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Franch sets shutout mark but scoreless draw leaves Thorns, Pride less than satisfied

Adrianna Franch set a league record and the Pride inched to the brink of a playoff berth, but Saturday afternoon’s 0-0 draw in front of the largest crowd in Orlando since opening day left both sides less than satisfied. The Pride, who were 90 seconds from clinching two weeks ago before the Reign equalized, are now a sure thing to be in unless the Reign make up the now six-point deficit while overturning a goal difference of 7. The Thorns all but relinquished their hold on the Shield which the Courage can now clinch with a win in any of their final three matches.

Key players from both sides had seen international action during the FIFA break including some from both sides that had been in Australia for the Matildas two-game series against Brazil. The fatigue was evident, never more so than in the 50th minute when Steph Catley had to come off with what the club reported as a precaution for knee pain. Marta went the full 90 and created one of the Pride’s best chances when she served a perfect set piece that Emily Menges won for the Thorns, but the Brazilian was clearly not at her best on the day.

The best chance to score for either side came on 40 minutes when Ashleigh Sykes was played through for a clear chance against Pride keeper Ashlyn Harris. Syke’s shot was saved by Harris’s outstretched leg and then cleared from squirting over the line by Monica.

At the hour mark, Mark Parsons went to his bench and produced Tobin Heath for her 2017 NWSL debut. The 2016 Best XI midfielder had been out of commission after emerging from the SheBelieves Cup in March with a bad back. Heath’s first minutes since were last week for the United States against New Zealand.

Franch kept her 11th clean sheet of the season, breaking Nicole Barnhart’s mark established in 2013. This will mark the first season Barnhart does not finish with at least a share of the league lead in shutouts.

The Thorns (13-5-5, 44 pts) return home to finish the regular season next Saturday against the Chicago Red Stars. A week later they will host a semifinal, quite possibly against the Red Stars again. The Pride (10-6-7, 37 pts) are in North Carolina next Saturday which could also serve as a semifinal preview.

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