Whew. The first half definitely didn’t look good, but the North Carolina Courage, and specifically Kristen Hamilton, came out guns blazing in the second half to take a 3-0 win over the Orlando Pride on the road.
Head coach Paul Riley had been saying for weeks that there would be a lineup change on the horizon, and it finally came. Merritt Mathias moved up into the midfield and Ryan Williams got her first NWSL start in the adjusted lineup. Goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland rode the pine after four rough games, and rookie Sam Leshnak took her place between the pipes.
It was certainly a breath of fresh air to see something new, but it didn’t seem to be working in the first half.
For the fourth week in a row the team came out flat. They weren’t connecting their passes, and it seemed like they were just trying to play too quickly. In the first five minutes it looked like Orlando would win the first goal of the game. They took a corner, and the ball dipped into the six-yard box where four purple players and nobody from the Courage sat waiting for it. Miraculously, the shot went wide, and it wouldn’t be until well after the game was out of hand that they would threaten again.
Both teams played miserable soccer for the rest of the first half. Hamilton skied a ball over the goal from close range, but that was really the only good opportunity in the first 45 for the Courage. Then the second half rolled around and the team took off.
It started 15 minutes into the second half. Jaelene Hinkle sent a cross into the box, and Orlando goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer was expecting her teammate to head the ball away. Instead it fall into her hands, but she dropped it and Hamilton finished it.
Then, six minutes later, Hamilton got on the board again with an absolute rocket that hit crossbar, post, and netting.
By this time the Pride had completely collapsed, and it was just whether the Courage would be able to find another goal. The final goal for Hamilton came off another cross from Hinkle. She got her leg up and redirected the ball past the goalkeeper on the bounce. It was a great performance, and one that the team desperately needed.
I don’t think that the performance was entirely due to the lineup changes. Leshnak had one great save on a free kick from Orlando’s Carson Pickett. Ryan Williams was efficient enough in the defensive third, but her service into the box left a lot to be desired. McCall Zerboni was taken out of the match with an injury, and we will have to wait and see how severe it is. She walked off under her own power, but it might have been an elbow issue. There were definitely moments where Cari Rocarro and Kaleigh Kurtz weren’t on the same page defensively, but Orlando just didn’t have enough talent to take advantage of any mistakes.
Thank goodness we won. We really needed that.