Thorns Rose Triumphant

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Orlando Pride defender Alanna Kennedy up against Sinclair, Henry and Horan of the Thorns (Photo Credit: Jeff Wong)

The air was cool, but the atmosphere was super charged as 18,193 fans watched Morgan and Marta’s Pride stopped short by the Portland brick wall that’s made a name for itself as the league’s stingiest defense this season. Whilst Sermanni chose to experiment with Edmonds in hopes of compensating for the missing part of the Pride puzzle, Camila, who was lost to injury last week in the final regular season game against the Courage, Parsons was gifted with a finally fully fit Tobin Heath. His only alteration was where to fit her in, which left Allie Long and Nadia Nadim on the bench.

The Thorns once again settled into the game; possession was held by the Pride for the entire first half. It would prove to be possession without production, often failing to reach any place of threat, and immediately being cleared when it did. Alex Morgan was, unsurprisingly, the first player to the ground; drawing a foul within the first five minutes of the game. A similar foul on the opposite end in the box in the 7th minute against Raso would not be prove to be as productive, although there was nothing of particular note on either challenges. Heath was likewise downed in the box in the 8th minute, but took longer to find her feet, as the North End held their collective breath.

Thorns Amandine Henry celebrates her goal in her last game at Providence Park (Photo by Jeff Wong).

They wouldn’t have to wait much longer. Heath was back on her feet, and not four minutes later, a perfectly placed cross from Klingenberg, whose offensive ability put her back at wing-back, found Amandine Henry, who was able to plant it past an arguably out of position Harris. Headed back to Lyon next season, she dedicated her last home goal for the Thorns to the club with a touch of the crest to the fans.

The red smoke had barely cleared when Raso found herself on the ground once again. This would win the Thorns a free kick, which Heath would curl straight to Emily Sonnett’s head; giving the center-back her fourth of the season. This makes her one of only three NWSL players to ever score in consecutive post seasons, and the only defender to do so. Sonnett wasn’t entirely unmarked, though she proved to be the fleeter of foot.

The Pride pulled one back in the 23rd minute; Kennedy would find herself heading home a goal created from a corner kick that started with a short ball from Marta. This seemed to set them back on their feet for a little bit; in the 29th minute, both Weatherholt and Pressley would find themselves in the position to take a shot, though they were safely blocked. Henry had a shot on goal in the 33rd that Harris would safely collect. The game was very much open when the teams entered the locker rooms at halftime.

However, the second half would silence any thought of that. Whilst the Pride had managed to maintain the majority of possession in the first half, as ineffective as it proved to be, they lost even that in the second half and didn’t manage a single shot on goal. In fact, the Kennedy goal ended up being the only shot on target for the Pride all game; Marta unable to feed her balls through the defense and Morgan unable to get more than one shot off all game, a shot she didn’t manage to get on target.

The Riveters celebrate their team advancing to the NWSL final (Photo by Diego G Diaz).

Indeed, the next shot on goal for either team wouldn’t come until the 71st minute, when a smooth through ball from Horan would see Raso outstrip Krieger and cleanly slot it past Harris, who kept herself closer to goal and was more conservative with her movements than she normally is. Sonnett, clearly hungry for more, would find another shot of hers saved in the 79th minute.

Christine Sinclair would hammer the final nail home in the 82nd minute. The recently subbed on Nadia Nadim, in her last game at Providence Park, sent a clear ball to the open Sinclair, who kept Edmonds on the wrong foot and slotted it past Harris. 

If Sermanni’s comments were meant as a protective method for his players, one could argue it worked; Ford’s refereeing was often ineffectual, but never really threatened to favor the Thorns, who left the match with one more card and eleven more fouls than the Pride. Ford seemed rather reluctant to card anybody on either side for anything at all; when the opportunity arose to card both Edmonds and Horan, for not giving the necessary space for a throw-in, swatting the ball and swatting Edmond in response respectively, he decided that they canceled each other out instead. Luckily enough, both sides remained largely professional in their fouls, though both Kennedy and Heath will have sore faces from errant elbows.

Whilst there’s no denying that Portland plays a physical game, and leads the league in fouls committed, the lack of injury to opposition players suggests that they know when and where the line is. The lack of long term injury caused at Providence Park also speaks against Morgan’s view of the turf, which she said she’d rather not play on, given the chance.

October 7. 2017 – PORTLAND, OR: Portland Thorns defeat Orlando Pride 4-1 during the NWSL semifinals (Photo by Diego G Diaz).

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