Preview: North Carolina Courage (a).
When? Saturday May 22, 4 p.m. PT, 7 p.m. ET and midnight BST.
Where? WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC.
How can I catch the action? Paramount+ for residents of the United States and Canada. The game is also being broadcast on Twitch, for international fans (nwslofficial2 on the Twitch app, or at twitch.tv).
Another day, another game against the North Carolina Courage. I feel like we've gotten to know this team really well. It's also a fixture that the Pride has had some joy in lately. Both of our Orlando's last two visits to Cary have resulted in highly credible goalless draws. Last time, Orlando defended their goal a doggedness and tenacity that's comparable only to the way Din Djarin protected his little green mate in that semi-popular Disney+ show. If you don't get that reference, we can't be friends. Sorry.
There's a steely determination to this Orlando team. Now all they need to do is add goals. And I for one, can see Orlando beginning to do that soon. The chemistry between mses Marta, Morgan and LeRoux is palpable. That can only mean one thing; goals. As this troublesome triumvirate gets reacquainted with one another, NWSL defences will surely begin to quake in their boots. Right? I believe Alex Morgan's current re-awakening could well continue in the Tar Heel State.
North Carolina's style
We all know the quality of this North Carolina Courage side. I spoke, in my preview for the last game, about the quality of Debinha, Jess McDonal and Lynn Williams. I also talked about how the Courage's ability to win the ball in defensive transition allowed them to hit teams on the counter. And this still holds true, though there are tentative signs that their powers are beginning to wane. Only 1 goal has been scored by the trio in their last 3 games. Granted, Williams have been injured. That being said, teams seem to have realised that they can adopt a low-block to nullify their pace in behind, which can be deadly on the counter. This is something both the Pride and OL Reign have had success with recently.
The Reign, in particular, did a great job of executing that low-block. It allowed them to sit off the Courage and snuff out the space in behind. This meant that North Carolina had most of the play in front of the Reign's back-line, which would have been ideal for the Washington based club. You'll notice, from the stats in figure 1, that the Courage had most of the possession, and the lion's share of crosses, chances created and shots. However, most of those shots were blocked, or off target (figure 2). There were very few clear-cut openings. You'll also notice (figure 1) that the Reign won more duels, and tackles; particularly in their middle and defensive thirds (figure 3). If the Pride utilise a similar tactic, they should have some success. As long as they don't over commit, particularly with their full-backs. Giving North Carolina space in the channels, is not a good idea.
Figure 1 shows the overall statistics for the game between OL Reign and the Courage.
Figure 2 shows the Courage's shot positioning matrix, from their draw with OL Reign. 🔵- Blocked, 🟢On target, 🔴 missed.
Figure 3 shows how well OL Reign congested space with a low-block, which allowed them to recover the ball. 🔵- Tackles/duels won, 🟢 - Interceptions/recoveries.
Paul Riley has no new, significant, injury concerns heading into this game. Rylee Baisden and Meredith Speck, are still out. Abby Erceg returned to the team last weekend, and is expected to be fit again this week, having corn through that game OK. Sam Mewis has returned to the Courage, following her loan spell at Manchester City. This game will come too soon for the midfielder, who impressed in the FAWSL. She's not expected to return until the 28th. Lynn Williams is expected to start, after being on the bench last time out.
The Pride come into this game in fairly good shape, injury wise at least. Ali Riley and Erika Tymrak
Are fit and available. Jade Moore remains out. Marc Skinner has said to expect some rotation, as the Pride head into a congested schedule.
Possible starting XI
I wouldn't expect a massive amount of change from the team that faced OL Reign last week, but I'd be surprised if Lynn Williams didn't come back in, having been on the bench against the Reign. The USWNT forward is one of the most feared strikers in the league. So I would expect to see her come in; possibly for Kristen Hamilton. The Courage prefer a 4-3-3, that can become a 4-2-3-1 during moments of defensive transition. As such, I expect them to line-up a little like this:
Debinha's quality, as a number 10, is unparalleled in the NWSL. Her close ball control, and her ability to play between lines, mean she is an incredible offensive threat. Her 3 goals in 4 games underlined her immense quality. She also posted very impressive distribution statistics, with 8 key passes and a 58.7% pass completion rate from passes played in the opposing half. That being said, she's been quiet lately. And Orlando have already shut her down this year. How Orlando marshals Debinha will undoubtedly be key to deciding the outcome of this fixture.
The Courage had a reasonably encouraging 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup, going 2-1-1 in the tournament. The Courage will be looking to build on that, as the regular season gets underway. An opening round road draw with OL Reign means Paul Riley's team are now unbeaten in 3. A run they will look to continue, this weekend.
The Pride, meanwhile went 1-2-1 in the Challenge Cup. Much like their hosts, the Pride are also 3 unbeaten. Both teams played out an entertaining 0-0 draw, a few weeks ago. In the 2 games since, Orlando have only conceded once. Orlando will have to be at their best defensively to come out on top in this one.
*Statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com