The Orlando Pride dropped more crucial points at home, falling 2-0 to the Portland Thorns in a match with heavy playoff implications in front of an announced crowd of 6,012 at Orlando City Stadium. The Thorns (9-6-5, 32 points) came out of the locker room on fire to start the second half, getting goals from Lindsey Horan and Hayley Raso and went on to take three vital points to jump ahead of Orlando (8-7-6, 30 points) with a game in hand.
With just three regular-season games left, the Pride fall to fourth place, just a point ahead of Chicago, which has two games in hand.
“The second half it looked like we put a different team out on the park — same bodies but a different team — on the field and the game was over within seven minutes,” said Head Coach Tom Sermanni after the match. “In reality, we were luck to get away two-nil at the end. And again it’s just down to our frailty.”
The overriding theme in the postgame press conference was that nobody seemed to have an answer for why the Pride played so well to start the game and then so poorly after halftime. Sermanni even quipped that maybe someone drugged the team’s water, as he had no good answer for the team’s lack of energy and commitment in the second half.
Sermanni made only minor changes to the team that drew against Sky Blue FC last weekend, inserting Shelina Zadorsky into the midfield in place of Christine Nairn and putting Alex Morgan up top for Rachel Hill.
Orlando came out strong, playing hard and forcing several early corner kicks. The Pride were getting the ball into good positions but had trouble getting shots through the Portland defense. Marta connected with a shot that went just wide in the sixth minute.
The first good Portland chance came off a mistake by Alanna Kennedy who didn’t get enough oomph on her back pass for Ashlyn Harris. Raso, Kennedy’s Australian international teammate, picked off the pass and hit the near post with her shot in the 17th minute.
A minute later, Kristen Edmonds took the first of several heavy challenges she suffered in the first half and the Pride were given a free kick just to the right of the penalty area. Adrianna Franch got a hand on Marta’s delivery to keep the game scoreless.
A few minutes later, Dani Weatherholt and Edmonds fizzed a couple of crosses through the box but no one could get onto them.
The Thorns started coming into the game more as the first half wore on, earning a few corners of their own. One fell dangerously in the box but Portland was whistled for a foul before anyone could pounce on it and Christine Sinclair was booked for fouling Morgan.
The Pride got a flurry of chances just past the half hour mark, but Marta and Weatherholt fired right at Franch and Emily van Egmond sent her effort over the bar.
“We started off terrific the first 15-20 minutes, probably stretching into the first 30 minutes,” Sermanni said. “We dictated the game. The tempo was good, attacking was good, movement was good, but then we don’t score.”
In the 37th minute, Raso again hit the woodwork, this time firing a cross that Harris couldn’t reach but it found the crossbar. Harris made a save on a header by Ana Maria Crnogorcevic in the 41st minute, which was fortunate, because the flag never came up although she appeared to be offside.
Van Egmond fired a shot that Franch grabbed in stoppage time and the whistle blew on a tense first half. Orlando led in shots, 9-5 (3-1 on target), but Portland ended up with 58% of the possession and the better passing accuracy (78%-70%).
It didn’t take the Thorns long to pounce after the interval. Portland earned a corner right out of the break and made the most of it. The short corner was played back to Heath, who crossed it in and the ball went through a lot of traffic in the box before it found its way to Horan for the tap-in just two minutes into the second period.
Meghan Klingenberg sent a cross in for Crnogorcevic in the 48th minute but the Portland attacker collided with Harris and a foul was given. Four minutes later, Chioma Ubogagu tried to clear a ball at the top of the box but it was blocked and Heath slipped it to Sinclair, who fired just wide.
A minute later, the Thorns doubled the lead. Sinclair won a ball in traffic and Crnogorcevic nodded it to Raso, who blazed by half the Pride defense and beat Harris to make it 2-0 in the 53rd minute.
The second goal took a lot of steam out of the Pride. Sermanni put Camila and Hill into the game to try to find a spark, but Orlando just didn’t look a threat at all in the second half and could barely keep any possession.
“The first seven minutes of the second half our defending is embarrassing,” Sermanni said. “A lack of willingness to just simply defend is just so poor. And then we go into a malaise where nobody seems to be able to get the team, pick them up, and get us back in the game. To be honest for most of that second half performance, I apologize to the crowd for coming and keeping supporting us because our team on the field didn’t deserve that support in the second half. It was extremely poor.”
Marta sent a shot through traffic that hit van Egmond in the 63rd minute and it nearly fooled Franch, who made a diving save. That was the Pride’s best opportunity of the half. Portland controlled the ball and kept the Pride hemmed in their own half throughout the second half, making any comeback attempt impossible.
Marta did get a late opportunity to find a consolation goal in the 89th minute when she smashed a shot on target from a severe angle but Franch got her fingertips to it and kept it out. After just two minutes of stoppage time, the final whistle blew and Orlando had fallen in a critical battle for playoff positioning.
Portland ended up winning just about all the statistical categories, including shots, 17-13, although the Pride had a 6-3 advantage in shots on target. The Thorns held 60% of the possession and a 77%-66% edge in passing accuracy.
“Tonight was a difficult one, clearly,” Harris said. “It was an important three points. It’s unfortunate. It’s heartbreaking. I thought we had a great 45 minutes and then we had a really poor 45 minutes. We made things, looking ahead, now tough on ourselves. This is the path we chose so we’ve got to deal with it and we’ve got to move on.”
It doesn’t get any easier for the Pride, as next up is a trip to Shield-winning North Carolina next Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.