With three minutes left in Sunday’s game against Portland, the Pride had a draw within their grasp.
The team had fallen into a 1-0 deficit within the opening two minutes, but battled back against the roaring crowd at Providence Park, carried by a pair of goals from Marta. A rocketing shot from Erin Greening in the 90th minute tied up the game, giving Orlando the chance to take a point off Portland on the road.
But the Pride couldn’t carry the tie for the final three minutes to the final whistle. In the final minute of play, the team ceded a free kick, then a corner kick and left Tyler Lussi open on the back post to send in a header, allowing the Thorns to escape with a 4-3 win. In the aftermath of loss, here are three things we learned from the team’s trip to Portland:
Defensive woes continue to fall on individual mistakes
The Pride’s defense has been its weakest link throughout the season. With a -16 goal differential, the team’s initial concerns were weighted evenly between its lack of scoring and its difficulty in keeping a clean sheet. However, with the team’s offense charged in recent weeks, the team continues to face defensive challenges that stem from mistakes at the individual level.
“It comes down to the simplest tasks,” coach Marc Skinner said. “If we do our jobs the way that we plan all week, then we don’t lose the game. The players as individuals need to take responsibility for that.”
After the team’s loss on Sunday, Skinner expressed frustration over individual mistakes that erased large swaths of positive play. For instance, goalkeeper Haley Kopmeyer made six saves as her defense fended off 20 shots — 11 of which were on frame. In 10 games so far this season, she’s made 47 total saves, second only to Washington keeper Audrey Bledsoe with 49.
But Kopmeyer’s apparent success has been outweighed by crucial mistakes. She made two costly errors in Sunday’s game — botching a pass in the opening minutes to allow an open-goal opportunity and missing the ball when she came off her line in the second half — which both directly resulted in goals.
The final goal reflected this same pattern as well — a hard foul led to a Portland free kick in dangerous space, and an unmarked attacker in the box led to the last-minute go-ahead goal. These individual personnel errors have less to do with defensive tactics, and more to do with individual focus and execution. It’s a problem that Skinner has isolated for weeks, but the coach still struggles to conquer it in gameplay situations.
Offensive bursts create opportunities for opponents to retaliate
Alongside the first and last five minutes of every period, the five minutes after a goal is scored is considered to be the most dangerous moments for a defense. The Pride saw this play out on Sunday, as the team ceded goals as quickly as it scored them during a back-and-forth final third of play.
It seemed that the Thorns always had an answer. Marta scored her first goal, only for Christine Sinclair to net one minutes later. There were only three minutes of play left when Greening powered in her equalizing shot, but Lussi responded almost immediately to escape with the win.
The post-goal breakdown ties into Skinner’s emphasis on eliminating in-the-moment errors that detract from longer periods of sustained defensive play. The Pride has increased its scoring over the past five games, but it is still being outscored, especially in transition periods of play.
“We score, there’s the elation, and then we relax,” Skinner said. “It has to change. I want to see a reaction from the players to dictate the game against Sky Blue.”
Marta blazes on attack after return from World Cup
A highlight for the Pride in recent weeks has been the return of its World Cup players, and none have shone more upon their return than Marta. The forward has played in nine games for the Pride this season, but all four of her goals came after the World Cup. She has scored in all three games since she returned from France.
When she got back to Orlando, Marta refused to take time to transition, asking Skinner to allow her to play in a match against the Chicago Red Stars exactly one week after she had played her final game in France. Marta went on to score the team’s second goal of that game off of a penalty kick, playing a full 90 minutes. She continued to provide that offensive firepower on Sunday, scoring the team’s first two goals to overcome early mistakes.
Skinner says she brings the same level of intensity from her international play to every game and training session with the Pride. Her mobility off the ball is often just as necessary for the Pride, and Skinner says her return has helped to open up the Orlando attack.
“When she’s in training, she’s constantly working on the movements, understanding how to manipulate the opposition, even if they 2-v-1 against her,” Skinner said. “She has this wonderful ability of finding spaces.”