Thorns vs. Pride: The Good, The Bad, and The Historic

Well when you try to cover 3 teams with one person, things are bound to slip a little. Sorry for being late with the recap of the Orlando Pride season opener, but I've been crazy busy the past couple of days and am just now getting around to putting my notes together for a post. 

The Pride played their first match in club history on Sunday night in Portland at Providence Park, the stadium shared by Portland Thorns and their MLS Counterparts the Portland Timbers. Even though the Pride are an expansion team, there are a lot of common threads between the two clubs, including several Pride players that used to play for the Thorns ( including Alex Morgan, Kaylen Kyle, and Steph Catley), and the fact that both clubs are affiliated with and share stadiums with MLS teams.

This is a model that is not uncommon across the NWSL, with 30% of the teams sharing stadiums and affiliations with MLS sides, and it could be one of the things that is helping the league enjoy more success than previous iterations of women's professional soccer leagues in the USA. The announcers were pointing out that even though 2016 marks only the fourth year of NWSL existence, that is longer than any of the previous women's leagues have lasted.

I am calling my third section of these recaps "historic," since I'm pretty sure almost every match this season is going to feature some kind of first for the club, and I'll try to keep track of that as the year rolls along.

The Good

  • Disciplined Play - From the start, the Pride showed a nice compact shape, and they spent the first few minutes of the match seeming to gauge and assess the quality of the Thorn attack. While the Pride seemed content to spend the first few minutes on their own side of midfield, there were not many times it felt like they were in danger of conceding a goal early, except when the always dangerous Tobin Heath was serving up set pieces or creeping in toward the six-yard box on passes back to netminder Ashlyn Harris.
  • Steph Catley - You can tell Steph Catley likes playing in Providence Park as she took the first free kick awarded to the Pride from ten yards outside the 18-yard box. In the ninth minute she sent a laser blast that hit the crossbar in the upper left corner of the Thorns net. Unfortunately the ball bounced off the top of the bar, but it came back down in play and Alex Morgan was there to try to head the ball in for a goal, but there was a whistle for a foul or offside, resulting in a goal kick for Portland. But it didn't take long for her to find the back of the net. In the 12th minute a second free kick by Catley just outside the right edge of the box resulted in a score. It was registered as an unassisted goal, but the ball bent past a diving Michelle Betos (GK) as well as Alex Morgan and several other Portland players.
  • Opportunistic Offense - The Catley free kick seemed to light a spark in the Pride offense, because they began playing a very smothering style that made it very hard for the Thorns to get the ball out of their own end. That assertive play led to the second free kick opportunity and Catley's goal, putting Orlando out to the early lead.
  • Powerful Play - Both Portland and Orlando exemplify one of the reasons I really enjoy watching women's soccer: I don't feel like I'm watching a different game from the men's game. From the speed of play to the skilled footwork, the power of the shots and the fact that the players are not afraid of making sliding tackles and physical challenges for possession of the ball, there is the same sizzle and excitement watching the beautiful game, no matter who is playing. 

The Bad

  • Dagny Brynjarsdottir - Well, truth be told, she's only bad if you're rooting for the other team. If you're a Portland fan, you've got to be pretty darn proud of having this Icelandic export on your squad. In the 25th minute she put Portland on the board by burying a laser shot in the roof of the Orlando net off of a nice pass in from Tobin Heath.
  • Shinguards Optional? - It's an unusual detail I noticed, but on replays it looked to me like several of the Portland players (including Tobin Heath) were not wearing full-length stockings and didn't have any shin guards. I'm not sure what the rules are in the NWSL regarding equipment, but it seems to me like this would be a potential health risk to the players if they are allowed to be on the pitch without this protection. Whether an opponent (or a teammate) means to do it or not, getting caught by the cleats in the legs is never something that feels pleasant.

The Historic

  • First Pride Starting XI - The first starting lineup for Tom Sermanni's side featured Ashlyn Harris in goal, with Josee Belanger, Laura Alleway, Monica, and Steph Catley as defenders; Becky Edwards, Kaylyn Kyle, and Maddy Evans as midfielders; and Kristen Edmonds, Alex Morgan, and Jasmyn Spencer at forwards.
  • First Caution - The first yellow card in club history was issued to Laura Alleway in the 79th minute for a reckless foul.
  • First Pride Goal - Steph Catley goes down on the score sheet with the first goal in the history of the club.
  • First Substitute - Lianne Sanderson was the first substitute in Pride history, coming in at the 61st minute to relieve Becky Edwards.
  • First Loss - unfortunately the match resulted in the first loss in club history, as the Pride fell to Portland by the score of 2 - 1. In my match preview I said I wasn't sure how much fans should make of the preseason victories over college teams across the state, and that was apparently a good note of caution on my part. Of course I also couldn't help myself from predicting a victory, so it also represented my first incorrect prediction in terms of result.
  • First Watch Party - I have joined The Crown supporters group and I attended the watch party at Graffiti Junktion on Church Street on Sunday night. I had the great pleasure of sitting with Justina and Nicole from the QueensCast podcast, along with several other friends. I'm happy to report there were a lot of my friends who have season tickets for Orlando City's MLS side that attended the party to support the launch of the new club. 

What about you? What were some of the things that you found intriguing or interesting about the match? Did you attend the watch party, or better yet--did you travel to Portland for the match? Let me know in the comments below!