The Orlando Pride (0-1-0, 0 points) started their 2023 NWSL campaign with a 4-0 loss to the Portland Thorns (1-0-0, 3 points) at Providence Park. Goals by Morgan Weaver and Sophia Smith gave the hosts a 2-0 lead at halftime and Hina Sugita and Michele Vasconcelos both scored in the second half to put the game away.
Seb Hines’ first lineup as permanent head coach featured Anna Moorhouse in goal in front of a back line of Kylie Strom, Caitlin Cosme, Emily Madril, and Haley McCutcheon. Kerry Abello and Mikayla Cluff played behind an attacking midfield of Adriana, Marta, and Julie Doyle, with rookie Messiah Bright up top. It was Cosme’s first professional appearance and Madril and Adriana’s first NWSL games.
The surprise in the lineup was veteran center back Megan Montefusco on the bench, resulting in the young partnership of Cosme and Madril.
“They’re both making their NWSL debuts and it’s a great environment to do it,” Hines said after the game. “Playing here in front of a big crowd against the champions and you have to put young players in positions where they feel uncomfortable. And I thought they did well. I thought we were good in possession. Again, it’s a lot to learn from playing against the MVP (Smith) of the league. You know, probably one of the best players in the league. Portland were direct in transition. She’s a threat and I thought they dealt with it pretty well.”
Portland controlled the game from the outset with pressure on the Pride’s back line. Especially early in the first half, pressure from Smith and Christine Sinclair forced the young Pride defenders into crucial mistakes that gave the hosts some golden opportunities.
Portland had the first flurry of chances inside the first five minutes. The ball bounced around the box before being deflected out for a Thorns corner. Sinclair got her head to the ball, sending it to the back post where Smith was making a run. The U.S. international got to it first, but hit it into the outside netting.
The Thorns got their second chance of the game in the ninth minute when Crystal Dunn found Weaver on the left side of the field. The forward attempted an ambitious shot, but it was right at Moorhouse, who made the easy save.
The first Pride turnover that nearly resulted in a goal came in the 12th minute when a poor pass from Adriana to Marta gave possession to Smith. The Thorns attacker attempted to dribble through three defenders into the box, but Madril did well to stay in front and Marta tracked back to win it for the Pride.
The hosts opened the scoring in the 16th minute. Dunn used her speed to keep a ball towards the end line in play, immediately playing it back to Sugita. The Japanese midfielder sent a cross into the box for Sinclair, whose second touch was on goal and forced Moorhouse into a great one-handed save. Unfortunately, Madril and McCutcheon didn’t react and allowed Weaver to split the defenders, putting the Thorns up 1-0.
Portland doubled its lead just six minutes later with some poor play in the back by Madril and Cluff. Madril headed the ball forward for the midfielder, who played it back with Sinclair applying pressure. Rather than playing the ball outside, Madril sent it forward and it bounced off Sinclair, allowing her to win possession. She played it back for Smith near the penalty spot and the striker put it off the head of Cosme and into the Pride’s net, making it 2-0.
It looked like the Thorns might’ve made it 3-0 in the 26th minute when Sinclair pressured Cluff near the top of the Pride box and won possession. As Cluff went to the ground, Sinclair chipped the ball past Moorhouse. However, the referee, Eric Tattersall, called the play back for a foul on Sinclair, keeping the deficit at two goals.
Sam Coffey sent Smith long in the 30th minute, putting her behind the Pride back line. The striker took the ball into the box and to the left of goal, attempting to dribble around Moorhouse. Fortunately, her shot hit the outside of the post and went out for a goal kick.
The Pride’s inability to clear in the 34th minute provided Portland with multiple corners. Eventually, the chances provided an opportunity for Kelli Hubly to shoot from the top of the box, but Moorhouse tipped it wide. After another pair of corners, Sinclair headed the ball right at Moorhouse and the Pride were finally able to clear.
The Pride almost had their first good chance in the 37th minute when Adriana found some space and sent the ball in for Doyle. The cross was a little too far for the forward, and it was knocked out for a corner.
After the first corner was cleared out of play, the second found the head of Bright at the back post. The rookie outjumped the defenders for the ball, but it went over the bar for a goal kick. Despite the Pride not getting anything on target during the string of chances, it was the first time the Pride put the Thorns defense under some pressure.
On the other end, Smith used her speed to create some space for a shot on goal, but it was a low attempt right at Moorhouse. That was the last chance of the half as the Thorns took a 2-0 lead into the break.
The Pride ended the first 45 minutes with more possession (57.2%-42.8%), but they didn’t do much with it. Meanwhile, Portland had more shots (14-3), shots on target (7-0), corners (6-3), crosses (15-10), and duels won (24-13).
