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Match preview: NC Courage at Orlando Pride

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The Courage look to stay perfect at the site of their last loss

Grant Halverson/isiphotos.com

It is hard to believe, but the NC Courage are still without a loss after nine matches. Last weekend, the team managed a 2-1 win at Sky Blue, in part thanks to a saved penalty that ended up salvaging a win. All told, it was a fair result for the Courage. The team kept nearly 60% of the ball throughout the game and managed 28 shots in the match despite being on the road and without Lynn Williams. North Carolina will again look to remain undefeated in 10 games as they travel to Orlando on Wednesday night.

A resurgent and gaining Pride

For their part, the Pride are coming off of a win away from home of their own. The team beat the Portland Thorns 2-1 in their own five game unbeaten streak. All of that momentum is aided by the fact that Orlando has its full roster assembled and the team’s chemistry is obviously improving every week. The team bristles with talented players who were on international duty to begin the year featuring at the Copa America Femenil or the Women’s Asian Cup. With Marta, Poliana, Emily Van Egmond, and Alanna Kennedy back on the roster, Orlando will have a wealth of talent to put on the field against the Courage. That of course says nothing of the fact that the team features Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux.

As far as what the Pride will need to do in the match to get a result, the team will need to limit North Carolina’s shooting chances and overcome the press that has become a Courage staple week in and week out. This could be a situation where the creativity and vision of Marta plays a key role for the Pride. The Brazilian did not see the field against the Thorns, but a rested and sharp five time FIFA World Player of the Year could be the key to unlocking the Courage defense. Though North Carolina has only allowed six goals all season, Sky Blue drew a penalty and scored a last minute free kick over the weekend. Luckily, the penalty was saved, but the Courage could very well be coming off of a draw rather than a win over the weekend if not for that.

A thriving NC Courage

Nothing seems to be stopping the NC Courage. The team is averaging 16 shots a game, with 7 a game going on target, leads the league in goals with 15, and is tied with least goals allowed with 6. Even without Sam Mewis to start the year, the team was able to assert an identity as a pressing side that is difficult to break down. Merritt Mathias has largely been integrated into the team at right back seamlessly and adds a physical edge to the Courage that was not as asserted last year as it is with her in the lineup. Then of course there is Crystal Dunn who has played all over the front line showcasing her passing, shooting, and finishing. With Lynn Williams out injured last weekend, Dunn showed that her versatility will allow Paul Riley to get the most out of his team even when a starter or two is missing.

As far as what to expect out of North Carolina in this match, well it should be interesting. The Pride offer a unique challenge to the Courage and will be arguably their biggest test of the season. North Carolina will have to continue to be stout defensively and center backs Abby Dahlkemper and Abby Erceg will need to be keenly aware of Alex Morgan at all times in the match. This seems like a match where Tom Sermanni may be tempted to have his team sit back and try to beat the Courage on the counter. Should that be the case, Dunn and Debinha will need to work to unlock the Pride defense while Sam Mewis works to snuff out any counter attacks.

As far as how the team will line up, with Williams’ either still absent or recovering from the injury that kept her out last weekend, it seems like the Courage may stick with the set up that got them three points again:

How to watch:

The game kicks off at 7:30 on go90.com and the go90 App.