The Orlando Pride notched their first ever win against the Portland Thorns in contentious circumstances at Providence Park on the back of two poor defensive plays in what was the third game for both clubs in seven days. The Thorns had goals called off for fouls early in both halves. Despite decent Portland offense resulting in 24 total shots, they couldn’t quite find an equalizer.
Emily Menges made her first start of the 2018 season, as did Ellie Carpenter. Carpenter started the match up top in the place of Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, and Weber started at left wingback in the place of Meghan Klingenberg, out of the match for personal reasons.
Both teams came out pressing early, but the first chance of the game would fall to the Thorns. From the first corner of the game, Mallory Weber got on the end of a second ball and hooked it into the back of the net but was deemed offside by the assistant referee. Just a few minutes later, seemingly from a situation without too much danger, Orlando scored. Midge Purce failed to close down Kristen Edmonds’s cross from deep but with three defenders in the box, there didn’t seem to be too much danger at hand. Mallory Weber whiffed at the ball while attempting to clear and let it bounce to Alex Morgan, who slotted underneath an unprepared Eckerstrom to get her first ever goal against Portland since leaving the club.
Not 10 minutes later Orlando were up by two, again from a simple giveaway. Purce couldn’t get enough of a header on a fairly aimless cross and the ball fell straight to Christine Nairn, who took a shot on the volley and sent it just above Eckerstrom’s fingertips into the top of the goal.
Portland’s response was instant: the Thorns switched formation, moving to a back four and moving Mallory Weber to striker instead and just two minutes later, Christine Sinclair lost her marker on a corner and powered a header past Harris and into the net. Weber, who looked a little uncomfortable as a wingback today (in contrast to her strong performance there against Washington) looked much better up top, sending other players in behind Orlando’s defense with clever flicks. Purce and Carpenter formed a good partnership in attack, with Carpenter repeatedly picking up Purce’s balls between the fullback and centerback and getting decent crosses in. One of those crosses fell to Andressinha in the 67th minute which Harris came out of her box to punch clear, but she couldn’t find the back of the net through a crowd. Andressinha played well and was getting beat up all night, but especially during the second half: she was fouled six times in total over the course of the game, and twice players fouling her got yellow cards for their efforts. Despite a flurry of decent chances to end the half the Thorns went in still a goal down.
Coach Mark Parsons was giving the referees an earful about the calls for much of the first half, first about a counterattack stopped by an Orlando foul that didn’t result in a yellow card. He said after the game that the referee told him not to point at his head after that or risk being sent off: afterward, the fourth referee told him not to use his hands to gesture at all.
At the half, Hubly came on for Menges, still making her way back from injury, to play left back. The second half opened in much the same way as the first ended, with heavy Thorns pressure, and there was nearly an equalizer: Andressinha threaded a beautiful ball through about 3 Pride defenders to put Horan one-on-one with Harris, but Horan’s touch was a little too long and she had to challenge Harris to the ball. Purce picked up the rebound and put what would have been her first goal for Portland into the back of the net but the referees called the foul on Horan against Harris and disallowed the goal. From there it seemed there was nothing the Thorns could do to draw level: despite continuing pressure, the team persistently sent crosses into the area and Orlando dealt with them well, clearing second balls away and making sure no Thorns got the chance to clean up anything easy. The Pride worked their way back into the game and got a few shots away but the Thorns seemed most likely to score an equalizer late.
Ifeoma Onumonu and Tyler Lussi came on late for Mallory Weber and Ellie Carpenter and both had chances late. Carson Pickett nearly did the job for them: she hit the woodwork with a defensive header from a Thorns corner in the 79th minute. Onumonu had the best chance of the late match, holding off several players and playing a neat one-two with Sinclair to put herself in front of goal but she couldn’t quite control the ball and Harris claimed. Orlando escaped in the end and Portland left once again wondering why the win eluded them.