“At halftime, we felt like we were in this game,” McCutcheon said. “We were doing well in possession but just progressing that into the final third was something that we talked about. And controlling the transition moments, they obviously punished us on transition this game.”
The Pride needed a goal to get back into the game and they probably should’ve had an opportunity in the 47th minute. Adriana carried the ball into the Thorns box and attempted to cut it back. Hubly stuck her foot in to win it back and Adriana went down. However, Tattersall decided there wasn’t enough contact and waved play on.
On the other end, the Thorns extended their lead. The Pride attempted to play the ball out of the back, but Madril let it get too far out in front of her. Weaver tipped it to Smith, who carried the ball into the Pride box. Her shot was blocked by Moorhouse, but it went right in front of goal, where Sugita was charging in, putting it past Moorhouse to make it a 3-0 Thorns lead.
Following a Marta blocked shot in the 53rd minute, Adriana came the closest to scoring of any Pride player. Her shot from the top of the box was on target and close to Thorns goalkeeper Bella Bixby. However, Bixby was shielded by multiple players, making it difficult to see. As a result, it took a diving save to keep the ball out of the net.
The first change for the Pride came in the 54th minute. It was Marta’s first competitive game for the Pride since tearing her ACL exactly a year ago and she admitted prior to the game that she wasn’t 100 percent. The club is taking its time bringing her back to full health, so she was taken off after 54 minutes and replaced by rookie Summer Yates, who made her pro debut.
Bright had her second opportunity on goal in the 58th minute, following a set piece by Adriana. However, the header was the same result as her first attempt, missing the target.
Portland had a dangerous chance in the 60th minute, when a cross into the box was blocked right in front of goal by Moorhouse. It was similar to the Sugita goal, but this time the English goalkeeper was able to jump on it, keeping the deficit at three.
Pushing the other way, Adriana made a long run through the Thorns midfield and took a shot from the top of the box, but it was wide right of the target and no trouble for Bixby. Soon after, the Pride made two more changes, bringing Jordyn Listro and Haley Bugeja on for Cluff and Bright.
Portland found its fourth goal in the 76th minute. It started on the Thorns’ side of the field as some nifty footwork by Sugita left two Pride attackers in the dust. She sent the ball forward for Smith, who took it into the box and sent a low, hard cross in front of goal. McCutcheon allowed second-half substitute Vasconcelos to get goal side, allowing her to reach the ball first. Vasconcelos did well with her first touch, putting it past Moorhouse to make the score 4-0.
The assist was the last action of the game for Smith, who left to a rousing ovation from the large Providence Park crowd. Following a goal and an assist, she was replaced by 2023 NWSL first-round pick Izzy D’Aquila.
Olivia Moultrie, who came on for Dunn in the 63rd minute, nearly made it five for the hosts in the 83rd minute with a curling shot from the top of the box. However, Moorhouse did well to dive to her left, getting her fingertips to the ball and sending it wide of the goal.
Two minutes later, Moorhouse was called into action again when Moultrie shot from distance. Moorhouse blocked the shot, but it went right in front of her for the third time in the game. Rocky Rodriguez took the second attempt from close range, but Moorhouse blocked it again. Fortunately, a foul was called on D’Aquila before a third attempt was taken and the Pride were able to clear.
The Pride had one final attempt to get something from the game in injury time when Doyle took a shot from just inside the box, but it was high and wide. That was the last chance for either team.
The Pride ended the game with more possession (51.4%-48.6%), but were dominated in most other statistical categories. The Thorns had more shots (26-9), shots on goal (16-1), corners (10-7), crosses (25-21), duels won (43-40), and passing accuracy (82.6%-79.8%).
“Obviously we’re disappointed with the result and the goals that we conceded. But I think there’s a lot of positives to take away,” Hines said about the game. “We came here and tried to play the right way. We tried to control the game in possession. And when you do that there has to be an objective to score and I don’t think we created enough opportunities to score. And that’s something that we’ll review and look back in video and ultimately, you know, going into the season we want to possess to score goals. Credit to Portland, they got us on those transitions, very direct, very front-footed. And, you know, again, we just have to evaluate moving forward.”
“Obviously disappointed. You know, everybody wants to start the season off strong and we were more than prepared to do so,” McCutcheon added. “And, you know, this is a tough place to play, but we’re going to keep our heads held high because we came here and tried to play the way we want to play so we’ll be happy with that.”
Hines’ first trip to Portland as the interim head coach last year ended in a 6-0 drubbing. With this 4-0 defeat, he’s now seen his team lose by a combined score of 10-0 at Providence Park. However, Hines is not the only Pride coach to experience this. The Pride are now 1-8-0 all-time in Portland and have been outscored 27-9 in those nine contests.
The team will look to bounce back next Sunday when it welcomes Angel City FC to Exploria Stadium for the Pride’s home opener.