The Orlando Pride finally played a game of soccer! After 343 days, the Pride returned and surprisingly performed well and earned a point in a 0-0 match against the North Carolina Courage. Both teams had chances to win it, and while it was certainly not perfect, there were many positives for Orlando.
Here are my five takeaways from the match.
Welcome Back, Orlando
The biggest talking point entering the match was that it had been almost a year since the Pride last played. The Pride did not make the playoffs in 2019 and did not play in the 2020 NWSL Challenge Cup because of COVID-19.
“I’m so proud. I think, for us, our year has been pretty hard for everyone but especially for Orlando Pride,” said Sydney Leroux after the match. “So I am just so proud of us. I think we came here, and we battled, and it’s a hard team to play, but we had our chances, and they had theirs. We ended up figuring it out and had the game be tied. And I don’t necessarily know if we’ve ever done that so, I’m very proud of us. With what we have, I think everyone came to play, so I’m happy.”
The Pride did well to come away from the match with a point, especially with so many players out on loan. It was not the best performance, and there was undoubtedly some rust with the players. Still, the draw should give the team belief and momentum heading into the next match.
Youngsters on Display
If one thing could be said about Marc Skinner, he truly gives youth a chance. With 12 players out on loan, he did not have much of a choice on Saturday. Carrie Lawrence had the best performance out of the young players, but Courtney Petersen did well on the other side of the back line as well.
“I thought they were exceptional, I’ve spoken to both of them,” said Skinner. “Carrie [Lawrence] is involved, she’s disappointed she didn’t score to give us the lead, but obviously, she’s cleared it off the line so I said she’s even. I was so pleased because you never know how a young individual is going to take their moment and kind of adapt to it. For both of them today I just felt that they’ve shown a real maturity and at times they were overloaded, they had different players on them because North Carolina are very good at their rotation.
Second year midfielder Marisa Viggiano also did well in the midfield. Her 89% passing accuracy was the best on the team for all players who attempted more than five passes.
Courage Shoot from Everywhere
Although the Courage were also missing some key players, North Carolina has been a dominant force in the league for the past few years. A significant reason for the Courage’s success has been because of the number of shots they take. That trend continued on Saturday. North Carolina out-shot the Pride, 18-6. However, the Pride stayed compact defensively. This forced the Courage into difficult shots, and only four hit the target. In fact, half of their shots were from outside the box. Scoring from distance is no easy task, and Orlando did well defensively to minimize the Courage’s chances.
Orlando did little on the other side of the ball. The Pride attempted just six shots, of which two were on target. Both shots on target were from Sydney Leroux, and they were right around the penalty spot. In fact, four of Orlando’s shots were around the penalty spot. The other two shots were from distance after the 90th minute. The Pride will need to do much better going forward in the future, which leads me to my next takeaway.
More Possession for the Pride
Orlando actually held more possession than North Carolina. However, possession stats don’t always tell the full story, and this is a clear case of that. Orlando recycled the ball around often and held possession in its own half. The Pride attempted to build from the back, which almost returned to haunt them on multiple occasions. The Pride struggled going forward and when they entered the final third.
The Pride had a 73% passing accuracy. While it could certainly be better, that is not awful by itself. But that stat is severely helped by the fact that Viggiano and Leroux both had over 80% accuracy. Orlando’s midfield held the ball pretty well but building out of the back and precision in the final third were two areas where the Pride struggled.
This was a match that needed some magic from the Brazilian, but Marta did not have the best game, getting surrounded every time she touched the ball — not unusual from the Courage and their five-player midfield. She was involved in the play, and her 71 touches were tied for the most on Orlando. She also led the team with 55 passes. However, there was definitely a little rust there. This, too, is because the Pride were without many of their usual starters and playing against an excellent North Carolina team.
That’s what I saw on Saturday. What stuck out to you from the Pride’s road draw in North Carolina?