The Portland Thorns put the Orlando Pride on full blast, breezing to a 6-0 win at Providence Park that could easily have been even more lopsided. Despite some good saves by Erin McLeod and some wasted shots by the Thorns, it was still Orlando’s worst loss in the team’s existence. Hina Sugita, Becky Sauerbrunn, Sophia Smith (twice), Natalia Kuikka, and Taylor Porter all scored for the Thorns (4-1-4, 16 points).
The Pride (2-5-2, 8 points) have now lost three consecutive matches — all via shutout — and are winless in their last four games (0-3-1) heading into the international break. Orlando has been outscored 12-0 in the last three matches and have been shut out three straight times for the first time since the team’s expansion season, when the Pride were blanked from May 28 to June 18 of 2016 by FC Kansas City, the Western New York Flash, and the Washington Spirit. Like the current stretch, those matches were all on the road.
Orlando had been beaten three times by five goals but this was the first six-goal loss and tied the team record for most goals conceded in a match. The Pride fell to 2-10-2 in the all-time, regular-season series against Portland and 2-11-2 in all competitions.
“I thought we got beat by a better team today and not only because they were better in possession, but fundamentals,” acting Pride coach Seb Hines said after the match. “Their ability to put us under pressure at the right moment, their willingness to run and battle and compete. And then with their creativity, they created multiple chances, and that’s something that moving forward we need to be better. We need to be better at the fundamentals — tackling, competing, running.”
Hines started McLeod in goal behind a back line of Courtney Petersen, Toni Pressley, and Megan Montefusco, with Darian Jenkins and Kerry Abello playing in sort of wingback roles. Meggie Dougherty Howard slotted into the midfield with Gunny Jonsdottir and Angharad James, with an attacking line of Abi Kim, and Julie Doyle. There were no center backs or strikers on the Pride bench.
The danger from Portland started early with Kuikka making a bombing run down the right, speeding past the Pride midfield and getting to the top of the box, where she nutmegged Pressley with a pass to Smith, who fired a shot that took a slight deflection and skipped inches wide of the left post.
The ensuing corner kick fell for Sugita, who was completely unmarked on the back side, but she got under her volley attempt, which sailed harmlessly well over the goal.
The first great chance for the Pride happened in the 17th minute. Kim made a good cross in from the right that Dougherty Howard chested down into her own path. She got a good look 1-v-1 with Bella Bixby, who made a huge save to keep the game scoreless.
“We created a great opportunity at nil-nil where it comes from a cross. Meggie takes a great touch and Bixby makes a save,” Hines said. “We’re talking about a (potential) one-nil lead, which can change the outcome of the game.”
The Thorns went right down the field after the save and Smith got in behind the defense but Montefusco did well to stab the ball away from behind. Sauerbrun was unmarked by Abello on the ensuing corner and McLeod made a sensational save in the 18th minute to keep the game at 0-0 — for the time being.
Three minutes later, Portland broke through. Abello’s attempted pass was easily picked off by Janine Beckie, who crossed into the box. The ball found Sugita — who got in behind Jenkins — on Portland’s left side, and she made no mistake this time, putting the Thorns up 1-0 in the 21st minute.
It took just four minutes to double the lead. Jonsdottir conceded a free kick on a handball, trying to protect herself from a point-blank cross. Although her arm was near her body, the referee ruled it wasn’t in a natural position. The free kick was sent in low and hard and McLeod tried to catch it rather than punch it away, but she couldn’t handle it and the rebound fell for 37-year-old defender Sauerbrunn, who was not tracked by anyone. Sauerbrunn smashed the ball into the back of the net to make it 2-0 in the 25th minute.
“That second goal was a killer,” Hines said. “It comes from a free kick, where Becky Sauerbrunn’s gambled because she’s confident and she’s got a tap-in. Them little defining moments can change a result of the game.”
Things could have gotten worse in the 31st minute when Smith danced past three Pride players with no trouble whatsoever, and sent a pass to Rocky Rodriguez at the top of the box. The midfielder sent her shot just wide.
Orlando survived a couple of late set pieces and the Pride entered the locker room down only 2-0 despite being dominated. Portland had more shots (10-2), shots on target (5-1), Possession (57.8%-42.2%), corners (3-2), and passing accuracy (85.7%-77.4%).
