The Orlando Pride tied the North Carolina Courage 0-0 in Orlando’s final match of the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup group stage. Orlando needed a win to have a chance at finishing first in the East and making the final. The Pride (1W-1L-2D, 5 points) will finish the group in third place after a hard-fought draw, but earned back-to-back results for the first time since June of 2019 and kept consecutive clean sheets.
It was the third straight draw between the clubs, dating back to both meetings in the 2020 NWSL Fall Series.
“Couldn’t be prouder of the defensive performance from the team tonight,” said Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner. “Yes, look, we needed to win to progress, but I think the progression that we’re showing as a group over these four games is exactly what we want. To take a team that openly admits that they want a shootout against. To keep a second clean sheet is just a wonderful kind of moment for us.”
Skinner made just one change from the previous match. Ali Krieger was out due to concussion protocol. Toni Pressley got her first start in place of Krieger, with Phoebe McClernon shifting to the right center back spot. The rest of the XI remained untouched.
“I felt good,” said Pressley. “You know, it’s always amazing to be able to contribute to the team on the field. And you know we have a great group and a lot of support around me to give you that confidence as well, which was really nice. It just felt really good to be back on the field with my teammates.”
It was a fairly back-and-forth first half. The Courage dominated possession (65%), but the Pride were able to get forward. Orlando played very direct and looked for Alex Morgan over the top. This nearly worked minutes into the game.
Morgan had the ball and dribbled towards goal. Schuyler Debree took the forward down and received a yellow card for the challenge. Taylor Kornieck took the free kick, which banged off the crossbar.
Marisa Viggiano nearly had a goal in the 18th minute. Orlando used superb passing to get down the field. The ball fell to Viggiano outside the box. The midfielder fired a shot, and Casey Murphy needed a one-handed diving save to keep the ball out.
The Courage then took control of the match. They had a handful of corners, all of which were dangerous. Former Pride defender Carson Pickett provided some excellent service for North Carolina.
The best chance for the hosts came in the 39th minute. After a corner, the ball fell to Kristen Hamilton. She took a shot, but Kornieck was there to block it. Kaleigh Kurtz was there and tried to put the rebound into the net, but Kornieck slid and blocked it again to keep the game at 0-0.
The Courage out-shot Orlando 7-4 in the first half, but the Pride had more shots on target (1-0). North Carolina had more crosses (17-5) and corners (5-0) than Orlando.
The Courage dominated the ball again after the break. Orlando sat back a little bit but ultimately prevented North Carolina from getting any good looks. While the Courage had the ball for most of the game, many shots came from distance, and Ashlyn Harris was only forced into three saves.
“We know they are big attacking threat, so we just knew we needed to close down the space and always know where the attacking players were and I thought we did great,” right back Gunny Jonsdottir said. “We kind of wanted to just keep them in front of us. I think our game plan worked well. The whole team defended so well, so it made it really easy for us in the back line to keep them in front of us.”
The Courage had a good chance in the 52nd minute. Jessica McDonald took a shot off a good cross from Pickett. Harris was able to make the save with little struggle. Two minutes later, it was Debinha’s turn, but her shot missed wide of the goal.
About 10 minutes later, Pickett sent in another great cross. Debinha was waiting for it at the back post, but she didn’t make good contact and missed wide.
Orlando’s best chance of the half came in the 72nd minute. Sydney Leroux sent a low cross to the back post. Morgan was standing just outside the six-yard box and fired a first-time shot. It was destined for goal, but Pickett was there to make a goal-line block and keep the game scoreless.
Orlando’s last chance of the game came in stoppage time. The Pride had a free kick just outside the box. Marta and Kornieck stood over the ball. Instead of taking a shot, Marta played a short pass that was intercepted, and the chance ended.
Almost every attacking stat was in favor of the hosts. The Pride had fewer shots (19-9), shots on target (3-2), corners (9-1), passes (403-269), and possession (61%-39%). However, the Pride had more duels won (44-36), tackles (18-12), and clearances (24-16).
This was just the second time in Skinner’s tenure with the Pride that his team managed to get back-to-back results. It was the first time that Skinner’s team recorded back-to-back shutouts and the first time by the Pride since May of 2018.
Orlando will be back in action on Sunday, May 16, when the Pride host the Washington Spirit at Exploria Stadium in their first match of the NWSL regular season.