20210526 angela salem orlando pride

It snuck up on us, but after tonight — and after going 308 days without a loss before Sunday — Portland Thorns FC have dropped two in a row. On the heels of a 2-1 defeat at home to OL Reign this weekend, the NWSL Challenge Cup champions fell by the same score tonight in Orlando, with the Pride earning their second win ever against the visiting Thorns.


"We're very good team and we had a very good performance, again," head coach Mark Parsons said. "Lacking some tiny details. Making tiny slips. And [we] still had a performance that deserved more. But we didn't score and Orlando did, so Orlando deserved to win." 


It wasn’t a game where one team was clearly better than the other, though Orlando clearly earned their points. For the Thorns, a giveaway in their own half and quick execution for the Pride saw Portland fall behind early, with Alex Morgan putting the Pride up, 1-0. Before halftime, Natalia Kuikka’s cross found Simone Charley at Orlando’s far post for an equalizer only for the Pride to score through Sydney Leroux 18 seconds into the second half. For the Thorns, two mistakes were the difference in an otherwise strong performance.



"It was them making the most of their opportunities and us not quite making the most of our opportunities," Thorns defender Becky Sauerbrunn offered as her diagnosis. "I don't quite know what the stats broke down to, but it felt like they didn't have as many chances as we did. But obviously, it finished at 2-1.


"Alex's goal, I thought was against the run of play. And to give up a goal at the very beginning of the second half, that's a momentum-shifter."


There’s a term that gets used a lot around the National Basketball Association, but it may also be applicable to what the Thorns went through over the last four days: schedule loss. It’s used whenever the windows get too tight between games, travel means teams can’t recover as well, and the conditions where you play might only compound your problems.

Consider what the Thorns just went through as context for Wednesday’s performance. On Sunday around 6:30 p.m. Pacific, the players started leaving Providence Park. They woke up roughly 10 hours later to get to the airport. Around dawn on Monday, they began a six-hour flight that would cost them three more hours in time zones. Rest was all they could do by the time they got to Orlando. On Tuesday, their practice was devoted to recovery, regeneration and activation, which is to say their session wasn’t much of a practice at all. It was pure maintenance ahead of a 4 p.m. Pacific kickoff at Exploria Stadium.



"There's a lot of other factors, as well ...," Charley explained, laughing slightly while remembering the team's 5:15 a.m. arrival on Monday at Portland International Airport. "That doesn't also take away from us still having to develop as a team and grow throughout the year. [The season is] a marathon, not a sprint."


The harsh part about the term “schedule loss” is the word loss. It can be too self-serving. Everything goes that into a schedule loss is a challenge, but those challenges can be overcome. How close the Thorns came to a result in Orlando hints as much. But that thin margin also made the three-day turnaround from Sunday’s game more impactful. It let a Monday lost to travel loom larger, and it meant a Tuesday devoted to recovering was a factor in the result.


Like Charley, Parsons was asked about Wednesday’s physical factors, he conceded they were relevant. But before doing so, he pointed to the way his team performed. Implicitly, he asked: Did my team look like it was facing a schedule loss?


"If you watched the performance, you would have never guessed we were the away team," Parsons said. "You'd never guessed that we played on Sunday against our rival; never guessed we has a six-hour flight a couple of days ago. We trained in 90-degree heat, took [the players] out of the refrigerator, put them back in ... that's a huge credit to this group ...


"Now clearly, in the defining moments, we showed some mental fatigue. We couldn't finish. We couldn't play the pass. We missed some clearances in the first half that gave them that look for the first goal ... But as a collective, I don't think you would guess that we went through that."

Let’s stay with that perspective. After all, it’d be a bit weird if we spent months talking about depth, depth, depth, and then at the first major test of that depth, we dwelled on things like “schedule loss.” If Portland has good options in reserve, and those options are supposed to be a strength of the team, let’s give them the respect of being judged. No excuses. No caveats. Let’s hold the players who were out accountable for the standard Parsons wants.


Portland rotated out five starters from the team that started on Sunday, but in terms of total shots, the players who were out there bested Orlando, 21-12. Narrow that scope to shots on target, and the Thorns held an 8-3 advantage. Total passes were 428-355 in favor of Portland, leading to a 55-45 edge in possession. A lot of those margins could be explained by the Pride defending a lead for much of the match, but in terms of chances created, control, and ability to move the ball, the numbers hint Portland’s underlying performance was decent.

And when you look at the goals Portland allowed, they fall into a “need to clean this up” category. There wasn’t a hint of a major, persistent problem. The first goal came off a giveaway the Thorns shouldn’t let happen – a giveaway we haven’t been seeing very often. If that becomes a pattern, then there’s a problem. The second goal came off a player’s technical error at a bad point of the field. It was aberrational, even if the goal still counted.


That the Thorns have had back-to-back games where their play hasn’t produced results should make us pause. Ultimately, the scoreboard is all that counts. But when we consider what these performances mean about the Thorns — what we’ve learned about the team that better informs their future — the list of lessons isn’t long. We’ve learned the team can be vulnerable, is still capable of being on the wrong side of results, but is otherwise strong. One of the worst things about this game we love is how often you play well and lose.


There’ll come a time when those cliches have to be overcome. Play well and lose won’t be acceptable in November. Neither will “schedule loss.” But this is May; this is the team’s third game of the regular season. If anything, the biggest loss of the last 72 hours may be the time lost. The circumstances around them meant the team didn’t have a chance to move forward.


"For us, we're just growing as a team. [We're] just solving problems ...," Charley said. "We put our effort in there, but we fell short today. But we'll go again this coming weekend, and we'll get better."




Catch up on everything Thorns vs. Pride:

FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/camera.png
FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/memo.png
FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/mic.png
FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/mic.png
FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/mic.png
FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/memo.png
FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/picture.png
FARLEY | Schedule loss? Thorns evoking different standard after falling in Orlando - https://portland-mp7static.mlsdigital.net/elfinderimages/icons/camera.png