The Orlando Pride are on their first losing streak of the season — at two games — after falling 2-0 to the North Carolina Courage in front of 3,926 fans at Exploria Stadium. The Courage used a goal in each half to propel them to victory and into first place in the league. The Pride fall to second place after being shut out for the first time in league play since Oct. 5, 2019.
“Obviously, the goals are mistakes and a counter attack — which North Carolina are probably the best counter-attacking team in the league,” said Orlando Pride Head Coach marc Skinner. “So it’s always gonna be something dangerous when you’re trying to push to get a goal but I was pleased with our attacking output, pleased that we were trying to find different ways, obviously without Alex in our attacking lineup, to find a goal. We felt we should have scored.”
Ashlyn Harris started in goal. Courtney Petersen, Toni Pressley, Ali Krieger, and Ali Riley made up the back line. The midfield consisted of Gunny Jónsdóttir, Meggie Dougherty Howard, Marta, Taylor Kornieck, and Crystal Thomas. Sydney Leroux played as the lone striker.
The game had fireworks right from the start. Just seconds after the opening whistle, Leroux forced Casey Murphy in a tough save. It was a great opportunity early in the game, but the Courage goalkeeper was up for it.
In the third minute, Dougherty Howard gifted the ball deep in her own end to Courage star Debinha, who was then one-on-one with Harris. Debinha had no trouble converting the short breakaway chance, and the Courage led 1-0.
The Courage nearly doubled their lead in the 22nd minute. Lynn Williams made a great run down the wing, beating Petersen. She sent in a low cross that bounced off Pressley and nearly went in for an own goal. Instead, the Courage won a corner. Former Pride defender Carson Pickett sent in the cross, and Abby Erceg headed towards the bottom corner. It looked like a certain goal, but then Harris came flying in for the save.
The Pride were sloppy for most of the half, and it looked like the Courage were going to be up a few goals before halftime. Thomas was continuously beaten, and Pressley looked slow and out of sync, which is expected from a player seldom used this season prior to today.
North Carolina should have doubled its lead in the 35th minute via the penalty spot. Petersen gifted the ball to the visitors, and Jess McDonald went soaring down the field. McDonald easily beat Pressley on the dribble, got into the box, and then Pressley took down the forward from behind. The Courage were awarded a clear penalty kick.
Williams stepped up to take the kick. She placed the ball to the goalkeepers’ left, and Harris was there for the stop. It was her third penalty kick save of the season.
“Just seeing one of your teammates do something great, we have to just acknowledge that,” said Plummer. “With all that energy we just wanted to be like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to score back again, because she’s so hype.’ So, we have to keep that energy and it was a great save.”
Krieger went down right before halftime after her leg got rolled up on and had to be taken out. Amy Turner was available off the bench to make her debut, but instead, Konya Plummer subbed in for Krieger. Turner did eventually make her debut late in the match. She played the final 10 minutes after coming on for Pressley in the 80th minute.
Skinner did not have an update on Krieger after the game.
The stats mainly were even at the break. North Carolina and Orlando both had six shots, three each on target. The Courage held 57% possession and out-passed the Pride 216-161.
“Well, when you go out in the first half and then need to work extra hard to change the result, you need to be more aggressive,” said Marta. “I think we did a little bit. I don’t think we did enough to have a better result at the end.”
The Pride looked much better in the second half. Orlando kept the ball better and had longer possession spells. This led to more shots on goal. However, not many threatened Murphy. The Courage keeper finished the game with nine saves, but many shots were straight at her.
North Carolina doubled its lead in the 66th minute. Williams sent in a low cross, and the ball bounced around a bit before it fell to Havanna Solaun. The Pride’s defense was all over the place, and Solaun had time and space to pick out a perfect spot and send the ball into the back of the net. Harris had no chance at keeping it out.
The game plan for Orlando seemed to be to get the ball out wide and cross it in. This was almost effective many times, but that final ball was lacking throughout. Orlando rarely had any chances from shots in front of the net. Practically all were headers.
Orlando kept floating the ball into the box as the game went on, but had little success, with most of the crosses in landing in Murphy’s hands. North Carolina was able to hold on for a 2-0 victory.
The Pride out-shot the Courage 19-13, but both teams finished with nine shots on target. Possession remained the same from halftime, with North Carolina holding the ball 57% of the time.
“Losses are part of the game,” said Plummer. “We’re finding our identity as a team and we win some, we lose some. We just have to move on stronger, and just stay in it because it’s a long season.”
Marta and Ali Riley will join their national teams for the Olympics now. Krieger’s availability and that of fellow starting center back Phoebe McClernon are uncertain moving forward. July could either be a reality check for the Pride after their hot start or Orlando could right the ship.
The Pride will try to snap their skid Friday night when Racing Louisville visits Exploria Stadium.