With a chance to earn a historic playoff spot, the Orlando Pride (10-6-7, 37 points) could not find the back of the net in the Pride’s final home game of 2017. Portland (12-5-6, 42 points), which has allowed the second fewest goals all season, showed its strong defense as the Pride and Thorns went goalless in front 7,353 fans in Orlando City Stadium. The Thorns are now unbeaten in five matches and the Pride also extended their unbeaten streak to eight (5-0-3) and earned their first-ever point against Portland in four meetings (0-3-1).
“It was a stressful game out there today,” said Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni. “Portland are a very good side. I thought it would be a grave injustice if we would’ve lost it. I think we limited them to one real chance. I think we dominated the game, particularly the first 30 minutes. I thought we played really well, but defensively they are a really good team. I was delighted with how our players went about the job tactically. I was delighted with the effort and thought if any team deserved to win it should be us.”
Kristen Edmonds made her first start since Orlando’s 2-1 win in Kansas City, coming back from a calf injury. The rest of the defense remained the same from the Seattle game and Camila slid forward into the midfield. This forced rookie Rachel Hill to a bench role with Alex Morgan, Marta, and Chioma Ubogagu leading the Pride attack to start.
Orlando clearly wanted to get an early goal and pushed forward in the beginning of the game. Chi had two shots in the first five minutes, and Steph Catley and Marta both had crossing opportunities. Morgan should have put the Pride ahead in the 12th minute, but the forward’s breakaway attempt was poor and Thorns’ ‘keeper Adrianna Franch caught the ball with ease.
After about four blocked shots from long range in the 18th minute, Alanna Kennedy took a low right-footed shot. Franch might not have made it in time to cover her left post, but Kennedy’s shot went inches wide and the game remained scoreless.
Most of the first half was all Pride, but in the 35th minute Portland started getting forward. The Thorns had a few chances, but their best opportunity was in the 40th minute when Ashleigh Sykes got in behind the Orlando defense after Hayley Raso played a beautiful through ball. Portland should have went ahead but Ashlyn Harris got a hand on it, and then Monica cleared the ball away from danger as it continued rolling toward goal.
The first half ended goalless, but both teams had chances to get ahead. The theme of the first 45 minutes was Orlando getting chance after chance, but the Pride were unable to break Portland’s defense. The Thorns held their shape regardless of what the Pride attempted, and Orlando was simply not good enough. The Pride led in total shots (12-4), shots on target (2-1), possession (56%-44%), corners (2-1), and total passes (257-201), but the Thorns’ defense dominated.
Not five minutes into the second half, Sermanni was forced to make his first substitution after Catley went down with an injury. Jasmyne Spencer came on and went into the attacking line, moving Chi down to left back. This is the second time that Ubogagu has ever played left back in her life, the first being Orlando’s 1-1 draw against Chicago this year. After the game, Sermanni said that Catley had some inflammation in her knee and the substitution was to ensure that she will be ready for the season finale and playoffs.
Five minutes later, Tobin Heath made her first appearance of the year, coming on for Nadia Nadim. The U.S. Women’s National Team member immediately provided a spark for the visitors when she entered, and Portland started pressing more. Amandine Henry also came on for Allie Long.
“It’s always good to have your best players in the league,” said Sermanni about Tobin Heath coming back from injury. “It’s not so good when they’re baring down on your penalty area one against one, but I think for the good of the league it’s terrific to see her back. She a wonderful player. She has a great personality, she’s a great professional. It’s always good to have those players, and we need as many of those players in the league as we can get. It was really good to see her back, and even better that she didn’t score.”
In what started as a slow half, the Pride responded to Portland’s high pressure by picking up the pace themselves. Camila, who got beat up throughout the game, did not give up after being fouled in the 65th minute. The ref did not call anything and the Brazilian controlled the ball from the ground, got up, retained possession, and started a Pride attack. Nothing came from it, but the pace of the gave quickened and both teams started going for the three points.
The Pride kept trying to play a direct game, hit long balls forward and use their speed to break the Portland back line. This plan did not work however, and often led to chances at the other end of the field for the Thorns.
The Pride threw players forward as the game came to an end, but they were unable to get the win. While not guaranteed a spot in the playoffs after the draw, the Pride sit in a fantastic spot with one game remaining. Seattle needs two wins and to make up seven goal differential in order to have a chance at sneaking into the playoffs.
“[The draw] puts an awful lot of pressure on Seattle to win both games and turn a seven-goal difference around,” Sermanni said. “I think I’d much rather be in our position now than Seattle’s position but we still theoretically need another point.”
The Pride play their final game of the season on Saturday, Sept 30. when Orlando travels to NWSL leaders North Carolina. The Pride need a point in that match to guarantee a spot in the final four.