We've seen some weird and wonderful games already in Exploria Stadium's relatively short history. Saturday's 3-3 draw with the North Carolina Courage has to be right up there with the best of them. At half-time, Marc Skinner's team found themselves staring down the proverbial barrel. Some horror defending, combined with sublime finishing, resulted in a 3-0 lead for the visitors. The ironic thing is, it really wasn't a 3-0 game until that point. The Pride were well in it, after Debinha gave the visitors the lead on 19'. Some, frankly, embarrassing defending ensued and the Courage took control. There will have been strong words in the dressing room at half-time; strong words that had a decidedly marked impact. Goals from Marisa Viggiano, Kristen Edmonds and Ally Haran secured an unlikely draw. Struck again, 2020 has. The weirdest, and definitely most stressful, season is now at an end. After only 4 games.
Dreadful first half defending
This seems to be a recurring theme. A recurring and increasingly worrying theme. The defending, for all three goals, was nightmarish. It was akin to something you could watch on Friday the 13th. Freddy Krueger wouldn't have looked out of place here. It simply has to get better. Many of you will, again, point to this being a team of rookies. But, it's a team of rookies that we may have to begin next season with. Assuming the NWSL season resumes in late March/early April, that is. Many of our loanees won't return until May, or even June. The likes of Alanna Kennedy and Shelina Zadorsky will see out the WSL season, which ends in May.
This is a problem that Marc Skinner has to address with the players currently at his disposal. The truly disconcerting issue, to have reared its ugly head from this game, is that most of the costly errors were committed by vets. Ali Krieger and Toni Pressley were both markedly off-colour. Neither were quite at the races, and it cost us big time. We should all, rightly, celebrate the tremendous character on display to knick a point from 3 goals down. Of course, we should. But we should all worry about the ease with which a less than full strength North Carolina team cut through our rear-guard. In figures 1, 2 and 3 I've highlighted my main issues with these goals.
All 3 goals come from criminally poor defending. It's amateurish stuff which, in isolation, can be forgotten. This is no one off event though. It's been a consistent theme. Not just for the last 3 matches, but for the entirety of Marc Skinner's reign. At what point do we ask the question about his ability to coach the defensive side of the game?
His record of 2 clean sheets in 28 games tells its own story.
Figure 1 this is just poor defending, and a complete lack of defensive awareness for the first goal.
Figure 2 again, a basic lack of awareness. Everyone is ball watching. No one has eyes on the runners. Williams (9) darts into space and scores the second.
Figure 3 shows how Petersen is caught ball watching again, this time Debinha is the beneficiary.
Great character on display in the second half
Alas, onto a more positive note. The fightback. The Pride fought with a tenacity hitherto unseen in many performances over the last 2 years. They won 56 duels and 18 tackles throughout this game, compared to the Courage's 42 and 12. As soon as Marisa Viggiano pounced, to haul her team back into the contest, the Pride seemed to have a renewed sense of... Well, pride. There was an increased sense of tenacity, which was perhaps personified by Jordyn Listro's third booking in as many games. There seemed to be more desire, fight and crucially, creativity. During that turgid, yes, turgid, first 45 the Pride looked devoid of ideas. Marta, aside. Marta was her usual enigmatic and positive self. The Brazilian produced several delightful passes, that her teammates weren't able to capitalise on. But more on that later.
The Pride's offensive performance improved exponentially during the second 45 minutes. The Pride outshot their opponents, 7 to 5. They made 29 ball recoveries and won 7 tackles after the interval, compared to 26 and 4 for the Courage. Fine margins, but fine margins that were the difference between a defeat and a draw. That, is why you fail. Or not, whatever. I'm confused. I'm still trying to process everything that happened in that game. They earned the right to play, as such they were able to apply some pressure and create chances. Chances they were clinical with. A fine individual effort from Kristen Edmonds preceded a sublime Marta delivery, which was duly headed home by Ally Haran.
The Brazilian is the greatest player the women's game has ever seen, and it's so easy to understand why. Her set-piece delivery for the equaliser, in the dying embers of the game, was on point. Our no. 10 just oozes class, and is usually light-years ahead of everyone else. And therein lies something of an issue. Weird, right? Aside from Sydney LeRoux, no one else really appears to be on her wavelength. She's just too good for some of our attackers. Which seems like something of an oxymoron, but it really isn't.
Marta was head and shoulders, ability wise, above her teammates. Without the likes of Alex Morgan ahead of her the Brazilians' slide rule passes are often for nought, as her teammates are often unable to capitalise. Her ability is undoubtedly rubbing off on the likes of Marisa Viggiano, however. The youngster gets better all the time. And Marta, doubtless, has had a huge role to play in that. Some of the through balls Marta played, in this game, were bordering on the ridiculous. The pass for Deneisha Blackwood in the first half, didn't seem possible. But the GOAT made it look so easy. A joy to watch.
Harris -7- The strategy of hoping Ashlyn Harris makes 10+ saves a game, doesn't seem to work. Made some good stops, but often gets hopelessly exposed.
Edmonds -6- Looked decent going forward, but susceptible at the back.
Krieger -5- Looked uncharacteristically out of sorts. Caught out for the first goal, and again for the third.
Pressley -6- Was badly let down by her teammates in this game.
Petersen -6- Seemed to struggle with Debinha and Williams, but will learn from this experience.
Listro -7- Loves a tackle, and this team badly needs that.
Viggiano -7- Looked great going forward, and scored a well-deserved goal. Needs to be played as a 10, though.
Blackwood -6- Poor touch when put through by Marta. Seemed to struggle in possession, and defensive discipline.
Marta -8- Head and shoulders above everyone else on the field.
LeRoux -7- Decent link-up with Marta at times, but was starved of service in the first half.
Elinsky -5- Struggled to create anything of note, and turned the ball over a number of times.
Haran -7- Came on and grabbed a goal, couldn't ask for more.
Washington -6- Got about really well, provided an energy boost.
Lawrence -6- Looked off the pace when she came in.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com