The return of star forward Alex Morgan wasn’t enough to spark the Orlando Pride’s attack.
Three games into the season, the Pride certainly need a spark.
Orlando scored an early goal to snatch its first lead of the season, but couldn’t keep the Portland Thorns from finding the back of the net on a cold, rainy Sunday evening at Providence Park in Portland, Ore. The Thorns continued their unbeaten run against the Pride, dropping the still-shorthanded visitors 2-1 in front of an announced crowd of 16,466.
The Thorns are unbeaten against the Pride, and Orlando (0-2-1, 1 point) is still searching for its first win of the 2018 season. The Pride also are waiting for five international players to return to the club, including Brazilian star Marta.
“It was the type of game we expected over here,” Pride coach Tom Sermanni said. “We knew Portland played. How tough it was going to be and it was exactly that. We did well for spells. We were under pressure for spells. I thought we finished strongly, as well.”
Early on, it looked like Orlando’s offensive woes were behind them. Christine Nairn created a golden early chance with a steal and pass into the penalty area, and Chioma Ubogagu’s finish put Orlando up 1-0 over the defending NWSL champions in the 20th minute.
Nairn took away a pass from Thorns defender Emily Sonnet that was meant for midfielder Lindsey Horan.
It was the first goal for the Pride in 2018 that wasn’t scored from the penalty spot. It was also an example of the Pride creating a finishing a quality chance – something Sermanni and the club’s players said was a focus during the bye week.
“That was part of the game plan that worked,” Sermanni said with a laugh. He added the club was a bit cautious after that first goal and should have built some more momentum.
Including Sunday’s goal, the Pride have two goals through three matches.
Kristen Edmonds nearly doubled the Pride’s lead in the 27th minute, but her shot from just inside the top of the penalty area bounced off the bottom of the crossbar.
Morgan, playing in her first game for the Pride since the season opener on March 24, had just one shot – it was on frame – against the Thorns. She came into Sunday’s match fresh off scoring four goals for the United States women’s national team in two friendlies against Mexico.
“There were two things in relation to that,” Sermanni said about Morgan’s lack of chances. “One, is how well they defend. Secondly, we never, at times, produced enough quality to bring her into the game or to give her the kind of service that would have made her a little more effective.”
The Thorns, like the Pride, did their damage in the first half. Portland equalized off a stunner from distance off the left foot of Lindsay Horan in the 28th minute.
“A terrific shot,” Sermanni said. “The frustrating thing with that is a minute earlier, we hit the underside of the crossbar and could easily could have been 2-nil up.”
Horan then provided the assist on the goal that ended up being the game-winner.
Horan sent a cross into the penalty area from the left side and it dropped right in front of Christine Sinclair, who was fending off Nairn. It was easy enough for Sinclair to tap the ball in and give the Thorns a one-goal advantage.
“We didn’t make them work hard enough to score goals and they’re the kind of team that make it extremely hard to score against them,” Sermanni said. “That was probably the kind of disappointing part of the whole game.”
Portland generated a few quality chances throughout the match. Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris had six saves, three of them were diving stops, to keep the Thorns from scoring more.
Next, the Pride play the Houston Dash in Orlando City Stadium. That match is at 5 p.m. on Sunday.
“We’re in exactly the same position as we were last year,” Sermanni said. “We’ve got five or six players to come back to the team. We’ve shown that we’re more than competitive. We’ve just got to take that step from being competitive to actually getting wins or draws from these kinds of games.
“There’s no panic. We were in a very similar position last year at the start of the season.”