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Orlando Pride chase elusive road win over Portland Thorns

Orlando Pride forward Alex Morgan, left, and her teammates are chasing an elusive win over the Portland Thorns. (Aileen Perilla/Orlando Sentinel)

The history between the Orlando Pride and the Portland Thorns includes more than just a disappointing 2017 NWSL semifinal showing for the Pride.

Yes, a 4-1 loss at Providence Park last season in front of a crowd of 18,193 means the Pride are looking for some revenge after a bitter end to the 2017 season. But the Thorns have been the antagonist in the Pride’s NWSL story since Orlando’s inaugural game in 2016.

The Pride’s first NWSL game was a 2-1 loss to the Thorns. Overall, the Pride are 0-4-1 against the Thorns, including playoff games.

Orlando coach Tom Sermanni wants to reverse the narrative Sunday. The Pride (0-1-1, 1 point), looking for their first win of the 2018 season, hit Providence Park for a 6 p.m. match against the Thorns (1-1-0, 3 points), who are coming off a 3-2 win over the Chicago Red Stars.

“It’s one of those teams that we need to sort of break that rhythm of not getting a result against them,” Sermanni said about the Thorns.

“It’s strange because they are a team that, particularly in our games out there, we’ve played well for large parts of the game and we just don’t seem to be able to get over the line. That goes from our very inaugural game in 2016 to the semifinal game last year. I felt for a large, large part of the game, we were the better team, but we just don’t seem to be able to get over the line against them.

“That’s something we’ll need to do this weekend and we’ll need to try to plan and execute the plan accordingly. I think we have the players to do it. If we do it well enough, I think we can win the game.”

The Pride are still without several players due to international duty, but Sermanni said the players remaining should be able to get the job done. Star forward Alex Morgan, fresh off scoring four goals in two international friendlies against Mexico, is back. So is center back Shelina Zadorsky, who was with Canada’s women’s national team.

“That’s a challenge with our team with so many quality international players,” Zadorsky said. “I feel welcome here. There’s no problem off the field, so I think on the field, that’ll come. I think we’re seeing progression and hopefully we take that into Portland this weekend.”

The Brazilian trio of Marta, Mônica and Poliana won’t be back until near the end of April. The same goes for Australians Emily van Egmond and Alanna Kennedy.

Orlando’s attack has been a bit disjointed to start the season. The Pride have just one goal through their first two matches, and that was a penalty kick converted by Marta. With Morgan and Marta missing time, Sermanni turned to Rachel Hill, Sydney Leroux and Chioma Ubogagu to create and finish chances.

None of them have found the back of the net yet. And Hill is battling a groin strain, which leaves her availability for Sunday’s match in doubt.

“It’s early season and we’re looking a little bit like an early-season team that’s not quite up to match speed yet,” Sermanni said. “I’m hoping that in time and a few more games under their belt, we have such potent strikers that we’re eventually going to score goals.”

The Thorns have dealt with problems of their own this season. Midfielder Tobin Heath is still out as she recovers from ankle surgery and coach Mark Parsons has come under fire following an incident after the club’s March 24 match against the North Carolina Courage.

The Professional Soccer Referees Association earlier this week released a statement saying Parsons “squeezed a hidden clump of dirt and grass” into the hands of an official when going to shake hands with the referees after the match.

Parsons was originally suspended two matches — the second match was supposed to be against Orlando — and fined an undisclosed amount after the incident. The NWSL rescinded the second match of the suspension after an appeal from Portland. The PSRA’s statement rebuked Parsons and criticized the NWSL for its handling of the incident.

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