Analysis

The Avenging

(Part 2 of 3 short match reports for this busy week)

A small-ish crowd of 13,752 showed up on Wednesday night to witness the Thorns lock up a playoff berth with a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Houston Dash.

Unexpectedly, the Dash had been Portland’s nemesis this season posting two shutouts against us: 2-0 in preseason and 3-0 in July in Houston. But this night saw the tables reversed, as the Thorns ran away with the match almost from the opening whistle.

A Quick Recap

Christine Sinclair nearly scored thirty seconds into the match, just missing an open header off a wonderful Kat Reynolds cross. That set the tone for the match. Portland had long spells of possession, completing twenty or more passes in a sequence many times. Houston had a couple moments: two Janine Beckie shots that were just over the crossbar and one ten-minute stretch to open the second half where they maintained consistent possession. Aside from that, this match was about as one-sided as a match between two decent teams could be.

In the 25th, Tobin Heath stepped up to a free kick outside Houston’s box, delivering a great ball that Allie Long chipped over Lydia Williams with a looping header. This was only the first time that the Australian WNT keeper misjudged a threat – she made four such errors and paid for two of them. In the 31st, Sinclair was in alone only to see Williams just get a touch on the attempted chip shot. The rebound came back to Christine who hit the post with her put-back attempt.

In the 65th, Sinclair was frustrated again as her sidefoot tap-in of a Heath cross was saved at the line by a Williams desperation lunge. A more aggressive shot by Christine would have made the score 2-0. No matter as five minutes later another Heath cross was beautifully controlled by Allie Long who then calmly picked out the far post. In the 79th, Hayley Raso had her chance, but didn’t take the open shot from the top of the 18 yard box. Finally, in the 90th Sinclair converted, poking in a loose ball after another Williams miscue on an aerial ball, this time delivered by Meghan Klingenberg.

Thumbs Up!

The Thorns were dominant because every last player made the effort and brought her A game. I am unable to pick a WOTM because the contributions were so widespread and consistent. But if you forced me, I’d go with Allie Long yet again.

Starting from the back, Michelle Betos had a pretty good night, with a positive-to-negative touch ratio of 13:5. This night her distribution was mostly excellent and her long kicks were reaching their target. She had one rough moment in the 84th when she was unable to latch onto the loose ball, but Emily Sonnett was on the spot to sweep clear.

Sonnett was excellent with a 7:1 ratio. She seems to be healed from her Seattle injury, as she was not wearing the facemask. Her partner, Emily Menges, was her usual rock-steady self with a 10:3 ratio. Emily had one scary moment in the 23rd when she pushed forward at the wrong time letting Beckie in behind for the Dash’s best chance of the night. Kat Reynolds also had a 10:3 ratio and delivered several dangerous crosses. Meghan Klingenberg shook off her funk from Sunday posting a 10:5 ratio. She did not get an official assist on Sinclair’s goal, but her set piece kick started the play. She also took some time recently to make this very cool and funny video.

The Thorns midfield was an overabundance of quality all night. Houston could not cope with Amandine Henry (12:2), Allie Long (team-leading, again, 25:3), Tobin Heath (22:4), Nadia Nadim (12:8), or Lindsey Horan (21:3). Even their substitutes did well: Mana Shim (3:0 in 14 minutes), Dagny Brynjarsdottir (1:0 in 7 minutes) and Hayley Raso (8:2 in 26 minutes). Of the group, Horan deserves special notice. Her passing was excellent as she sprung the attack time and again. She has come so close to scoring, so many times, that I keep thinking that she is going to explode and get five goals all at once. Maybe Sunday.

And up front was Christine Sinclair, leading by example, scoring a goal and missing a hat trick by literally a couple inches.

I had a nagging fear of this being a “trap” game for the Thorns. The Thorns underestimated Houston twice previously, and were wearing the unlucky white kits. Perhaps coach Parsons had the same concern. He brought the team out ready to play, made timely and logical substitutions, and set the Thorns up defensively to ensure that league-leading scorer Kealia Ohai, the dangerous Beckie, talented Morgan Brian, and media personality Carly Lloyd had no impact on proceedings.

Thumbs Down!

The other league results mostly went our way on Wednesday. Seattle’s loss to Washington gave us a playoff spot before halftime although a Washington loss would have been better for our aspirations to win the league outright. Chicago lost unexpectedly which removes them from consideration for a home semi-final game. Most surprising was the Boston Breakers drawing our upcoming opponent, the Western New York Flash. My thumbs down award goes to Lynn Williams of the Flash who scored the equalizer for the Flash in the 76th of that match. Had that not happened, the Thorns would have locked up a home playoff match on Wednesday. Now we need one point or better on Sunday to turn the trick.

