The Orlando Pride (4-3-4, 16 points) fell 2-1 to the Portland Thorns (6-3-1, 19 points) in a game they were never really in. The Thorns dominated the game but failed to convert on most of their chances.
The Pride displayed the most unique back four so far this season. With Phoebe McClernon recovering from an injury and Ali Riley with New Zealand for the Olympics, Amy Turner and Kylie Strom received their first starts for the Pride. Other than those two changes, the lineup was pretty much as expected.
The first half hour of the game was all Portland, with the Pride unable to maintain any possession. While the Pride defense was able to intercept passes into the box, more often than not they would immediately give it back to the Thorns for another chance.
The Thorns nearly opened the scoring in the 21st minute by forcing an own goal. Rocky Rodriguez found Morgan Weaver in the box. Gunny Jonsdottir was able to deflect the pass, but the deflection got past Ashlyn Harris and nearly into the corner of goal. Fortunately for the Pride, it hit the post and Turner was able to clear it.
While the Pride was able to clear the danger, it went right back to the Thorns and they responded with three great chances. First, Weaver was sent through and nearly had a shot but Turner beat her to the ball. Seconds later, another dangerous ball was sent through but Courtney Petersen sent it out of play.
In the 24th minute, Kelli Hubly found herself with a golden opportunity. Celeste Boureille found Hubly alone at the top of the six. With only Harris in front of her, the defender sent a shot toward goal but it soared over the crossbar.
Two minutes later, the Thorns finally broke through with a wonderful individual effort. Sophia Smith was able to win the ball in her own third and carried it all the way to the Pride’s box with little resistance. Her long-distance strike beat Harris to the near post for the game’s opening goal.
The Thorns nearly scored a second in the 33rd minute when Smith found Marissa Everett in the box. It would’ve been a breakaway on goal but Everett was judged to be just offside. It was a break for the Pride as replays appeared to show Everett was even with the defender and VAR isn’t used in the NWSL.
In the 38th minute, a poor challenge in the box by Strom gave Meghan Klingenberg the opportunity to go down. Rodriguez stepped up to take the penalty but it was poor and Harris was able to get down to make yet another penalty save.
The penalty save seemed to wake the Pride up a little as they quickly created a couple of chances. In the 36th minute, Sydney Leroux sent a dangerous cross into the box but it was just a bit high for Jonsdottir. In the 42nd minute, Petersen found Leroux in the box but her header was just over the crossbar.
A head injury to Taylor Kornieck extended injury time and the Thorns nearly took advantage. Nine minutes into added time, Smith was sent through on goal. Harris came off her line and forced Smith into a poor shot that traveled wide of the goal.
“First half we weren’t near it in terms of tackling, we weren’t near it in terms of game plan,” Pride Head Coach Marc Skinner said after the game. “It was a poor half from us, the first half. It took us too long to react.”
The start of the second half was similar to much of the first half with the Thorns dominating. They had a couple of blocked shots at the top of the box before an errant shot gave the Pride the ability to clear via a goal kick.
After very little action around her net, Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby was finally forced into action in the 52nd minute. Crystal Thomas made a nice run to the end line and sent a cross into the box. It was intended for Abi Kim, who had come on for Erika Tymrak at halftime, but Bixby came off her line to catch it.
After several chances, the Thorns were finally able to double the lead in the 58th minute. The initial free kick was cleared, but it went right to Klingenberg, who sent it right back in. Weaver beat Turner to the ball inside the six and headed it on goal. Harris got a hand to it, but it wasn’t enough as the ball was deflected into goal.
Weaver was a headache for the Pride all game long and nearly created a third goal for the Thorns in the 71st minute. A great run allowed her to find second-half substitute Yazmeen Ryan at midfield. Ryan was behind the Pride defense with only Harris to beat but her second touch was far too strong, allowing the Pride goalkeeper to collect.
Three minutes later, the Pride had a great opportunity to get back into the game. A nice cross by Petersen found the head of Kornieck at the top of the six-yard box. Kornieck directed the ball towards goal, but it went wide of the target, just beyond the outstretched arm of Bixby.
The Pride did end up getting a consolation goal late. Five minutes into the second half’s stoppage time, Kim found Marisa Viggiano at the top of the box. The midfielder’s second touch was a rocket past Bixby, cutting the Thorns lead in half.
“The ball got played down the right flank,” Viggiano said about her goal. “Abi Kim made a great run to get on the end of it. Syd made a great run near post and Abi crossed it. They drew a lot of attention. And I just yelled at her to leave it. I found myself at the top of the box, took a touch, shot it, and it went in.”
The goal was too little, too late for the Pride as they didn’t leave enough time to complete the comeback. The Thorns held possession over the remaining few minutes and defeated the visiting Pride 2-1.
“When we got back into the second half, and once we started to exact the game plan, we found lots of spaces that we needed to occupy and created some chances,” Skinner said about the second 45 minutes. “We started to have some momentum towards the end.”
“It’s an intimidating place to come,” he continued. “It’s a place where the players knew exactly what they needed to do. We were slightly off at moments and paid for that first half.”
Despite the close score, this game was all Portland. The Thorns led the Pride in possession (54.3%-45.7%), corners (12-4), total passes (384-318), shots (20-6), and shots on target (6-2). The Pride did come out on top in duels won (72-50) and tackles won (14-11). But those Pride accomplishments were because they spent most of the game defending.
The Thorns and the Pride entered the game tied at the top of the NWSL, but the result sent them in opposite directions. While the Thorns are now alone atop the league standings, the Pride find themselves down in fifth. The Pride will take the field again next Saturday night when they host OL Reign at 7 p.m. at Exploria Stadium.