Orlando beats Thorns
The frustration was palpable from the field when the final whistle blew on Saturday and the Portland Thorns were on the short end of a 2-1 score.
The loss to the Orlando Pride was the second in a row at home for a Portland team that hasn't won in five games. But the source of frustration was as much about goals taken away as it was about missed opportunities.
Alex Morgan and Christine Nairn scored early goals for Orlando. Christine Sinclair answered for Portland, but the Thorns had two goals wiped off the board by officials — to the displeasure of 17,115 fans.
The Thorns disputed both of those decisions, and were left with another strong performance that did not produce results.
Portland fell to 2-3-3 (9 points) and outside of a top four spot for the first time this season. Orlando, which won against Portland for the first time in franchise history, is 3-2-3 (12 points).
For the second Saturday in a row, the Thorns took 24 shots and came up short. This time, Portland earned nine corner kicks — converting on one for the lone goal — and enjoyed 55 percent of possession despite not seeing much of the ball in the first 25 minutes.
But the result was a second home loss in a row for the first time since 2014.
"I'm just sad that despite all this amazing work the blows keep coming," Thorns coach Mark Parsons said.
His message to the team after the game was to maintain their positive attitude and stick together.
"We're pretty low right now with how we feel. If we want to look left and right and look down we're not going to find any answers. We've got to look up because that's where the good stuff is," he said.
Portland's best stuff on Saturday came in the second portion of the first half. That's when Sinclair scored her fifth goal of the season with a smashing header off a Tobin Heath corner kick.
That's also when Heath forced Orlando goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris into a pair of saves, when Ellie Carpenter had a bang-bang rebound fly wide and when an Andressinha pass just missed connecting with Mallory Weber.
Weber, it seemed, had put Portland ahead 1-0 with an early rebound finish. But she was ruled offside.
From Orlando's perspective, it was a critical call.
"The game plan was to try to make sure we didn't give anything away early," Pride coach Tom Sermani said. "I think if they had gotten the first goal, then it's very, very difficult to come back here and win."
Instead, as has been the case in most of their games this season, it was the Thorns who were chasing the game.
Morgan converted in the 11th minute after Weber stumbled on a clearing attempt. Ten minutes later, Nairn struck with a half-volley from 30 yards.
The Thorns then shifted formations and became the more proactive team. Two minutes after Narin's goal, Sinclair met Tobin Heath's corner kick solidly from the top of the 6-yard box.
Portland continued to push for and created three excellent chances before halftime.
The breakthrough came in the 48th minute, or so it seemed. Andressinha and Midge Purce worked a quick combination and Andressina delivered a pass into the box for Lindsey Horan. Horan's initial touch was too strong, but Horan stayed after the ball. She and Harris came together, the ball popped loose and Purce put it away.
But, after a moment of confusion, referee Rosendo Mendoza ruled Horan had committed a foul against Harris.
Parsons said he had not seen replays of the disallowed goals but heard that both should have counted.
Harris and Horan — U.S. Women's national team teammates — both spent a few minutes getting looked at by trainers. Less than a minute later, Harris made a strong lunging save on a Heath shot. From then on. Orlando was able to turn away each Portland foray into the penalty area.
Parsons credited the Pride for limiting Portland's chances in the second half.
"Credit to Orlando in the second half," Parsons said. "It's really, really hard to keep us from getting into the areas that we want to when we're flying and were at home — to stop us from creating chances, and Orlando did that. They dealt with our aerial game and they did really well to pick up second balls and disrupt us."
"Sermani knew his side would have to weather pressure to earn a result. After the first 30 minutes, we were under pressure for quite a bit of the game, but we withstood it pretty well," the Pride coach said.
Sinclair said the Thorns won't let recent frustrating results derail them.
"I think besides maybe one game this year we've completely dominated our opponents. The results aren't going our way, but we've just got to keep plugging away," Sinclair said. "I think it would be a lot different if we were playing poorly and still not getting results. sooner or later things are going to change for us. Some of those goals will count and some of our 24 shots will go in."
One bit of good news was that Thorns defender Emily Menges played for the first time this season after recovering from a stress reaction injury. She started at left center back, then shifted to left back with the formation change that followed Orlando second goal. Menges played the first half and was replaced by Kelli Hubly, who has been filling in for Menges all season.
"I feel good," Menges said. "Could have played longer, but probably safe for me to come out when I did. I know it's best for my longevity."
Not in uniform Saturday was left wing back Meghan Klingenberg (personal reasons). Parsons said Klingenberg will be back for next weekend's match at Washington.
Carpenter made her first NWSL start. The 18-year-old Australian played 81 minutes on the left flank and created problems for Orlando with her speed.