The last four weeks have been miserable for North Carolina Courage fans. After starting the season with two wins and a draw, the Courage have struggled to earn points and have registered two draws and two losses since the United States women’s national team started camp. We always knew this period of the season would be less amazing - it’s really hard to play at a high level when you lose seven starters - but nobody expected the team to look this awful. Goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland has been in a slump after she sat for the first four games with a shoulder injury. The forwards have been unable to score with any regularity, and the defense has looked slow. Luckily for the Courage, the Orlando Pride are looking even worse.
Tough days in the Sunshine State
Florida might be known as the Sunshine State, but there are nothing but gray skies in Orlando. Through seven matches, Orlando has earned just one point. It didn’t matter that the team was endowed with international superstars like Alex Morgan and Brazil’s Marta earlier in the season, they they still couldn’t find a way to win. Now, missing a handful of international stars, the Pride are slogging their way though the season.
The team has been stripped of their starters from top to bottom. Forward Rachel Hill is still a solid player, but she hasn’t been as productive this season as she has been in the past. Despite her ability to find open space, Chioma Ubogagu has not been able to find her scoring touch. I’m trying to find more players to highlight, but that’s literally everyone that figures to be a major factor for Orlando in this match.
Sure, Dani Weatherholt is a borderline starting midfielder, goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer has shown some flashes in the past, and Carson Pickett plays well on defense in Australia...but nobody else on this team has any experience at the professional level. It’s not really surprising that Orlando is struggling. We beat this team 5-0 earlier in the season, but we have looked like trash over the last few weeks.
The Courage need to change things up
I don’t want to insinuate that the Courage have been as bad as Orlando, but two points in four games is the worst stretch in team history, and the Courage have dropped from first to seventh in four games.
For the last three matches, Courage head coach Paul Riley has suggested that his team needs to do something different, and that he might change the formation. After the embarrassing loss against Reign FC last weekend, it feels like that change is imminent. Unfortuantely, the one position that really needs a change is goalkeeper. Rowland, after playing above average in a timeshare with Sabrina D’Angelo for the last two seasons, has been abysmal in her four starts this year. She allowed five goal before she made her first save in four games. That’s just plain bad. The backup keeper, Sam Leshnak, is an untested rookie who doesn’t strike confidence, but this might be the best possible team for her to start against. Rowland just seems like she needs a break.
On offense, Riley has been adamant about trying to find a partner for Lynn Williams at the top, but the bigger problem against Reign FC was that the team tried to pass too much in the box. It’s great to try to create an easy shot, but sometimes you just need to bang the ball in there and look for a deflection. That mentality will be especially important against the very green defense of Orlando.
In any other situation, this should be the easiest win of the season. Orlando is barely a professional team right now, but the Courage have looked so uninspired over the last four matches. They’ve got me worried, and only a multi-goal win will calm my fears. With a win tomorrow, the Courage could climb as high as two points away from first place depending on how the rest of the games play out.
It’s notable that Abby Erceg, the best centerback in the league, will be out for the next few matches because New Zealand is in the 2019 FIFA Women’s World Cup. Her spot will probably be filled by Cari Roccaro or Ally Haran, Neither player inspires a whole lot of confidence, but against Orlando we can probably afford the downgrade. If we don’t win this match there will be some serious soul searching to do.
How to watch the match
The Courage will kick off against the Pride at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 1st. You can watch live on Yahoo! Sports in the United States, or on the NWSLsoccer.com website internationally.