Having had to wait until the next day due to weather issues, the delay did not stop the North Carolina Courage from dominating proceedings against the Orlando Pride. Lynn Williams was the catalyst in the Courage's 16th win in the National Women's Soccer League and also dealt what could be a devastating blow to Orlando's playoff campaign.
North Carolina go up in the second half and never look back
After starting the match off in the 22nd minute (where the game had been stopped the previous night due to lightning), neither team could find the back of the next in the first half. Last night, the Courage had tested the Pride's backline early as Crystal Dunn's driving run forward was almost rewarded as she tried to get on to the end of Lynn Williams' cross but Alanna Kennedy got back just in time to cut out the cross and Ashlyn Harris dropped on to the ball quickly. Kennedy herslef almost replicated her goal last season at Sahlen’s Stadium at WakeMed Soccer Park but this time, Katelyn Rowland was equal to it and tipped the ball over the crossbar. Those were some the biggest chances in the first half last night but fans and neutrals alike had to wait until the 75th minute the following day to see the first goal of the game.
The Courage continued to test Orlando's backline consistently on Sunday morning and their perseverance finally got rewarded. Williams headed to the byline in the 75th minute and looked to pick out a teammate inside the area but her ball was deflected away from Harris and into her own net by Shelina Zadorsky. It was no more than the Courage had deserved after putting Orlando on the back foot for the majority of the second half. North Carolina then went up by two in the 81st minute when Williams managed to battle and nick the ball away from Ali Krieger who was trying to shepherd it out of play inside her own area. Debinha picked up the loose ball from that tussle and banged it into the top corner from close range, giving Harris no chance to save it.
Williams was then rewarded for her outstanding play with a goal of her own in the 88th minute. The Courage kept possession well and built up an attack that led to Samantha Mewis picking out Merritt Mathias free out wide. The right back then sent in a great cross that Williams got on the end of and she finished neatly with her head into the corner of the net, putting her goals total for the season at 11 now.
Orlando's playoff chances now lie in the hands of others
There was not much to be said about the Orlando attack in the second half as the like of Alex Morgan and Marta were kept in check by North Carolina's tactical play and their midfield spent most of the game defending as the home side peppered the Orlando goal. Harris was called upon on multiple occasions before North Carolina went up and tried her best but the gaps in a three-back system were exploited by the Courage's pace and she could do nothing for most of, if not all, the goals.
This loss has seriously dented the Pride's chances of making the playoffs this year. With only two more games remaining against the Chicago Red Stars and Sky Blue FC, Orlando will have to win their two remaining games and hope that both Chicago and Portland Thorns FC do not achieve maximum points in their remaining games. The game against the Red Stars will be a big one for Orlando now and with both Chicago and Portland still having a game in hand, the game on August 25th could prove to be either the end of the Pride's season or the opportunity to slip into the playoffs at the last second.