The North Carolina Courage drew 3-3 with the Orlando Pride in its final game of 2020 in Orlando Saturday afternoon.
The Courage ends the year with an overall record of 5-2-2, finishing the NWSL Fall Series with a record of 1-1-2, good enough for fourth place in the Verizon Community Shield. Earlier in the year, the Courage finished the NWSL Challenge Cup with a record of 4-1-0, finishing the preliminary round with a flawless record before being bounced by the Portland Thorns in the quarterfinal.
“The Fall Series has been good for us,” said Courage head coach Paul Riley.” Obviously to try different formations, 3-6-1 today, but I think it is more so about the individuals who got opportunities that maybe they wouldn’t have gotten… When you look at those younger players, that is what this has been about really. Trying to make sure that they develop and get this experience of playing game time. You can train all you want but at the end of the day you need games. You need these moments of being 3-0 up and the game come back to 3-3.”
Debinha gave North Carolina an early lead, beating Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris one-on-one in the 19th minute after Lauren Milliet played her in behind the Orlando back line. The Brazilian had Lynn Williams in support but she decided to go it alone, scoring her third goal of the Fall Series.
The Courage continued to try and spring Debinha and Williams breakaways throughout the rest of the half with limited success but deep in first-half stoppage time it worked not once, but twice. Williams doubled the Courage’s advantage five minutes into the added time before Debinha made it 3-0 just one minute later.
The Courage might have looked strong heading into the break but the Pride came roaring back in the second half, scoring three unanswered after the break. Marisa Viggiano pounced on a rebound in the 54th minute, Kristen Edmonds brought the Pride within one in the 71st minute and Ally Haran completed the Pride’s comeback in the 92nd minute.
“It’s a tale of two halves,” Williams said. “The first half, we were playing well. Even though they had more possession of the ball, I think we hurt them and manipulated them to go to the areas we wanted for them to go and then we buried our chances. In the second half I think we lost our way. We looked a little flat. I think we came out already expecting to win the game and give credit to their side, they are a fighting side. We just have to continue to fight and continue to remember the game isn’t over until it is over.”
Now that the games are done for the year, Riley and his staff will be turning their attention to the expansion draft which will take place on Nov. 12. The lists of protected and unprotected players for each club will be made public on Nov. 5. Riley said in his post game press conference that they expect to lose “two players minimum” in the expansion draft.
The Fall Series gave a number of Courage players a final opportunity to showcase themselves and either earn a spot on the Courage’s protected list or put themselves in the shop window for Racing Louisville FC ahead of the Nov. 12 draft.
“It definitely answered some questions,” Riley said. “There is no question about that, for good and for bad. Obviously we have to have our protected list in pretty soon, we have been working on that for a while. It certainly gave these players an opportunity to stake their claim. Some of them really did stake their claim in all fairness. There are some players that we do not want to lose in the expansion draft. Hopefully we can figure that out.”
The Courage’s roster will likely still shift prior to the Nov. 5 announcement of the protected and unprotected players list with Riley saying, “almost definitely on that one,” in regards to the Courage making a move before the league’s trade deadline on Oct. 22.
“There is definitely something coming down the pipe,” Riley said. “We are still in the midst of it. Obviously, we want to get it wrapped up pretty quick, which we are going to do. We have to wait for the season to be completed for everybody but then we will get on with it.”