After a strong start to the season with two victories, the NC Courage sit atop the NWSL table with six points. Though it is early in the season, the start is encouraging as the team has picked up exactly where it left off last season and has clearly improved in manager Paul Riley’s second season with the players. Last week the Courage never let Portland get a hold of the game and outside of a few chances for the Thorns, North Carolina looked in control and comfortable the entire match. This week they will face the Orlando Pride in Cary and look to extend their winning streak to three games.
Early struggles for the Pride
Orlando has struggled in their two games so far this year. Against the Portland Thorns in week one, the Pride lost 2-0 in a game that took a little while to settle in but ultimately showed why the Thorns were last year’s shield winners. Last week they faced the re-building Washington Spirit and managed a 1-1 draw at home.
The Pride look like they have the pieces to build a team that can be successful in the league. They have the 2016 NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year in Ashlyn Harris, adding center back Ali Krieger will further stabilize the backline, Steph Catley is one of the most aggressive outside backs in the league going forward, midfielder Kristen Edmonds led the team in scoring last year, and the team added Marta, a world class striker and perennial Best FIFA Women’s Player award candidate, to their lineup. Despite these changes, the team is yet to put together a cohesive game as reflected by their record. Last week they ventured into Washington’s final third but time and again the final ball to turn possession into goals was lacking.
Marta played 30 minutes in the last match and nearly scored a game winner in extra-time. The Brazilian has the ability to create chances on her own and provide moments of ecstasy leaving defenders questioning the laws of physics and contemplating existentialism in ways they never thought they would on a soccer pitch. She and her teammates have had just over a week to build chemistry and the early struggles will surely continue, aside from moments of inevitable individual brilliance, for the team until the Pride can develop rapport with their new star.
What to watch for
Last week the Courage absolutely snuffed out any attack that the Thorns tried to develop by pressing the life out of the game. In midfield Portland didn’t have outlets to move the ball forward to create chances and often cycled the ball back to the defenders where they just saw more Courage players pressing them. NC also exploited the Thorns for not adjusting to the press and insisting on playing the ball out of the back the entire game despite it constantly leading to turnovers or ineffective buildup play.
This week the Courage should have more of the ball. The Pride relied on trying to counter against Portland on the road in week one and in week two struggled to settle into the match but once they did had much more possession against a weaker team. This week against the Courage, Orlando can either try to build possession against the press or try to absorb pressure and force turnovers to strike on the counter. If Carolina can turn that possession into chances and not get caught too far forward when they attack, the Courage should get a good result this week.
A major reason for the result and success for the Courage this year has been Debinha. She continues to show why it doesn’t matter that the team traded away a center back and didn’t do much to solidify the defense in the offseason. Her inclusion in the team means that Sam Mewis can drift back and shield the defense while linking up with the attack when the team wins possession in their own third. Mewis’ new role also means that Abby Erceg can re-join Abby Dahlkemper in the backline to form a solid partnership that has already earned a clean sheet against one of the best attacking teams in NWSL this season.
This is tough, in week one the Courage ran out a 4-4-2 while missing captain and center back Abby Erceg but last week coach Riley showed his tactical flexibility with a 3-5-2 that flummoxed the Portland Thorns for 90 minutes. In order to hold more possession this week, Carolina can play a 4-4-2 again set up with Sabrina D’Angelo in goal, Jaelene Hinkle, Abby Erceg, Abby Dahlkemper, and Kawamura on the back line, the midfield of McCall Zerboni, Debinha, Sam Mewis, and Makenzy Doniak with Debinha pushing forward as a center attacking mid to link up with forwards Lynn Williams and Jess McDonald.
How to watch
Time: 4:00PM EDT
Place: WakeMed Soccer Park
Stream: The match streams free on the go90 app or at go90.com.