The Orlando Pride (0-4-1, 1 point) fell 4-2 to the North Carolina Courage (3-0-2, 11 points) for their fourth consecutive loss tonight at Exploria Stadium. The game was decided early as the Courage scored three goals in the first nine minutes of the game.
Darian Jenkins scored her first two goals since joining Orlando but by that time the Pride were down 3-0 in the match on a Megan Montefusco own goal and strikes from Jaelene Daniels and Taylor Smith. Debinha’s late insurance goal thwarted any thoughts of getting a point from the match.
Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell made several changes from the team’s 4-1 loss to the Washington Spirit. Kylie Strom and Toni Pressley entered the starting lineup for this game, replacing Carrie Lawrence and Amy Turner. Additionally, Celia replaced Angharad James, who is listed as on international duty, and Leah Pruitt joined the forwards in place of Gunny Jonsdottir.
The goals started flooding in early in this game as the teams combined for four goals in the first 15 minutes. The game started about as bad as it possibly could for the Pride. In the third minute, a Merritt Mathias cross bounced off Daniels and Montefusco, before rolling past Anna Moorhouse for the opening goal. Unfortunately for Montefusco, she was the last to touch it and was credited with an own goal.
Just three minutes later, the Courage struck again. This time it was a Smith cross to the near post. However, Daniels was able to beat the Pride defense to the ball, turning it in to give the Courage a 2-0 lead in the first six minutes.
The Courage got their third goal of the game in the ninth minute. Kiki Pickett found a wide open Smith on the right side. The forward had plenty of time to set up her shot and beat Moorhouse to her near post, giving the visitors a 3-0 lead.
The three goals in the game’s first nine minutes broke an NWSL record that was only two days old. On Thursday, San Diego allowed three goals at OL Reign in the first 11 minutes. That was the fastest three-goal deficit built in league history until the Pride beat it tonight.
“We looked a little bit scared,” Cromwell said about the opening minutes after the game. “We looked a little bit timid. We weren’t communicating, and putting enough pressure on the ball, and shifting well, and they came out buzzing. They’re flying. That’s what they do. And so it shouldn’t have been a surprise.
“They created overload wide. We talked about how to step to their outside back getting high with our outside back and then shifting behind. It just wasn’t happening fast enough. Their speed of play seemed to catch us off guard.”
It almost got worse for the Pride just two minutes later. Moorhouse mishandled the ball in her own box, giving it back to the Courage in a dangerous position. Fortunately, the ball bounced away to the outside and the Pride were eventually able to clear.
The Pride finally created an offensive attack about a quarter hour into the game. In the 14th minute, Jenkins sent a dangerous ball across for Pruitt darting into the box. However, the ball was just beyond her reach and went harmlessly out of play.
But a minute later, the hosts struck. Courage goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland attempted to clear the ball out of her own end but sent it right at Pruitt. The ball bounced off of the Pride forward and settled at the feet of Jenkins in front of goal. The Orlando striker sent a screaming shot to the top corner, beating Rowland and bringing the Pride back to within two.
The Pride had a chance at a second in the 18th minute when the Courage failed to clear a corner kick. The ball skipped through the box, but there were no Pride players in the area to get on the end of it, allowing it to go out of play.
The Courage nearly scored a fourth in the 22nd minute when Mathias sent Daniels toward the end line. The forward played a quick ball across the box, looking for former Pride defender Carson Pickett at the near post. Pickett got her foot to the ball but Moorhouse made a nice save and kept the deficit at two.
The Courage focused mainly on the left early in the game through Mathias. In the 32nd minute, the defender once again sent a dangerous cross through the box. However, this one was a bit too high and no attacking players were able to get on the end of it.
As the first half wound down, both teams built attacks but the defenses did well to keep them outside of the box. Courtney Petersen took a long distance shot in the 34th minute for the Pride and Carson Pickett shot from distance in the 41st minute, but neither were close to the goal.
