Preview: North Carolina Courage (a).
When? Saturday March 26 4 p.m. PT, 7 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. GMT.
Where? WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC.
How can I catch the action? The game will be broadcast on Paramount+ for residents of the United States and on Twitch for non-US fans.
The Orlando Pride will be looking to build on their encouraging draw with the Washington Spirit when they journey to North Carolina. This is a game that won't be without its challenges, however. The Courage swept aside a much fancied Gotham side last time out. This will be another good test for the Pride.
The Courage got their Challenge Cup assault off to the perfect start with a relatively comfortable win over Ashlyn Harris and co. That's no easy feat. The Courage could, and probably should, have scored more than the 2 that they did. The Courage out shot their visitors 17 to 4 and dominated possession with 58% of the overall play. They are going to be dangerous.
This game will be another good yard stick for the Pride.
North Carolina Courage's style
The Courage have traditionally been a high intensity team who aren't afraid to play fast paced, vertical football. Against, Gotham they were a little more measured in their approach in an attacking sense. They utilised a possession orientated approach to the game, playing 554 total passes, 81.9% of which found their intended recipient (figure 1). It worked for them.
The aforementioned statistics are even more impressive when you consider how high their defensive line was. Gotham defended with a low block and attempted to suffocate the space in the middle of the park and pressing the ball. This meant there weren't a tremendous amount of low percentage balls on for the Courage. North Carolina have defenders that are all very comfortable on the ball, and so negated this press with a high line and by backing their ability to pass their way through that press. It was clear they were confident in their ability to play through Gotham.
If you look at the graphic in figure 2, you'll see a pass positioning matrix for the Courage's back 4 (Carson Pickett, Abby Erceg, Kaleigh Kurtz and Merritt Mathias). They played an overwhelming majority of their passes in the opposition half. They were able to pop the ball around and play their way through Gotham fairly easily. Once they broke that initial press, the midfielders were then able to get the ball into the likes of Debinha and Taylor Smith. Obviously that's not a good thing for an opposing defence. Debinha could bullseye a womprat from anywhere. I just re-watched A New Hope, OK? Don't hate.
Figure 1 shows the Courage's (left) possession statistics against Gotham, whole 90.
Figure 2 shows a pass positioning matrix for North Carolina's defensive line against Gotham, whole 90.
The Courage are set to be without Casey Murphy, Brittany Radcliffe and Havana Solaun through injury. Emily Gray is listed as questionable.
As for the Pride, they continue to be without Vivianna Villacorta, Caitlin Cosme, Julie Doyle and Abi Kim through injury.
The section will be updated with further news as it becomes available.
Possible starting XI
The Courage utilised a 4-3-3 in their game against Gotham. I can't see them using anything different against the Pride, and I'd be surprised to see anything but an unchanged line-up:
Goes without saying really. The Brazilian was as threatening as ever against Gotham. Debinha made 3 shots, hit 1 on target and played 2 key passes. She also had 74 touches and completed 87.8% of her 41 passes. She also didn't shy away from the defensive side of the game, making 2 tackles.
This game represents the 2nd game of the NWSL Challenge Cup for both of these teams. The Courage defeated Gotham 2-0, whilst Orlando held reigning champions Washington Spirit to a goalless draw.
*Cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride.
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com.
All statistics and graphs courtesy of nwslsoccer.com