Four more games. That’s all that is left in the Orlando Pride’s (8-6-6, 30 points) 2018 regular season. And if they cannot win out, or at least come close, it might very well be all that’s left in the season. The Portland Thorns (8-6-5, 29 points) come into the match a point behind the Pride, but with a game in hand a win for Portland could put the Pride’s fate out of their own hands.
This season may not be going exactly how the Pride had hoped, but they did make history the last time they met Portland. Coming into that match, the Pride had never beaten the Thorns, with the lone draw coming near the end of the 2017 regular season in a defensive, goalless battle. But the Pride improved to 1-5-1 all-time against the Thorns with a victory.
In that match, back on May 12, Pride Head Coach Tom Sermanni was forced to make five changes to the starting XI due to a mid-week game against Utah. Despite this, the Pride came out strong and Alex Morgan scored her first goal of the year in the 11th minute after a terrible defensive mistake from Mallory Weber. Ten minutes later, Christine Nairn’s rocket doubled the lead and the Pride were able to hold on and win it, 2-1.
The Thorns and Pride met once this season prior to that May meeting — also in Portland. On April 15, Chioma Ubogagu gave the Pride an early lead but Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair combined twice in the first half to give Portland a come-from-behind victory.
In the six previous meetings, the Pride have only ever scored four goals. Steph Catley scored the the club’s first goal ever back in 2016 off a free kick and two months later Jasmyne Spencer hit a perfect strike over Michelle Betos. Both of those goals gave Orlando a 1-0 lead but Portland fought hard and won both matches by 2-1 scorelines. The third goal was in the playoffs last year. Prior to the Thorns winning the 2017 NWSL Championship, they hosted Orlando. Alanna Kennedy scored off a corner but Portland had no trouble with Orlando, winning 4-1. Chi’s goal in this season’s first match-up was just the fourth time Orlando found the back of the net against the Thorns.
The Pride have four games remaining in their season, and sit in third place in the NWSL standings — just a single point ahead of Portland, which has a game in hand. A loss for Orlando could be catastrophic to its playoff hopes, as the Chicago Red Stars are a point behind the Pride and the Utah Royals are two points behind. Chicago has a game in hand.
The Pride are coming off of an extremely disappointing draw against winless Sky Blue FC, 2-2. Sky Blue held its first lead of the season in the match as Dani Weatherholt came to Orlando’s rescue. Marta’s missed penalty in stoppage time could have provided some breathing room in the playoff race for Orlando.
Meanwhile, Portland lost to the North Carolina Courage. This result is no surprise and North Carolina clinched the 2018 NWSL Shield off of Lynn Williams’ brace. Horan got on the score sheet for Portland.
“We need to make sure that we go out there and simplistically play to the very best of our ability, that everybody comes up ready to do their job, that everybody turns up ready to do whatever they need to do,” said Sermanni. “It comes down to the quality and the determination of our players. We’ve got strong players in every aspect of the field; defensively we’re full of international players, midfield is the same and up front is the same. Basically it’s going out there and matching Portland and putting in the same kind of effort that we put in when we beat Portland over there 2-1 early in the season. That’s the kind of effort that we need to put in this weekend.”
That 2-1 win, as mentioned above, was the first time that Orlando ever beat Portland and Sermanni no doubt wants to have a similar result. In recent games, the coach has deployed his team in a three-back system and will most likely feature the same system. Although the result against Sky Blue was disappointing, there will most likely be just a couple of changes from the draw.
Weatherholt will most definitely be in the midfield, as Sermanni has spoken highly of her all season and the 24-year-old was vital on both goals a week ago. Morgan and Camila were both rested after coming back from international break but after going down the pair immediately entered the game to help salvage a result.
A big loss for the Pride will be that leading goal scorer Sydney Leroux is out for the second game in a row because of an illness. Leroux would certainly have started if she was available and she would have played a key role in any result for Orlando.
Portland is also without some players — Meg Morris (left hip pain) and Katherine Reynolds (right knee MCL repair) — but the key for Orlando will be slowing down Horan. The U.S. international is tied for the league lead in goals (10), and is third in the league in successful passes (729), second in touches (1,410), and first in duels won (233).
Orlando Pride (3-5-2)
Goalkeeper: Ashlyn Harris.
Midfielders: Chioma Ubogagu, Emily van Egmond, Shelina Zadorsky, Dani Weatherholt, Kristen Edmonds.
Forwards: Marta, Alex Morgan.
Bench: Haley Kopmeyer, Monica, Christine Nairn, Camila, Carson Pickett, Danica Evans, Rachel Hill.
Portland Thorns (4-3-3)
Goalkeeper: Adrianna Franch.
Defenders: Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, Ellie Carpenter.
Midfielders: Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, Celeste Boureille.
Forwards: Tobin Heath, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, Hayley Raso.
Bench: Britt Eckerstrom, Mallory Weber, Andressinha, Elizabeth Ball, Caitlin Foord, Tyler Lussi, Margaret Purce.
REF: Ekaterina Koroleva.
AR1: Matthew Osterhouse.
AR2: Trent VanHaitsma.
4TH: Erika Barahona.
How to Watch
Match Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET).
Venue: Orlando City Stadium — Orlando, FL.
Streaming: NWSLSoccer.com or the NWSL app (outside the U.S.).
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