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  • Writer's pictureDan Berridge

Analysis: North Carolina Courage (a). Off The Pace Pride, Are Routed In Cary.

Cary, North Carolina, and more specifically WakeMed Soccer Park, recently played host to the TST soccer tournament. An AFC Wrexham side compromised of current and former players, as well as some guests, beat a US Women side comprised mainly of ex-pros, 12-0. The typically borish headlines seemed to intimate that this was a current US squad. They were misleading. Just like the Pride's start to this game.


For the first few minutes the Pride seemed energetic and up for the fight; they looked capable of getting something. That impression quickly evaporated. The Courage took control of the game, and the Pride just... Let them, to be honest.



Things only went from bad to worse in the second half, as an avalanche of North Carolina goals left Orlando staring down the barrel of a 3-0 defeat. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what went wrong... The performance just wasn't good enough, which Seb Hines highlighted after the game:


"We just weren't ourselves today. Every second ball, North Carolina was there. They pressed effectively and we didn't have that sharpness, and it's becoming a theme away from home. That was the message after the game. We've got to figure this out away from home and we need to start picking up points away from home. We can't only rely on our home form. So again, it's just going back to the drawing board, see where we can improve. The game plan was to be threatening in transition and I felt early on we caused them problems. They weren't able to play through the lines as often as they probably used to in previous games. There were moments where we could have been thrown in transition and we just weren't thrown in transition. We didn't have the internal drive that we showed last week against Portland and to go straight to the ball. That was a disappointing factor of the game.” 


It was just an uncharacteristically 'off' performance. There were some positives though, which I'll touch on shortly.


This was a defeat that will undoubtedly hurt the team, though. It was an opportunity to close the gap on the top 6, and with Orlando now just over halfway through the regular season, and elimination from the Challenge Cup a distinct possibility, the Pride need to hit a consistent run of form and soon.



Orlando's poor possession play


There can be no doubts, Orlando did not look after the ball well at all, completing just 69% of their passes. The Pride were just giving the ball away all over the park (figure 1), as they struggled, desperately, to come to terms with North Carolina's press. They seemed to have developed an ideal way of playing through the press, with Emily Madril or Megan Montefusco playing a short pass to Mikayla Cluff in midfield, who would then pop the ball wide to Kylie Strom or Haley McCutcheon.


The game plan seemed to be to bypass the Courage press down the sides and then use the pace of Ally Watt and Messiah Bright in behind. And on a few occasions it worked, though all too often there seemed to be a disconnect between the full-backs and the forwards. Many of the loose passes played by Orlando were down those flanks (figure 2).


Seb Hines ellaborated on this game plan when I asked him about it after the game. He told The English Lion:


"The way that North Carolina play, they're very compact, there's not a lot of space between the lines but we felt like our best outcome in the attack was the space in behind. You've got the likes of Ally [Watt], Julie [Doyle], Adri[ana] and Messiah [Bright] who are all quick players and the moments where we played in behind, there was a disconnect between understanding when to go and when to play the ball. There's been moments in games where we controlled the tempo through the midfield but we felt with the likes of [Denise] O’Sullivan, Mille [Gejl], there's a lot of congestion there. Best outcome was probably to play down the sides of North Carolina, play quick to the outside backs and play down the channels, give the likes for running in behind and go straight to goal. There was moments where we did that but it just broke down in the final third.” 


This probably is the best way to handle the Courage's press, it just wasn't performed well enough.


Figure 1 shows Orlando's incomplete pass positioning matrix, whole 90.


Figure 2 shows the number of passes being misplaced by McCutcheon and Strom at full-back. This was due to a combination of poor passing and poor runs from the forwards.



The positives...


Well, to be honest I lied, when I said that earlier. I just wanted you to keep reading in the hope of finding a silver lining. I'm like Kathleen Kennedy when she said The Last Jedi was good. She just wanted you to go and see it. And then bam. Terrible.


I did genuinely try to think of some positives to take from the performance. There just weren't any worth highlighting. On Fotmob, 5 players were ranked with 5 out of 10s on their player rating scales. Adriana was the only one north of 6, although that was probably helped by the number of shots she had (3). She had a few fleeting moments of brilliance, but often found her self running down a cul-de-sac as she was often crowded out when carrying the ball, with few passing options.


This just wasn't a good performance, and the Pride will need to improve next time out, if they hope to make the post-season.


Top player


Adriana



Adriana had a few moments, although it really wasn't her game. Aside from a few flashes here and there, she really struggled to impact the game in any meaningful way. The fact that she's the Pride's top player for this game is, perhaps, more reflective of the overall performance of the team.



Player ratings


Starting XI


Moorhouse -5- Decision making was questionable at times.


McCutcheon -5- Not her best game.

Madril -6- Struggled with their pressing.

Montefusco -6- Not her finest game.

Strom -5- Had a hard time finding Bright's runs.


Villacorta -5- Struggled to impact the game.

Cluff -6- Not her best game.


Bright -5- Really struggled.

Adriana -6- A few flashes.

Doyle -6- Looked rusty.


Watt -6- Got in behind a few times.


Substitutes


Abello -6- Got forward well.

Tymrak -6- Probably should have started over Bright.

Yates -6- Too late to do anything.

Allen -6- Good to see her out there again.


Reaction


Orlando Pride head coach Seb Hines


"I felt like it was probably a similar game. We allowed the players to have possession at the back. Probably one thing that North Carolina did more than Portland was they played a lot more longer balls in behind the backline. We worked on that quite often, dealing with long balls, making sure that we were ready, dealing with the space behind and it looked like, today, we just weren't prepared for that. They’ve got the likes of Kerolin who can be threatening in trying to get the ball behind. So we have to reinforce that message that we're compact. But if there's time on the ball, you have to be prepared to drop quickly. Ultimately, the game was probably lost in those moments. But the more disappointing thing is that we weren't threatening in the attack. We didn't cause North Carolina enough problems. We went with four forwards, four attacking threats up top and it didn't work out.




*All statistics courtesy of Fotmob.com and nwslsoccer.com.

Top player image and cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride.

Media availability footage and b-roll footage courtesy of Orlando Pride.



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