An early Jodie Taylor goal was canceled out by a late Simone Charley header as the Orlando Pride (5-4-6, 21 points) drew with the Portland Thorns (9-3-2, 29 points) 1-1 tonight at Exploria Stadium. It’s a valuable point against the top team in the league, but will be seen by the Pride as a missed opportunity with Portland missing several key players.
The Pride’s starting lineup was as expected for this game, with Alex Morgan being the only regular starter absent. Phoebe McClernon moved back into the starting lineup, setting up beside Amy Turner on the left side. That moved Courtney Petersen into a wingback position, where she’s been playing under interim head coach Becky Burleigh.
The Olympians who played in the bronze or gold medal games during the Olympics didn’t take part this weekend, hurting the visitors much more than the hosts. While the Pride were only missing Morgan (United States) and McLeod (Canada) due to this reason, the Thorns were without Crystal Dunn (United States), Adrianna Franch (United States), Lindsey Horan (United States), Christine Sinclair (Canada), and Becky Sauerbrunn (United States).
The Pride got off to a good start, controlling the early possession and creating some sustained attacks, even if they were unable to get any opportunities on goal. The problem early was attempting to dribble through multiple defenders instead of sending balls into the box. However, that changed in the 13th minute.
Petersen has been a primary supplier for the Pride this season and was again early in this one. In the 13th minute, the left-sided midfielder sent a beautiful cross into the Portland box. After scoring her first goal for the Pride last weekend, it was Jodie Taylor who struck first again tonight. Taylor beat her defender to the near post, getting her head to the ball and putting it past Bella Bixby.
“I’ve just been dying for someone to get on the end of one of my crosses,” Petersen said after the game. “And Jodie was there.”
“That was a great ball by Courtney, a quality, quality ball,” Burleigh added. “And a great finish.”
After having few quality chances in her first two games for the Pride, Taylor has now scored in each of her last two appearances. Both of those goals have come inside the first 15 minutes of games.
The goal seemed to awaken Portland, which immediately went on the attack for an equalizer. They nearly found it in the 25th minute. Meghan Klingenberg, who is always dangerous from the left back position, sent a curling ball into the box for Simone Charley. Fortunately for the Pride, the ball sailed a bit too high for the striker.
The Pride had their second quality chance a minute later. A beautiful ball forward to the top of the box was brought down by Sydney Leroux. However, the forward was unable to fully control it, eventually resulting in the loss of possession.
The Thorns had their closest first-half chance in the 30th minute. The Pride left too much space, allowing Marissa Everett to get a shot off from the top of the box. The strike slammed off the crossbar, just beyond the outstretched arm of Ashlyn Harris.
Six minutes later, it was Harris who made the stop. Natalia Kuikka sent a beautiful ball into the box, which found the head of Charley at the near post. The most dangerous attacker on the weakened Thorns side redirected the ball on goal from the top of the six-yard box. However, Harris reacted well, palming the ball away and allowing the Pride to clear.
The Thorns led most statistical categories at the half. They had more shots (10-4), more passes (212-169), and more possession (55.1%-44.9%). The determining factor in the Pride’s halftime lead was that the Thorns only put one of their 10 shots on target, and Harris made a terrific save.
While the Pride had the majority of possession and chances early in the first half, the Thorns dominated most of the second period.
In the 49th minute, Charley found the first opportunity at goal. After receiving the ball in the box, the forward completed a quick turn and shot, but it was right at Harris. The forward had a nearly identical chance 10 minutes later, but it was the same result.
An even better opportunity came in the 56th minute through Sophia Smith. Relatively quiet to that point, Smith lifted a ball for Rocky Rodriguez, who was making a run into the box. She would’ve been through on goal, but Harris did well to come off her line to collect the ball.
In the 62nd minute, Smith decided to take the opportunity herself. Carrying the ball into the box to the left of goal, she took a low, hard shot, attempting to beat Harris to her far post. However, the ball skipped quickly through and harmlessly out of play.
The first second-half chance for the Pride didn’t come until the 64th minute. Another lovely Petersen cross fell between Taylor and Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby. The first-half goal scorer beat the goalkeeper to the ball, but the sliding shot went wide of the goal.
In the 70th minute, it was second-half substitute Meggie Dougherty Howard that created the opportunity. With her back to goal, Marta played the ball back to Dougherty Howard, who lifted a cross toward goal. Taylor charged into the box and got her head to the ball, redirecting it on target. However, Bixby did well to tip it over the crossbar.
The Thorns dominated the second half and got their just reward in the 78th minute. A Klingenberg free kick toward the back post found the head of Charley, who out-jumped the Pride defenders to redirect the ball on goal. Harris stood frozen to her line as the ball made its way inside the post for the equalizer.
“I have to give props to Portland for getting the equalizer,” Burleigh said about the goal. “That was a pretty good header. She was marked well by Amy, but she still managed to get the header off and score. So impressive by Charley.”
Four minutes later it appeared as though the Thorns might’ve taken the lead. Smith was sent through on goal and beat Harris with a low shot. However, referee Matthew Franz’s arm immediately raised in the air, indicating the dangerous forward was offside.
The Pride did have a late chance to retake the lead a minute into injury time. Marta sent a beautiful cross into the box for Leroux. The forward was able to get her head on it and send it towards goal, but it went over the crossbar. That was the final opportunity as the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
Despite being short-handed, the Thorns led most statistical categories tonight. They ended the game with more shots (17-8), shots on target (4-3), corners (3-2), total passes (401-335), passing accuracy (74.8%-69.6%), and possession (53.7%-46.3%). The only stat that ended in the Pride’s favor was duels won (51-47).
While the Thorns came into this game with a four-game winning streak and unbeaten in their last six, the Pride will be disappointed not to secure all three points. The Pride were nearly back to full strength and the Thorns were missing key internationals.
“I think it’s a good thing that we’re disappointed that we ended with a tie with the first place team,” said Burleigh, who is still unbeaten as the Pride’s coach (1-0-2). “I think our team felt like there was a big change when our reserves came on and they were game changers, that was huge for us just to see people make a difference like that. And I think that’s something we’ve been able to see even in the last few games, so it’s just great to see that the people who aren’t starting are still able to come on and make such a big difference for us.
“I think we were prepared to come in here and take a win. And, like I said, credit to Portland for bringing it back to level. But I think that our mindset is that we can compete with anyone, and give more than a lot of credit, they’ve been very, very successful, especially as of late, and they’re a tough team. They’re very deep, as evidenced by their reserves and them not even missing a beat with the internationals being gone in terms of their results. But at the same time, I feel really good about what we can do too and I think we can only get better.”
The point moves the Pride up to third place in the NWSL, though they’ve played more games than the teams around them. The Thorns remain atop the league with the point, eight points ahead of the North Carolina Courage.
After this one game back home, the Pride will go back out on the road where they’ll face the Washington Spirit at Audi Field next Sunday afternoon.