The Orlando Pride took the field for an emotional match Saturday, recording a scoreless draw on the road against the North Carolina Courage.
It was the Pride’s first match in nearly a year and an atypical day for both teams.
Orlando was missing 12 players who are on loans and short-term contracts with other teams during the brief NWSL Fall Series, while North Carolina was missed 11 players due to loans, player decisions to opt out or injuries.
Pride defenders Courtney Petersen and Carrie Lawrence and midfielder Jordyn Listro earned their debuts in the starting lineup. Deneisha Blackwood and Chelsee Washington also saw their first NWSL minutes as second-half substitutes, while Kate Howarth marked her first game back in the NWSL since she played for the Boston Breakers in 2013.
During their first NWSL appearances, Petersen and Lawrence were tasked with the challenge of locking down the formidable Courage attack of Lynn Williams and Debinha.
With two young players at outside back, Skinner kept his defense compact. It gave the Courage more space along the flanks, but allowed the Pride to maintain defensive shape in the center of the field and keep Debinha and Williams out of dangerous space.
It didn’t always work. The Courage picked off passes out of the back and forced seven corners. Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris had to make four saves, including an acrobatic foot save that ricocheted off her glove to stay off the goal line in the 53rd minute.
Luck also fell the Pride’s way several times, as Debinha skied an open shot and Williams clanked another off the post from close range.
On the Pride attack, no one was hungrier than Sydney Leroux. The striker started her first match in two years on Saturday after the birth of her second child.
She spent the first half hunting for a goal, managing three headers in the box and placing one on frame to force a save.
The second half saw the Pride’s attack begin to dissolve as fatigue set in. The Courage pressed their line high, taking 13 shots in the second half alone as they strung together dangerous chances. The Orlando defense bent to the pressure, but didn’t break.
Lawrence provided the highlights of the second half for the Pride on both sides of the ball. On offense, she slid through a cross from Marta in the box, smashing the ball off the crossbar and missing a game winner by inches.
On the other end, she pounced on a ball after it slipped through the gloves of Harris in the 81st minute, slicing a kick to keep it from rolling the final inch for a Courage goal.
Although both sides tired in the final minutes, the Pride fended off a final flurry of attack from the Courage to record a shutout.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com.
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