After going down 3-0 in the first nine minutes, the Pride had to be pleased to go into the break only down 3-1.
“What we talked about is having confidence on the ball and courage on the ball,” Cromwell said about her halftime talk. “It seemed like everyone the first half...no one wanted it or if they gave it, they were done. Like there was the pass and move and the fluid nature of how we build an attack wasn’t there in the first half. And so to keep possession, to kind of delay their attack, we had to keep the ball ourselves and that’s the best defense is possession. So I told them to have courage on the ball.”
While the Pride spent the game’s opening minutes in their own end, the team got into the attack early in the second half. It took the team 18 minutes to win a corner in the first half, but they won their first corner just three minutes into the second period.
The Pride nearly got their second goal of the game in the 55th minute. The team broke down the field after forcing a turnover. However, they took too much time in transition, allowing the defense to get back. The ball ended up with Kerry Abello who fired on goal, but the pressure caused her to miss the target.
A minute later, the Pride cut the once three-goal deficit to one. Quick passing allowed Montefusco to get down the right. The center back sent a cross into the box, which was headed down near the back post by Abello. Jenkins was right there to tap it in for her second goal of the game, cutting the deficit to 3-2.
“Just kind of had the mindset that I’m gonna frickin’ score today,” Jenkins said about her brace after the game. “I’m gonna shoot the ball as many times as I can. And it paid off, which is great.”
Following the goal, the Courage pushed forward, trying to reclaim their multi-goal lead. Smith had an opportunity to cross from the outside in the 58th minute, but Pressley did well to block it.
They had another chance to extend their lead in the 63rd minute when Smith found herself with some space in front of goal. However, her shot was right at Moorhouse, who made the easy save.
In the 68th minute, Smith had another chance when a nice stepover allowed her to lose her defender. The forward took a quick right-footed shot toward Moorhouse’s near post, but it was right at the Pride’s shot stopper again for another save.
With 20 minutes remaining in the game, it appeared more likely that the Courage would score a fourth than the Pride would get an equalizer. In the 71st minute, they nearly scored their fourth when Debinha received the ball on the left. She attempted to beat Moorhouse to her near post, but hit the side netting.
The Pride nearly scored an equalizer in the 76th minute when a Julie Doyle cross into the box was fumbled by Rowland. Had Rowland not got a piece of the ball, Abello was nearing the back post and would’ve been able to put it in. However, Rowland got enough of the ball that the Courage could clear.
North Carolina finally put the game away in the 89th minute. Second-half substitute Diana Ordonez found Debinha just inside the box. The Brazilian playmaker immediately turned Turner, who had come on at halftime, and put it into the corner, giving the visitors a 4-2 win.
The Pride played much better after the first 10 minutes and especially in the second half. However, the Courage still led in nearly every statistical category, including possession (57.4%-42.6%), shots (18-13), shots on goal (7-5), passing accuracy (84.9%-69.1%), crosses (33-15), and corners (7-6).
“You can’t give up three goals like that,” Cromwell said about the performance. “And we almost got ourselves out of it. We almost got to the third goal. And that’s to us, that’s now our challenge is how do we (do that) because we seem to be a second half team. We have to be a both-half team, and so that’s our challenge as a staff and as a team.”
“We dug ourselves in a hole. Quite a big one,” Jenkins said about the game. “And so just knowing that we really don’t have anything to lose at this point, I think kind of gave us the energy to just really try and not be afraid of failure. I think we kind of came out scared the first 10 minutes and North Carolina has a great team that works off transition and kind of feeds off of that vibe. So yeah, that was just the script. We got nothing to lose.”
After starting the Challenge Cup with a scoreless draw with the Spirit, the Pride have now dropped four straight games. They still have one game left in the tournament, next weekend against NJ/NY Gotham FC in New Jersey. The following week they’ll start the 2022 NWSL regular season at Exploria Stadium.