Mikayla Cluff’s first professional goal is game-winner as Pride take down North Carolina

Orlando Pride (2-1-1, 7 points) extended its unbeaten run to three matches, defeating the 2022 Challenge Cup Champions North Carolina Courage (0-2-0, 0 points) by a score of 2-1 on Wednesday night at WakeMed Soccer Park in what also served as back-to-back wins on the road after taking a victory at Angel City on May 8.

Mikayla Cluff scored her first professional goal in the match, serving as the deciding finish on the night for the Pride. Sydney Leroux accounted for the other for the side, her second of the year, both of which have come inside the first five minutes of the match.

The Pride rolled out a starting lineup with a number of young prospects, with Jordyn Listro, Viviana Villacorta and Julie Doyle all recording their first NWSL starts, while Abi Kim also got the nod in the first XI for the first time this campaign. The side faces a quick turnaround yet again, set to host the Chicago Red Stars on Sunday, May 22 at Exploria Stadium.       

"My adrenaline is still going from those last six minutes of injury time. North Carolina is a very good team. They won the Challenge Cup, they have a lot of great attacking pieces, so holding onto a lead was really hard to do, and I was really proud of our effort," said Orlando Pride Head Coach Amanda Cromwell.

The Pride took the early lead with a shot from Cluff forcing Casey Murphy into a diving effort; however, the rebound fell to the foot of Sydney Leroux, who was able to tuck it into the far post for the finish.

"Getting the early goal and getting a second goal is just so important to back up the goal-scoring and try to solidify your lead. I think we were unlucky not to get a third but really, really proud of the effort," Cromwell added.

Orlando doubled its lead with Celia threading a ball in behind for Julie Doyle down the right flank, who was able to cut a ball across to goal for Sydney Leroux. The Pride forward challenged for the ball, forcing a deflection toward a running Mikayla Cluff, where the BYU-product hit it the first time past North Carolina goalkeeper Casey Murphy for her first professional goal. The Courage halved the deficit with Ryan Williams finding Brianna Pinto in the area, who was able to turn and fire a shot, taking a deflection off the Pride defense into the back of the net.

"It’s a midweek game, and we were able to rest a few players that needed it, and you saw the lineup was different, but it was really important that we got players some rest, and they were then able to come on either at half or didn’t play at all," said Cromwell. "It was a really good tactical game for us to get the win and get the three points."

With the victory, the Pride are now unbeaten in their last three visits to WakeMed Soccer Park in NWSL regular-season action.

Information provided by Orlando Pride.