After starting the season winless through the first three games, the Orlando Pride (3-2-3, 12 points) are now unbeaten in their last five matches. Alex Morgan and Christine Nairn staked the Pride to an early lead and Orlando held on for a 2-1 victory at Providence Park.
The win over Portland (2-3-3, 9 points) was Orlando’s first ever against the Thorns and propels the Pride into second place, behind the undefeated North Carolina Courage. Orlando finished its three-game road swing to Chicago, Utah, and Portland with a 2-0-1 mark and beat the only two NWSL teams it had never before bested.
Orlando Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni made five changes from the mid-week draw against Utah. Marta, Sydney Leroux, Chioma Ubogagu, Dani Weatherholt, and Emily van Egmond all took a bench role. Kristen Edmonds got a surprise start up top, as Rachel Hill earned her second start of the season and Alex Morgan returned to the starting XI. Coming off consecutive clean sheets, Sermanni kept the back four untouched but they were unable to make it three straight.
It was all Orlando to begin the game and the drama started just four minutes in. Hill got down the right-hand side and put a low cross in. Nairn tried to get a shot off but looked to have been fouled and Orlando eventually got a shot off that rolled into the hands of Britt Eckerstrom. Replays show that it was a clean tackle.
Portland went right down the field and won a corner. The ball bounced around a little and eventually found the back of the net through Mallory Weber. Portland thought it took the lead but the play was called offside. The Pride took full advantage of it and in the 11th minute, Alex Morgan opened her account to give Orlando the lead off a terrible defensive mistake from Weber, who whiffed on a clearance attempt.
About 10 minutes later, Christine Nairn took advantage of a poor Thorns clearance and ended up doubling the Pride’s lead off the half-volley with a goal-of-the-week candidate. With a two-goal lead, Orlando was in full control of the game but once again it was poor defending on set pieces that was the team’s demise. Christine Sinclair was unmarked in the box on a corner kick and powered home a header to cut Orlando’s lead in half.
From that point, Portland took full control of the game and Orlando could not do much on the attacking end. Poor passing and decision making let Portland get chance after chance. 18-year-old Ellie Carpenter used her speed to get past the Pride defense multiple times but could not add anything off her three shots.
Four minutes after the Portland goal Harris was forced into a save-of-the-week candidate when she made the first save and then, still on the ground, had to clear the ball with her feet to keep the ball out, luckily avoiding knocking it into her own net off the onrushing Portland attacker.
Harris was forced into five saves and kept her team in it as the Thorns kept the pressure on. In the 41st minute Tobin Heath drove a knuckling near-post shot that Harris pushed over the bar. Two minutes later, the ‘keeper blocked a cross and Andressinha’s shot went inches wide of the post.
Halftime did not stop the Portland attack and the Thorns thought they tied the game in the 48th minute when the ball ended up in the back of the net. The referee called the play back for a foul on Lindsey Horan, who came in hard on a 50/50 challenge and looked to stick a cleat in Harris’ chest. It was a fortunate decision for Orlando, as Harris was in the process of spilling the ball and the keeper needed a few minutes to shake off the effects of the collision.
Harris was down for a few minures, the trainers were immediately called in, and backup goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer started warming up. But Orlando’s starter eventually got up to an ovation from the crowd of over 17,000, despite being clearly in pain. Nothing keeps her down though and just moments later she made a diving, one-handed save to preserve the lead.
Out of nowhere, in the 58th minute, Edmonds played a good through ball in to Morgan. The ball was hit just a little too hard and Britt Eckerstrom beat Morgan to it. Play started to even out after that. Portland looked the more dangerous side but there were not many big moments until the 74th minute when Rachel Hill had an opportunity to kill off the game. Great ball movement led to a perfect cross from Ali Krieger but Hill’s tired legs couldn’t keep the ball down and she missed a point-blank opportunity.
It was almost all Portland after that as Orlando looked to hold onto the lead and solidify its defense. The defense looked weaker today than it did at any point during the road trip and Portland looked as if it was going to break it down. Carson Pickett made a big stop to keep away a Sinclair header. On the ensuing corner Pickett headed the incoming cross and nearly scored an own goal, but it hit off the crossbar. Luckily, Portland could not get a good shot off and Orlando held the Thorns from scoring again.
The referee awarded five minutes of stoppage time and Orlando had to defend for a bit longer. The best chance in the end of the game for Portland came off of two consecutive corners but they somehow could not get a good shot off. That same minute the Thorns were in on goal but play was stopped for offside.
Portland finished the game with 24 shots, six on target. Just about each of its nine corners looked dangerous, and the Pride will need to improve defending free kicks moving forward. The story for the Pride was it poor passing, as the club finished with 57% passing accuracy and held just 46% possession. The Pride offense, however, looked a bit better — especially early in the match — and Orlando took 13 shots, getting seven on target.
Orlando will get a nice rest after its road trip, returning home on Wednesday, May 23, to face the first-place North Carolina Courage.