It was more of the same story for the Orlando Pride (0-7-1, 1 point). Orlando struggled in the final third and had difficulty getting off shots. The North Carolina Courage (3-2-3, 12 points) capitalized on Orlando’s errors, and Kristen Hamilton netted a hat trick, as the Courage won 3-0 in front of 4,427 fans in Orlando City Stadium. Orlando’s goal drought has now reached 260 minutes after this match.
“If you watch the match, you’ll see what the truth is in the matter,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said. “We competed with the champions for 60 minutes and then a mistake. They have to attack from deep because they can counter attack us because we have to go and get a goal. And if you open up the game, [North Carolina] has the players that can hurt you on the counter attack. I think up until that point I was really proud of the girls and the effort they put in. It’s just always going to be a matter of quality. And that’s the thing that has to improve. I’m pleased with them and what they’ve given to the shirt but now it’s a quality issue.”
Skinner sent out the exact same starting XI as a week ago. Bridget Callahan stayed in the midfield, even after a poor outing against Utah. The lone surprise was that Kristen Edmonds was not in the 18 at all, missing the game because of a coach’s decision. Edmonds had a knee injury but was back with the team last week. For the Courage, expected starting goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland was benched, and National Team Replacement Player Sam Leshnak started in net for the visitors.
The game started out with both teams playing directly. The Pride won a corner in the second minute, and Hamilton sent a shot over the crossbar a few minutes later for the Courage. After about 10 minutes the game settled down and both teams had longer spells of possession.
Both teams held possession well in their own half but struggled in the final third. Orlando tried to play down the right side of the field in the first half, and this led to Erin Greening having the most touches for Orlando in the first 45 minutes.
It looked like the visitors would go ahead in the 33rd minute. McCall Zerboni got behind the Pride defense and fired a shot inside the 18. Haley Kopmeyer came up with the huge kick save to deny Zerboni and keep the game goalless.
At the end of the half, Kopmeyer again came up huge. Jaelene Hinkle sent in a cross after a short corner. The ball was bouncing around, and it fell to Carson Pickett’s feet. Leah Pruitt somehow kicked it between Pickett’s legs and Kopmeyer made the quick reaction save. Abby Elinsky cleared the ball for Orlando, but the Courage kept possession. Moments later, Hinkle took a shot from distance that banged off the crossbar.
The story at halftime was the poor passing accuracy from the Pride. Six players had a passing accuracy at 50% or below. Rookie midfielder Marisa Viggiano had the highest rating, with 80%. Orlando also held just 36% possession. The Pride took two shots, both from Rachel Hill, but neither were on target. Still, it was the first time all season that Orlando did not concede a goal in the first half.
Orlando came out strong in the second half. In the opening minutes, Hill should have put the Pride up 1-0. Chioma Ubogagu sent in a perfect ball. It took a few bounces before reaching Hill, who beat Leshnak to the ball. That left an open net, but the forward sent the ball wide and high. Hill should have hit the frame in what would have been a turning point in the match.
“I think on the ball we need to stay more composed, be comfortable with the ball at our feet, and when we’re hitting those crosses we need to be hitting the right spaces,” said Hill. “When the balls are in the right spaces, our willingness to get on the end of the ball and the hunger to be there in the box and put it away needs to be better.”
Ubogagu had the ball down the left side in the 52nd minute. After a good move, she fell to the ground and looked to have been fouled, but there was no call on the play.
The breakthrough came in the 60th minute. Kopmeyer could not hold what should have been a routine cross. She fumbled the ball, and Hamilton was first to jump on the rebound and put the Courage up 1-0.
“I think that this team is establishing a culture where we have the mindset of never giving up,” Callahan said. “That was the moral [after the first goal] amongst every single player. At times I feel like we would let up and put our heads down, but I felt like we would just try to go, go, go.”
The Courage struck again six minutes later. Pruitt fed a ball to Hamilton. The midfielder easily got past two Pride defenders, and shot from inside the box. The ball went into the top corner and North Carolina went up 2-0.
Skinner made his first two changes at the same time after going down 2-0. Danica Evans and Joanna Boyles came on for Viggiano and Ubogagu. Neither player made a significant impact in the game and had a combined one shot.
“I thought Evans and Boyles did well,” said Skinner. “The consistency of performances last week with Marisa and Bridget meant that they got another start. Danica has slowly, slowly, slowly worked herself back into the play. I’m going to be really honest with you, Danica was not up to scratch when we first came in. Now, she’s swallowed that, she’s worked hard in training, and now she’ll get her opportunities to get what she needs to do. I love the girl to bits, but she has to work harder. Because for this team you have to want to die and until we get that they’re not going to play. And I’ll take the flak of her that she’s good that this and she’s good and that. If you don’t run, you don’t play. And that girl now has turned her attitude around, she’s worked hard at what she needs to do, and now she’ll start to get her opportunities. Because she’s earned it and now I can look at her as a player for this team.”
Hamilton got her hat trick in the 85th minute. Hinkle put in a perfect cross, but the Pride were all caught ball watching. Hamilton was wide open inside the 18 and hit a right footed shot off the half volley.
Evans nearly had a goal in the dying minutes. The ball was bouncing around in the 18. It fell to her, and she took a shot at the empty net. It was going goal bound, but Hill was standing in the way and kept the ball out.
The game ended 3-0, and after the opening goal, the Pride fell apart. Orlando finished with 41% possession, seven shots, and just one shot on target. The lone shot on target was a free kick from Pickett in the dying minutes on the game.
North Carolina doubled up the shots on Orlando, 14-7 (7-1 on target), keeping 59% of the ball, and easily out-passing the Pride, 70.5%-59.3%.
The Pride return to action on Saturday, June 15 against the Houston Dash in BBVA Compass Stadium at 8:30 p.m., still searching for their first win and looking for their first goal in quite some time.