CARY, N.C. — At least for now, the Orlando Pride are out of the playoff picture.
Another collapse left coach Tom Sermanni scratching his head. It left Pride players frustrated and searching for answers. Brazilian superstar Marta went back to the locker room before Sermanni had a chance to address the team as a group.
The Pride (8-8-6, 30 points) came away with no points Sunday after falling 3-0 to the North Carolina Courage in front of an announced crowd of 7,606 at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, N.C. The Courage scored three goals in 13 minutes to bury the Pride and earn the win.
The loss drops the Pride, who are winless in their last four matches, into fifth place in the NWSL table with just two matches left. Only the top four teams make the playoffs.
“We were generally looking comfortable, and then we give up a cheap goal from failing to do stuff that we emphasized and talked about that we need to do, and then we basically implode,” Sermanni said. “Mental thing, physical thing, probably both, maybe an ability thing. I don’t know.
“If you look at our team and you look at the number of goals we’ve conceded this year, there’s obviously something significantly wrong that either we’re doing or the players are doing.”
The match was split into two parts. It began Saturday night, but it was suspended in the 22nd minute due to storms in the area. Play resumed Sunday morning.
“It’s the same sort of situation for both teams,” Edmonds said about the delay. “If it was hard for us, it was hard for them as well. They didn’t get as much sleep, just like we didn’t get a lot of sleep. It’s the same playing field for both teams, so we can’t really use [the delay] as an excuse.”
North Carolina opened the scoring thanks – mostly – to forward Lynn Williams. She worked her way to the end line and sent in a cross that was deflected by centerback Shelina Zadorsky and into the back of the net. It was credited as an own goal in the 75th minute.
Rachel Hill turned the ball over in the middle of the pitch to give North Carolina the chance.
After that, like in recent matches, the situation snowballed.
“We suddenly implode and it’s 3-nil,” Sermanni said. “There’s something. There’s a weakness somewhere in what we’re doing. I wish I could pinpoint it. A game that should have been tight, we should have kept in it, is suddenly a blowout, 3-nil.”
Williams again managed to work her way to the end line and fend off defender Ali Krieger before tipping the ball to Brazilian forward Debinha, who smashed it home and doubled the lead for North Carolina in the 81st minute.
The exclamation point came in the 88th minute. Pride striker Sydney Leroux – who was playing in her first match since July 21 – had to come off the pitch after taking a knee to the head. She was trying to win a ball off a corner kick and fell, making contact with teammate Ali Krieger’s knee.
While she was being examined, Williams headed home a cross from Merritt Mathias in the 88th minute. Leroux didn’t return to the match and midfielder Christine Nairn was subbed on.
After the restart, the match picked up where it left off Saturday night. The Pride earned some more corner kicks – they ended the match with 12 corners – and the Courage generated some more chances, but the two clubs went into the half scoreless.
Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris denied the Courage’s best shot on goal in the first half. Courage forward Lynn Williams sent a laser on target in the 45th minute and Harris made a diving save to keep the match scoreless.
Next, the Pride take on the Chicago Red Stars at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday in Orlando City Stadium in a critical match for both clubs. The Red Stars managed a scoreless draw with the second-place Seattle Reign on Saturday. That, coupled with the Pride’s loss on Saturday, elevated Chicago into fourth Place.
“We’re still in the hunt here,” Sermanni said. “We’re still right in the mix. We should have been much more… we’ve had opportunities to be much more in the mix. If we’re coming out in games and [we’re] under the pump from minute one and holding on and really scrapping away and we end up losing, I’ll put my hand up.
“We’ve got a quality team here. We’ve got quality, quality players. Good professionals. We’ve got players that want to do well, but somehow, we’re just not.”