3 things we learned from Orlando Pride’s 2-0 loss to North Carolina Courage

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The Orlando Pride suffered their second straight loss of the season on Sunday in a 2-0 result against the North Carolina Courage. Here are three things we learned from the match:

Finishing struggles continue

The Pride’s scoreless result didn’t come from a lack of chances. The team took 19 shots and forced keeper Casey Murphy to make nine saves.

But outside of a shot in the opening 20 seconds from Sydney Leroux, none of those saves were particularly challenging for Murphy. Striker Leroux and forward Taylor Kornieck both found themselves in challenging spaces, but their ensuing shots lacked the pace or placement to truly threaten for a goal.

Coach Marc Skinner noted this as a positive takeaway from the match — although the Pride couldn’t find the net, they were creating a surplus of options, unlike in previous seasons when forwards such as Leroux were left on an island at the top of the attack.

“The brilliant thing is that we were creating those chances,” Skinner said. “The final bit is always the most difficult in both boxes.”

For the Pride, the essential next step is to sharpen this finishing intensity in front of goal.

Alex Morgan already has been called up with the U.S. women’s national team for the Olympics, and Marta will depart shortly for Tokyo. With two of the team’s front-line starters gone, Kornieck and Leroux will carry the load for the offense over the next month.

Skinner highlighted the necessary areas of improvement for the team’s attackers as they prepare for the next match.

“When we’re in there, we have to have the calmness and the collected thought to finish, and we have to select the right part of our body, we have to arrive at the right time. Some of our runs tonight need to be a little bit more offensive in certain areas,” Skinner said. “We need to have a little bit more quality on the crosses that we do so. It’s repetition; it’s consistency; it’s forming of habits. But the good thing is that we were creating opportunities to get into that final third and really push a team like North Carolina to a point where they’re having to defend quite frequently.”

Backup centerbacks tested

The Pride utilized a diversified centerback pairing for the first time since the Challenge Cup on Sunday. With Phoebe McClernon sidelined due to an ankle injury, Toni Pressley started for the first time this season.

After Ali Krieger went down with a right ankle injury in the first half, defender Konya Plummer substituted into the game, marking the first time both starting centerbacks didn’t play this season.

“It was a quick transition getting warmed and going into the game,” Plummer said. “It’s also a moment of me being prepared for anything to happen. I feel like I went in there with everything that we’ve been doing throughout this season and training, and I just went in there and delivered as best as I could.”

It took both centerbacks until the second half to warm up fully into the game. Pressley didn’t fit the pace of the match during the first half, clearly struggling with the speed of central attackers such as Debinha and Jessica McDonald.

But both centerbacks warmed into the game in the latter half of the match. Although the second goal was a combined error from the entire backline — which lost several players in the box, not stepping in time to prevent a shot — the pair otherwise locked down the hottest offense in the league.

Both players also showed why they can be valuable pieces of the team’s backline. Pressley brings an ability to hit long balls with distinct precision, nearly setting up Leroux for a breakaway goal in the second half. Plummer’s physicality and timing provided a match to McDonald, preventing North Carolina from bullying its way into the box.

Between injuries and international duty, providing both players with minutes on the pitch could help the team deeper in this season.

New additions give depth amid Olympics

A pair of new defensive additions will help the Pride’s defensive depth, particularly if either Krieger or McClernon’s injuries drag out longer.

The team signed English centerback Amy Turner last week, then added left back Kylie Strom on Monday. Both players are critical additions for the team’s defense, which has shown improvements but struggled with injuries in the first third of this season.

Turner is seasoned after years in the English WSL and most recently captained Manchester United. She made her debut for the Pride in the final minutes of Sunday’s game. Although she might take a few weeks to fully integrate into the club, Turner is expected to fill into the centerback position quickly.

Strom just came off two seasons with Atlético Madrid and brings similar European experience after starting her season in the NWSL with the Boston Breakers.

Although the starting backline for the Pride did well at the start of the season, the season has taken its toll on the group. Starting outside back Ali Riley will depart for Tokyo soon, and McClernon and Krieger’s return timeline remains uncertain.

With the team’s finishing having been inconsistent in recent matches, these additions will be critical for the backline to absorb these losses.

This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Julia Poe at jpoe@orlandosentinel.com.

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