NC Courage Academy Defeats Orlando Pride 3-1 on Afternoon of NWSL Championship

Sanford, Fla. (Oct. 15, 2017) - The North Carolina Courage Academy U-18/19 (Raleigh, NC) defeated Orlando Pride U-18/19 (Orlando, FL), 3-1, at Seminole Soccer Complex on Saturday afternoon in the second ever Girls' Development Academy Feature Game.

North Carolina benefited from an early goal by Haleigh Stackpole in the 9th minute, and added goals from Mattie Murphy and Emily Duerr. Kristen Scott pulled a late goal back for Pride. The game was played just 20 miles from the site of that afternoon's 2017 National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) championship game which featured the NC Courage first team.

"(Pride and Courage) have set the benchmark for why we started the Girls' DA," said U.S. Soccer Technical Advisor Morgan Church, who was on hand to watch the game. "Both clubs have provided a direct pathway for their top players to go and train with their first team (NWSL), as well as some of the professional players coming to train with the Academy."

The visitors settled into the contest early, pressuring high up the field to force the Pride into turnovers in their own defensive third. The Courage nearly broke through in the 8th minute when Duerr brought down a long ball in the Pride box and dribbled her way through goalkeeper Brooke Anderson, only to see her effort cleared off the line by a defender's goal-saving slide tackle.

North Carolina was rewarded with the opening goal when Stackpole headed home from just outside the far post on the ensuing corner. The Courage doubled the lead in the 21st minute, courtesy of a cool finish from midfielder Mattie Murphy. After the ball popped free inside the Pride penalty area, Murphy calmly slotted the ball into the side netting from fifteen yards out.

Duerr was rewarded for her persistent efforts on the wing just seven minutes later, running on to a perfectly-weighted through ball from Murphy to fire a first-time shot into the top-left corner of the goal.

"I thought the first half we possessed really well," Courage Academy Director Sean Nahas said. "We went side to side and found pockets of space to play in, and we were pretty dynamic in the final third. We created some really good opportunities and we converted on them, which is something we have been stressing all year."

The visitors threatened to score a fourth in the 66th minute after Isabella Brown drew a penalty, but Pride goalkeeper Brooke Anderson stuffed Brown's penalty effort. Orlando's counterattacks then came alive in the closing minutes despite playing down a player due to injury. Scott capitalized on a defensive breakdown in the 83rd minute, scooping up a loose ball at the top of the box and finishing into the open goal to give life back to the home side. The Pride had another chance go wide moments later, and the North Carolina defense saw out the 3-1 victory.

Pride coach Daniel Tidmarsh had positive takeaways from his team's performance in the first of two meetings against the NWSL club from North Carolina.

"Overall, the girls really put forward their best efforts," Tidmarsh said. "We worked hard for 90 minutes, and even though we weren't fantastic in the first half, I thought we turned the game around and made it competitive with North Carolina."

Both coaches stressed the focus on developing their players, as well as the importance of the relationships their clubs have formed with their NWSL first teams.

"There's always that energy, and with us there is a buzz with our pro team being in the final today, so there's a good energy about us," Nahas said. "When you have this pyramid in the youth game, it's so important and something we haven't had on the female side for so long. To have this pyramid and to have two NWSL clubs playing against each other, it is a great show and something that the league(NWSL) can continue to build on for sure."

"We are extremely fortunate; our first team head coach is good about letting our kids come in to train if we feel they're good enough to go in and challenge them," Tidmarsh added. "Hensley Hancuff is one of our players who trains full time with them. We have also had other girls go in and play preseason games. Two of the girls who played today have played in preseason games. It's great for us and it is important for the young adults to see the tangible goal at the end of it, to be around professional players, and see the environment and demands of playing at the next level."

Many Academy players from both sides were on hand to see that next level as the Courage first team took on Portland Thorns FC in the NWSL Final at Orlando City Stadium that afternoon. As the Pride and Courage continue to forge relationships with their first teams and push the standards of player development in their training environments, this first battle between the clubs is just a taste of what is to come.