The Orlando Pride (11-6-7, 40 points) headed into their final game knowing that they had clinched a playoff berth. They faced the Carolina Courage (16-7-1, 49 points) who hold the top spot in playoff rankings.
The Pride built a 2-0 lead and watched it evaporate, but, in the end, Orlando captured third place in the NWSL with a 3-2 road win over the Courage on Alanna Kennedy’s stoppage-time free kick.
“We didn’t want to lose our momentum; we had gone eight games undefeated. We talked about changing the lineup during the week but then it means that some of the players aren’t playing for two weeks. When you get into this stage of the season, players want to play and we wanted to keep our team in the rhythm that we’ve been in the last couple of months,” Head Coach Tom Sermanni said. “It was the kind of game that could have been more of an exhibition game but turned out more to be like a cup final. I think that just says a lot for the spirit and competitiveness of the players.”
The regular-season finale victory means the Pride finish their second season in third place, rising six spots on the table from their inaugural campaign. The Pride finished the regular season on a 6-0-3 run, won the season series against the Courage, 2-1, and will face the second-place Portland Thorns at Providence Park for the NWSL semifinals next Saturday.
Goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris set the tone of the match just two minutes in, stifling a breakaway chance from Courage forward Lynn Williams with a sliding kick save.
Kristen Edmonds, playing her 13th game of the season in the right back position, put the Pride ahead in the 22nd minute with her second goal of the season. Chioma Ubogagu drove a cross across the field from the left side and Edmonds made a slashing run across the box, redirecting the ball past North Carolina goalkeeper Katelyn Rowland.
Marta snapped her two-game scoreless streak shortly into the second half, pairing up with Alex Morgan for the fifth time this year for her 13th goal of the season. The team’s leading goalscorer worked a give-and-go with Morgan, driving a shot under Rowland to make it 2-0 for the Pride. The goal pushed Marta, playing in her first season in the NWSL, into second-overall in the league in the category.
North Carolina fought back, however, with Lynn Williams scoring goals in the 62nd and 67nd minutes, the latter coming from the penalty marker.
Second-half substitute Jasmyne Spencer drew a free kick for the Pride in the 89th minute at the top of the penalty area. Kennedy took advantage, curling a perfect ball over the five-player Courage wall to take the win.
The Pride now begin preparations for their playoff debut at Portland, which will be nationally televised on Lifetime. The winner of that game will face the winner of Oct. 8th’s North Carolina vs. Chicago match in the NWSL Championship, which will be hosted at Orlando City Stadium on Saturday, Oct. 14.