Orlando City Stadium continues to be a tough place for visitors to take any points, as the Pride and Orlando City SC have now only given up two points combined to visitors. And the Pride avoided equaling a dubious record in NWSL history by snapping a 12-match winless streak with a huge 3 - 1 victory over league-leading North Carolina Courage Sunday at home. It was a great Mother's Day gift to all the moms of the Pride players and all the moms in the Orlando Pride fanbase.
- Finishing Chances - The Pride have been close all season, and I have to admit I was concerned that the inability to finish had something to do with team chemistry. However, it appeared the flaw was only in the execution, and the Pride finally put all the pieces together multiple times, constructing beautiful team goals and taking advantage of mental lapses by the visitors.
- Eager Krieger - Two of the three goals involved four players creating the chance and finishing off the play, and Ali Krieger was involved in both of them. In the first goal scored by Chioma Ubogagu, it was Krieger who passed the ball all the way back across the pitch to Ubogagu after it was fed to the defender by passes from Kristen Edmonds and Camila. Stretching the Carolina defense the full width of the field allowed Ubogagu to isolate on defender Abby Erceg and then beat both the defender and Courage keeper Sabrina D'Angelo for the goal.
- Marta Magic - The best players are not only great scorers but great creators, and Marta showed her quality all match creating many opportunities for the Pride. But the best creation came in the 82nd minute. Even as Marta was falling down, she poked a perfect pass forward to Jasmyne Spencer, who blasted between clay-footed defenders and struck the ball beyond the reach of D'Angelo into the far side of the net for the Pride's third goal.
- One Lapse, One Goal Surrendered - The city and uniforms may be new, but the Courage are still playing like defending league champions and part of that pedigree is being able to pounce when the other team falls asleep. After goals in the 49th and 50th minutes, The Pride were feeling a little giddy and allowed themselves to get a bit sloppy. After a weak just outside the defensive penalty area, Lynn Williams pounced on the ball and sent a crisp pass over to Debinha, who blasted a shot with authority that nearly pulled Ashlyn Harris out of her cleats as it sailed beyond the keeper's reach and into the back of the net. To the Pride's credit, it was the wakeup call that they needed, and they were more attentive for the rest of the match.
- Poor Scheduling - The NWSL scheduling gurus may think they are somehow celebrating women by putting games on Mother's Day, but most families that are less-than hard core fans are likely going to be celebrating in an air-conditioned restaurant rather than an open air stadium on Mom's special day. The crowd was one of the smallest the Pride have ever had at just over 5,000 and I blame the low attendance on the holiday scheduling.
- First Win of the Season - With the victory, the Pride have their first win of the 2017 campaign. They are also the first team to get a lead against the Courage, the first team to win against the Courage, and they still are the only team in NWSL to score against the Courage this season. North Carolina has given up four goals in five matches, all to players from the Orlando Pride, including two from Camila.
- History Repeats Itself - Abby Erceg now has been sent off twice in her NWSL career, and both times came in Orlando against the Pride. The first time was in May of 2016 as a member of the Western New York Flash at the old Citrus Bowl; the second time was in 2017 as a member of the North Carolina Courage at Orlando City Stadium. Both her cards came on tactical fouls as she tugged at a player after getting beat on a play. The first came early in the match after Jamia Fields ran past her, and the second came as she clipped Kristen Edmonds' legs out from her after getting beat on a play.
Players who didn't get a lot of recognition on the stat sheet but who deserve some mentions are Toni Pressley, Dani Weatherholt, and Christina Burkenroad. Pressley continued to show great form as part of the back line and used her size, strength, and the new burst of speed she has found this season to great effect. She was in the right place to deflect passes or shots more than once, and ranged up and down the entire pitch to be involved where she was needed.
Dani Weatherholt is becoming a quiet leader on the team, and I say that not because she's my favorite player but because it's clear that she is both a disrupter and an initiator. Her lean frame belies wiry strength that lets her poke a foot in and tackle the ball away from opposing players, and her vision around the pitch lets her find the open player to start moving the ball the other way or settle it back so the team can assess the field before mounting the next attack.
And Christina Burkenroad is starting to show a fierceness and assertive attack-minded style that was not always evident last season. She came on in the last ten minutes of the match, and in that time had two strong runs that resulted in shots on goal. The second one was a screamer that she blasted at the far corner, but Sabrina D'Angelo was able to throw her body in front of it and smother it to keep it from being the fourth goal on the day. It's going to be fun to see this player that at some times seemed a bit shy and timid last season start to find her stride and realize her potential as a scoring threat. I think her performance yesterday will earn her more minutes in the next match.
What are your thoughts on the big win? Who was your player of the match? Do you think this performance signals that the team have finally started to put the pieces together and are poised for a good streak of wins, or do you think they still need some work to live up to their level of collective talent? Let me know in the comments below!