Orlando Pride coach Tom Sermanni couldn’t be his usual upbeat self after Saturday’s loss to the Portland Thorns.
He tried. The coach tried to inject some humor where he could. But the disappointment over Saturday night’s loss, during which the Pride struggled to start the second half, colored every answer he gave during his post-match news conference.
For the second consecutive week, he was perplexed after watching his club for 90 minutes.
With a chance to create some separation between themselves and the other teams vying for the three remaining NWSL playoff spots, the Pride came up short.
Orlando (8-7-6, 30 points) started strong but fell 2-0 to the Portland Thorns (9-6-5, 32 points) after giving up two quick goals in the second half on Saturday in front of an announced crowd of 6,012 at Orlando City Stadium.
“Somebody must have drugged them at halftime,” Sermanni said when asked what was the difference between the two halves. “Did somebody put something in the water at halftime? That’s probably all I can think [of].
“I wish I knew. I really wish I knew. I thought by the end of the first half the game was nicely balanced. We knew it was going to be tight and then … just suddenly, there’s two goals. … You think, ‘Well where did those two goals suddenly come from?’ I honestly, genuinely, I do not know the answer.”
Sermanni wasn’t done.
“I know that we’ve got a whole lot of perceived star players,” Sermanni said, throwing his hands in the air when he said “perceived.”
“To be honest, the second half was abysmal in every regard.”
It was the best crowd for a Pride match in Orlando City Stadium since more than 9,000 people showed up for Orlando’s season opener.
“I apologize to the crowd for coming out and keeping supporting us because our team on the field didn’t deserve that support in the second half,” Sermanni said.
“I didn’t see anything in that second half to really give me much cheer.”
The Orlando Pride’s playoff chances — at least for now — rest in the hands of other clubs.
With the loss, the Pride fall to fourth place in the NWSL table and must hope the Chicago Red Stars fall on Wednesday to the Seattle Reign, or Sermanni’s crew will drop out of the playoff picture. Even if the Red Stars lose, they’ll still have one more game left to play than the Pride.
After Wednesday’s match, the Red Stars will have four matches remaining this season, while the Pride have just three.
A fairly even match between Orlando and Portland Saturday gave way to a dominant second half from the Thorns.
“This is the path we’ve chosen,” Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris said. “We’ve got to deal with it and we’ve got to move on.”
Portland opened the scoring in the 47th minute off a short corner. Forward Tobin Heath quickly played the ball in, received it back and crossed it from the left side of the penalty area. The ball bounced once inside the six-yard box before midfielder Lindsey Horan got her foot on it a tapped it in.
Six minutes later, the Thorns doubled their lead.
Sinclair won a ball in the air, heading it to striker Ana Maria Crnogorcevic, who headed it to Hayley Raso. The winger received the ball and blew by centerbacks Toni Pressley and Alanna Kennedy before beating Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris in the 53rd minute.
Portland enjoyed 64 percent of the possession in the second half and fired 12 shots (two of which were on target). Sermanni said the Pride were lucky to come away with a 2-0 loss.
Orlando got off to a promising start.
The Pride — as usual — came out firing and won four corners within the first 10 minutes of the match. The early push continued through the 15th minute, but then the Pride started to wilt and the Thorns found their footing when Orlando didn’t open the scoring.
“I think the first half, we were really committed to the game plan and our commitment to forward and our commitment to defend was some of the best I’ve ever seen,” Harris said. “The unfortunate part about the game is if you don’t produce and you don’t put chances away, this is what happens.
“We had them by the throat probably the first 10 minutes and we just didn’t capitalize. As we let the game wear on and wear on and wear on, the momentum clearly shifts and we had one lack of concentration and it cost us the game and we just mentally crumbled.”
The first half turned after a bad back pass from Kennedy. Raso pounced on the weak pass, but didn’t take advantage of the one-on-one with Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
Raso put her shot off the post – the first of two attempts from Raso to hit the woodwork. Still, it was a sign of things to come for the Thorns, who ended the half with 57.7 percent of the possession and five shots.
The Pride return to action on Saturday against the first-place North Carolina Courage. The Pride are 0-2-0 against the Courage so far this season, and lost 3-0 at home to North Carolina at the end of June when the two clubs last faced each other.