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Bolstered by recent scoring, Orlando Pride face road test against Portland Thorns

The team travels to Portland to face off against the Thorns on Sunday in the first ESPN-broadcasted game of the season.

Orlando Pride midfielder Joanna Boyles, left, controls the ball under pressure from Portland Thorns forward Caitlin Foord on April 14, 2019. (Jeremy Reper/ISI Photos)

SANFORD, Fla. — After securing their second win of the year, the Orlando Pride take on their most challenging road trip of the season this weekend — a matchup in Portland on Sunday.

The past month has seen Orlando ignite on the offensive end, scoring 10 goals during four games. The attacking surge has been led by strikers Marta and Chioma Ubogagu, who have three goals apiece to lead the team in scoring. All of the goals came in the past three games.

This recent scoring flurry propelled the Pride to a 2-1-1 record during its past four games, marking a distinct turnaround after a slow start to the season. For the players, the recent results are a reflection of the team’s increased confidence under first-year coach Marc Skinner.

“With a new coach coming in, it always takes time,” midfielder Emily van Egmond said. “I think you can now see the principles that Marc’s trying to implement coming into play. The last couple of games we’ve been scoring goals, and I think you can see that building.”

Portland has scored the second-most goals (19) in the National Women’s Soccer League this season, led by Midge Purce with five. The Thorns have been bolstered by the return of international players Caitlin Foord and Christine Sinclair, both of whom have tallied three goals and an assist despite missing several weeks of league play while competing in the World Cup.

The Thorns are a particularly wide team, often employing a 3-5-2 lineup with midfielders stretching the field in order to create openings to score. Fending off this width will be a focus for Skinner, who says that his team will need to pick their moments to attack carefully in order to avoid the Thorns’ ability to counter.

“We know what Portland are going to throw at us,” Skinner said. “I think we can get through them and I think we can score goals, but we’ve got to take the same confidence in. We’ve got to go in there knowing we can score goals and quiet the crowd.”

When it comes to stadium experiences, Portland is second to none in the NWSL. The Thorns have drawn an average of 18,000 fans per game so far this season, pulling more than 19,000 to last week’s rivalry match against Seattle without the presence of American stars Tobin Heath and Lindsey Horan. The Utah Royals, which rank second in attendance so far this season, draw an average of 10,790 fans.

Sunday’s game will be Skinner’s first on the road against Portland, and he recognizes the challenge of taking on the Thorns’ home field advantage.

“Portland is more of a cauldron of a place to travel [to],” Skinner said. “I think you’ve got to be really good to get a result there, so we have to be consistent.”

The match will also mark the first of the season to be broadcast on television through the league’s new partnership with ESPN. The game will be available on ESPNews and ESPN+, with play-by-play commentary by Jenn Hilldreth and Dalen Cuff.

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