The Orlando Pride fought from behind to tie the Portland Thorns only to fall 4-3 in the final seconds of play at Providence Park Sunday.
The Pride dug themselves into a deficit in the opening minutes of the match. Keeper Haley Kopmeyer took a minute to hover in the box with the ball, dribbling back and forth and directing her team. But when she wound up to take her kick, Thorns forward Haley Raso read it immediately, deflecting the ball and putting it directly back into the open net.
“Your aim is to quiet a crowd when there’s quite a lot of them,” coach Marc Skinner said. “The way that you do that is to make sure they don’t get chances. So that first goal … it rattled us. Then our players started to not think and to panic.”
Skinner started the game in a booth above the field, a tactic he also employed during the team’s 3-2 victory at home over Washington last week. That position didn’t last long, however, and Skinner made his way back down to the sideline quickly after the team ceded its opening goal.
The second half saw both sides open up offensively, with six goals ultimately scored between the two teams.
Another miscue by the Pride backline gave the Thorns a second opportunity on goal in the 58th minute. Kopmeyer came out to punch away an arcing cross, but her backline didn’t hear their keeper calling for the ball. When the ball deflected off an Orlando defender, Midge Purce was there to collect it, heading the ball into the empty net.
The second half quickly became a knockout fight between the team’s two international stars — Marta for the Pride and Christine Sinclair for the Thorns.
Marta struck first, capitalizing on a deflected ball outside the top of the box in the 61st minute. The forward pounced immediately, rocketing the shot to net the team’s first goal of the game, cutting the lead to 2-1.
Sinclair responded less than 10 minutes later, collecting a deflection in the Pride box and slotting it cleanly into the left corner of the box, just beyond the reach of Kopmeyer. The goal gave the Thorns a 3-1 lead, but that only lasted two minutes as Marta drove up the left flank and powered in a shot that chipped off of Emily Menges and arced into the net. The two goals gave Marta five total this season, making her the team leader in goals scored.
“She’s brilliant,” Skinner said of Marta. “You see the beautiful bits in the game, but when she’s in training, she’s constantly working. She has this wonderful ability of finding spaces and she cares more than you’d ever know. Every single time she steps on the field, she cares. The superlatives just continue to go for her.”
With the lead cut to 3-2, the two teams played evenly from end to end throughout the final 15 minutes of the game. After struggling to find chances in the first half, the Pride outshot the Thorns 9-7 in the second half. Rookie Erin Greening seemed to have broken the game open in stoppage time, when she ripped a shot off a bouncing ball from the top of the box, leveling the score with only three minutes of stoppage time left.
But Portland responded in full force, pushing Orlando back in the final minutes of play. With only seconds remaining in stoppage time, Portland earned a corner kick. Meghan Klingenberg curled it into the box and Tyler Lussi broke free of her defender to head the ball into the corner of the net, preserving a 4-3 home win for Portland.
“It’s just not good enough defending, it’s really that simple,” Skinner said. “A professional player does their job, and their job is to stay with their player. It comes down to the simplest tasks.”
The game’s end result reflected a pattern that Skinner has noted over the past weeks, as his team has found increased offensive success but failed to defend its own goal. At -16, Orlando has the largest negative goal differential in the NWSL, with the Houston Dash and Sky Blue coming next at -6. While the Pride has improved its scoring recently, netting 13 goals over the past five games, it continues to cede often on individual errors.
For Skinner, these defensive struggles only serve to make his team’s offensive promise more frustrating.
“I think we’re a team that in the future will take a Portland team to pieces,” Skinner said. “We have the ability to beat teams, to score goals. Once we shore up the defense and we stop making individual errors, we’ll win games of football even in these arenas.”