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Orlando Pride vs. Racing Louisville FC: Five Takeaways

What did we learn in the Pride’s opening match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup?

Image courtesy of Orlando Pride

The Orlando Pride tied Racing Louisville FC 2-2 in both teams’ first match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup. It was a wet and rainy match that saw back-and-forth action. The Pride were poor to start the game, and the hosts took full advantage of it. However, Orlando was able to get back into it, looked much better in the second half, and eventually went up 2-1 thanks to goals from rookies Taylor Kornieck and Abi Kim. Louisville equalized from a set piece in stoppage time in what ruined what would have been the first come-from-behind win in Marc Skinner’s tenure.

Here are the takeaways from the match:

Marta Magic?

The Brazilian is one of the greatest players to ever play the game. Many times she has pulled Orlando back into matches on her own during her time with the Pride. But the Marta on Saturday night looked different. There could be any number of reasons why, but Marta had a poor outing. Defensively, she failed to make an impact and constantly missed tackles. She looked slow in transitions and frequently got outmuscled.

Even more shocking was in possession. Marta is known for keeping possession and using extraordinary foot skills to spark attacks. This was not the case on Saturday. She gave the ball up many times throughout the game, and that Marta Magic was never on display, although she was a part of starting the build-up on the winning goal.

Hopefully, this was just a one-off game, and she will be back to her usual self on Wednesday. It was not a night to remember, but even the best players have a poor game every now and then.

The Kornieck Effect

Kornieck was the best player on the field. She created many chances for Orlando and got the Pride back into the match with a terrific header goal.

She conceded four fouls — more than any other player on the field — but that was due to a combination of questionable officiating at times, combined with her size. Skinner talked about this after the match. He said she naturally will be called for fouls in many cases because of her strength. Apart from getting her goal, she also made a few good runs and helped out attacks with her passing.

After the game, Kornieck talked about how going on loan to Germany helped her. She would not have been the same player without that experience.

“It just really helped me mature as a player and a person off the field,” said Kornieck. “So I think that was definitely a really important thing for me in my life, and it definitely carried on into the NWSL, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that opportunity.”

Gameday Conditions Were Suboptimal

After the game, both Skinner and Ali Riley talked about the conditions in the match. Something they both commented on was the weather. From the TV, it looked like hurricane conditions out there. From the players’ perspective, it seemed they felt the same.

“It was crazy,” Riley said of the weather. “We trained on the field last night. It was so hot, it was so dry, and the grass is really thick. The ball doesn’t move, same in the warm up. Obviously, as players, we take responsibility for the type of shoes we’re wearing, but I don’t see how we could have predicted that this was going to happen. Just from the moment I first slipped on [the field] — they told us we’re going to have a water break because it was so hot. So we’re like trying to get the shoes ready, so we could switch, and then, of course, with the pouring rain, we didn’t have the water break. So we switched at halftime, and it felt a lot better, and then, of course, the rain stopped.

“Ash was just saying the wind and the rain was just straight in our eyes in that first half. It was really wild. It definitely affected the game. But of course, they’re experiencing the same thing. But the slipping, as a defender, you hate to see it.”

The conditions of the field were not perfect either. Both Riley and Skinner were not impressed.

“What you probably can’t see, it looks really nice, and it is — it’s a super pitch — but the grass is a little bit longer. And then with the rain, which is a torrential downpour, it kind of made it quicker at moments and slower at other moments. So I don’t think the players got a rhythm of the pitch.”

These factors seemed to impact the Pride early on in the match. They could be reasons why they started out so slowly. They did improve throughout the game, and, as Riley said, Louisville had to fight through the same conditions, so it should not be an excuse.

Transition Moments Favored the Hosts

Skinner said in the NWSL, “it’s whoever manages the transition best will win.” The Pride did not manage the transitions well on Saturday. Louisville did not threaten much overall, except in transition moments.

The first goal was directly from a transition. First, Konya Plummer sent the ball to nobody down the right wing. The Pride were able to regroup and win the ball back before Kornieck turned it over. After her errant pass, the team froze. It was just for about one second, but in that second, Emily Fox had enough time to scan the field and see Cece Kizer.

Before that, Plummer turned the ball over while attempting to dribble. Phoebe McClernon did well to close down the ball, but Louisville was able to find the open player, and if not for Ashlyn Harris’ heroics, it would have been the opening goal.

Moments like this continued throughout the game. While the Pride overall improved as the match went on, they were still left vulnerable in transitions.

Pride Show A New Central Defense

Plummer and McClernon both started in central defense on Saturday night. The beginning of the match was not great for the pair. They looked a step off from the start of the match and gave the Louisville attackers too much space. On the first goal, they were late in reacting. Kizer made a straight run down the middle of the field. Both were slow in seeing the play happen, and it was an easy finish.

After the slow start, the pair picked it up. They were excellent in the second half and gave up few chances. After the match, Skinner talked about how there will be some growing pains. The pair have a combined age of 46. McClernon made her NWSL debut, while it was Plummer’s second start. While it took time for them to grow into the game, the fact that they ended up playing well, especially in the second half, is a very positive sign.

“They’re 23 years old, so they have to be birthed and they have to be given an opportunity to succeed,” said Skinner about Plummer and McClernon. “We’ll assess everybody’s performance but I can’t ask any more of them tonight. They gave everything and they will grow definitely from tonight.”