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.
Orlando Pride Still Have A Path to the NWSL Playoffs
The Pride’s current two-game losing streak is a setback, but they can still qualify for the playoffs with a good finish to the season.
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 City Enjoyed the Best Summer Stretch in Team History
Lion Links: 9/23/22
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