It was always going to be a challenge for coach Marc Skinner and the Orlando Pride heading into their matchup against North Carolina Courage.
Orlando was playing its third game in eight days against the top team in the NWSL and without its top players Marta and Alex Morgan.
It didn’t take long for North Carolina (12-4-4, 40 points) to impose its will.
Propelled by three first-half goals and three second-half goals, the Courage defeated the Pride 6-1 on Saturday in North Carolina.
The loss continues the Pride’s season-long tailspin. Orlando has now lost four consecutive games.
The Pride (4-15-2, 14 points) have been out-scored 12-3 during that span. Generating chances has been a problem all season, and it continued against North Carolina.
The Pride finished the contest with only two shots on target.
“Look, they are the best team in this league and have been for a while,” Skinner said of the Courage. “I’m disappointed by the scoreline, but I think we saw a lot about what we have and what has to change. … Every few years, a team needs a turning around and what I said to the girls is, ‘Who of you wants to be here? If you want to be here you have to do this, this, this and this.’
“Next season, this won’t be this team. That result won’t be that result. I promise you that.”
North Carolina’s Lynn Williams opened the scoring in the sixth minute after a stellar cross by Kristen Hamilton. Hamilton delivered a cross toward Williams, who got in between two Pride defenders and put the ball into the back of the net.
Three minutes later, Hamilton was running to the byline when she took a shot, but Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris palmed the ball away.
Harris once again came up big in the 14th minute.
Harris came up with her first penalty save in a Pride uniform, turning away Abby Dahlkemper’s effort.
It was the lone highlight in the first half for the Pride.
In the 33rd minute, defender Kristen Edmonds scored an own goal, giving the Courage a 2-0 lead.
Jess McDonald made it 3-0 in the 41st minute when she got a touch on a cross by Jaelene Hinkle.
North Carolina continued to create chances in the second half and scored three more goals.
Rachel Hill added a consolation goal in the 82nd minute for the Pride, thundering a shot into the back of the net.
It’s been a rebuiding process for Skinner the entire season.
The absence of some of his top players for extended periods either due to injuries or the Women’s World Cup has highlighted issues he has to address.
With only three regular-season games remaining, including a Sept. 29 matchup against Sky Blue FC, Skinner will use those as a test to see whom he might want to carry over into next season.
He added he’s also under pressure to perform.
“What I’ve learned is we are, in comparison physically to the other teams, nowhere near [them] and that’s something I will be massively investing in our draft system that we can actually use for the first time in like forever,” he said.
“… And I promise you this Orlando Pride team will be a totally different beast next year.”