Preview: North Carolina Courage (h).
Updated: Jul 3
When? Sunday July 4, 3 p.m. PT, 6 p.m. ET and 11 p.m. BST.
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? The game is being broadcast live on Paramount+ for residents of the United States, and on Twitch for international fans (twitch.tv or via the Twitch app).
The Orlando Pride, arguably, couldn't have picked a better game to bounce back from their disappointing defeat in Houston. What!? Crazy, right? Sounds like willingly choosing to work down the shute of the Death Star's main laser.... Forgive me, I've not made a Star Wars reference for, like, 20 minutes so I had to indulge myself. In all seriousness, the visit of Paul Riley's *football playing side* could be the perfect filip for Marc Skinner's team. A solid test, against a side like the Courage could be an effective antidote for last weekend's reversal. So, without further ado let's get stuck into this intriguing match-up.
North Carolina's style
We all know that the North Carolina Courage like to play football; whereas we don't. Allegedly. The Courage are actually quite a direct team themselves. Funny that; albeit, not in the way that you might expect. So far this season, the Courage have averaged around 447 passes per game and 3,134 in total (figure 1), with 37.1% have been forward passes, and only 13.5% going backwards. They're a team that likes to get on the front foot. Though, I suspect, that won't come as any surprise to any of you. Of those 3,134 passes, by the way, 48.7% have been long passes (figure 2). Hmm. Anyways...
Ordinarily, the Courage rely heavily on the chemistry and creative abilities of their troublesome triumvirate of Debinha, Jess McDonald and Lynn Williams. The Courage are sans two of that particular trio (see team news), as such it will be interesting to see how their absence impacts on their style of play. Against the Thorns, the Courage posted an XG rating of 0.73, which tells you just how clinical they can be. They have an overall XG rating of 1.43. They mightn't necessarily create an abundance of chances, but they're likely to take them. When Lynn Williams is around, anyway. Interesting footnote here... Of the 12 goals scored by the Courage, 5 have been scored by Williams... And guess what? Read on for some good news (I know you all know she's going to the Olympics now but, humour me yeah?)
Figure 1 shows the Courage's passing statistics on the season so far.
Figure 2 shows the percentage of long passes played, on the season so far.
The Courage have a number of key absentees heading into this game. Paul Riley's team are without Lindsay Agnew and Hailey Harbison; both are missing through injury. Debinha, Sam Mewis and Lynn Williams are all away with their Olympic national squads.
The Pride, similarly, have a number of players missing through injury and international duty. Carrie Lawrence, Jade Moore and Marisa Viggiano are all listed as out. Taylor Kornieck is still listed as questionable, but could still be involved. Alex Morgan and Marta are also Tokyo bound, so will be missing for this one. EDIT: Amy Turner could be in line for her debut.
Possible starting XI
Expect to see a much changed line-up for this game, due to the Olympics. I mean, why bother having a break in the season for an international tournament? This is my one major gripe with the NWSL. Would it not have made more sense to have the Challenge Cup during the Olympics? Anyway, I digress. I can see the Courage setting up in their favoured 4-2-2-2, with the likes of Kristen Hamilton and Hailie Mace coming in:
The Irish enforcer is a key cog in the Courage machine, particularly when they have key players missing. As the Courage will have, in Orlando. The former Brighton & Hove Albion loanee has featured on 7 occasions so far this season, clocking up a total of 591 minutes. O'Sullivan has been in great form, completing 88.5% of 324 passes, and has averaged 55.7 passes per game. O'Sullivan is a tough tackling midfielder, winning 65.2% of her 23 tackles on the season so far. O'Sullivan is a top player, especially on the defensive side of the game. For me, she's one of the best midfielders in the division. Orlando will need the likes of Marisa Viggiano and Gunny Jónsdóttir to be at the top of their game, if they're going to play their way through the midfield.
North Carolina head into this game with a 4-1-2 record, following their recent 2-0 win over the Portland Thorns. That particular victory lifted them to 2nd in the NWSL table, only 2 points further back from the Pride. The Courage have won their last 3 games, and have won 4 of their last 6 games.
The Orlando Pride, meanwhile, come into this game off the back of a 2-1 defeat in Houston. Despite that setback, the Pride still sit atop the NWSL standings, with an overall 4-3-1 record the Pride are taking a lot of people by surprise. Having already defeated the Courage away from home, however, Orlando will feel confident of another victory over Paul Riley's team at Exploria Stadium.
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