(in which the Thorns handily win a friendly and get an unlikely next opponent)
The Thorns hosted the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday for the season finale. The game was decidedly tilted in Portland’s favor even more than the 3-1 score indicated. But since Chicago wasn’t really trying, the win has a somewhat hollow feel. Next week’s semi-final will be a different kettle of fish.
Coach Rory Dames sent out his second string as he was resting the starters for the more important next match. Since Orlando improbably beat North Carolina later in the day, this proved to be the right strategy for Chicago. Now Chicago will face the Courage in the semi-final – a team they have beaten three times this year – rather than their nemesis, the Thorns. But the result also has created a nice matchup for the Thorns who now will host Orlando, who face a cross-country flight to play in a place where they’ve never won.
The Red Stars’ second string showed their quality almost immediately, as backup goalkeeper Michele Dalton gave up an absolute howler of a goal in the second minute. Hayley Raso made a desultory attempt at pressuring Dalton on a routine back pass, only to find the ball delivered perfectly to her feet for the easiest goal she will ever score.
Ten minutes later, more Keystone Kops defense by Chicago delivered the ball to Ashleigh Sykes’ foot near the penalty spot for another easy goal. This was Sykes’ first NWSL goal and her teammates mobbed her in celebration. After the Seattle game, I mentioned a conversation with Ash’s father where he said that once she scores one goal, she will then score ten. Let’s all hope it is five next week and five more the following!
The statistics are not broken down by half, but I would guess that the Thorns had close to 75% possession in the first half (they finished the match with nearly 60%). Dalton faced 23 shots, including eight on target, as the Portland pressure never slowed. In first half stoppage time, Nadia Nadim missed this golden opportunity to salt the game away.
After the halftime break, the Thorns subbed in Allie Long, Tobin Heath and Dagny Brynjarsdottir. This gave Amandine Henry, Meghan Klingenberg and Hayley Raso the rest of the day off. Hayley had been getting fouled constantly and Henry had a yellow card. With the remainder of the starting lineup on the pitch, Coach Parsons declared that if anyone got a yellow card or took a knock, he would pull her out and play with ten rather than lose depth for next week’s semi-final. His resolve was not tested as the second half was uneventful for injuries or discipline.
About ten minutes in, Tobin Heath was sprung in to the Chicago box alone. She took too long setting up her shot and got closed down from behind. This was about the only rust she showed from her long layoff. Rory Dames had seen enough and sent in his big guns Sofia Huerta and, later, Christen Press trying to avoid an embarrassing loss. It worked, as first Huerta hit the crossbar with a wicked shot and then Press beat Lindsey Horan to the rebound and buried a screamer to bring the game back to a one goal margin.
This was Chicago’s only real moment of quality in the entire match but they made it count. After another ten minutes of Portland domination, Allie Long was held in the Chicago box as she tried to leap to head a cross. Nadia Nadim comfortably scored the penalty kick and Riveters sang “Two Goals Beyond” for the second time.
There was no let-off from the Thorns. This lovely sequence in the 87th minute really should have ended with a goal or at least a shot on target. Again, Heath was too fussy setting up her kick and then Christine Sinclair shanked a shot she usually buries.
Ultimately this was a game without consequence for either side. Thorns fans can’t read too much into beating up the Chicago “B” team. And Chicago can feel good about avoiding a shutout/blowout and happy that they get to play the Courage next week. Portland will also be pleased with the result and the coming visit by the Pride. Past results are no guarantee, but they are surely a hint. Who knows? We may face Chicago once more this year, in Orlando with ugly silverware on the line.
Watching the match live, it seemed like nearly every Thorn was having a good day. This is no huge surprise considering the opponent, but no single Thorn seemed to be dominating affairs. But after collecting my positive-to-negative-meaningful-touch statistics, Lindsey Horan stands out as WOTM. Her ratio was 14:5 in the first half, 14:4 in the second – highest on the team for ninety minutes by a wide margin. Her bad moment was getting bullied off the ball by Press for the Chicago goal.
Other players had better numbers, but not for the full game. Amandine Henry posted 16:4 in one half. Dagny Brynjarsdottir had 17:6 in the second half. In Dagny’s case, nearly all of the negatives came early in her shift, including her first four touches. She then settled in and was a force. Of course, Tobin Heath played an excellent 45 minutes (16:2) with only her shooting looking tentative. Hayley Raso went 12:2, scored the opener, and helped set up the second. Meghan Klingenberg was a perfect 14:0 for her half of play which included an excellent defensive sequence near the Portland box when she twice prevented a cross. And Allie Long had a ratio of 10:1 and drew the penalty kick for the third goal.
Among the players who were out there for the full ninety, Christine Sinclair was excellent except when it came time to shoot at the open goal. Her touches were 11:1 in the first and 8:1 in the second. She set up Sykes’ goal with a dangerous cross into the box although the official scorer took away her assist because of an intermediate touch by a Red Star. Her two negatives were both shots that were fairly open chances but far off target.
