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Portland defeats Orlando 4-1, advances to NWSL Championship match

In what Thorns players had been stating all week was redemption for the 2016 semifinal loss, Thorns FC is now one of the two finalists for the 2017 NWSL Championship.

In a choppy, physical match that opened with a nervous ten-odd-minutes, Portland went up in the 12th on a goal that was largely created by a lovely diagonal Meghan Klingenberg cross. The looping ball fell to the boot of a charging Amandine Henry in front of the Orlando back post. Henry stretched out just far enough to poke the ball past a helpless Ashlyn Harris and inside the post to put the home side up 1-nil.

Three minutes later, it was Tobin Heath’s turn to provide the service, this time from a free-kick earned by some of the hard work Hayley Raso did all afternoon. Heath addressed the ball, spotted about 27 yards out on the left side of the Orlando penalty area, and lofted a pacy cross to to another running Thorn. This time the recipient was Emily Sonnett, who headed home Heath’s serve to notch Portland’s second unanswered goal.

However, counting out Orlando is always chancy and for the next several minutes the match went back-and-forth until Orlando won a corner in the 23rd minute. Marta played the corner short along Portland’s left byline, worked a 1-2 with Ubogagu, and then played a head-high pass across the face of goal to Tony Pressley. Pressley flicked the ball on to Alanna Kennedy at Portland’s far post for an easy header that pulled the visitors back to 2-1.

The remainder of the half was a back-and-forth affray that saw both teams locked in a fierce battle for midfield. Although the honors were relatively even neither team could find a goal, and ran off the field at halftime with the scoreline unchanged.

Orlando came out in the second half with the obvious intent to win the midfield stalemate and push the ball up. The result was that Orlando held much of the possession in the half hour after the restart, and from that gained a series of dangerous chances.

Morgan shot just wide in the 48th minute. Marta’s shot in the 53rd was blocked out for a corner. Portland conceded another corner in the 58th and again in the 62nd minute. Ubogagu’s shot was blocked out for yet another corner in the 69th minute.

With Portland’s defense scrambling to hold off the Pride, it seemed like the equalizer was immanent, but instead it would be a quick Portland counterattack that would tally the next goal.

Lindsey Horan’s long forward pass found Raso streaking towards Orlando’s goal. Raso controlled Horan’s pass neatly and her right-footed shot beat Harris at the near post to put the Thorns up 3-1 with only 19 minutes left to play.

The final boarding pass for Orlando’s long, sad flight home was printed by Nadia Nadim and stamped by Christine Sinclair. One minute after replacing Heath, Nadim hit a cross that floated just over Kristen Edmond’s hop to Sinclair’s left foot. Sinclair touched the ball forward and then finished neatly past Harris’ far post for a 4-1 Portland lead that would seal the win.

The keys to Portland’s afternoon were an opportunistic attack - that converted four of six shots on goal - and a bend-but-not-break defense that conceded more than half the total possession but limited Orlando’s 9 corner kicks and 13 shots to a single shot on frame. Both Marta and Morgan ended the match with only one shot each, largely stymied by Portland’s Horan and Henry in midfield and by the Thorns backline. A.D. Franch had a relatively easy afternoon that ended without her having to make an official save.

Portland now travels to Orlando to play the winner of Sunday’s North Carolina-Chicago semifinal and for the chance to take their first NWSL Championship since 2013.