Analysis: Portland Thorns (a). The Pride Suffer Chastening Defeat In The Season Opener.
I love the start of the season. It's the only time of year where you can truly experience pure, unadulterated, unbridled optimism. 'It's going to be our year'. It might still be. Maybe.
Well, the age old adage is that nothing is won on match day 1. Just as nothing is lost. This game was always going to be a daunting task for an Orlando Pride team that is essentially being built from scratch. It's full of youthful exuberance, with a sprinkling of star dust. It lacks, aside from a few individuals, experience, however.
This season is going to be a transitional one for Seb Hines' team. Yes, I am aware that this is our 6th straight transition year, but this time I mean it. It was a rather rude awakening in Oregon, but the good news is we don't have to play the Portland Thorns next week. Thankfully.
The Thorns are a frightening side, and facing the likes of Sophia Smith and Christine Sinclair will have been a chastening experience for some of Seb Hines' young charges. What they have to do is learn from it. They have to put the way they would have felt after that game in a bottle and use it as fuel for the rest of the season. It's hard to look past them for the title.
The game was won and lost in midfield
Simply put, the Thorns just overran the Pride in midfield. Sam Coffey and Hina Sugita both had particularly good games, whereas Mikayla Cluff and Kerry Abello struggled as a double pivot. For me, Cluff needs to be played further forward. The Pride would have been better off starting Jordyn Listro or Haley McCutcheon as the starting 6s, which would have given the Pride a bit more bite in midfield.
In terms of possession, I actually felt like the Pride showed glimpses of being able to possess the ball well; they had a pass success rate of 80% and 51% of the overall possession. The issues came in attack. The Thorns would sit off and allow possession to an extent, but then would press in packs, which led to Pride players being surrounded and ultimately conceding possession. The Thorns are very good at forcing turnovers by crowding out players (figure 1). The Pride needed to figure out a way to play through that a little better.
Figure 1 is a game still from the first half.
It's difficult though, because their press is so well organized. They do a great job of simultaneously putting pressure on the ball, whilst also cutting off all available passing lanes (figure 2). The Thorns are probably one of the best teams in the world at doing this. So, I felt for the Pride players during this game. It was a real baptism of fire for some of them.
Figure 2 is a game still from the second half.
Anna Moorhouse's performance was... Suspect, at best. There's no doubt there's a talented goalkeeper in there somewhere; she's represented the likes of Arsenal, West Ham United and Bordeaux in her career. But she just seems like a bag of nerves for the Pride. Nervousness filters into decision making, which is what we see with the clip in figure 3. Her positioning is horrendous and when Smith takes the ball wide, Moorhouse doesn't attempt to make the save with any real conviction.
Figure 3 is a clip from the first half.
It has to be said, she made good saves during the game. She was also definitely overworked; 15 recoveries, 12 saves, 6 diving saves. With the first goal too, she isn't helped out at all by her defenders, but, as a keeper, she needs to be jumping right back up and making a play for that ball before Morgan Weaver sweeps it home. Now, that may seem hyper critical; there's every chance Weaver scores anyway. But Moorhouse has to give herself a chance there. Sometimes those moments can be difference makers.
Figure 4 is a clip from the first half.
Emily Madril and Caitlin Cosme
*Minor spoilers for The Mandalorian ahead*
I felt sorry for both of them to be honest. The inexperienced pair were well and truly thrown in the deep end against one of the best forward lines in world football. Sophia Smith could win the Balon d'Or this year and we'd all think 'yeah, that checks out'. So, to have both making their debuts for the Pride was risky. I can see the logic, however I'm not sure it was the best approach.
When asked about the decision after the game, Hines said: 'Yeah, I mean they are both making their NWSL debuts and it's a great environment to do it. Playing in front of a big crowd against the champions and you have to put young players in positions where they feel uncomfortable." He went on to explain he feels the two have the potential for a good partnership.
Again, I can see the logic. I just don't think it was the best move against a rampant Thorns attack. Both showed promise and inexperience in equal measure. Their distribution was a bit suspect and they seemed daunted by the prospect of facing off with Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith (who can blame them?). The Thorns are like a battering ram. I was nervous for them. I started to get an unwanted feeling of deja Vu about midway through the first half. I felt like Grogu in this week's episode of The Mandalorian where The Armorer is forging his armour and the pounding of that machine gives him a horrid flashback to Order 66. Except my flashback was Order 6-0 from last season. Sadly Ahmed Best isn't going to come and rescue me (how badass was he?!)
The Brazilian forward was a constant threat and looked to the the Pride's only tangible goal threat. She was unlucky with a second half effort that had Bella Bixby sprawling in the Portland goal. I'm excited to see how she does this season.
Moorhouse -5- Really struggled.
Strom -5- Had a torrid time.
Cosme -5- Difficult afternoon.
Madril -5- Same.
McCutcheon -6- Was run ragged, but made a couple of timely recoveries.
Cluff -6- Needs to play further forward.
Abello -6- Similarly to Cluff, too deep.
Adriana -7- Very lively.
Marta -7- Great to have her back.
Doyle -6- Struggled to get into the game.
Bright -6- No service.
Yates -6- Came in for Marta and got about well.
Bugeja -7- Showed some positive flashes.
Listro -6- Probably should have started.
Orlando Pride head coach Seb Hines
"Obviously we are disappointed with the result and the goals we conceded, but I think there are a lot of positives to take away. We came here and tried to play the right way. We tried to control the game in possession and when you do that there has to be an objective to score and I don’t think we created enough opportunities to score. That is something we will review and look back at with video and ultimately toward going into the season we want to possess to score goals. Credit to Portland, they got us in transition and were very direct and front footed. We will just have to evaluate moving forward.”
*All statistics courtesy of fotmob.com.
Game stills courtesy of CBS Sports and NWSL
Top player and cover image courtesy of Orlando Pride.
Post match media availability and b-roll footage courtesy of Orlando Pride.