(In which the Thorns cannot find the key, so Washington locks up three points)
This is the first brief match report in this busy period of three games in eight days.
For only the second time ever, the Washington Spirit defeated the Portland Thorns. The final score was 1-0 on a Francisca Ordega goal in the 18th minute. The Thorns dominated most of the statistical measures with 63% possession, 80% passing accuracy, eight corner kicks to three, and nearly twice the total passes. For all that, the team never threatened the Spirit net and went out with a whimper, slinking home with nothing to show for their exertions except a wallet full of airline miles.
The match opened with the Spirit in attack mode. This was probably good strategy by Spirit coach Jim Gabarra as it was warm, humid evening that eventually sucked the energy out of all the players. Striking while fresh was smart and it did not take long for the plan to pay off. In the 8th minute, Adrianna Franch made an excellent leaping save on a Havana Solaun shot. The rebound fell to Cheyna Williams who saw her vicious strike blocked out of bounds by Emily Menges.
At the 16:55 mark, Christine Sinclair sent a tame rolling ball toward the Washington goal. This was to be the Thorns only shot on goal in the first half. Two minutes later, a turnover by Allie Long gave the ball to Ordega about 35 yards from goal. She wove through the Portland defense and sent a highlight-reel-worthy blast into the top right corner of the net. Franch had no chance.
Three minutes after this, it was Solaun’s turn to double the advantage as she beat several Thorns and sent a hard shot goalwards. Franch was beaten but the shot hit the righthand post and bounced clear. This was essentially the last action in the match.
On the 33rd minute, Lindsey Horan had a good chance with a header but missed over the bar. On the 59th Sinclair again rolled a slow ball into the waiting arms of Stephanie Labbe for what was the Thorns’ only shot on goal in the second half. In the 83rd minute, Nadia Nadim was fouled in the box by Labbe, a sure penalty, except that Nadim was offside and therefore the play was correctly waved off. You can see Danielle Chesky begin blowing her whistle before the foul occurs.
Washington was widely expected to rival Boston in the race to the Wooden Spoon this year. While that may yet be the case, right now the Spirit is on a roll. They have two home wins and a road draw in their last three matches. The Thorns remain in fourth place but this was dispiriting result. The Thorns now have two consecutive losses, something that’s happened only once before in Mark Parsons’ time in charge. And they looked lost in both games as even the personal heroics of Horan was not enough to inspire them.
My player of the match was Emily Menges. This was something of a homecoming for her as she played her college ball nearby at Georgetown University. Emily’s positive-to-negative meaningful touches ratio was 20:5 and these included several important blocks and interceptions. Without her good work, the scoreline would have been embarrassing. Unusually, Menges was also seen in the attacking half during the run of play, including once that she was nearly to the Washington 18-yard box.
Lindsey Horan had another good match with a 20:7 ratio. In spite of the good work, her passing was slightly off compared to previous matches and she had only one real attempt on goal. Nadia Nadim came on in the second half and the Thorns immediately looked more dangerous. Had she not been offside, she’d have surely drawn a penalty kick which would have salvaged a draw. Her touch ratio was 12:3 for 45 minutes.
That’s the end of the noteworthy performances – as a team the Thorns were mostly tame and, dare I say, boring. Christine Sinclair had a quiet first half and slightly better second to finish 10:6. Meghan Klingenberg was the reverse, with five poor touches in the second half and a match total of 6:7. The midfield duo of Allie Long (6:5) and Amandine Henry (10:5) were ineffective all game long. Nearly all the Portland possession was in the back – the midfield passing was not to the usual standard. Dagny Brynjarsdottir came on late and had five positive touches playing mostly in the back. AD Franch (9:4), Emily Sonnett (9:4) and Celesete Boureille (9:4) were adequate against what proved to be a better-than-average Spirit attack.
Which leaves us our pair of Australians, who did not impress. Ashleigh Sykes started and played the first half. She was nearly invisible with a 5:4 touch ratio. The four bad touches were pretty awful passes to nobody. She’s only two brief run-outs, but I am beginning to suspect that wide play is not her strength. Perhaps Parsons could place her in the middle and let her try to convert service from Sinclair and Klingenberg?
Hayley Raso was an enigma. She had the most touches on the team (22:8). Especially in the second half, she was attacking constantly and rarely dispossessed one-on-one. The Spirit had to double- and even triple-team her in order to take the ball. They seemed willing to do this, leaving the center the of the pitch unguarded. The tactic worked, as Hayley was unable to handle that pressure when it came. Late in the match, Raso finally shook her defenders and was alone at the corner of the six. Rather than take the open shot, she made a blind pass that was picked off. Late in stoppage time, Hayley was pursuing a ball and found the center referee blocking her path. She put on her angry eyes and rather briskly shoved the ref aside, fortunately without immediate consequences. These frustrations summed up Raso’s last month. One has to wonder if the arrival of Sykes is adding some unwanted pressure on Hayley.
This was coach Mark Parsons’ first visit back to his former stomping grounds. There seems to be some bad blood, as he and Jim Gabarra got into a heated discussion after the match. Apparently, the subject was Hayley Raso’s late yellow card, but the subplot may have been Gabarra’s regret at cutting Raso only to see her develop into a real talent with Portland. Parsons portrayed the argument as sticking up for his player.
Aside from the postgame drama, it wasn’t the best outing for Parsons. Tactically, the Thorns were not using the flanks effectively. There were few crosses into the box until late after Dagny entered and the Thorns were desperate. Parsons must have felt that the Thorns were more likely to beat the Sprit with short passes into the box, but it just didn’t work. For the second match in a row, Raso was getting behind but not finding the last pass and not shooting. And for the second match in a row, he left her in to the end without changing the fundamental approach to the attack. Surely, something will need to change to break the current slump, especially the notoriously stingy FCKC defense coming to town this week.
So we remain at the Max Planck level, but with an added dash of handbags.
This match was the Spirit’s Pride Night. For the first time in the team’s history, the club participated in the Pride celebrations. In the past, the effort was strictly by the Spirit Squadron supporter group. This year the Spirit added some sweeteners for the match including a $5 donation per ticket to a local LGBTQ group. It’s refreshing to see.
The prospect of Pride Night celebrations drew a larger than normal crowd of 4,319 which was their highest this season if not quite a sellout. Although the Soccerplex is only 45 minutes from the White House, and surely closer via motorcade, the president was not in attendance. The broadcast did show the Squadron and their welcoming banners several times.
Next up for the Thorns is FC Kansas City at Providence Park on Wednesday evening at 7:00pm. This will be the last home match with Nadia, Amandine, and Dagny. The Euro 2017 tournament starts on July 16; our next home match is North Carolina the day prior. The Euros final is August 6. If Denmark, Iceland and France have good runs, as they are favored to, we won’t be seeing these three for quite some time.
The Riveters matchday drive request is for diapers and other baby supplies – please drop off your donations at the Fanladen before the match. Then on Saturday, July 1, we’re off to Seattle to face the Reign. Busses leave from the Convention Center by the MAX stop at 1:00 pm. There are still a few tickets available. Details here: http://rosecityriveters.org/seattle-away-bus-tickets-and-more/
Here’s hoping we leave June with three points and start July with three more!
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje