Two matches ago I called time of death on the Orlando Pride season, with my logic being that since the team failed to beat Sky Blue at home (with all the problems Sky Blue has faced this season), it shows they lack the heart or the will to play consistently well enough to make the playoffs.
Some other pundits don't want to lay the blame on Coach Tom Sermanni, but I'm leaning in that direction for his unnecessary and needless lineup shuffles every week. That lack of consistency is hurting the ability of the team to develop confidence and trust with each other on the pitch.
I am wary of being overconfident in my assessment of the problem. I spent the first half of the season blaming Coach Jason Kreis for the flawed makeup of the club's MLS roster. Then after firing the coach, OCSC GM Alex Leitao admitted in one of the most defiant press conferences I have seen that he and GM Niki Budalic were responsible for building the roster and sought only minimal input from their coach, promising they would continue doing the same in the future. They may be just as bad at building a roster for the women's team and they may not allow Tom Sermanni much input. If that's the case, they also may be pressuring the coach to get minutes for so many players that he cannot field a consistent Starting XI.
Regardless of the cause, the effects of the erratic play from the Pride mean that they are now in 4th place on the table and tied on points with fifth-place Chicago Red Stars. Meanwhile, the Pride has only three matches left in the season, while the Red Stars have four matches left. I think nothing less than full points from all three matches will help the Pride retain their spot in the playoffs, and I am convinced they have squandered their opportunity to host a first-round match.
As far as I am concerned that makes the season a total failure, and whoever is deemed responsible for this failure should be fired the minute the final whistle on the season blows. It's unacceptable for a team with this much talent. With nearly half the roster being called up for the USA, Australia, and Brazil the Pride should have beaten seven other teams in this league without breaking a sweat, and their only challenge on game day should have been the Courage--who have proven themselves the best team this season based on a combination of great talent, superior coaching, and impeccable team chemistry.
Injuries, Suspensions, and Players to Watch
All statistics are courtesy of the NWSL.
North Carolina Courage
- OUT: Yuri Kawamura (left knee ACL tear – SEI), Julie King (left ankle repair)
- QUESTIONABLE: McCall Zerboni (right ankle sprain)
- INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
- Lynn Williams leads the Courage in scoring (10 goals, 4 assists - 2nd in NWSL), shots (98 - 1st in NWSL), and shots on target (33 - 2nd in NWSL).
- Crystal Dunn (7 goals, 5 assists) leads North Carolina in chances created (42 - tied 1st in NWSL), dribbles completed (42 - tied 1st in NWSL), and assists (5 - tied for 3rd in NWSL).
- McCall Zerboni leads the Courage in tackles won (58 - 1st in NWSL), interceptions (64 - 2nd in NWSL), and duels won (190 - 2nd in NWSL).
- OUT: None
- QUESTIONABLE: Chioma Ubogagu (right hamstring strain)
- INTERNATIONAL DUTY: None
- Sydney Leroux leads the Pride in scoring (6 goals, 2 assists).
- Marta (4 goals, 3 assists) leads Orlando in Chances Created (34 - 7th in NWSL) and successful Crosses/Corners (23).
- Mônica leads the Pride in Blocks (17 - 3rd in NWSL) and Passing Accuracy (82.02%).
- Shelina Zadorsky leads the Pride in Clearances (91 - 3rd in NWSL), Passes (837), and minutes played this season, with 1,800 so far.
- Alanna Kennedy leads Orlando in total Aerial Duels (161 - 1st in NWSL), Duels Won (90 - 2nd in NWSL), total Duels Won (139 - 5th in NWSL), and Interceptions (49 - 6th in NWSL).
The Courage have locked up the NWSL Shield for most points, and have a chance to break some records for points and regular season wins. So far from having nothing to play for, the team is chasing history. The Pride are desperate to cling to a playoff spot, but their form of late does not give me any reason for confidence in their ability to win. The record of the two teams by venue also gives one reason to believe the Courage should win this game. On the season North Carolina has won 90% of their home matches, and in the last five games they have scored nine while surrendering only two goals. Meanwhile, the Pride are winning only 40% of their road matches, and their recent form has seen them score six goals and surrender nine in the last five games. That leads me to predict a 2 - 1 victory, and that's only if the Pride score first. If the Courage get on the board first, I think they will win by 3 or more as the Pride completely give up on the rest of the season.