The Orlando Pride (4-4-5, 17 points) drew the North Carolina Courage (5-4-3, 18 points) tonight in the triangle. Sydney Leroux gave the Pride the lead in the 50th minute but the Courage equalized two minutes later through Brittany Ratcliffe.
Earlier in the week, interim head coach Becky Burleigh said that she would depend on assistant coaches Seb Hines and Lloyd Yaxley when preparing for the game. So it’s no surprise that Burleigh’s first NWSL lineup featured the same 11 players as last weekend’s 2-0 loss to OL Reign.
In the early minutes of the game, both teams were able to build up attacks but were unable to create chances in the final third. The biggest threats came from Courage forward Amy Rodriguez. In the 19th minute, Rodriguez carried the ball into the box and looked to have an opportunity for a shot, but Ali Krieger did well to put a body on her, forcing the shot wide.
The best opportunity for the Pride early in the game came in the 25th minute. Jodie Taylor and Taylor Kornieck were at the top of the box with space for a shot, but the two collided and the Courage were able to clear.
The Pride had another chance in the 31st minute when Courtney Petersen sent a nice cross into the six-yard box. While the Pride were missing players in the box early, Petersen had teammates in position but the cross was too close to Courage goalkeeper Casey Murphy, who was able to collect.
The best chances for either team in the first half came from the Courage. In the 38th minute, Merritt Mathias made a run toward the end line and sent the ball across the face of goal. Fortunately for the Pride, no Courage attackers were there to redirect it on goal.
In the 43rd minute, Ratcliffe made a similar cross into the box. Rodriguez was there for the shot, but decided to let it go for an oncoming teammate. Once again, it was misjudged by the Courage and went harmlessly through the box, allowing the Pride to clear.
A minute later, the Courage had the best chance of the first half. Rodriguez was able to get a left-footed shot on goal from close range, beyond the reach of Ashlyn Harris. However, Kornieck stayed on the goal line and was able to block the shot.
While the Courage had the best chances, it was the Pride who opened the scoring. In the 50th minute, Krieger stepped in front of her mark to intercept a pass attempt, then made an excellent run through the middle, from her right back position, all the way to the Courage box. Ratcliffe challenged the defender, following right next to Krieger for most of the run. However, the Pride right back did well to shield the ball and found Leroux to her left.
“I was like, move out of the way,” Krieger said laughing after the game about her run. “That’s what they get for playing a box. It spread open like the Red Sea so I just took my chance.”
With time and space, Leroux’s second touch was to the far post beyond the reach of Casey Murphy for the opener.
“We know North Carolina push very high and very aggressive and we knew we had to get them on transition,” Leroux said after the game. “And that’s exactly what we did. Kriegs stripped the ball by herself and I was like, ‘Okay. I’m open. Play me. Play me.’ She played me a perfect ball and I was able to finish it.”
It was a big goal for the Pride, who probably should’ve been losing at that point. But the lead didn’t last long. Just two minutes after Leroux’s goal, the Courage struck. Petersen gave the ball away in her final third, allowing Mathias to play the ball into the box. Meredith Speck quickly played the ball across to Ratcliffe, near the penalty spot. A nice touch by Ratcliffe allowed her to avoid the defender and put the ball past Harris and inside the post for the equalizer.
The Courage nearly took the lead in the 68th minute through a former Pride player. Carson Pickett was given space well outside the box and decided to take a shot. It was a well struck ball, but Harris was able to make the diving save, keeping the score at 1-1.
Two minutes later, the Pride had their own chance to break the deadlock. Leroux was sent through behind the defense for a breakaway. It could’ve been the forward’s second goal of the night but Kaleigh Kurtz made an excellent challenge, getting the ball and breaking up the attack.
A lovely play in the 80th minute nearly saw the hosts take their first lead of the game. Havana Solaun and Speck played a one-two that created space for Solaun to take a shot on goal. It appeared to have beaten Harris but slammed off the post.
Rodriguez nearly set up the winner in the 89th minute when a quick touch allowed her to place Taylor Smith behind the Pride defense. It was a good pass for the second-half substitute but she was unable to get on the end of it.
Rather than being satisfied with the road point, the Pride continued to push for the late winner and they nearly converted a minute into injury time. A strong run by Erika Tymrak found Leroux to the right of the goal and Leroux’s shot forced Murphy into a diving save. With Murphy down, the block went to Marisa Viggiano, who attempted to shoot at the far post. However, the ball rolled just wide.
That would be the last chance for either team as the game ended 1-1.
The possession in this game was nearly even with North Carolina holding a slight advantage (51%-49%). The Courage outshot the Pride (15-11) but the Pride had more shots on target (6-4), though several of those were fired straight at Murphy on plays where Orlando’s attackers could have done better. Defensively, the Pride back line was very strong in this game, winning more tackles (13-4) and having more clearances (22-9).
“It was finally a complete game for us and a complete performance,” Krieger said after the game. “I think everyone had a willingness to win and to fight and to support each other. And that’s something that we haven’t seen since the beginning of the season. This coaching staff is exactly what we’ve needed. They’ve been tremendous in only the few days preparing us this season and we’ve felt the most prepared we have all year.”
“It’s trust willingness from the players,” Burleigh said after the game. “They were willing to trust us, someone they don’t even know, they’ve met less than a week ago. And to put in a plan and execute it, that says a lot about the character of this team.”
The draw snapped a two-game losing streak but Orlando has gone six without a win (0-4-2). But, given the circumstances, it was a solid road performance and something Burleigh can build on.
The 2021 NWSL season will see six teams make the playoffs. This point moves the Pride from seventh to fifth, jumping over the red line. More importantly, they stay within touching distance of the top teams, sitting just two points behind Gotham FC for second, and one point behind Washington and North Carolina.
The Pride will look to use this point as a momentum builder into the upcoming games. That starts next Sunday when Orlando travels northwest to take on the Chicago Red Stars in Illinois.