In a scrappy first game of the season that saw a lot of Thorns offense and expected rustiness, two moments of magic from Tobin Heath were all that Portland needed to secure victory over a depleted Orlando Pride. Caitlin Foord scored her first goal for the Portland Thorns off a back-heeled assist from Heath just before halftime, and Foord returned the favor in the second half.
Thorns head coach Mark Parsons had plenty of positives to take away as well as many notes to improve on for his squad. He said the team, “looked like midseason Thorns, but we can’t let that fool us for a second. Chicago will be a bigger and tougher test for us.”
Sydney Leroux was expected to be out on maternity leave, and Toni Pressley was also not expected to play, but Matildas Alanna Kennedy and Emily Van Egmond were both unexpected late scratches due to illness. This meant that 2018 Chicago Red Stars draftee Joanna Boyles made her first ever appearance in the NWSL starting in central defense, and Bridget Callahan made her second in midfield.
In this state the Pride looked a little less than up to the task of containing the Thorns attack, especially in the first half. Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair were given as many opportunities to shoot from the top of the box as they wanted to take, and Ashlyn Harris was forced into four good saves, two of which were legitimate save of the week candidates. Twice in the span of five minutes before halftime, Horan was left in acres of space, twice she drove hard shots low to Harris’ right (nearly in the same place) and twice Harris stretched out to save them. Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic nodded a free header wide of the post from an Ellie Carpenter delivery and shortly after put a shot over the bar from close in after some good work by Sinclair. The Thorns could easily have been up by four.
On the other end of the field the Pride looked almost completely inept for the first 40 minutes. Orlando couldn’t muster a single shot on target in the first half, and when they did get forward it was mostly due to solo runs down the wing from Chioma Ubogagu and Alex Morgan. Emily Sonnett and Katherine Reynolds were active defensively throughout, though, and the team finished the game with six total blocked shots.
Just as the half looked like it would close without any goalmouth action, Ashlyn Harris, who up until then looked solid stopping shots, passed the ball directly to Christine Sinclair with her defense out of position. Sinclair crossed in for Heath, who drew three defenders to her and backheeled a pass to Foord, sending Harris to the floor and leaving Foord with a tap in for her first goal for the Thorns in the 44th minute.
Heath got a goal of her own just after the break, assisted by Foord, in the 49th minute. Sinclair again started the offense, pushing a perfect ball out wide for Foord to chase. Foord’s low cross was just behind Tobin Heath, but no matter—it’s Tobin f*cking Heath, after all—she was able to spin around and backheel the ball into the back of the net past a stranded Harris.
After this stretch Portland was able to play some of their best soccer all game, stringing together passes well and keeping Orlando in their own half, but the Pride eventually worked their way into the game. Alex Morgan rocketed a shot off the underside of the crossbar in the 57th minute that somehow stayed out, and hit the outside of the post in the 66th.
“I think the hard thing for us, and it showed, is that when things get comfortable we can take our foot off, and in this league you can’t do that [...] as soon as we took our foot off, we allowed them back in,” said Parsons, reflecting on the Pride generating better offense in the second half. Even in the offense switching off a bit, Parsons had positives to take from getting to watch his team defend more in the second half: “We showed a lot of great team defending when we went under pressure [...] Kling had one off the line, Sonnett had one off the line and AD [Franch] had a big block save”.
Heath nearly had a second goal after picking up a bad backpass from another Pride debutante, Erin Greening, but her attempted chip over Ashlyn Harris wasn’t very convincing in the end and Harris was able to easily claim it. Orlando saw a lot of the ball to close the game out, but the Thorns defense held up well and ended up limiting Orlando to only two shots on goal.