The Orlando Pride (0-2-2, 2 points) ended their 2020 NWSL Fall Series and season with a 3-3 draw with the North Carolina Courage (1-1-2, 5 points) at Exploria Stadium. The Pride erased a three-goal halftime deficit in the second half, netting the equalizer in second half injury time. Ally Haran’s first Pride goal from a Marta free kick in the 92nd minute rescued a point after Marisa Viggiano and Kristen Edmonds had pulled Orlando back into the match.
The Pride exit 2020 without earning a victory, but only having played four matches. On the positive side, it was the first time Orlando had scored three goals in a game since July 14, 2019 in a 4-3 road loss in Portland. It was the first time the Pride have scored three goals at home since July 6, 2019 when they beat the Washington Spirit by the same score.
“I’m immensely proud,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said of the comeback. “I think you summed it up right as a roller coaster, again. We left it to the second half again to be impactful in the way that we know we could. Again, those are good games to be on the end of, obviously if you are the one coming back, but I’m so proud. I didn’t think we played particularly too bad — a couple of defending moments that we could do better on, but apart from that I thought they were just tremendous and I’m really, really proud of every single one of them.”
Ashlyn Harris returned to the starting lineup behind a back line of Courtney Petersen, Toni Pressley, Ali Krieger, and Edmonds in Skinner’s 4-3-3. The midfield consisted of Deneisha Blackwood, Jordyn Listro, and Viggiano, behind an attacking line of Marta, Sydney Leroux, and Abby Elinsky.
The Pride got off to a strong start, maintaining quality possession and creating the first chance on goal. In the fourth minute, Marta found Elinsky on the right who sent a good low cross toward the top of the six-yard box. It nearly found Blackwood but was just out of her reach.
In the 12th minute, Blackwood had another chance when Marta sent a free kick toward the far post. Elinsky got her head to it and sent it back across the box toward the Jamaican forward. Blackwood tried to bring it down when her first touch should’ve been a shot, allowing North Carolina to clear. After that missed attempt, the Courage took over.
In the 19th minute, Marta was dispossessed near midfield by Lauren Milliet, who quickly played it forward. The Pride defense was pushing up while Debinha made her run, allowing her to remain onside. Harris came out to cut down the angle but the Courage playmaker put it past her for the first goal of the game.
Blackwood had her third chance of the game in the 25th minute when she was sent through by Marta. The 23-year-old forward was in on goal but took too long, allowing the Courage to get back. Before she could even get a shot off, Ryan Williams made the tackle and the Courage started an attack the other way.
The Courage immediately pushed forward and created their own chance. Quick balls by Addisyn Merrick and Debinha sent Lynn Williams through on goal but Harris got down to block her low shot toward the far post with her right foot.
North Carolina finally got its second goal five minutes into first-half injury time. After splitting a pair of defenders and laying the ball off for Meredith Speck, Debinha sent Williams through on goal. With only Harris to beat, Williams played the ball easily past her and into the net.
A minute later, the Courage seemed to put the game away when they scored their third goal. A poor pass by Viggiano was in between Edmonds and Krieger. That allowed Speck to win it and send Debinha in on goal. The best player on the field in the first half put her first touch past Harris and inside the far post, making it 3-0 Courage.
.@TheNCCourage are just rolling. @Debinha7 grabs a second just before the halftime whistle.— NWSL (@NWSL) October 17, 2020
0-3 | #ORLvNC
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While it was less-than-ideal going into halftime with a three-goal deficit, Skinner was more confident than in previous games.
“At halftime it was a different conversation than against Houston, because against Houston we didn’t play particularly well in terms of our energy level and commitment,” Skinner said. “I think we were committed in the first half, we just made errors and were not as brave as we need to be in possession to attack.”
The Pride came out flying in the second half, similar to how they did in the first half. However, they were much more productive in the final third during the second period. In the 54th minute, the Pride got on the board when a poor pass by Peyton Perea was intercepted by Blackwood.
Marta took over and found Leroux near the penalty spot. A good first touch by Leroux created enough space for a shot but Katelyn Rowland got down for the save. Fortunately for the Pride, Viggiano was charging in and beat Rowland to the ball, putting it in for the Pride’s first goal and Viggiano’s second of the Fall Series.
The Courage nearly scored a fourth in the 68th minute from a free kick. Debinha sent the ball into the box where Williams stood wide open. Her first touch was a left-footed volley but it ricocheted off the crossbar.
Just three minutes later, the Pride made the Courage pay for their miss as they scored their second goal. A quick touch by substitute Carrie Lawrence sent Edmonds into space. Abby Dahlkemper gave the midfielder too much space and Edmonds took advantage of it, sending the ball just inside the far post.
Defense is at a premium in this one. @Kris10edmonds nets the fifth goal in the contest to pull @ORLPride within a goal.— NWSL (@NWSL) October 17, 2020
2-3 | #ORLvNC
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The Pride nearly found their equalizer in the 87th minute when an attempted clearance fell to Marta just outside of the box. The forward took a long-distance shot that travelled just wide of the target.
As time wound down, North Carolina had possession and it appeared as though the Pride would come up just short. However, two minutes into injury time, the Pride were awarded a free kick. Marta’s cross toward the back post found the head of Ally Haran. The substitute beat two defenders to the ball, putting her header on target and past Rowland for the late equalizer. It was Haran’s first goal with the Pride.
“I thought about how maybe this is our last chance to score the goal,” Marta said about her thoughts leading to the free kick. “If I put the ball in the area I did, it will find somebody.”
“I was told to go to the back post and Marta played the perfect ball,” Haran said about her part in the play. “I was able to break through with fresh legs, get a good hit on the ball, and be able to put it in the back of the net.”
That was the last good scoring chance for either sides and the match ended after just under five minutes of stoppage time. North Carolina led in shots (16-11), shots on goal (6-4), corners (6-3), and passing accuracy (76.7%-72.5%). The Pride held more of the game’s possession (53.7%-46.3%).
After the opening 15 minutes, the Pride were outplayed in the first half. They created a few chances but the Courage dominated possession and the Pride were fortunate to not be down more. The hosts were much better in the second half.
“The second half was about desire,” Marta said following the game. “It was about bringing something positive out of those games.”
Skinner agreed with those comments.
“I’m so pleased that we could put something positive towards the end of the season for you (the fans).”
While North Carolina controlled the first half and parts of the second, Skinner said that was down to inexperience rather than tactics.
“North Carolina did exactly what we knew they would do because their shape is that. The personality’s the same,” he said. “When you have players that have a little bit less experience than your senior players, they take a feeling out period.”
It was a draw that almost felt like a win for a Pride team that had only claimed one point this year and dropped its last two games.
“It was almost a fairytale type of moment for the players,” Skinner said. “If our fans were there, they’d drive us on to maybe get a victory.”