the third minute, Gunny Jonsdottir’s cross was tipped by Angel City goalkeeper DiDi Haracic, but it went right to Sydney Leroux. The Pride striker fired right at Morgan Reid standing in front of goal. The ball bounced off the defender and went in to give the Pride an early lead. The Pride dominated the first 15 minutes, before Angel City took over. The hosts controlled the final hour, but the Pride held on for 87 minutes to claim their first win of the season.
The teams met again on Aug. 7 in Orlando. Former Pride defender Ali Riley opened the scoring with a wonderful strike from the left side. The Pride responded in the second half through Julie Doyle, three minutes after she entered the game to even the game at 1-1. The visitors took another lead when Cari Roccaro beat Viviana Villacorta to a corner kick, putting it past Erin McLeod. The Pride equalized for a second time in the 90th minute. Doyle and Nielsen raced for a Thais Reiss cross, with the defender reaching it first. But Nielsen’s attempted clearance went into her own net, allowing the Pride to claim a 2-2 draw and extend their unbeaten run to five games.
This is a critical game for both teams, who sit just behind a playoff spot with three games remaining in the season. The Washington Spirit defeated the Kansas City Current Saturday night, moving them four points clear. But the North Carolina Courage drew OL Reign Sunday night, so the Seattle-based team sits in the sixth and final playoff spot, three points ahead of tonight’s competitors. A win by either team will pull them even on points for a postseason berth.
The Pride appeared to be experiencing a late-season tumble when they lost 2-1 to San Diego Wave FC at home and 1-0 to OL Reign in Seattle. But they rebounded well, defeating the Courage 2-1 two weeks ago at Exploria Stadium. That win, combined with some favorable results, enabled the Pride to climb back into the playoff race.
Tonight’s game was originally scheduled for Sept. 21, but it would’ve taken place during the international break, resulting in both teams losing key players. The Pride would’ve been without starting center back Rafaele and attackers Marta and Adriana. Instead, the game was rescheduled for tonight when both teams will have their international players back.
Pride Head Coach Seb Hines lost a key player to injury during the two-week break. Villacorta suffered her second ACL tear since being drafted by the Pride in 2021 and will miss the remainder of the season.
Hines also has to make a decision when it comes to goalkeeper. Starter Anna Moorhouse was sent off in the third minute against OL Reign, replaced by Carly Nelson. The backup played well in Seattle and had another good game when Moorhouse was suspended against the Courage. Hines has to decide whether to go with the hot hand or go back to his starter.
Angel City comes into this game on an eight-game unbeaten run, including four wins and four draws. The team’s most recent game was a 2-2 draw against the Chicago Red Stars in Illinois on Sept. 17. Tonight’s hosts will undoubtedly be looking to climb back into the win column tonight on their home turf.
Most NWSL teams have been carried by one player offensively, but Angel City has had multiple contributors. Emslie, Johnson, and Thompson lead the team with three goals each, and all contributed to the team’s win in Orlando earlier this season. Jun Endo, Savannah McCaskill, and M.A. Vignola have a pair of goals each. In addition to leading the team in goals, Emslie has a team-leading four assists this season, equaled by Clarisse Le Bihan.
“We are excited. We are playing two teams (Angel City FC and Racing Louisville) who are also fighting to get into playoff position. Every game from now until the end is a big game,” Hines said about tonight’s contest. “We are in a really good position, and we all want the same outcome, which is to get three points away from home. It’s a difficult environment to go to. Angel City is on a really good run, but it should be a good game. It’s a good challenge for us. It’ll be a good environment and we are all excited for the upcoming game.”
Pride defender Carrie Lawrence (knee) is joined on the season-ending injury list by Villacorta (knee). Additionally, Kerry Abello (ankle) is listed on the availability report as questionable. Angel City is without Simone Charley (left Achilles), Merritt Mathias (left knee), and Christen Press (right knee). They’re joined on the availability list by starting goalkeeper Haracic (back), who’s listed as questionable.
Orlando Pride (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Anna Moorhouse.
Defenders: Kylie Strom, Rafaelle, Emily Madril, Haley McCutcheon.
Defensive Midfielders: Jordyn Listro, Mikayla Cluff.
Midfielders: Julie Doyle, Marta, Adriana.
Forward: Ally Watt.
Bench: Carly Nelson, Erika Tymrak, Celia, Messiah Bright, Mariana Larroquette, Kerry Abello, Megan Montefusco, Brianna Martinez, Summer Yates.
Angel City FC (4-2-3-1)
Goalkeeper: Angelina Anderson.
Defenders: M.A. Vignola, Paige Nielsen, Sarah Gorden, Megan Reid.
Defensive Midfielders: Dani Weatherholt, Amandine Henry.
Midfielders: Alyssa Thompson, Savannah McCaskill, Claire Emslie.
Forward: Clarisse Le Bihan.
Bench: Scarlett Camberos, Jun Endo, Madison Hammond, Brittany Isenhour, Katie Johnson, Sydney Leroux, Lily Nabet, Ali Riley, Jasmyne Spencer.
REF: Brandon Stevis.
AR1: Baboucarr Jallow.
AR2: Kendall McCardell.
4TH: Karen Callado.
VAR: Shawn Tehini.
AVAR: Tom Felice.
How to Watch
Match Time: 10 p.m.
Venue: BMO Stadium — Los Angeles.
TV: CBS Sports Network.
Streaming: NWSLsoccer.com (International).
Enjoy the match. Go Pride!
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.
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