The Portland dominance continued to start the second half, despite the introduction of Viviana Villacorta by Hines, replacing Kim. The Thorns continued to ping passes and crosses around. Kuikka and Rodriguez each had shots blocked at the top of the area early in the second period. James then gave the ball away in her defensive third, allowing Beckie a free shot from outside the area that skipped wide.
Beckie then managed to beat both Abello and Petersen in the 56th minute to get a dangerous cross in to Smith, who got a shot deflected and McLeod was able to collect. Two minutes later, it was Beckie firing just wide on the counter. The Pride immediately turned it over again and this time Smith fired just wide.
Bixby made a second big save to keep the Pride off the board in the 60th minute. Jenkins stepped into a shot from a long way out that required the Portland keeper to make a flying save, as she got a hand to it to knock it wide. Pressley’s header came close on the ensuing corner but just missed the target at the near post.
Hines made a pair of substitutions in the 61st minute, bringing on Kylie Strom and Jordyn Listro for Abello and Montefusco. Those changes definitely helped — Portland. The Thorns finished with four more goals in the final half hour to turn a loss into a humiliation.
The Thorns went back on the attack after the substitutions. Everyone on the Pride backed off to give Sam Coffey a clean look at the top of the box in the 62nd minute but she fired her shot right at McLeod. However, the Pride conceded seconds later. After McLeod’s save, the Pride didn’t even make it out of their own half — again — and Portland came back on the attack, with Smith making a good turn that gave her several yards of clearance on Pressley. She then finished well to make it 3-0 in the 63rd minute.
“Confidence plays a major factor in performance,” Hines said about the team’s struggle to play out of their end in recent matches. “You know, when you’re confident you see them things a little bit quicker. You feel like, ‘Oh, I can play it through that line and get it to a midfielder.’ Right now, in the position that we’re in, we’re just lacking that element.”
Petersen sent in a cross or a shot in the 67th minute that Bixby did well to come out and catch. Jenkins then fired a shot at Bixby moments later as Orlando searched for a consolation goal. But then Orlando reverted to playing passively again. Smith nearly made it 4-0 in the 73rd minute but McLeod made a good save. Olivia Moultrie then fired a shot right at McLeod three minutes later.
Kuikka then did make it 4-0 in the 79th minute. She started with the ball on the left, then made a short pass and ran into the box, but no one bothered to go with her and Kuikka was left all alone in front of goal. The ball found its way back to her and she had no trouble slotting past McLeod.
“We definitely need to learn from this,” Pressley said. “There are situations where we do need to mark in the box and deny crosses and block shots, and that’s certainly something that we can work on and get better at. So, moving forward, that will help us. So, certainly I think there are a lot of things to take away from this game defensively. And we need to be better.”
Smith nearly made it 5-0 seconds later, as the Pride wasted no time giving the ball back to the Thorns on the restart. The ball hit an Orlando player and went out for a corner. No matter, as Smith added the fifth goal in the 86th minute — just two minutes after Yazmeen Ryan was left all alone on the right and fired over the net. Smith wasn’t closed down outside the area so she simply let fly to make it 5-0.
Taylor Porter added her first career goal before the final whistle. Again, nobody bothered marking her — or multiple other Thorns players — on a set piece that was played short, in an utterly embarrassing display.
That was, mercifully, all the scoring. Portland stuffed the stat sheet, finishing with more shots (26-6), shots on target (12-3), possesson (52.3%-47.7%), and passing accuracy (80.1%-79.2%). Each team earned four corners, which is one of the few statistical categories where the Pride matched up with their hosts.
“We tried our best and tried to stick to the game plan and it just really didn’t fall our way,” Pressley said.
“No one likes to lose in that manner,” Hines said. “There’s a lot going on. It’s difficult for the players, for staff — we’re obviously short-staffed right now. But I’m now in a position that this has to change. The habits and training need to change. The habits in games need to change, so we’re not walking off the field with regrets. You know, six-nil hurts everyone, and I take responsibility for that being the interim head coach. But moving forward, we will remember this as a turning point in our season.”
The Pride are off until July 3, when they’ll head over to Daytona to “host” Racing Louisville FC at Daytona International Speedway as part of Daytona Soccer Fest.