Preview: North Carolina Courage (h).
When? Saturday October 17 1.00 p.m. PT, 4.00 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. BST.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? This game will be broadcast nationally via CBS All Access and internationally via Twitch.
North Carolina's style
This is a team that needs little, to no introduction. Anyone who knows anything about the NWSL, over the last few years, knows the strength that the Courage possess. Particularly when at full strength. This team is not currently at full-strength, however. When they have the likes of Denise O'Sullivan and Jessica McDonald in their ranks, they are by far the best team in this league. Both are missing right now, as is Hailie Mace. That doesn't mean they are short on quality though. We all know Marta is still the best play maker in this league, but on her day Debinha is not a million miles off. The Brazilian international has formed a formidable partnership with Lynn Williams
Much of the Courage's play now goes through the mercurial Brazilian. The pair have combined for 8 goals scored so far in 2020. Debinha also has 1 assist to her name and 18 key passes, with Williams laying on a further 2 assists and 8 key passes for her teammates. You don't necessarily stop the Courage if you stop the pair of them, but if you don't... You're not stopping the Courage.
The pace and movement of the likes of Debinha and Williams helps to stretch defences and create space. This then allows the likes of Lauren Milliet (7 key passes on the season) and Cari Rocarro (3 key passes) to do some damage. There's quality all throughout their roster.
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They're a very dangerous team, and a very direct one at that. If you look at the stats in figures 1 and 2, you'll see what I mean. These graphs show their possession statistics from the win over Houston in the opening game of the Fall Series, and from their draw with ourselves. They recorded 45.3% of the overall play against Houston, whilst attempting 86 fewer passes; with a significantly lower pass completion rate. Against ourselves, they attempted 22 fewer passes, with a higher pass completion rate. Our conservative approach, didn't allow them m nouch space on the ball, as such we arguably forced them to have more possession than they, perhaps, would've liked. They then didn't have as many chances to break on us, with pace. A similar approach in this game would probably be wise.
Figure 1 shows the Courage's possession statistics from their win over the Dash.
Figure 2 shows the Courage's possession statistics from the draw with ourselves.
With neither club harbouring any specific injury concerns, both teams have their full complement of remaining players. Orlando Pride are well known to be focusing on the 2021 season, and as such are reliant on rookies and local youth talent.
The Courage are without Denise O'Sullivan, who has gone out on loan to Brighton & Hove Albion. Hallie Mace also left the club on loan, to Kristianstads DFF in Sweden. Aside from those notable departures, the Courage have been able to keep the majority of their squad intact. Jessica McDonald remains absent. The USWNT player will be back for the 2021 season though, having agreed a new 1-year deal with the club.
Possible starting XI
Given their 4-1 reversal against the Dash last-time out, the Courage will be keen to get back to winning ways. I think we'll see a return to the set up they utilised against the Pride a month ago. The 5-2-2-1, which essentially becomes a 3-4-3 on the offensive side of the game, allows for greater defensive solidarity whilst not sacrificing any of their attacking potency. The formation allows their defensive midfield duo to feed the likes of Speck and Williams in wide areas, whilst Debinha plays a free-role. Debinha opens up passing lanes for the full-backs, whilst she drifts. Opposing defenders naturally drift towards the Brazilian, which opens up space for her teammates.
The 28-year-old is a hugely talented player. It will be interesting to see how she matches up against Marta. With both players being from Brazil, and playing in the same position, there are bound to be comparisons. We all know Marta is the greatest female player of all time, but Debinha is no mug either. With 22 goals in 70 appearances for the courage, and 12 assists, her quality is clear. She will provide a stern test for this young Orlando team.
The Pride are winless during the NWSL Fall Series, with a 0-1-2 record. Successive defeats to the Houston Dash followed their credible draw with the Courage in Cary, NC.
The Courage also find themselves in something of a malaise. Their disappointing early exit from the NWSL Challenge Cup, has been followed by indifferent form so far in the Fall Series. The Courage are 1-1-1, so will be looking to end their disappointing 2020 season on a high.
*All statistics courtesy of nwslsoccer.com