Orlando Pride finish in 3rd place with a win over the North Carolina Courage

The Orlando Pride get a major victory against the Shield winners, sending them to Portland for the NWSL Playoffs as they finish the regular season as the third best team in the league.

Orlando Pride finish in 3rd place with a win over the North Carolina Courage
Orlando Pride celebrate a goal in stoppage time | Source: Andy Mead - ISI Photos
North Carolina Courage
2 3
Orlando Pride
North Carolina Courage: Katelyn Rowland; Taylor Smith, Abby Erceg ©, Abby Dahlenkemper, Jaelene Hinkle; Nora Holstad (Ashley Hatch, 63’), McCall Zerboni (Sam Mewis, 63’), Denise O’Sullivan; Debinha, Lynn Williams (Jessica McDonald, 76’), Kristen Hamilton
Orlando Pride: Ashlyn Harris ©; Steph Catley, Ali Krieger, Monica, Kristen Edmonds (Jasmyne Spencer, 76’); Camila (Rachel Hill, 35’), Alanna Kennedy, Dani Weatherholt; Chioma Ubogagu (Toni Pressley, 83’), Marta, Alex Morgan
SCORE: NCC: Lynn Williams (Taylor Smith, 62’, PK 67’) ORL: Kristen Edmonds (Chioma Ubogagu, 22’), Marta (Alex Morgan, 52’), Alanna Kennedy (unassisted, 90+’)
INCIDENTS: NCC: Abby Dahlkemper, 90’ (Caution) ORL: Ashlyn Harris 67’, Marta 72’ (Caution)

A playoff spot had already been secured for both teams, so this game was an opportunity for the North Carolina Courage and the Orlando Pride to end the regular season on a winning note and gain momentum for their playoff games.

Prior to kickoff, with the Chicago Red Stars losing at Portland earlier in the day, and if the Pride lost to the Courage, based on the Red Stars' advantage over the Pride on the head-to-head record, the two teams were set to meet in the semi-finals in the NWSL Playoffs. However, the Pride, on an Alanna Kennedy free-kick goal in stoppage time, changed the narrative.

Orlando's Night

On a night that saw a season-high crowd of 7,020 as the Courage received the NWSL Shield before the start of the game for having secured the best record in the league, the night belonged to Orlando who opened up scoring in the 22nd minute. Chioma Ubogagu found Kristen Edmonds on a cross where Edmonds hit it on the run and slid it past goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland.

The Courage held the Pride 1-0 for the remainder of the first half, but in the second half, Orlando would extend their lead in the 51st minute. As Orlando pressed forward, Marta played a one-two with Alex Morgan, which allowed her to get into the box and finish. Even though Rowland got a touch on the ball, it slipped underneath her to put Orlando up by two. Marta's goal was her 13th of the season, placing her as the second leading goal scorer for 2017.

Still, the 2-0 deficit for the Courage did not keep them down for long. In the 62nd minute, North Carolina found space on the right flank, giving it to Taylor Smith who took it all the way into the box, trying to get around the Orlando defenders. Smith found Lynn Williams on a through-pass where Williams held off her marker and sent the ball into the near post. 

In the 67th minute, Williams scored her second goal on a penalty kick after Debinha was fouled in the box by Ali Krieger. With the brace, Williams recorded her ninth goal of the season. As the game went 2-2, the Courage held the momentum of the game, and Orlando began to struggle to get anything going in North Carolina's half. Still, both teams continued to attempt to break the 2-2 tie and even turning to the physical side as Marta and North Carolina's Abby Dahlkemper were cautioned with yellow cards. 

Katelyn Rowland is unable to stop Alanna Kennedy's game-winning free kick | Source: Andy Mead - ISI Photos
Katelyn Rowland is unable to stop Alanna Kennedy's game-winning free kick | Source: Andy Mead - ISI Photos

It was Dahlkemper's foul on Jasmyne Spencer near the edge of the North Carolina box that proved to be costly for the Courage. The foul set up a free kick for the Pride. On the free kick, Alanna Kennedy bent the ball it into the top corner to give Orlando a late goal, sealing the victory and the third seed for the Pride.

Orlando will head to face the Portland Thorns next Saturday while the Courage will host the Chicago Red Stars at home on Sunday for postseason play.

NWSL