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North Carolina Courage

Orlando Pride relying on depth, defense during five-match unbeaten run

Forward Sydney Leroux hasn't scored a goal for the Orlando Pride yet, but her defensive play has been critical over the Pride's five-match unbeaten streak. (Jordan Culver-Orlando Sentinel)

The games aren’t getting any easier for the Orlando Pride.

Orlando is unbeaten during its past five matches and notched franchise-first wins over Portland and Chicago during a three-match road swing. The Pride (3-2-3, 12 points) haven’t played at home since April 28 and still are in third place with 12 points.

Their reward is a match against the unbeaten North Carolina Courage on Wednesday in Orlando City Stadium.

“It’s a great thing that we’ve had this run, that we’re winning games, but we still don’t feel that we’re playing at our capacity just yet,” said Pride coach Tom Sermanni. “I think what we have done really well, particularly away from home, is that we’re looking much more solid than we did at a similar time last year.”

Over the Pride’s unbeaten run, the club has given up just two goals, compared to five over the first three matches of the season.

It’s a switch from what was talked about in preseason training. The club’s attack has gotten the goals its needed to win matches, but it hasn’t been as threatening as it looked on paper after the acquisition of forward Sydney Leroux.

The all-star trio of Marta, Leroux and Alex Morgan has accounted for just one goal in the run of play. Marta has two goals, but one was off a free kick and the other was from the penalty spot.

Still, the Pride are winning games and different players have stepped up. The club’s depth has been on display recently, with players like forward Chioma Ubogagu giving the attack a boost.

“Picking a team this year has been a different headache than previous years, there’s no doubt about that,” Sermanni said. “We have arguably a squad of… 20 players who are used to playing in the league and [expecting] game time.

“It’s just something that a club of our size and our expectations, we have to build up.”

Morgan said the Pride spent their long break working on their weaknesses. The Pride haven’t played in a match since beating the Portland Thorns on May 12.

North Carolina (7-0-2, 23 points) is nine points clear of second place and leads the NWSL with 15 goals scored. Leading the Courage is versatile USWNT player Crystal Dunn, who has four goals.

“Now for us, it’s just kind of seeing how we can expose North Carolina and the formation that they play and the spaces that are open,” Morgan said. “We’ve worked a lot on just switching the point of attack and little things I think we’ve struggled with in general in our formation.

“I think they’re definitely beatable, but we just need to be on our game plan and execute well.”

Midfielder Alanna Kennedy praised the Courage’s attacking players.

“I just think they’re obviously very agile and sharp players,” Kennedy said. “Quick and strong, powerful. Obviously, we want to be nice and tight on them. To be honest, we’re focusing more on ourselves and the way we’ve been playing.”

Sermanni said he’s confident a scoring breakthrough is coming. There are simply too many strong attackers on the pitch for the Pride to not eventually find their way in the final third. 

“We’re playing at home, we’ve got a high-caliber team so we’ve got to be a little bit more aggressive in how we play the game from an attacking standpoint,” he said. 

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