After a brief 30-minute delay to start the match, the Orlando Pride (6-5-4, 22 points) committed countless turnovers. North Carolina (11-1-3, 36 points) did not fail to capitalize on these opportunities and beat the Pride 3-0 in Orlando City Stadium in front of 4,017 fans. This win just solidifies North Carolina’s lead at the top of the table, but results later in the day could see the Pride drop down to fourth place.
“Frankly, we were just beat by a team that is better than us,” said Head Coach Tom Sermanni. “Significantly better than us on the day, probably in all areas of the field. They were quicker to do things, they were more dynamic, they were more alert, they did things, football fundamental things, better than we did and we got ourselves a little bit rattled.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game. Probably the real disappointing thing of the performance was the manner and timing of losing the three goals. Particularly, the reaction to the first goal and then the reaction to the second goal. For a team of our caliber and professionalism is very poor. Sometimes you have to walk away from a game and say the other team was better and North Carolina this year have been better than everybody and today they showed it.”
After missing the past four games, Ali Krieger returned to the starting XI after suffering a right knee sprain in Orlando’s 5-2 win against the Chicago Red Stars. Sermanni brought Rachel Hill and Sydney Leroux into the starting lineup, after using them as substitutes on Wednesday, but Hill lasted just 45 minutes.
“Obviously, I have to be smart. As I get older, too, my body has changed over the year, but I’ve always been a fast healer,” Krieger said of her return. “As soon as I was injured I knew that process immediately started the next day, even after the game. I had a new job to do and that was my nine-to-five recovery, and doing my PT [physical therapy] and being on-field and doing my running. And as soon as I could I did everything I could, even at home, all the little details.”
It took just eight seconds into the game for North Carolina to get a shot off and it looked like it was going to be ugly from the start. However, the Pride hung in there early on and made a game out of it. Still, the visitors were on the attack for most of the first half.
The Pride found the back of the net in the 21st minute off a corner. Marta put the ball in and it deflected in off a North Carolina defender, but Alex Morgan was called for a foul and the game remained 0-0. Orlando stuck with it, won another corner, and this time, on the third ball in, Shelina Zadorsky got a shot away, but it was too soft and Katelyn Rowland had no trouble with it.
North Carolina kept the attack going but the Pride were defending well until the 37th minute. Monica and Emily van Egmond both failed to clear the ball and Debinha took a quick shot that rolled under Ashlyn Harris.
Two minutes later, Krieger made a great pass to the wrong team and Denise O’Sullivan started the counter attack that ended with Merritt Mathias taking a shot from distance that deflected off Poliana and put the Courage up, 2-0.
Just a minute after the second goal, Dunn put a perfect through ball that fed McDonald into the area and one-on-one with Harris. Harris had no chance and McDonald flicked the ball into the upper 90. With her goal, McDonald became the second player in NWSL history to score 40 goals.
The Pride tried to bounce back after going down 3-0 and Hill did some work down the right hand side, however, the visitors defended well and the first half ended 3-0. North Carolina took just eight shots, compared to the 17 in the first half in the previous meeting, but scored on three of them. Possession was fairly even with the Pride holding 48% but it was turnovers that put them in a hole.
Sermanni made a change at half, opting to take out Hill for Dani Weatherholt. Weatherholt immediately came in and brought a much-needed energy with her.
“I think we saw what Dani [Weatherholt] brings to the team. She brings energy, she brings running, she brings changes, she breaks things up, she starts moves off, she chases the front line, she chases the back line, and she just brings that extra energy to the team and I think you saw that in the second half,” said Sermanni. “We need more Dani Weatherholts to do that to change the game. And in fairness to Rachel [Hill], I could have taken 10 players off at halftime. The reason we took Rachel off was we had to tweak the shape a little bit.”
The Pride looked a better team in the opening of the half and had a plethora of chances. Van Egmond’s header off a corner went wide in the 50th minute. Three minutes later, Poliana’s shot from distance went into the arms of Rowland. Orlando then had four corners in the next three minutes, including one that Marta nearly put directly in but Rowland got a slight touch on it and it hit the crossbar.
Morgan took a pass from Leroux and nearly got Orlando on the board in the 60th minute but Rowland again got just enough of the shot to knock it off the woodwork.
Orlando did a decent job of keeping possession for most of the second half but, on a three-goal lead, North Carolina was clearly happy with the game. Instead, the league leaders just waited for Orlando to make mistakes and turn it over. The game plan worked perfectly as the Pride continuously gave the ball right to the opposition and this led to North Carolina counter attacks, though nothing came of them.
“I just think our mentality changed [in the second half]. We are not about to roll over and die, we want to fight until the end. But obviously I think that needs to happen from the start,” Alanna Kennedy said. “Not that we didn’t go out and weren’t prepared and weren’t mentally ready to give it a go. It was more so that it took those goals for us to give that extra gear, and I don’t think that’s what we need to be doing. We need to be starting the game like that.”
After Sermanni used all of his substitutions, Morgan walked off the field in the 81st minute and the Pride played the rest of the match with 10 players. TV reports from Lifetime said Morgan told the trainer she could no longer sprint. The Pride were unable to do much after Morgan left the field and the game ended 3-0 after a scoreless second half.
“[Morgan] felt her calf being tight,” said Sermanni. “It doesn’t look too serious. I don’t know at this state but it wasn’t something that she felt pull. She just started to feel it real tight. When that happens and the game is in the state that it was, there’s no point in keeping someone in the game that could do themselves more severe damage. Hopefully, it’s nothing serious and we get her fixed up quickly.”
With so much more of the ball in the second half, Orlando won the possession battle, holding it 55% of the game. The Pride had the better passing accuracy (76%-70%) on 70 more passes, and shots were even at 15 apiece, although the Courage had the edge in shots on target (7-5).
“We just need to be better and when we do go down a goal, not to drop our heads, and I think, obviously, the second half was much better,” Kennedy said. “We fought til the end but you’ve got to give credit to the Courage. They are a good team but I think we just made it real hard for ourselves tonight.”
The Pride return to action again on July 7 when they take on the Washington Spirit to close out what has so far been a disappointing 0-2-0 home stand.