This weekend the Orlando Pride travel to visit a familiar foe in a new city. Last year's NWSL champions, the former Western New York Flash have relocated south and are now the North Carolina Courage. The location may be new, but the championship side has started the new season strong, and they are now 2 - 0 - 0, sitting atop the table in first place with six points off of a pair of 1 - 0 victories.
Meanwhile, the Pride have been a little sluggish out of the gate, with an 0 - 1 - 1 record and one point, sitting in ninth place on the table. The Pride have been playing hard and moving the ball well, but they have had trouble finishing, and looking a little deeper into the results from the early season, it's not going to get any easier for them this week.
Early Season Satistics
The most telling statistic that jumps off the stat sheet about the Courage is their defense. As it turns out, both the Pride and the Courage have faced the same two teams, so you can get an apples-to-apples comparison from the first two matches. Several selected stats for both teams appear below.
|Courage Stats / Opponent Stats|
|at Spirit||22 / 3||9 / 0||2 / 1||13 / 7||25 / 13||43 / 32||15 / 9||0 / 8||12 / 20|
|vs Thorns||15 / 3||3 / 1||2 / 0||5 / 5||22 / 18||39 / 31||11 / 14||1 / 2||12 / 20|
|Pride Stats / Opponent Stats|
|at Thorns||19 / 11||7 / 5||6 / 2||5 / 0||13 / 9||28 / 44||10 / 15||3 / 7||12 / 7|
|vs Spirit||21 / 11||5 / 6||7 / 1||7 / 3||27 / 12||26 / 35||10 / 22||5 / 4||18 / 18|
The Courage and the Pride are both more active on the ball than their opponents in terms of attacking, outshooting the opponents by wide margins. But the Courage have held those opponents to a total of six shots and only one shot on target. Compare that to Orlando's defense, which has allowed the same opponents 22 shots and 11 shots on goal. You don't always think of shots as a defensive stat, but when you see a team holding opponents to so few chances, it means that the Pride are likely to have very few chances to get a good look at the goal compared to their first two matches.
Another pair of stats that should concern Pride fans is the ratio of duels and tackles between the two teams. In both matches the Courage are winning more duels, while the Pride are coming up on the short end. The Pride are also being tackled off the ball more than their opponents, whereas in the aggregate the Courage hold a slight edge over the opponents in the two matches.
One stat that does favor Orlando in the matchup is the passing. Orlando is completing an average of about 77% of their passes per match, compared to North Carolina's 68%. Likewise, the Pride are averaging over 415 passes per match, while North Carolina are only averaging 321. We can hope that the ball movement can open up Carolina's defense and find more opportunities than their previous two opponents have managed.
Players to Watch
When the Courage have set pieces, keep an eye on Abby Dahlkemper. She has taken 15 of the team's corner kicks. And Debinha is the shot leader for the Courage, with 15 shots on the season and one goal, followed by McCall Zerboni, who has 11 shots and notched the team's other goal. And the assist leaders for the team are Makenzie Doniak and Jessica McDonald who each have one start. McDonald has only come on as a sub in both matches and has played a total of less than 20 minutes, but it appears she has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to be involved in the goal. In the net, Sabrina D'Angelo has not had much to do, only facing six shots and only being required to make one save to maintain two clean sheets.
For the Pride, it would be a real shock if Marta did not start this match, and she will draw every eye like a magnet. She has only played 31 minutes, but she already has two shots and one of those on target. Of course, rookie sensation Danica Evans has barely played 30 minutes, and she has scored the team's only goal from two shot attempts, both of which were on target. Monica had a sensational clearance in the game against Washington, while newcomers Chioma Ubogagu and Camila have been the most active in terms of shooting, taking 16 and eight shots respectively. And in the net, Ashlyn Harris has been much more active, facing 22 shots and having to make 8 saves on the young season. Of course as a fan of Orlando I have to mention the contributions of players like Steph Catley, Ali Krieger, Jasmyne Spencer, Kristen Edmonds, and Dani Weatherholt, all of whom have been very active on and off the ball in the first two matches, even though they have not shown up as stat leaders on the box score.
I think the Courage are going to be a really strong side this year. And in the early going, the Pride have looked good in everything except finishing. I think that with a full week of integrating Marta into the game plan, we may see something click this week with the team and see a much improved side from our ladies. But I'm not sure how many chances they will get against that strong defense. I'm going to predict a road draw for the team, 2 - 2.
What about you? What do you think the result of the match will be? Do you believe that the Pride can win in Carolina, or do you think the Courage are going to be successful in defending their home turf? Let me know in the comments below!