Analysis: North Carolina Courage (a). Courage shut out the Pride, take top spot.
First of all, before we talk about anything else, we need to talk about Ashlyn Harris. I don't care what she wants, contract wise, give it to her. She can never leave this club. Not. Now. Not. Ever! She was a one woman barrier between the Pride and a humiliating deficit in the first half. Her penalty save wasn't even the best one. She was, to NWSL goalkeeping performances, what Rogue One is to the Star Wars franchise. Flawless. I'll fight anyone that disagrees with me (on either count). OK, maybe I won't fight them; definitely won't. I'd certainly lose. In all seriousness, though, she was incredible. Save Of The Week? Pah, just name the whole damn award after her.
Orlando were uncharacteristically sloppy at the back, as they were in Houston last weekend. It's becoming a bit of a worrying trend. Admittedly, the Pride didn't have their first choice central defensive partnership available. That being said, I'm not sure how much of an excuse that is. But more on that later. Despite their defensive malaise, the Pride actually played a lot of good, attacking football. They just shot themselves so badly in the foot, that there was no foot left at the end of it. The obviously blasted it, from close range, with a sawn off shotgun. They gave themselves a mountain to climb.
The Courage may have unceremoniously removed us from top spot, but it's still early days. And there are still plenty of things to be positive about, concerning the Orlando Pride. The debut of Amy Turner being one of them. The former Manchester United defender will add steely determination to this Pride back-line. Anyway, let's get stuck into things...
I'm not going to sugar coat this; at times, the Pride's defending was atrocious. Particularly for the goals. I don't think we need to panic yet, however. This team has been good defensively. But there were some key issues, during this game. Issues that, if not addressed, could cause the Pride serious problems as the season goes on. As great as Ashlyn Harris is, and as much as we like to see her do well, it's far more preferable that she doesn't get exposed as often as she did in this tie. Take the first goal, for instance. If you look at the graphic in figure 1, you'll notice the poor defensive line. Ali Riley, Ali Krieger and Courtney Petersen have all stepped up well. Their line isn't too high, but it's not a low-block either. It's a textbook defensive line, when up against pace.
The issue here, is Toni Pressley. I'm a huge fan of hers, but she wasn't alive to what was happening around her. She's sat so deep, she's not even in the frame. There's now a gaping hole, in the left centre-back position. You can probably chalk this up to a lack of match sharpness. Williams has all the space in the middle of the frame, so even if Krieger gets to Debinha, Williams is in. If Pressley's positioning is better, she gives herself a chance to get to Debinha. Her positioning not only diminishes Pressley's chances of making a challenge, it also completely negates any chance of catching Williams or Jessica McDonald offside if Debinha is forced to pass.
The second goal is just as bothersome, for me. The ball gets worked to the left flank, and the low cross comes in from Williams. Petersen doesn't get close enough to McDonald (figure 2), who then squares the ball back to Havana Saluan, who rifles into the net. Konya Plummer and Pressley are almost statuesque, as they get caught ball watching. Harris just has a look of resignation on her face, as the Courage players celebrate. It was basic stuff, neither central defender is aware of what's happening around them. It was very out of character, and something Marc Skinner will want to get to grips with, before Louisville.
Anyway... It's not all doom and gloom...
Figure 1 shows a game still from just before the opening goal.
Figure 2 shows a game still from just before the second goal.
Positive chance creation
The main positive to derive from this game, is the pure number of chances Orlando created. I actually think they popped the ball around pretty well, at times. They created space and moved the Courage defence around well. The Pride's pass completion rate of 77%, from 324 passes, is actually very respectable. Especially when you consider how direct Orlando are when attacking. Overall, the Pride registered 19 shots on goal, and flung in 24 crosses. The Pride had more shots, more crosses and more corners than the visitors. They just couldn't make them pay, with only 6 of those 19 shots forcing Casey Murphy into a save. And, to be honest, that happens. Sometimes the ball just doesn't go in.
There's no need to panic. If the Pride create chances, like they did against the Courage, all season then they'll score tons. Orlando have an overall XG of 0.72 on the season, and are 5th in overall shots taken, with 89. They're conversion rate is a respectable 13.75%. The Pride have scored 12 goals from 89 shots. Not bad, but not amazing either. However, if they continue to create the types of chances they did in this game... Someone's gonna receive a hammering at some point.
Ashlyn Harris was a one woman barrier between Orlando losing this game with a respectable score, and being annihilated. Essentially. Ashlyn was hung out to dry, on a number of occasions, by her defenders. as, again, able to force her way into the Sports Center Top 10 following a string of fine saves. Any of which, wouldn't have looked out of place on the coveted list. I think it's safe to say she's got 'Save Of The Week' wrapped up. Again. Her penalty save wasn't even her best of the night. Overall, Harris faced 9 shots, saving 7 for an overall success rate of 77.8%. She commands her area with such authority. A leader in every sense of the word. Will be a legend, long after she leaves this club. Superb.
Harris -9- Literally, name a damn stand after this woman.
Riley -7- Had a hard evening with Debinha and Williams, but did OK overall.
Pressley -5- I'm a huge fan of hers, and she's not played all season. It showed.
Krieger -6- Hopefully the injury is nothing serious.
Petersen -6- Got forward well, but she struggled with McDonald's pace. Will be a learning curb for the youngster
Jónsdóttir -6- Typically industrious, knocked the ball around fairly well.
Dougherty-Howard -6- Disastrous pass for the opener, but shook that off and grew into the game well.
Kornieck -7- Had some flashes of brilliance, could've done better with some of her chances.
Marta -7- All over the field, again.
Leroux -6- Full of running, just wasn't her night.
Thomas -6- Tracked back well.
Plummer -6- A few good challenges, Plummer and Pressley both went to sleep for the second.
Turner -6- Probably came in too late.
Tymrak -7- Looked bright when she came in, surely worth a start.
Kim -6- Too late to impact the game, but showed some good movement.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com and footystats.org.
Game stills courtesy of the CBS Sports Network
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