After a week and a half break, the Orlando Pride put their five-match unbeaten streak on the line as the undefeated North Carolina Courage come to Central Florida. The Pride (3-2-3, 12 points) made history during their three-game road trip by beating both Chicago and Portland, which were both franchise firsts.
North Carolina (7-0-2, 23 points) has taken the league by storm. The Courage are undefeated, led by the league’s highest scoring offense while also allowing the second-fewest goals.
The Pride have faced North Carolina three times and and have come away with two wins. The first meeting came in April of last year. Jessica McDonald got the Courage up early but Alanna Kennedy connected with Camila 20 minutes later to tie the game. A Laura Alleway handball led to Sam Mewis converting from the spot and North Carolina ending up winning, 3-1.
Two weeks later, the teams faced each other again but this time with a different ending. After a scoreless first half, Chioma Ubogagu and Camila scored within a minute of each other to propel the Pride to a 3-1 victory. That was the first win for Orlando in 2017, and also ended a 12-match winless streak.
The third match-up came on the final day of the 2017 season. The Pride built a two-goal lead thanks to Kristen Edmonds and Marta, but Lynn Williams’ brace — one of which was from the spot — pulled the Courage back into it. As the game was winding down, Marta and Kennedy stood over a free kick. To everyone’s surprise, it was Kennedy that took it and the Aussie tucked it into the top corner in the 91st minute to give the Pride a 3-2 win. That game winner helped the Pride finish third in the NWSL standings.
It is also interesting to note that in every game between the Courage and the Pride, North Carolina has sat in first place in the NWSL.
Prior to the Courage moving to North Carolina, the club was known as the Western New York Flash, which split two matches with the Pride in 2015 — each team winning at home.
This will be the most difficult game of the season to date for the Pride. North Carolina is dominating the league in every aspect of the game and few teams have been able to do anything to counter them. Only the Chicago Red Stars and Utah Royals have been able to get any points from the Courage. Chicago played North Carolina to a 1-1 draw earlier in the month but gave up 42 (!) shots. The next game, the Courage took 18 shots, followed by 28 shots on Saturday. Objective No. 1 for Orlando tonight: Don’t give up 42 shots.
“[Last year] we defended a little bit deeper in the first half against North Carolina and tried to stop them,” said Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni. “They are very potent up front and very quick up front, so we tried to stop them from getting in behind us and tried to stop the game from being stretched. I think it’s equally important that we do that Wednesday night. But, we’re playing at home, we’ve got a high caliber team so we’ve got to be a little more aggressive in how we play the game from an attacking perspective.”
The Pride are coming off a bye week after having playing three road games in two weeks. In their last match, Alex Morgan and Christine Nairn each scored in the first half to help lift the Pride to a 2-1 victory over Portland.
While North Carolina’s unbeaten start to 2018 has the club nine points ahead at the top of the table, Orlando sits in third place. A win, combined with a Seattle loss, would see Orlando move into second place.
Each team has players on the injury list. Ashlyn Harris and Monica are both listed as questionable for the Pride with knee soreness, while five players are out for the visitors — Sabrina D’Angelo (ankle), Makenzy Doniak (ACL), Yuri Kawamura (ACL), Julie King (ankle), and Lynn Williams (hamstring). Kristen Hamilton is questionable with a right calf strain.
Here’s an obvious statement: North Carolina is a good team. The Courage are the league leaders in goals, assists, shots, shots on goal, and are tied for second in goals allowed. They also have the league leader in assists in Jessica McDonald (3 — tied with Christine Sinclair of Portland) and second-highest goal scorer in Crystal Dunn (4).
Here’s another obvious statement: The Pride are also a good team. Currently on a five-game unbeaten streak, Orlando’s play is getting better and better each game. After a slow start, the internationals came back and the chemistry is slowly building. Sermanni still has some work to do to get his team playing at the level that is expected, but the extended rest will have helped Orlando so expect to see a much more energized team than we did against Portland.
Final Score: 2-2 Draw
Orlando Pride (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris.
Forwards: Sydney Leroux, Alex Morgan, Rachel Hill.
Bench: Haley Kopmeyer, Poliana, Dani Weatherholt, Toni Pressley, Chioma Ubogagu, Emily van Egmond, Kristen Edmonds.
North Carolina Courage (4-4-2)
Goalkeeper: Katelyn Rowland.
Defenders: Jaelene Hinkle, Abby Erceg, Abby Dahlkemper, Merritt Mathias.
Midfielders: Samantha Mewis, Debinha, McCall Zerboni, Denise O’Sullivan.
Forwards: Crystal Dunn, Jessica McDonald.
Bench: Michele Dalton, Elizabeth Eddy, Kristen Hamilton, Darian Jenkins, Kaleigh Kurtz, Meredith Speck, Cari Roccaro.
REF: Christina Unkel
AR1: Trent Vanhaitsma
AR2: Jeffrey Skinker
4TH: Miguel Martes
How to Watch
Match Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Venue: Orlando City Stadium — Orlando, FL.
Streaming: NWSLSoccer.com or the NWSL app (outside the U.S.), go90.
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