(in which the Thorns play half a game but still get an entire result)
Portland hosted the last-place Washington Spirit in the second match of a three game homestand. The Thorns came from behind to win 2-1. The result left the Spirit in the league’s last spot but Portland moved up to third. As has been the case far too often, the Thorns play up to a strong opponent one week, and down to a weak one the next.
Portland started the match in a hyper-conservative formation of five in the back, with an attitude to match. The first 45 minutes were about as listless a performance as we’ve seen from the Thorns. It wasn’t until 2:36 that we had the first completed forward pass by a Thorns player. At 5:13, the teams’ second positive play ended with a Tyler Lussi “shot” that was 70 feet wide. The third Thorns’ attack came at 25:03 and yielded no shot. At 28:45, the fourth ended with a good shot that was blocked. The fifth and final attempt came at 44:25, ending with Lussi near the Spirit goalpost heading the ball to nobody.
If you thought the game was dragging, it wasn’t your imagination! The numbers bear it out. Kat Reynolds, playing as the third centerback on the right side, did not complete a forward pass until 30:40. That’s half an hour of passing sideways and backwards! I counted every meaningful touch, i.e. not backwards or sideways, taken by a Thorn in this match. There are 80 in the first half, 186 for the entire game, or 41% of all the passes attempted by the Thorns. For comparison, versus North Carolina it was 57% meaningful attempts, versus Houston 61%, and in a loss to Seattle 55%. For whatever reason, the team simply was happy to just pass the ball back-and-forth in the defensive half of the pitch. Perhaps they were banking on a Spirit own goal?
If the Thorns were disinterested, the Spirit weren’t much better. They had one good scoring chance early in the half and didn’t threaten again. The effort and save look routine in the replay.
After 45 minutes of this misery, on a pretty steamy evening, everyone was ready for a change in the second half.
The Thorns heeded coach Parsons’ halftime wakeup call with four attacks on the Spirit goal in the first five minutes to open the second half. But it was Washington who scored first in the 58th minute. Mallory Pugh, who might have been a Thorn, beat Meghan Klingenberg on a ball toward the corner. Kat Reynolds tried to clear the cross but her kick caromed off the goalpost, ricocheted off her ankle, and barely rolled over the line. Officially, Havana Solaun was credited for a final touch as the ball crossed the line but it was going in regardless.
The Thorns replied with more pressure. About a minute after play resumed, Portland had a corner kick which Allie Long headed off the crossbar. A minute after that, Long was fouled about 45 yards from goal. Emily Sonnett sent a free kick to the far corner of the Spirit’s six-yard box where Tyler Lussi waited. Lussi headed the ball across the box and Allie Long was there to side-foot it into the far side netting. Stephanie Labbé in goal for the Spirit had no chance as she raced to her left post, then her right, only to see the final shot go back to her left.
The Thorns kept the heat turned up. A few minutes after the goal, Adrianna Franch made an outstanding distribution that sprung Hayley Raso but she was unable to convert. Three minutes later it was Long’s turn again as she made a hard shot that missed the target. In the 77th minute, Lindsey Horan was leading a four-on-two breakaway. She decided to shoot from distance, sending the ball into the stands. Ninety seconds later, Horan was again leading the team forward. This time she passed out to the wing where Ashleigh Sykes was faced off against Caprice Dydasco. A great touch took Sykes past the defender and she sent a square ball (the good type of sideways pass) right down the line of the six-yard-box. Mallory Weber was crashing the net and had a simple tap-in to score.
The Portland pressure continued. In the 83rd, Sonnett had a free kick nearly identical to the one Long scored on. This time, a Spirit player got her head to the ball first, but she glanced it toward her own goal where Long was lurking. Remarkably, Long was called offside on this play. You can’t be offside on a pass made by a defender.
After this, the Thorns went into lock-down mode. For two entire minutes — from 85:00 to 87:00 – the trio of Weber, Raso and Klingenberg kept the ball in the northwest corner of the pitch. However, the Spirit had some fight left in them and managed to get off one last good shot late. Mallory Pugh elbowed Klingenberg in the eye battling for the ball and then unleashed a hard shot that Franch leapt high to save.
Had the Thorns started the match with the intensity we saw at the end, the evening probably would have been much less stressful. But once again, they didn’t. We had to gnaw our nails for ninety minutes as the Thorns failed to dispatch a not-very-threatening opponent. All’s well that ends well, right?
There were no obvious WOTM candidates, and several WOTM candidates. No player dominated proceedings, yet several had very good matches: Emily Sonnett, Christine Sinclair, Lindsey Horan, and Allie Long. By virtue of opening the scoring, my WOTM was Allie Long. Her positive-to-negative meaningful touch ratio was 16:3, tilted mostly to the second half. Aside from the numbers, Allie’s determination was obvious. There were several challenges where it was clear that she was not going to come off second-best, nor was she going to apologize.
Lindsey Horan was in “beast mode” again in the second half. This is becoming predictable with her, to the point that coming out of the tunnel I can almost visualize her with big green muscles. Her touch ratio was 7:1 in the first half but 17:1 in the second. Similarly, Christine Sinclair’s second half (13:0) outshone her first (8:1).
While the midfield struggled, the back line largely stood firm. Adrianna Franch made two good saves, one in each half. Her touch ratio was 11:8. Aside from the saves, AD also made one outstanding throw out of her box a good 40 yards to the feet of Hayley Raso. She was up for an assist on the play, but Raso couldn’t convert.
