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What Needs to Happen for the Orlando Pride to Reach the NWSL Challenge Cup Final

The Orlando Pride are in striking distance to make the Challenge Cup final, but they will need help.

SOCCER: APR 21 NWSL Challenge Cup - Washington Spirit at Orlando Pride Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Orlando Pride are in second place in the East Division of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup. In three games so far, the Pride have four points from a draw, loss, and win. Orlando also has the second-best goal differential in the East (0). Although the Pride still have a shot at first place, they need a lot of help to make the final.

The Challenge Cup is split into two divisions — East and West. Each conference has five teams, and every team plays the other four teams in its respective division. The top team from each division will face each other in the final.

The Portland Thorns have locked up the Western Conference after winning all three of their matches played so far and allowing just one goal. The Houston Dash sit in second with just two points through two matches.

The East is a far closer contest. NJ/NY Gotham FC is in first place with a perfect two wins in two games for six points. The New Jersey side takes on the Washington Spirit Tuesday night. Gotham will eliminate the Pride with a win over the Spirit, but the Pride remain in contention with a draw or loss.

Orlando plays the North Carolina Courage on May 1 in a crucial game for both teams. The Pride will need to beat the Courage in Orlando’s last match of the Challenge Cup. This will not be a simple feat for the Pride. North Carolina holds an all-time record of 7-2-2 against Orlando. Both draws occurred in the 2020 Fall Series, and Orlando has not beaten the Courage since 2017.

Orlando can still win the match, even if history is not on the Pride’s side. This is a weaker Courage team than previous years and a stronger Pride side.

If the Pride win, Orlando will finish with seven points. Gotham must not get more than one point from its final two matches against the Spirit and Racing Louisville FC. Additionally, Orlando will have to make up goal differential — the first tiebreaker. Gotham has a goal differential of +2. It will have to lose at least one game, so if the Pride beat North Carolina by two goals it should be enough.

The Courage play Louisville tonight, but this game ultimately does not matter for Orlando as the Courage will have six points if they win. Orlando will still need to beat them, so the Pride will finish one point ahead of North Carolina if the Courage beat Louisville and fall to Orlando.

Washington has three points through three games, and Louisville has one point through two matches. Although not mathematically eliminated, both teams have an outside shot.

To summarize, for the Pride to win the East and make the final, the following must take place:

  • Orlando must win against North Carolina on May 1.
  • Gotham must not gain more than one point from its last two matches.
  • If Gotham gains exactly one point, Orlando must overcome the two-goal differential.

It is a big ask, but the Pride are still alive in the Challenge Cup. Orlando Pride supporters need to hope that Washington and Louisville can pull off upsets. Orlando has not had back-to-back results since June 2019. Orlando also hasn’t had back-to-back wins since June 2018. But for now, the Pride remain in contention.