Analysis: North Carolina Courage (a). Pride claim memorable victory in North Carolina.
Are we... Are we... I'm almost hesitant to say it. Are we North Carolina's bogey team!? Every club has that one team. That one team they can never get the better of. We seem to have become just that for Paul Riley's team. WakeMed Soccer Park has almost become a home away from home for the Pride, with 4 of their last 7 road games coming in Cary, NC. The first of those 4 was a 6-1 humbling, back in 2019. Since then, Orlando has secured consecutive goalless draws (across the 2020 Fall Series and 2021 Challenge Cup), before last night's deserved win. Sandwiched somewhere between all that, was the remarkable 3-3 comeback draw at Exploria Stadium back in the fall.
There is a steely determination to this Orlando team. A resoluteness that's hitherto been unseen at Exploria Stadium over recent years. On a night where Orlando City flexed their muscles, and laid down another message to the rest of MLS. A message that read, 'we mean business'; the Pride did exactly the same. It's a run of 4 games without defeat for Marc Skinner's team. And with the Portland Thorns up next, the Pride (arguably) couldn't be in better shape right now.
The re-awakening of Sydney LeRoux
Sydney LeRoux is excelling on the left. There's no other way to say it. She's working incredibly hard, in terms of offense and defence. Her energy and athleticism, are something to behold. She's Carole Danvers, without the funky suit. Or the ability to breathe in space (I think). LeRoux put up some pretty impressive statistics, on the night (figure 1). Her level of awareness for the goal, was just... I loved it. It's so easy, as a striker, to switch off and try to conserve your energy. LeRoux is cute with it. She's constantly aware of what's going on around her, and as soon as the ball breaks loose, she's on to it in a flash. She reads what's happening, and already knows what she is going to do, when she gets there. And there was nothing the Courage could do to stop her.
Figure 1 shows Sydney LeRoux's statistics for the game.
The goal, as great as it was, wasn't everything about her performance. As I touched on earlier, she got up and down the left tremendously well. She got back to help out Courtney Petersen, and she got forward at will. Often linking up well with the likes of Alex Morgan and Marta. You'll see from her pass positioning matrix in figure 2, she got into a lot of good forward areas, but also did her fair share of work taking care of the ball, at the back. It was a super performance from LeRoux; a player who looks revitalised. With 44 touches, 21 passes (90.5% success rate), 2 tackles and a goal, you can see what kind of game she had.
Figure 2 shows Sydney LeRoux's passing position matrix, whole 90.
The continued development of Taylor Kornieck
There can be no doubt, regarding the talent and potential of Taylor Kornieck. That being said, she needs to improve on her passing. The turnovers, coming through the middle, were putting Orlando under unnecessary pressure. Thankfully, for the Pride, North Carolina were never able to make them pay. Kornieck posted a pass completion rate of 57.6%, from 33 passes (figure 4); which just isn't good enough.
Teams like the Courage, often thrive on pouncing on misplaced passes. They will then hit you on the counter, which is particularly problematic when you're as direct as the Pride are. The Pride are a team that like to commit bodies forward, so if they relinquish possession in midfield too often; they could leave themselves open. When you play a direct brand of football, you're naturally going to turn the ball over, so it's all about minimising those concessions. I should add, I'm usually pretty forgiving of turnovers when a player plays a lot of high risk passes. But Kornieck is conceding possession from square passes in the defensive and middle thirds (figure 3). She has to improve on this.
Figure 3 shows Taylor Kornieck's passing position matrix, whole 90.
It's not all doom and gloom for Kornieck, though. She did an exceptional job in terms of the defensive side of her game. Kornieck won 3 tackles and made 6 recoveries, as well as completing 8 clearances. Kornieck is a big, physical presence who puts herself about well and exhibits strong defensive positioning. If she can just get a handle on her distribution, she could go on to establish herself as a leading talent in this league.
Figure 4 shows Taylor Kornieck's overall statistics, whole 90.
Solid debut for Erin McLeod
There were more than a few eyebrows raised when Erin McLeod checked in over a year ago. Ashlyn Harris is, rightfully, the number 1. Brittany Wilson is also a more than able back-up. That being said, it's so important to have an experienced deputy. Wilson will benefit from their experience. As Saturday's game showed; McLeod has still got it. Erin McLeod stepped between the sticks, and carried herself with all the confidence and assurity 118 caps, for Canada, will give you. McLeod commanded her area well, and made some difficult looking stops. This Pride squad is blessed with goalkeeping talent; McLeod is a bit part of that. McLeod made 4 saves, out of the 5 shots she faced. The goal, she couldn't do much about. It was your typical, 'fox in the box' kinda finish from Jess McDonald. Solid first start for the former Houston Dash stopper.
Phoebe McClernon continues to go from strength to strength in this team. Here is a young player, with USWNT potential, playing like an experienced pro. Her last ditch, goal-saving tackle on McDonald was sublime. It was brilliantly timed and executed. Those challenges are so easy to get wrong, and so often result in penalty kicks. It was superb stuff from the Pride defender. She also put up some mightily impressive stats. McClernon completed 4 tackles, won 1 free-kick and played 1 key pass. Her range of passing is superb. She attempts a lot of longer passes, out from the back. Which is probably reflected in her modest pass completion rate of 57.7% from 29 attempts. You're always going to get a lower percentage, when you play more long passes (figure 6). Her positioning and reading of the game was very good. Could very well go on to be a top defender.
Figure 6 shows Phoebe McClernon's passing matrix, whole 90.
McLeod -7- Solid first start of the season for McLeod.
Petersen -6- Got up and down the field well. Didn't look out of place.
McClernon -8- Very impressive display from the defender.
Krieger -7- Coached McClernon through the game well; is a good foil for her.
Riley -7- Seems to have made the right-back slot her own.
Kornieck -6- Used her physical presence to positive effect, but has to work on her distribution.
Dougherty-Howard -7- Exceptionally high soccer IQ, and it shows with her passing.
Jónsdóttir -7- Broke up the play well, and helped to keep her team ticking over. Provided solid defensive cover.
Marta -7- Was just gliding past people like they weren't there.
Morgan -7- Led the line well, and finished her goal with aplomb.
LeRoux -7- Was alert to pounce on an early loose ball, and put the Pride in front.
Viggiano -7- Brought in to help Orlando hold-on, and actually ended up helping the team get further ahead
Pressley -6- Used her experience to help guide the team through those tricky last few moments.
Thomas -6- Didn't get much chance to have an impact.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com.