Thorns advance to NWSL Championship with 4-1 win over Pride
Portland will face the winner of Sunday's semifinal between the Courage and Red Stars
Portland Thorns FC defender Emily Sonnett celebrates her goal in Portland's 4-1 win over the Orlando Pride in the semifinals of the 2017 NWSL Playoffs. (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/
Portland Thorns FC defender Emily Sonnett celebrates her goal in Portland's 4-1 win over the Orlando Pride in the semifinals of the 2017 NWSL Playoffs. (Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer/

By Katelyn Best

Portland, Oregon — It was redemption for Portland and heartbreak for Orlando, as the Thorns came out ahead in the first of two NWSL semifinal matchups with a 4-1 win over the Pride on Saturday afternoon at Providence Park. The Thorns will head to Orlando next Saturday for the NWSL Championship where they will face the winner of tomorrow’s North Carolina-Chicago matchup.

While this was Orlando’s first-ever playoff berth, Portland was playing a home semifinal for the second year in a row. The Thorns lost at home in the semifinals in 2016 to the Western New York Flash after winning the NWSL Shield.

The match pitted the league’s top offense, led by Alex Morgan and Marta, against its stingiest defense in the Thorns.

“I was so happy to see the performance the players [had],” said Thorns head coach Mark Parsons. “It was a very disciplined performance… We were focused, we were patient, we were hard-working. Sometimes we were a bit heroic making late challenges. What a group and team effort that was.”

Orlando headed into the match missing a key player, as Camila, who has five assists for the Pride this season, tore her ACL last week against North Carolina. The Thorns, meanwhile, had a healthy starting lineup, with midfielder Tobin Heath making her first start of the season after missing most of the 2017 season with a back injury.

Camila’s absence “had a big effect,” according to Orlando Pride head coach Tom Sermanni. “Camila has turned into a world class player this year. In a game like this that’s really tight, I think her ability to produce something in the final third was missing. We missed that today, big time.”

The Thorns opened the scoring in the 12th minute, as Meghan Klingenberg hit a cross from the left edge of the penalty area to Amandine Henry. The French international, playing in her last home game for the Thorns, slid inside the far post to shepherd the ball past Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.

“Kling, she gave a good assist,” said Henry after the mach. “I know her crosses, and her crosses are perfect. I was lucky.”

A mere three minutes later, Emily Sonnett made it 2-0 in favor of the Thorns. Heath took a curving free kick from several yards to the right of the penalty box, and Sonnett got her head on the sharply-angled ball to redirect it into the back of the net.

“It’s great we have Tobin back,” said Sonnett. “She’s on free kicks, and she does an incredible job whipping the ball in with pace. I saw an opening, stuck to my run, and I was lucky to put in a really, really good pass from Tobin.”

In the 23rd minute, Alanna Kennedy got one back for Orlando. Marta tapped a short corner to Chioma Ubogagu. Ubogagu laid it back to Marta, and she popped the ball up to Toni Pressley, who was hovering at the near post. Pressley headed it across the face of goal to Kennedy, and although Thorns goalkeeper Adrianna Franch dove right, the well-placed header sailed past her into the upper-left hand corner of the goal.

Kennedy’s goal shifted the game’s momentum Orlando’s way for most of the rest of the first half, with the Pride pushing hard into the attacking third.

“I thought it kind of did bring us back into the game,” said Kennedy after the match. “Going into the half, we were pretty confident we were going to be able to come back into the game.” After three minutes of stoppage time, the match headed to halftime with the Thorns up 2-1.

In the 66th minute, Icelandic international Dagný Brynjarsdóttir came on for Ashleigh Sykes.

The home crowd of 18,193 exploded in the 71st minute, as Hayley Raso widened the Thorns’ lead to two. Lindsey Horan struck a long pass from behind the center circle over the top of Orlando’s back line, and Raso charged forward to get one-on-one with Harris. Harris was off her line, and Raso hit a decisive strike past her to put Portland up 3-1.

Following Raso’s goal, the momentum swung decisively in the Thorns’ favor. “After 3-1,” said Sermanni, “it was very difficult for us to come back.” Portland’s five-woman defense was able to keep Marta and Morgan in check, ultimately preventing the Pride from getting another shot on goal.

“I think for the most part, especially in the second half,” said Sonnett. “They had pretty good numbers forward. They were down a goal or two. I said it all night… keep sticking to our game plan defensively, limiting their space as much as possible, and it ended up kind of working out.”

In the 73rd minute, the Pride brought Rachel Hill on for Ubogagu, then Jasmyne Spencer for Dani Weatherholt in the 81st. Portland made the next substitution soon after, bringing on Nadia Nadim for Heath.

It didn’t take long for Nadim to make her presence felt, as in the 83rd minute, she charged at Orlando’s defense and hit a lofted diagonal pass toward Christine Sinclair, on the left side of the penalty area. The ball sailed over Kristen Edmonds head, and the Portland captain flicked it to the far post with her right foot.

Henry was issued a yellow card in the 82nd minute for a foul against Kennedy, and Parsons subbed her off several minutes later for Allie Long. In the 89th minute, Orlando used their last substitution, with Danica Evans coming on for Edmonds.

After four minutes of stoppage time, referee Timothy Ford blew the final whistle, and Portland’s trip to the final was sealed.

It was a disappointing result for the Pride, who stayed in the game until well into the second half. “I thought we were the better team for a lot of the game,” said Morgan after the match. “Obviously, the Thorns play well, and executed their chances. I don’t think we got enough opportunities on goal. Our buildup play was good, but obviously they condensed the field, and we weren’t able to break that down as well as we thought we’d be able to.”

All that remains for Portland is tomorrow’s semifinal, which will decide their opponent in the final. “The process,” said Parsons, “is to identify the things we know we can be better at, and start ticking those off… We’ve had really tough, brutal games that haven’t been enjoyable against both, and we’ve had games that felt really good against both. That experience is important, and as soon as that whistle blows and you know, then you dive into the specific detail.”

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