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The Orlando Pride Are the Closest Match to the North Carolina Courage

With the impressive season the Pride are having, the team may be among the North Carolina Courage’s few peers.

Carlos Romero, The Mane Land

The Orlando Pride have been on a tear as of late. The club is on a four-game unbeaten streak and only has one loss in its last 10 matches, beating solid teams such as Portland Thorns FC and the Chicago Red Stars. The one loss was a 4-3 defeat to the NWSL-leading North Carolina Courage on May 23. That game came down to a 90th minute back-breaker from the Courage’s Jessica McDonald to seal the victory, but the match proved that the Orlando Pride can compete against the Courage. The Pride may have the best chance to go toe-to-toe with the Courage and I’ll explain why.

Perfect Balance of Youth and Veteran Leadership

Obviously, having the likes of Marta, Alex Morgan, and Sydney Leroux will likely end up as a good thing. Those three players have all made contributions this season. Leroux is currently tied for first with four goals, while Marta and Morgan each have two. Marta has also distributed the ball well with three assists, but the veterans are not the only ones making a splash this season.

I mentioned that Leroux is tied for first with four goals. She is tied with 23 year-old striker Rachel Hill and 25 year-old forward Chioma Ubogagu. Hill has already surpassed her goals scored from last season (three) while Ubogagu has already tied her goal-scoring effort from last season.

You also can’t forget 32 year-old goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris, who has been solid this year, and Christine Nairn who leads the team in assists with four. Ubogagu, Hill, and Alanna Kennedy, all 25 years old or younger, were the three goal scorers in the loss to the Courage, so maybe in the upcoming match this weekend we will see them step up again.

The Defense Has Improved

The Pride lost their previous match against the Courage by conceding four goals. In the four games since, the team has given up four goals. The Pride had one of its worst defensive halves ever against North Carolina in the game earlier this season, which ultimately cost them later on. Although McDonald did not pick up the first goal until the 32nd minute, the Pride just struggled to make anything happen defensively and Ashlyn Harris had to save the day with big saves throughout the entire match.

Even with the loss of star Ali Krieger, the defense has just looked outright better since that loss to the Courage. Poliana has filled in well at right back in place of Kreiger as she has impressed with her work on defense and also creating counter-attacking chances. Shelina Zadorsky, Monica, and Carson Pickett have all seemed to settle into their respective roles and are playing a major part in helping the team succeed.

The only match since the loss to the Courage that was rough for this group was the 3-2 victory over the Sky Blue when the offense saved the defense from their mistakes. If the defense can continue the way it has played in recent weeks, then the Pride can see success against the Courage, which currently leads the NWSL in goals.

Road Dominance Has Been Key to Success

Performing well on the road has been huge for the Pride this season. The Pride are 4-2-2 on the road this season, while they are 2-1-2 at home. But the Courage have been even more impressive on the road, with a 6-0-1 unbeaten record away from home. Orlando has used its success on the road to propel unbeaten streaks, much like the one the team is currently on now. This weekend’s game between the two teams will again be in the confines of Orlando City Stadium, so maybe the Pride can take advantage of the home turf this time around. The last meeting between the two is on Aug. 18 in North Carolina near the end of the season. Again, road wins in any league are important and if the Pride can continuously have success away from home, success in all facets will soon follow.

Now with everything said, the Orlando Pride are second in the NWSL behind the Courage, but trail them by a whopping 11 points. That is a hefty deficit to overcome, likely meaning the Pride will have to beat the Courage in the remaining two matches, win the game in hand, and still need help to catch the leaders. The Pride have shown flashes that they are the team to challenge the Courage, but they have also shown that they are vulnerable to certain weaknesses. If the Pride can continue their good play with the likes of Krieger and Camila returning soon, this team could create something special and make a run at the NWSL title.

Comment below on what you guys believe is the most important thing the Pride can improve upon to compete with the Courage and whether or not you believe the Pride can catch them in the standings.