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North Carolina Courage

Orlando Pride look to bounce back against visiting North Carolina Courage

Orlando player Kristen Edmonds (top) shares a moment with teammate Alex Morgan (bottom) during the Houston Dash at Orlando Pride NWSL soccer game at Orlando City Stadium on Wednesday, June 27, 2018. (Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel)

ORLANDO, Fla. — The Orlando Pride’s 4-3 loss to the North Carolina Courage last month was weird, to say the least.

The first half of the match was the worst the Pride have ever played, coach Tom Sermanni said. Not just the worst the club has played this season. The worst 45 minutes ever from Orlando’s NWSL side.

Led by Brazilian star Marta, the Pride mounted a comeback after falling behind 3-1, but it wasn’t enough.

So now, after going 3-1-1 since that match and climbing into second place in the NWSL, the Pride get another shot at the Courage. The two clubs meet again at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Orlando City Stadium.

“I think it was a good lesson for us the last time,” Sermanni said. “I think what we did well the last time was come back into a game that we should never have been in at some stage and almost come out with a result.

“We’ve got the confidence to build on that.”

The Courage (10-1-3, 33 points) have maintained a sizable points lead in the NWSL table since defeating the Pride. They’re 11 points clear of the Pride (6-4-4, 22 points) with 10 matches remaining for both clubs, including Saturday.

“They’re the best team in the league right now,” Marta said through a translator. “Pretty far away from everyone else. They have been doing that since last year. It’s going to be hard game. Also, the time is not going to be the best for us. It’s going to be pretty hot.

“We shouldn’t really care about how far [ahead] they are. The way the NWSL is built, with the playoffs. … I know in the regular season [North Carolina] will be the winners, but in the end, it’s the playoff that matters. Once we are there, we have the chance to win the tournament.”

Left back Carson Pickett said the Courage are the “perfect opponent for a bounce back” after losing on Wednesday.

“I think that every time we play a really good team, we up our game,” Pickett said.

Sermanni said the club’s top priority isn’t reaching the top spot, even if it is mathematically possible. The Pride play the Courage for a third time in August, potentially setting up six points to steal from the league leaders.

Wednesday’s loss to the Houston Dash put a damper on hopes of overtaking the Courage, Sermanni said.

“At this moment, it would be nice, but realistically, our aim at the start of the season was to get in the top four, No. 1,” Sermanni said.

“Our second aim was to try to get in first or second place, to get a home final. The third aim was to win the league. Our priority at the moment is just to win games. Make sure that we stay ahead of the pack chasing North Carolina. If we’re able to get those points back, that would be great.

“I thought if we had won Wednesday night, that was a critical game that would have narrowed that gap to make it a little bit more enticing. An 11-point gap with [10] games to go is a pretty tough ask. But stranger things have happened in football.”

Saturday’s match is the second of three games in a seven-day span for the Pride.

“It’s just a case of trying to keep everybody fresh,” Sermanni said. “Keep everybody health. Get as much rest as possible. We did very little [Friday] morning. Just hope that everybody’s ready to go [Saturday]. Your preparation time is extremely limited.

Jokingly, Sermanni added, “That might not be a bad thing. They don’t need to listen to me as much.”

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