The NC Courage would look for their first win of 2019 in a midweek tie against the Orlando Pride. After earning just a draw against the Chicago Red Stars, the Courage looked to be every inch the team that broke records and punished their opponents’ mistakes in 2018. In a dominant 5-0 win, the team would apply steady pressure against an Orlando pride team that had a solid 44 minutes of keeping themselves in the game only to lose all their momentum after conceding prior to the half.
Again, the Courage would line up in their preferred 4-4-2 box formation with a largely first choice lineup.
The game opened with each team playing aggressively from the get go. North Carolina relentlessly pushed toward the goal taking three shots in the first five minutes. For their part, the Pride were effective at pressing the home side, forcing mistakes and stopping the Courage from getting good shots on goal.
The Pride had a flurry of chances to try to score with a cross in the 18th minute that went uncontested through the Courage box - fortunately, no Orlando player was in the area to connect with it. Then in the 20th minute Alex Morgan gathered a ball just outside of the 18 and spotted Rachel Hill making a run between Jaelene Hinkle and Abby Erceg. Sensing the danger, Stephanie Labbe charged off the line and a heavy touch from Hill allowed her to smother the ball before the Pride forward got a shot off.
The best chance for the Courage until just before the half would come in the 31st minute. After a few tries at working the ball down the left side of the field, Lynn Williams fired a cross that fell to Sam Mewis. The midfielder sent a rocket that seemed sure to find the back of the net, alas it would only find the top of the crossbar.
It seemed like the Courage and Pride would go into the half knotted up at zero - until the 45th minute. Crystal Dunn would force a turnover, charge at the Orlando goal and pull three Pride defenders toward her - they’d be a split second away from another defensive stop but Dunn managed to lay off a pass to Lynn Williams who fired a shot in the back of the net to put the home side ahead.
The goal came after the Pride had been somewhat effective at stopping the Courage from creating chances close to goal. Their press also helped them gain possession, but many of the balls they won turned into turnovers in midfield before Marta or Alex Morgan got an opportunity to create something for Orlando. Defensively, the Courage held the visitors to just four shots with none on goal.
It would not take too long for the second goal to come in the game. As the Pride were trying to build through the back, Ali Krieger sent a pass that Alanna Kennedy misplayed. A pressing Lynn Williams would gather the ball and set up Jess McDonald for her first goal of the year.
The Courage would continue to deny Orlando a chance on goal. The Pride would have a few shots and weak headers, but nothing really troubled Labbe. The win would become more inevitable in the 70th minute when Dunn would smash home a goal of her own off of a corner.
Crystal Dunn would not be done and scored her second on another corner in the 77th.
There would be another goal after yet another attempt at building in the back went wrong for the Pride. Substitute Leah Pruitt would force a bad pass in the back, tap the ball to substitute Kristen Hamilton and substitute Julia Spetsmark would take a shot that deflected off of a Pride defender - Ashlyn Harris nearly pawed it away but ended up blocking it into the crossbar, off her back, and into the net. All together, an excellent showing for the substitutes.
The Courage would see out the game for their first win of the year. If the weekend’s effort was about the Red Stars doing what they had to so they could secure a point, this match could perhaps be chalked up to the Courage putting together a complete performance against a team that had an aggressive game plan that fell apart once they gave up the first goal. North Carolina was ruthless and effective in front of the net, creating 30 shots with 13 on goal. NWSL teams who come to Cary and are still working out their tactics should take heed to the lessons the Pride learned in this game.