The Orlando Pride earned their first win of the season defeating the North Carolina Courage 2-1 on the road at Sahlen’s Stadium. Sydney Leroux scored the first goal of the match, and Alex Morgan got the eventual game winner. The Pride (1-0-1, 4 points) weathered the normally potent offense of the Courage (0-1-1, 1 point) thanks in part to a great performance from backup goalkeeper Erin McLeod.
The win puts the Pride in second place in the NWSL and snapped a nine-match winless streak against the Courage in all competitions.
The Pride played a very good defensive match to preserve their lead, only giving back one goal on Jessica McDonald’s shot in the 89th minute. Still, a win on the road is nothing to sneeze at.
“It’s a marker on progress. It’s a marker on our development,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said.
Given the fact the Pride had not defeated North Carolina since 2017, it’s fair to say he is correct.
One big change to the starting XI was McLeod getting her first start in goal in place of Ashlyn Harris. Skinner made sure to let everyone know that Harris is fine, but he wanted to get McLeod some minutes. The back line consisted of Ali Krieger and Pheobe McClernon at center back, Ali Riley on the right, and Courtney Petersen on the left. In the midfield, Gunny Jónsdóttir, Marta, and Meggie Dougherty-Howard got the start. Up top, Alex Morgan was joined by Sydney Leroux and Taylor Kornieck.
The Pride came into the match with a game plan of defending as a team, pushing the Courage wide, and playing the ball over the top to Morgan and Leroux. It turned out to be an effective strategy, as North Carolina wasn’t able to get many good looks on goal.
Morgan ended the match with a few offside calls, as per usual, but in the 14th minute she almost broke though for the Pride. Casey Murphy made an excellent save on the shot to deny her.
The first half was a back-and-forth affair, but it seemed like it might not be the Pride’s night when the Courage had a cross sneak through everyone in the box to find Debinha all alone on the left side with all of the goal in front of her. Amazingly, Debinha missed a shot she makes 99 out of 100 times.
The Pride finally got on the scoreboard when North Carolina made a bad pass in their defensive end. Leroux intercepted the ball, pushed into the box, put the ball on her left foot, and buried the ball in the lower left corner of the goal.
In the defensive half, McLeod and the back line stayed compact and made it difficult for the Courage to get any kind of good look at goal. The Pride ended the first half with a 7-4 advantage in shots. Orlando had two on target while Carolina only managed one. However, the Courage did have the lion’s share of the possession (61%-39%). The Courage also led on corners (4-2).
The Pride came out to start the second half pressing forward just a bit more, and getting the occasional bit of magic from Marta.
Once the teams settled back in, the Pride went back to their game plan, and continued to bend but not break against the Courage attack. McLeod came up big in the 67th minute, and put herself in contention for the Ashlyn Harris Save of the Week award.
North Carolina kept up the pressure and almost pulled even in the 67th minute, but once again McLeod came up big with what amounted to a double save.
Orlando continued to absorb North Carolina’s pressure, and once again was able to quickly transfer to the attack. This time, Morgan was onside, and did what she does best. Morgan worked her way around a defender, into the box, and made a clinical finish to give the Pride an insurance goal in the 79th minute.
Once again, the Pride were fortunate when Debinha missed another shot you would expect she’d make, when her header in the box went wide in the 84th minute. Unfortunately, the Courage finally broke through in the 89th minute whe McDonald made a good turn in the box to pull one back.
McLeod made some more saves, and the Pride saw out five minutes of stoppage time that was in reality closer to eight minutes. It was a team effort on defense, with some big saves from McLeod and two big goals from the Pride’s goal scorers.
North Carolina finished the match with more shots (16-11), and shots on target (5-3). The Courage also held 60% possession, but Orlando executed Skinner’s game plan, and it resulted in a big three points for the Pride.
“It’s tough to play against them,” North Carolina Head Coach Paul Riley said. “They’re direct and can play directly over our midfield, over our press. They’ve changed their philosophy completely from two years ago, when they were trying to play out from the back all the time.”
“That is a monumental win for us,” Skinner said. I think if you look at the statistics, 23 unbeaten at home [for North Carolina] and we’ve come here and taken the three points with an epic fight, commitment. What we were asking for was to play for the badge, play for what we’re asking, and then obviously with the qualities that we have to hurt the opponent.
“That was a little bit of justification for the commitment that the players and staff give every single day. It means we’re building step-by-step to what we have asked and I can’t ask anymore of anyone in that room tonight. They were magnificent and they should be applauded for what they have done tonight.”
Orlando is back in action next Wednesday, when the Portland Thorns come to town. The Pride will also host Kansas City four days later on Sunday, May 30.