Hammered Rivets

The smaller than normal crowd did not diminish enthusiasm in the north end. Our new goal celebration chant really caught on in this match after debuting on Sunday. It’s set to the song One Step Beyond by Madness. Recall that Thorns Madness was the theme of our season opening tifo display. The Riveters version has us do short marches of funny-walking east, then west, then east, then west, then a pause to belt out “One Goal Beyond!” or “Two Goals Beyond!” or even, ecstatically, “Three Goals Beyond!”.

The Thorns domination was so complete that some Riveters took to chanting Betos’ name on even the most routine recoveries, since she never had to make a “real” save.

Here are some of the small banners displayed on the north end walls. Look for yet more on Sunday.

Zika?
Zika?

betos

kendall
Thankfully she’s feeling fine now
aussie
Cascadia version of the Australian seal, with Raso ribbon.

franchOur last regular-season home match is Sunday the 11th at 6:30 pm, broadcast on Fox Sports 1. Merritt has announced that the game is sold out, so make sure you get there early for your favorite seat and shorter lines for refreshments. If we secure a result, the Thorns will get one final home game, so lend your voice to help them win. That way we’ll get to do this yet again before the leaves turn.

Richard Hamje

Hander-out of Riveters chant sheets, electric car enthusiast, fan of Thorns, Timbers, Chelsea and only lately, Leicester City.

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6 Comments

  1. Ted Sarvata

    Was it my imagination or were we playing a much higher press than usual? Our midfield and Sinc were all over Houston in their own half, repeatedly stealing the ball or at least disrupting the Dash getting anything going. Our defenders seemed to be holding their line almost at the midfield stripe in the first half. In the second half I noticed Reynolds getting forward as much as Kling and the Emilys following them (not getting forward so much as getting wide), so much so that Betos was able to pass directly forward to Henry or Long quite a bit. What do you make of this?

    1. Richard Hamje Author

      You and I saw the same thing – clearly Parsons had no fear. It was like a flipped version of how we played Seattle in July. 4-5-1 with a very high line.

      Houston’s really only got two fast players, Ohai and Beckie. Neither could outrun any of our back four. Even Reynolds caught up with Ohai in a footrace to the corner once.

      But probably the bigger factor was our possession. Houston was retreating toward their box and unable to disrupt our midfield passing. So we could just keep creeping forward. I think there was a moment around the 70th minute when every Thorn except Betos was across midfield during the run of play. You don’t see that too often!

      I apologize for the short match reports – I plan to return to more in-depth analysis for the next one. But there is just too much happening this week between work, family and RCR tasks, for me to spend the extra time on it. I promise it will be back next time.

    2. Richard Hamje Author

      I should have mentioned that both Menges and Sonnett came far forward a few times. This is something we’ve not seen from them much, especially Sonnett. Menges got burned once – she picked the wrong moment and Beckie got behind. But otherwise it worked and they did a good job of not both getting sucked up too high at the same time. I’ll be surprised if we see as much of this on Sunday – WNYF is a pretty quick team. But Parsons can surprise, can’t he?

  2. fdchief218

    Yep. Nice to get those goals back.

    Completely agree on the midfield (and higher-up) tactics; Parsons clearly instructed the team to press and harass constantly. Here’s what I had as “critical tackles” – tackles that gained possession or broke up a Houston attack, by position:

    F – 1(0)
    AMs – 15(10)
    DMs – 12(6)
    D – 6(3)

    Obviously you’d expect your DMs and defenders to be making stops…but look at the hard work that Horan, Heath, and Nadim (and, later, Raso and Shim) put in. There, to me, is where this win was crafted; high up the pitch. By the time Houston got to our goal – usually (yeah, Em’s 23rd minute derp was not-good…) – they were already ragged and in haste. Ohai without a shot? THAT’s good defending.

    Now…let’s see if we can run the table, and do the same to WNY this weekend…

  3. fdchief218

    Note on the above (since WP won’t let me edit it…) the numbers are: tackles (tackles for gain). So Sinc had one tackle that broke up an attack but she didn’t gain possession. Heath, on the other hand, had four tackles, all of which meant a change of possession…

    Well played, Thorns.

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