Thorns FC withstand early barrage, seize crucial points with win in Orlando

It looked like a flipped switch, the way Portland Thorns FC came out of halftime against the Orlando Pride.

Surviving a 10-minute barrage to open the match, the visitors managed to reach intermission on even footing, having kept the game scoreless. After a goal through Lindsey Horan in the 47th minute followed by a Hayley Raso strike in the 53rd not only delivered the team’s 2-0 victory at Orlando City Stadium, it provided a counterpoint to that initial, ultimately innocuous first 10 minutes, when the Pride seemed to do no wrong.

“They came out, and for the first 10 minutes, I don’t know what [Orlando] ate before the game, but they came out and hit us really hard, and we just couldn’t get out,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said, from Orlando. “Then we really took over about half-way through the first half. We just lacked quality.”

In that sense, the contrast between periods is an illusion. Most of us on the periphery might remember this game as a tale of two halves, but in actuality, the Thorns had stabilized by the midpoint of the first period, coming closest to goal before intermission when Raso nailed Ashlyn Harris’ left upright.

Come the break – and thanks to some small tweaks to the team’s approach – the Thorns had all they needed to turn the game, one that resulted in the team’s fourth win in five.

“In the second half, it was very clear,” Parsons explained. “I think we all felt the same feeling. The game is there. There is space on the pitch, and our quality can take over this game …

“We identified they were giving us a bit too much space on our right wing, and if we made them stop that, we’d get Tobin (Heath) back into the game. We just came flying out of the gate in the second half – a massive first 10 minutes – then we continued to drive on.”

That drive helped limit the Pride to four shots in the second half, only one of which came from inside the 18-yard box. On one, though – Emily Van Egmond’s 63rd minute chance from near the spot – the team needed Adrianna Franch to come up big to preserve their two-goal lead, just as Franch had come up big over-and-over again in those first 10 minutes, continuously disrupting Orlando’s crosses.

“While everyone earned the clean sheet, holy cow, AD stepped up, again,” Parsons said, echoing the sentiments he had a week ago in North Carolina. “Just big time. A couple two or three moments, there, where she shows her quality and class and keeps us there, and keeps us on the front foot.”

It all led to a win which, mathematically, the team didn’t have to have, but in the wake of a loss in North Carolina that demanded the team get back on track, a multi-goal victory over a fellow playoff-contender righted Portland’s course. Misgivings will be had about how the Thorns started the match, but ultimately, this was a game on the road against a good, talented team. It came as the group spent their ninth day in a row away from home, all the while knowing the emotional importance of Saturday’s result.

“It was incredibly important …,” Parsons conceded. “That was a massive team performance, collective performance. My words after the game were, `You showed lots of heart, and then you ended up showing some swagger.’”

Swagger on the first goal, Horan’s league-leading 11th of the season – another tally that portrayed her as a near-impossible person to mark on dead balls.

Swagger on the second goal, as Raso carried the ball beyond Orlando’s last line, picking out a right-post shot reminiscent of her finish against the Pride in last year’s NWSL semifinal.

Swagger that the Thorns, again, are starting to look like themselves. And as a result, Portland not only climbs over Orlando in the NWSL standings but clinches the season tiebreaker between the two teams, sitting third ahead of a return home for showdown against Sam Kerr and the Chicago Red Stars (Aug. 18).

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