Written by John Stupak
It was an historic night on a picturesque evening at Providence Park. The Portland Thorns took on the Orlando Pride on Sunday night and helped usher in the fourth year of the NWSL, the first time a top-tier women’s professional soccer league has successfully survived past year three.
The match against the expansion Pride also featured the return of Alex Morgan to Portland, the face of the Thorns organization for the first three years of their existence, as well as former Thorns Lianne Sanderson and Steph Catley. For many, Morgan was the Thorns; her name represented on the back of many young fans’ replica Thorns jerseys over the last few years. To see her in a different uniform was an odd sight, but she was welcomed back with enthusiastic but shortened cheers from the 16,000 in attendance. When the PA announcer was introducing the Pride, I was expecting Morgan’s name to be announced last to allow the fans a moment of appreciation, but she was introduced near the middle and like any other opposing player. For what she gave to Portland, it seemed like a bit of a slight. Alas, it was still a night of celebration and homecomings that marked the beginning of a new era for the Thorns.
As for the match, it was Steph Catley haunting Portland early with the first goal for the Orlando orginization, sneaking a free kick past Thorns keeper Michelle Betos in the 12thminute. The Thorns responded with a goal from Dagny Brynjarsdottir, whose name I will never try to pronounce in public, in the 25th minute, assisted by a nice cross from Tobin Heath.
Betos, last year’s NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year winner and owner of her own SportsCenter Top 10 play, didn’t allow the first goal to phase her, keeping the Pride in check the rest of the game, including a save of a near for sure goal by Orlando’s Jasmyne Spencer in the first half. Betos was solid all game and displayed the type of goalkeeping that was proving last year was no fluke.
The game got physical at times as the Thorns weren’t afraid to show Morgan that she was now on the opposing side. Dagny received a yellow card as the first 45 minutes came to a close for running into Pride goalkeeper Ashlyn Harris.
The Thorns almost got a gift to begin the second half, but Harris made a leaping save to block Nadia Nadim’s kick off an errant pass near the Pride’s own goal. The Thorns then thought they had the go-ahead goal from Allie Long in the 51st minute, but it was called back due to an offsides call. However, Lindsey Horan did provide the go-ahead goal in the 82nd minute when she found herself alone in the box and booted in what would become the game winning goal as the Thorns wound up winning 2-1.
It was a solid victory for the Thorns to open up this fourth year of the NWSL. New head coach Mark Parsons should have plenty of reasons to see a bright future for this team if the new talent can come together with some of the more familiar faces.
As for Morgan, she looked healthy again. She had moments where she displayed her trademark speed and kicking strength that had been absent the last two seasons in Portland. That, along with the victory over the Pride, should make Thorns fans happy.