On the flip side, AD also made three rotten distributions, two of which led to Washington shots and one bizarre one that, fortunately, simply bounced back to her hands.
Emily Sonnett was the rock in defense this match. Her touch ratio was 11:0 as she literally never put a foot wrong and delivered several excellent free kicks, one for the opener. Normally, it’s her partner Emily Menges with the spotless work in back. While Menges was good (10:5) this was not her best performance.
Meghan Klingenberg had the unenviable task of marking Mallory Pugh. She did a mostly good job but was beaten to the end line twice, once for the Spirit goal. Klingenberg’s touch ratio was 12:5. Meghan also delivered the night’s quota of six corner kicks and all but one were well-placed.
The front three of Ashleigh Sykes, Tyler Lussi, and Hayley Raso struggled early but ultimately were rewarded. Sykes (12:4) earned her first point in NWSL with her assist on the game winning goal. She also contributed defensively shutting down the attack on Washington’s left. None of the Spirit’s goal chances came from that side. Lussi (10:6) also earned her first NWSL and professional point for her assist on the opening goal by Allie Long. It was an appropriate reward for the one Thorn who played energetically from the opening whistle. While Raso (11:3) did not score or assist, she had many chances. Her pace prevented the Spirit from pushing too many players forward – the one time they did (for a freekick) she nearly burned them for a goal.
It was really pleasing to see Kat Reynolds back on the pitch. She looked predictably rusty with a 6:3 touch ratio. She had a LOT more touches than that, but she was playing a very conservative style from the opening whistle. Her most popular pass was back to the keeper. Of course, she was also victimized on the Spirit goal. I suspect that Parsons asked her to play it safe – he knew she’d be a bit off. I also suspect that he picked this game for her re-introduction specifically because of the weak opposition. If you’re going to insert a player who is a potential liability, it’s smart to do it in a game you’d expect to win regardless.
The player possibly hard done by is Celeste Boureille. She got 15 minutes in this match with a 1:1 touch ratio. There was nothing evident in her play or body language to indicate how she felt about losing her starting spot.
Both Mallory Weber and Kelli Hubly has touch ratios of 2:0 for their few minutes on the pitch. But one of Weber’s was extra-special – her first professional goal after 1½ years with the team, and the game-winner. Perhaps with her duck finally broken, goals will now flow.
It’s hard to know what to make of Mark Parsons’ performance in this match. On the one hand, it was a win, and a comeback win at that. The mandatory three points were obtained. On the other hand, the Thorns played down to a clearly inferior opponent and started the match lethargically. Both have been hallmarks of this team in 2017 – worrying hallmarks. This was a match that could have, and maybe should have, been over at halftime. Something like 3-0. But then again, the team is missing a bunch of quality players to injury and the Euros. A win’s a win thank-you-very-much. And so, we remain Aristotelian with a sigh of relief and perhaps the tiniest wisp of fear.
Attendance at this match was 18,478 which pushed the season average to 16,704. If we meet or exceed that attendance for the next match, we’ll break our own record for season average with four home games remaining. It was a lovely evening if a bit warm. The Spirit Squadron had a few representatives in section 223, presumably mostly local folks hailing from the DC area.
The Riveters did the normal singing but for quite a while it felt perhaps … ritualistic. Almost as if the players are going through the motions on the pitch and the fans were doing the same on the terraces. Later in the match, as the action on the field heated up, the chanting grew in volume. By the time the first goal was scored, it finally started to feel like a proper match.
The post-match celebration diverged from the norm slightly. Edie Parsons was not there to walk the lap with Kling. Presumably it was after her bedtime. There is at least one benefit of noon start times – the kids can play after. Connie Valeri also wasn’t there – most likely she was in Vancouver with her folks.
After Allie Long received her rose, she also received a pony-ride from Christine Sinclair. She even did her post-game interview with Ann Schatz from her perch on her captain’s back. Incidentally, this says something for Christine’s physical strength – she never even quivered! Then it was Mallory Weber’s turn to be interviewed while Sonnett and Horan video-bombed her. Obviously, the Thorns don’t take themselves too seriously.
For the second week in a row, we were blessed with decent refereeing. I noticed only two debatable calls: one offside ruling that proved to be inconsequential, and the no-call on Pugh in the closing minutes. Had Pugh scored after fouling, the tone would be a lot different but in fairness it’s hard to see the contact even on the replay. All-in-all it was like a cool shower on a sticky day – refreshing but you know you’re going to be hot again real soon.
The Thorns have a week off for the FIFA break, with the next match at 12:30 on Saturday August 5. Over the break is the Tournament of Nations (ToN) – US Soccer friendlies from which they hope to harvest a ToN of cash. Three Thorns have been called up to play: Long and Horan for the USA, and Raso for Australia. The last match is August 3 in Los Angeles, so all three may be available for the Houston match in Portland on the 5th.
Iceland have been eliminated from the Euro 2017 tourney. Once they play out their group stage versus Austria on Wednesday August 26 at 11:45 am on ESPN3, Dagny Brynjarsdottir will be free to return to Portland. France and Amandine Henry play Switzerland at that same time, needing a draw to go through. Denmark, and Nadia Nadim, are already in the quarter finals where they will face
the higher seed of Germany or Sweden on Saturday August 29.
So now we face the prospect of two weeks without Thorns football. Time to take care of some summer chores? I know my garden needs some TLC. See you in August!
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje