It’s a big weekend for soccer in the South it would seem. Both Atlanta United and the NC Courage are playing Orlando and will need to defend the pride of the South against Florida. For North Carolina, the team is heading to the Sunshine State following a 4-1 drubbing of the Seattle Reign. It was perhaps their best performance of the year and the team showed that they are in fact capable of finishing their chances and the result was glorious.
For some reason, the NWSL has decided that the middle of the afternoon in Florida is a great time to showcase the league. It will be hot and humid, but these are conditions that North Carolina should be accustomed to and will end up having an impact on both teams. So aside from water breaks, here’s what to watch for...
The Pride looking to bounce back
In addition to dealing with the heat and having to think about trying to contain Crystal Dunn, the Orlando Pride will be trying to put their loss Wednesday behind them. Things looked OK for the team with Alex Morgan putting them up 1-0 in the 22nd minute against the Houston Dash. Then things went pretty bad for Orlando. Kealia Ohai scored a goal in the 79th minute to even the score. Just four minutes later, a handball by Monica in the box gave Houston a chance to take the lead. Sofia Huerta stepped up, made no mistake, and sent her PK into the Orlando goal to give the Dash a win.
The match was somewhat reminiscent of the win North Carolina got in Orlando back on May 23. In that game Orlando took a 2-1 lead only to lose 4-3 on a 90th minute goal by Jess McDonald. It was one of the most exciting matches of the NWSL season so far, but one that showed that Orlando has some defensive issues. Apparently the Pride sill haven’t quite cleared them up and North Carolina will need to keep pushing for a goal if they are down or even tied late in the game.
As far as what to expect from Orlando, the team has been playing in a 4-3-3 in recent matches. Alex Morgan seems to have found some form as of late as she has two goals and two assists in her last four games. Sydney Leroux should be expected to start after coming off of the bench midweek and completing the three should be Marta. That will create a hand full for the Courage defense and the team will need to be focused and cohesive in the Florida heat as the game wears on.
Time to start a new streak
After the loss to Utah, North Carolina bounced back extremely well against Seattle. The 4-1 victory was emphatic and should have the team brimming with confidence as they stay on the road for the second straight match.
The heat has already been a topic of discussion, but it will no doubt influence how the Courage approach this game. As a pressing team that ends up running a lot, the potential for getting fatigued and being thrown off their game will be a factor. It will be interesting to see if Paul Riley has his players take the press down a notch and perhaps try to absorb some of the pressure that Orlando is sure to exert going forward. The squad certainly has the pieces to do that defensively and can break with pace with four capable goal scorers in transition.
Aside from what they may do in the attack, defensively shutting down Alex Morgan and not letting Marta create chances for her teammates will be critical. Jalene Hinkle has shown that she can create chances from her left back position, but the matchup with her and the Brazilian playmaker will go a long way in determining the result of the game.
If it ain’t broke...
Who’s ready to rock n’ roll?— NC Courage (@TheNCCourage) June 23, 2018
Introducing today’s XI!#SEAvNC #NoFinishLine pic.twitter.com/ztp4FVLueC
The addition of Heather O’Reilly may force a change on the bench, but for now I don’t see her starting as she adjusts to her new teammates. She was only signed yesterday so at best she may be a late sub if she even travels at all.
How to watch
Watch: Lifetime TV -
Attend: Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Florida, the epicenter of the sun’s violent rays