The 2019 NWSL scheduling gurus did not do any favors for the Orlando Pride. In back-to-back games only three days apart, they have to open their season against the defending representatives in last year’s NWSL Cup Final. On Sunday they lost a 2 - 0 decision at home to the Portland Thorns, and on Wednesday they must travel to Cary, NC to face the North Carolina Courage.
Pride vs. Thorns Recap
I was expecting the opening match to be tough for a number of reasons—new coach, new tactics, and new players among them. I was not counting on some news that I first heard in the post-match press conference, when coach Marc Skinner said both his Australian Internationals (Alanna Kennedy and Emily van Egmond) had been sidelined by a virus some 48 hours before kickoff. As the coach and several players said in that presser, there’s no excuses in football, but it certainly does explain why the lineup was so different than the one I expected.
The Pride looked very tentative in the first half, and that cost them. Portland is a dangerous team on the attack and the counter-attack, and when they found openings they exploited them for shot after shot. In the first half the Pride conceded 11 shots and managed only five of their own. For the first 30 minutes it seemed like the ball stayed in Portland’s attacking half for all but about 90 seconds, and the Pride were on their heels the entire first third of the match.
After halftime the Pride became more aggressive, but in the 49th minute they left an opening for a Caitlin Foorde cross to find a tumbling Tobin Heath, who managed to flail a weak, awkward deflection and send it dribbling into the corner of the net past an equally prone Ashlyn Harris. The defensive lapses and breakdowns were rampant, and the game easily could have easily created five or six goals for Portland had Harris not made six quality saves on the day. To a certain extent I think Portland went into a defensive bunker after their second goal and just absorbed the Orlando pressure. The Pride did outshoot Portland nine to six in the second half, but they could not find the back of the net. As lopsided as the first half was in favor of Portland, it is interesting to note that at the end of the day, the Pride led the match in passes (413 to 354), possession (53.5% to 46.5%) and duels won (58 to 51).
Heading to Carolina
Camila came off the bench after being listed as questionable with a bum knee, and she logged 25’ as a substitute. She may not be fit for 90’ by midweek, but presuming she did not aggravate anything I would expect to see her next match again. With the recent illness, it’s too early to tell if the two Australian Internationals will be ready to play, and many of the players who went 90 minutes on Sunday will likely be asked to play deep into the midweek match as well.
Carolina drew with Chicago on the road. In that match it was statistical domination by the Courage. They led by wide margins in shooting (24 to 6), corners (13 to 1), crosses (40 to 11), passes (440 to 309), and possession (60% to 40%). If the Pride want to come away with any kind of result they need to start hard, fast, hungry, and disciplined so they can smack Carolina in the mouth and put them back on their heels. I think that eventually this team can develop the kind of disciplined, attack-minded, possession-oriented mentality that the players say they have wanted and that Coach Skinner is trying to build. But I’m a bit of a skeptic that going up against the team that has dominated the league the last two seasons in three days is going to be much of a confidence booster.
As I said before there are no excuses in football, but there are predictions. And unfortunately I don’t think Orlando Pride will be quite good enough to get the win on Wednesday. I predict a 3 - 1 win for the Courage in this match.
For the second match in a row I’m not going to try to predict a Starting XI. The illness that was not made known until after the match last week and the midweek turn-around are two factors that just make me very uncertain what Coach will want to do.
What are your thoughts on this midweek match? Do you think the Pride can pull off a minor miracle and beat Carolina? Or do you think they can come up with a point on the road at least? Let me know!