Ashleigh Sykes has improved with every game. Next year when Henry is gone, Parsons might consider putting Ash in that central defensive midfield spot. In this match, her touch ratio was 16:6 with goal number two to finally open her account in Portland. Nadia Nadim has been getting steadily worse with each game since returning from the Euro’s. She scored the penalty kick, but her passing was poor and she took several low percentage shots when a teammate was open in a better position. Her touch ratio was 9:7 in the first, 6:6 in the second. Could she possibly sit out the semi-final? It seems unlikely but if she plays she’s going to have be a lot better than what she’s showed the last three games.
The core defensive three were solid throughout this game as you would hope when facing a less-than-full-strength offense. Kat Reynolds (12:2) is really coming into her own. Her positioning was excellent, her passes mostly spot-on, and she was never beaten for pace. The wall of Emily was in place with Emily Menges (11:2) and Emily Sonnett (12:2) both solid. Sonnett was even seen in the Chicago box once scrambling for a loose ball and dribbling around a defender.
Finally, Adrianna Franch turned in her now-usual quality performance. She had only three touches in the first half, one of which was a kick out of bounds. In the second, she saw a little more action (5:1) with a save and the Press shot that was unstoppable. Her record for clean sheets ended with eleven, very nearly half the season’s matches.
Any speculation about how Mark Parsons would approach this match were settled when the starting lineups were announced. Paraphrasing, he said that you can’t just turn chemistry on and off – that he wants the team to play at the same high level every week in preparation for the playoffs. While it remains to be seen, at least the team got through the match without any suspensions or injuries. I do have a quibble with his half-time substitutions. Removing Henry who was on a yellow card was obviously correct as was pulling Raso who was being fouled left-and-right. But I might have pulled out Nadim instead of Klingenberg for the third change. Nadia did not have a good first half, or second as it turned out. This would have meant either Lussi or Jordan rather than Brynjarsdottir in the second. But Dagny did well, so no complaints in that regard. It now appears that Parsons has decided the youngsters will not be taking part in the postseason, barring injury.
The home finale is always a special day on the terraces and this was no exception. The game was announced as a sellout although there were many empty seats. People must have bought tickets and then decided not to come. They missed a fun afternoon. The team set a new season attendance record for women’s club soccer – 17,653. This is up several hundred from last year. Overall, the league showed a drop in average attendance despite Portland and North Carolina posting nice gains. Houston faced some serious challenges with two “home” games relocated hundreds of miles due to Hurricane Harvey and two other games hit with long weather delays. Orlando’s inaugural season excitement has worn off and the team’s poor start surely didn’t help. You’d think that having Marta and Morgan as a draw would help, but that’s not proven true. FCKC was the big worry however, as their attendance went off the cliff with no obvious excuses aside from the Portland match with its long weather delay. Could they be saying “We’re not in Kansas anymore” come March?
It was Prom for the Riveters and many folks dressed up for the occasion. There was a photo booth at the fanladen and Ray Terrill made a gif of the results. So fancy!
The Riveters unveiled a large tifo display for the finale – a representation of Multnomah Falls cascading down the stands to the field. Echoing the home opening “Shield Maidens” tifo, the tagline was “Protect this Place”.
You have probably noticed that the capo-stand banner changes game-to-game to match the theme of the match. The banner for this match was in the Forest Service style.
After the rose ceremony the Thorns climbed to the capo stand to celebrate with the Riveters. There were hugs and high-fives all around plus a bit of dancing as the Riveters’ serenade continued. Several players graciously signed autographs and posed for selfies.
A slightly overawed Edie Parsons stood on the stand and led the Riveters in the now-famous postgame huzzahs. The night before the match, Mark Parsons tweeted “Trying to get my daughter to bed. 30 mins of @ThornsFC songs and we have just made it to remix versions. Tiny bit excited for a home game”.
The Riveters’ Player of the Year was awarded to fan favorite Hayley Raso. She held up the big gear and then gave a very short speech (“in English, please!”) thanking everyone for the combined effort. Voting for RPOY was nearly double last year’s participation. Hayley got the nod with 38% of the vote. She joins Emily Menges, Michelle Betos, Vero Boquette, and Karina LeBlanc on this illustrious pedestal.
In post-game TV interviews, the players noted their extra motivation for the coming semi-final match after last year’s heartbreak. One big issue last year was the refereeing as the league assigned a rookie to the biggest match of the year. Nothing was learned as the league has assigned another rookie, Timothy Ford, to this year’s semi-final. He has done a few NASL and USL matches but just one NWSL game (Portland’s only home loss, to Sky Blue). Here was my take in the match report on that game: “Despite the poor refereeing, and Timothy Ford did a generally dreadful job all night…”
The league has three excellent referees, Koraleva, Chesky and Unkel, with a ton of NWSL experience. Why not give them the honor?
Next Saturday is sure to be exciting!
By Richard Hamje
Photo credits to @rayterrill and @wipeout944 for Rose City Riveters SG