The Portland Thorns faced off against first year head coach Seb Hines & the Orlando Pride in their 2023 NWSL season opener at Providence Park. With Hina Sugita being moved to right winger, many fans were curious to see who would line up at as the two midfielders with Sam Coffey. Head Coach Mike Norris opted for Christine Sinclair and Crystal Dunn, leaving Rocky Rodriguez on the bench. After having a resurgent and career year in 2022, Rocky being on the bench shows how deep the Portland Thorns are in midfield.
If there was a David vs Goliath matchup in the NWSL, this would be it. The defending champions facing off against a team in a full rebuild.
There was no chance the Portland Thorns would send the fans home without 3 points. They dominated this game from start to finish to win 4-0.
Portland dominated the early proceedings with Sophia Smith and crew having multiple shots and plenty of them on goal. Hina Sugita listed as the right winger, roamed early on and was playing more of a fourth midfielder. Her role up top will be very flexible and allow her tons of freedom to be herself. The connection between Hina and Dunn showed dividends early on. In the 16th minute, they had a great connection that led to Sinclair shot that was rebounded home by Morgan Weaver.
The Thorns continued to ramp up their press all half and put their foot on the gas too. This team is absolutely ruthless when they sense any sort of weakness.
Sinclair rewarded Mike Norris’ decision to start her in the 22nd when she took the ball to the end line and hit a low cross into the box. That pass found Sophia Smith in stride who emphatically put it home. The Portland thorns were up 2-0 in the first 22 minutes.
We have been hoping Sam Coffey would get back into the USWNT picture because of her ability to “quarterback” the midfield at an elite level. Her playing as a 6 is an experience worth the price of any ticket. Coffey’s has world class awareness, vision, and ball control. That all shown through in the 31st minute, as she hit a pass to Sophia Smith in stride that almost got them a 3-0 lead.
Portland dictated play through midfield and it was evident that the Pride had no answers for it. They struggled to keep possession and create chances. The Thorns were in cruise control and had the game in their hands.
At halftime Portland outshot Orlando 14-2 and had six corner kicks to three for the Pride.
Portland’s preseason performances are a thing of the past. They have been superb from the opening whistle and continuing on here.
After knocking on the door to start the half, they find it early in the 49th minute when Hina Sugita put home a rebound from Sophia Smith to get them the 3-0 lead.
The way this game was being played, 3-0 felt insurmountable with the Thorns looking for more.
The first subs were in the 63rd minute with Michele Vasconcelos on for Morgan Weaver and Olivia Moultrie on for Crystal Dunn.
Head Coach Mike Norris would put on his prized rookie, Izzy D’Aquila in the 77th minute. Reyna Reyes did not see time, but she is being brought back from injury slowly. She made two limited appearances in preseason, but will be ready to contribute when called upon.
Rocky Rodriguez would sub in the 81st minute for Sinclair. This sets up a likelihood of her starting the KC Current match next Saturday, if she is fully healthy. Could we see a timeshare between her and Sincy this season?
Portland outshot Orlando 12-7 in the second half.
The Pride played much better in the second half and created some good chances. Orlando has a lot of young and exciting players who will continue to grow.
Orlando has a long ways to go before they can content for the playoffs or a championship. Under the guidance of new VP/GM Haley Carter and HC Seb Hines, they will get there.
The 4-0 result was a fair result to the game that the Portland Thorns clearly dominated.
2’ Sophia Smith with the backheel to Natu who springs the attack, resulting in Portland’s first corner and consecutive shots by Hina Sugita and Sam Coffey.
3’ Sophia Smith gets on the end of a corner but barely wide of the goal
10’ Crystal Dunn eludes pressure and finds Morgan Weaver for a shot on goal. Dealt with by Moorhouse
11’ Cluff receives a yellow for Orlando
16’ 1-0 Thorns! Sinclair gets off a good shot that Moorhouse can only manage to parry away to the onrushing, rebound finds Weaver who puts it away. This play was built by the amazing connection between Hina and Dunn.
22’ 2-0 Portland! Sinclair gets to the endline and hits a perfectly weighted low cross back into the box to the reigning MVP! Sophia Smith slams it home to double the lead!
31’ Sam Coffey plays the absolutely perfect through ball to Sophia Smith who beats her defender and the goalkeeper, but hits the post on the finish. ALMOST!
35’ Sincy heads the ball back into the box and finds Hubly who nearly puts it away.
38’ Rookie Messiah Bright nearly cuts the lead in half with a header off a well struck cross. Best sequence of the half from Orlando.
45’ Dunn tries to spring the counterattack but gets fouled very hard and somehow doesn’t draw a yellow card.
49’ 3-0! Smith blasts a shot at goal that rebounds to Hina who puts the final touches into goal. HINA HIVE!
51’ Kuikka plays the advantage and finds Hina in the box who lays it off to Dunn. Her shot is deflected, but the Thorns are looking for the finish.
53’ Bella Bixby with the unbelievable save on Adriana’s excellent shot that nearly finds the bottom 90.
63’ The first subs of the night for Portland was Michele Vasconcelos on for Morgan Weaver and Olivia Moultrie on for Crystal Dunn.
70’ Yellow card issued to Julie Doyle. She is going to be a very good player in this league. Doyle plays the game with no fear, speed, and a physicality that is insanely difficult to match.
71’ Yellow card issued to Seb Hines
72’ Yellow card issued to Caitlyn Cosme who had to foul Sophia Smith who put a beautiful backheel and turn on her.
76’ 4-0 Smith with the assist! She dribbles past a few defenders in the box and finds Michele Vasconcelos for the finish!
77’ Izzy D’Aquila makes her NWSL regular season debut replacing Sophia Smith, who is on her way to a repeat MVP season. Meaghan Nally who scored the game winner in the opening preseason game subbed in for last year’s iron woman, Kelli Hubly. Nally has been an exceptional teammate and shined last year when given minutes.
81’ Rocky Rodriguez in for Christine Sinclair.
83’ Olivia Moultrie nearly hits the upper 90! She is a special, special player.
85’ Izzy D’Aquila wins the header off the corner and nearly steers it in for a goal. Her aerial presence is going to pay dividends this year.
86’ Olivia Moultrie with another beautiful shot on goal but is pushed back by Moorhouse. Rocky tries to clean up the rebound, but the keeper comes up big again.
90’+ Julie Doyle puts a shot over the bar, but she has been a handful this half.
90’+3 Game ends with Portland winning 4-0. Good start to the season! Congrats to Mike Norris on his first head coaching win.
Player(s) of the Match:
- Sophia Smith - Wreaked havoc all game long. If it wasn’t obvious by winning the MVP, she is the best player in NWSL. She scored a goal and recorded an assist.
- Backline - Had little work to do, but they shut down any attack that came their way
The Thorns will continue their campaign on Saturday April 1, in a rematch of the NWSL championship at Children’s Mercy Park as they travel to take on the Kansas City Current at 9:50 a.m. PT.