After not playing for almost a year, the Orlando Pride were finally able to get their first game in 2020 in a 0-0 draw on the road against the North Carolina Courage. Lynn Williams and Orlando rookie Carrie Lawrence both hit the frame of the goal but nothing went in as the teams split the points in Cary, NC. For the Pride (0-0-1, 1 point), getting a road result against a Courage team (1-0-1, 4 points) that had beaten them six times in a row is not a bad result — especially in the Pride’s first match of the year with a lineup that included several rookies.
“I can’t be prouder of the team’s effort,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the match. “North Carolina are a changed team, I take nothing away from that. But the ability to take your physicality and play it on the pitch and then make sure that you control the spaces that they’re so dangerous in — I thought we did a wonderful job today.”
Skinner went with veteran goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris behind an experienced center back pairing of Ali Krieger and Tony Pressley, with rookies Carrie Lawrence and Courtney Petersen outside at the fullback positions. Marisa Viggiano and Jordyn Listro played the central midfield, with Marta and Kristen Edmonds dropping deep to help. Sydney Leroux and Abby Elinsky led the line in a formation that was announced as a 4-2-3-1 but played more like a 4-4-2 for the most part.
The Pride XI taking the pitch against Carolina!@orlandohealth | #NCvORL— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) September 19, 2020
Orlando looked good early on and had some chances early in the match. Lawrence was sent down the right side of the box in the seventh minute and hit either a shot that went wide or a cross too far out in front of her teammates.
The Courage went with three defenders at the back and six midfielders, which compressed the field and helped the hosts take more possession of the game. A ball over the top for Lynn Williams looked to be trouble but Harris came way outside her area to get to it first. She made a mess of the clearance attempt, but Krieger was there to bail her out in the 16th minute.
Still, there were some decent looks for Orlando. Leroux got her head on a cross in the 25th minute but popped it up for an easy catch by North Carolina goalkeeper Stephanie Labbe. Three minutes later, Labbe was well positioned to catch another Leroux header — this time on goal off a set piece cross.
Leroux again got her head onto a cross in the 32nd minute when Listro found some space on the right and sent it in. The striker couldn’t direct the chance on target, however.
32' | Good look with a nice ball in the box to find Leroux! #NCvORL | #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/sdxYvFdPEg— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) September 19, 2020
Ryan Williams fired a shot from out on the right flank in the 37th minute but it was no trouble for Harris. Debinha had a chance in the 42nd minute with a shot from a corner kick but Lawrence did just enough to cause her shot to go wide.
That was the last good opportunity of the first half and the teams went to the break without a goal. North Carolina led in shots (6-3), but Orlando had more on target (2-1). The Courage also led in corners (5-2), passing percentage (79.5%-73.6%), and possession (52.3%-47.7%).
The Courage came out flying to start the second half, looking for the breakthrough. Debinha nearly got in behind in the first minute of the second half but Lawrence did some good last-ditch defending to break it up. Debinha then sent a shot high over the bar in the 47th minute on a corner kick, as Orlando failed to find the crafty Brazilian on set pieces far too often in this game.
Lauren Milliet sent a header right at Harris in the 50th minute for an easy save, but the Courage nearly scored just moments later. Milliet sent in a cross to Debinha in the 53rd minute and it looked like a sure goal but Harris made a huge save with her right leg to keep the game level.
Are you kidding?! #NCvORL | #VamosOrlando pic.twitter.com/TlVHDCTA0l— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) September 19, 2020
Milliet fired high again in the 55th minute as the Courage kept the pressure on.
But Marta showed some magic in the 58th minute with a spin move on the left side, fizzing a cross toward Leroux at the back post, but Labbe was able to grab it.
Lynn Williams created another chance in the 62nd minute by splitting two defenders and turning Pressley inside out, but she hit the near post with a left-footed shot.
POST!! What a chance for Lynn Williams! (And check out how she created that sequence for herself! )#NCvORL | 0-0 | pic.twitter.com/2CpbbfcNYC— The Equalizer (@EqualizerSoccer) September 19, 2020
Deneisha Blackwood came on for Elinsky, making her Pride debut, and she created some chances in her first few minutes, first winning a corner and then finding Marta in traffic but the Brazilian couldn’t get her header on target in the 66th minute. Two minutes later, Blackwood fizzed a cross into the area and Edmonds was just inches from getting onto it in front of goal.
Leroux played the role of provider in the Pride’s best scoring chance of the day in the 71st minute. Her cross to the back post found Lawrence wide open but the right back’s shot slammed off the crossbar.
SO CLOSE!— NWSL (@NWSL) September 19, 2020
This time the woodwork denies @ORLPride the lead
0-0 | #NCvORL
Tune in now on @CBS and @Twitch.#NWSLFallSeries | #VerizonCommunityShield pic.twitter.com/8iogECxFKH
“I just wanted to get good contact on the ball but I should have just placed it,” Lawrence said. “I put more power into it than I needed to. It could have just hit my leg and deflected in. But I saw it coming. I knew it was a good opportunity, obviously, to score but...pretty unlucky off the bar. But that won’t happen again.”
The Pride seemed to lose their legs a bit after that, as the lack of game minutes caught up to Orlando. It was more about survival in the final 15 minutes plus stoppage time than getting a winner.
The most dangerous moment came in the 80th minute, when Debinha released Lynn Williams down the right side. With a runner coming to the back post, Williams crossed it in front of goal, where it somehow squirted through Harris and trickled toward goal. Lawrence got there in the nick of time to clear it off the line and prevent the go-ahead goal.
80' | Cleared off the line by Carrie Lawrence!— Orlando Pride (@ORLPride) September 19, 2020
*Takes a deep breath*#NCvORL | #VamosOrlando https://t.co/w0Yk6cugRd
“They always crash the back post. For sure I knew there’s gonna be a player coming,” Lawrence said. “And there was contact on it and I saw it just kind of roll past Ash, I think. And I knew Danica (Evans) was coming, so it was just last-minute defending and I just cleared it.”
After that, the Pride survived a few late set pieces and the whistle blew on a hard-fought road draw. North Carolina led in shots (18-6), shots on goal (4-2), corners (8-4), and passing accuracy (77.1%-72.8%), but the Pride managed to eke out a slight advantage in possession (50.9%-49.1%).
It was Orlando’s first clean sheet since July 20, 2019 against Sky Blue FC at home. It was the first time ever that the teams have drawn, as the Pride’s record now stands at 2-7-1 in all competitions against North Carolina (1-4-1 on the road).
“I was happy with the moments we created,” Skinner said. “I’d like to create more with the players that we have, you know, with Syd and Marta and so on in those advanced positions. But it’s really, really important that we continue this growth of the mental stability and the mental side of the game. We have to be tougher. We have to be better at one-v-ones. We have to be better on our defensive situations.”
“I thought we battled really hard,” Leroux said. “Our defense was great, the rookies were great. So, I’m just really happy that I got to be on the field with them.”
The Orlando Pride will again be on the road next week, taking on the NWSL Challenge Cup champion Houston Dash next Saturday at 8:30 p.m.