Orlando Pride (11-6-7, 40 points) had its postseason fate determined on Saturday night after midfielder Alanna Kennedy bent in a stoppage-time stunner, lifting the Pride over No. 1 seeded North Carolina Courage (16-7-1, 49 points) at WakeMed Soccer Park. The 3-2 regular-season finale victory means the Pride finish their second season in third place, rising six spots on the table from their inaugural campaign, and will face No. 2 Portland Thorns FC in the playoff semifinal round on Oct. 7 at 3:30 p.m. ET at Providence Park.
The win continues the Pride’s point streak, extending the team’s unbeaten run to nine straight games.
Though both teams were guaranteed a spot in the postseason despite Saturday’s result, neither side took the game lightly, battling for every inch of the park.
“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.”
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.
The two teams remained in a deadlock, with the game looking destined for a draw, but 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.
Harris finished the match with four saves, including a 29th minute on Kristen Hamilton, spreading out for a miraculous reaction save on the forward’s volley.
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.
Tickets for the Championship can be purchased at nwslsoccer.com/championship or by calling (855) ORL-CITY.