The Orlando Pride hosted the Portland Thorns and came away with a 2-1 victory in front of 3,407 fans in Exploria Stadium. Alex Morgan and Sydney Leroux both scored for the Pride (2-0-1, 7 points) for the second straight game, as Orlando’s undefeated streak to start the season stretched to three matches (2-0-1). The Pride temporarily move into first place in the league, albeit with an extra game played, by beating the Thorns (1-2-0, 3 points) for just the second time in the all-time series.
“I think tonight’s win is bigger than a result on a field,” Orlando Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the game. “It’s a moment when a group are choosing to come together and choosing that their destiny lays within their own hands. And they’re putting performances on where we might not necessarily be the best footballing team at times but we are grinding together, we are working together, and those are the foundations we want in order to have the football future we know we’re going to have.”
The Pride came out with exactly the same lineup as they used Saturday night at North Carolina, save for goalkeeper. Ashlyn Harris went back into the net for Erin McLeod. The rest of the XI was unchanged and can be viewed below.
It was all Portland to start the match. Orlando had a few moments, but the Thorns were mainly in control. Orlando looked content to sit a bit deader and defend.
The first real chance for the Pride came in the 19th minute. Marta used some superb footwork to create space and sent in a cross. Taylor Kornieck headed it to the back post, but it sailed just a bit wide.
Minutes later, Kornieck and Morgan connected on a likely NWSL Goal of the Week candidate. Kornieck flicked the ball over the Thorns’ defense. Morgan picked her head up and smashed the ball into the far netting for the match’s first goal. It was Morgan’s third consecutive game with a goal.
“Taylor has an immense ability with the football,” said Skinner. “She’s gonna get better. I mean, if you see the goal — she’s chipped the ball over in a 15-yard (area), with the right spin, the right distance, so that Alex [Morgan] can let the ball come across a body to finish it like she did. So, it’s the detail of that quality that she has that you wouldn’t expect for somebody who’s so tall.”
Crystal Dunn had a chance to get Portland on the board in the 32nd minute. The ball went off of Phoebe McClernon, and Dunn was there to pick it up. The USWNT regular should have done better with the chance, but Harris was still forced to make a good save.
Portland found the equalizer in the 42nd minute. Natalia Kuikka won back the ball for the visitors and sent a perfect cross to the back post. Simone Charley jumped before Ali Riley could and headed it past Harris to bring the score level at 1-1.
“We weren’t happy with the press. We weren’t happy with the pressure and the time that they got. We weren’t happy with the give-and-go aspects that they had,” said Skinner. “And look, it’s a great header. She’s jumped early. It’s a wonderful, wonderful header. But we’ve got to stop the ball coming into the box.”
That was the end of the half. Portland dominated possession early on, but things evened out. Orlando ended the half with 47% of the ball. The Thorns had more shots (9-3) and shots on goal (5-1) than Orlando. The Pride did well on the counter and were threatening in the final third.
“There was some yelling, there was some anger,” said Leroux about what happened at halftime. “We knew that we had to come out and we had to come out strong and early. It always feels good to get a goal early and then you’re able to play a little bit more. So, we were on the front foot for, I mean, the 45th minute on.”
The Pride came out of the half on the front foot. After a long ball forward, Leroux was fighting for the ball with Kelli Hubly. Hubly won the battle, got the ball, and dribbled back towards her own net. Running out of options, it appeared Hubly would try to send the ball back to goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. But Leroux got to the ball first, sliding and stabbing the ball past Franch and into the net. Orlando took a 2-1 lead.
Portland almost equalized moments later. Halftime substitute Sophia Smith had space inside the box. She fired a shot that had Harris beat but also went wide of the post.
Portland kept the pressure on the Pride. The Thorns were unable to get past Orlando’s back line, as McClernon and Ali Krieger defended well and kept the Thorns attackers in check.
As the half went on, Portland made more and more attacking substitutions and forced the Pride to defend closer to their goal. Orlando had fewer opportunities on the counter as a result.
“Of course, we took some pressure in maybe the last 20 minutes. But I think we dealt with it well and our defense has been great,” Leroux said.
Ally Haran came in for Marta in the 85th minute. This was Haran’s regular season debut for the Pride. She dropped in at center back, and Orlando played with a back five to see the match out. Everyone was back defending for Orlando, except for Morgan, who remained at the halfway line for a potential counter opportunity.
“Yeah, it’s really tough, especially when you go into a back five,” said Krieger about handling Portland’s pressure. “You need to really focus and you need to be prepared for different players running in. You have, you know, their three 10s running into pockets and you have their wide players dumping balls into the box. So, you have to be in the right spots and make sure that you’re covering for each other, you’re holding the line, you’re dropping together. It’s a lot of little details that you have to focus on. And I think we did a great job.”
The referee awarded six minutes of stoppage time. The majority of it was played in Orlando’s half. Harris killed as much time as she could when Orlando had goal kicks, and after almost seven and a half minutes of stoppage time, the match ended, and Orlando beat the Thorns, improving to just 2-9-1 in the all-time series and scoring more than one goal against Portland for just the third time in their 12 meetings.
Portland dominated the stat sheet. The Thorns had more shots (21-12), shots on target (8-3), duels won (59-56), passes (428-355), and possession (55%-45%) than Orlando.
The Pride are back in action on Sunday at home against Kansas City at 6 p.m.