(In which the Thorns show their class outside Oregon, only to get some bad news back home.)
Our Thorns went on the road to play two distant matches against the top two teams in the league. Both outings were excellent with a 1-1 draw at Chicago and then five days later a 2-0 win versus the Western New York Flash. Amandine Henry made her debut. For a few hours, the Thorns basked in first place; we remain unbeaten on the season.
The Chicago Red Stars
The Red Stars were tied for first place when the Thorns showed up at Toyota Park in Bridgeview, Illinois (which has no bridges or views). They also had the second-stingiest defense in the league while Portland was first with only four goals allowed. At the conclusion, nothing had changed but the Thorns came away knowing they were the better team. Since we face Chicago again in Providence Park today (June 22), confidence should be high.
The official stats show that CRS had five shots, but only one on goal. That one went in, compliments of a freakish spin on the ball off the crossbar. The Thorns had six shots, four on goal, of which one went in compliments of a freakish spin off Christine Sinclair’s chest. But I counted a total of five other excellent opportunities for the Thorns that did not result in shots. Chicago did not get a corner kick until the 79th minute.
Overall it was an outstanding team performance and a fine road result even if the Portland partisans can see how it could have been a win.
The best sequence was the goal: a Franch goal kick, Dagny flick-on to Sinclair and into the net as Naeher’s clearance bounced off Christine. But in the 36th, Dagny missed an open header from close range and only two minutes later Horan was barely offside on what would have been a one-on-one. Again in the 80th there was a clean breakaway but the passing broke down and no shot was taken. And right at the end Raso delivered a beautiful ball to Nadim (called Nadine by the announcers) that went wanting.
Western New York Flash
Five days after the Chicago game, the Thorns were in Rochester to face the other first-place team in the league. And also our old friend, Paul Riley, looking his usual dapper self and coaching in his usual damn-the-torpedoes style. Too bad about those damned torpedoes…
If the Thorns were in control in Chicago, we were dominant in Rochester. We nearly scored in the first minute. It was not completely one-way traffic; the Flash had some nice efforts including hitting the crossbar twice and the post once. Franch also made a couple of excellent saves.
To be fair, we were gifted a penalty kick which would make any manufacturer of pillows or toilet paper jealous. But to continue being fair, it was our second tally and did not change the tactics of the match.
Aside from that it was all Thorns, all the time. I counted good and bad meaningful touches for several key players: Henry 7:2, Dagny 7:1, Nadim 14:6, Heath 22:6, Sinclair 12:6, Horan 19:1, Long 23:2. Look at the last two! Those are our two central midfielders and the Flash never dispossessed them. Play like that wins games.
The Thorns got on the plane in first place in the league and still undefeated. Since then, Chicago beat Boston, bumping us back down to second. But we face the Red Stars again on the 22nd at Providence Park and a win there will put us solidly in first. Keep in mind, dear reader, that NWSL’s first playoff tiebreaker is head-to-head record.
In Chicago, Tobin Heath was the WOTM. She had 24 meaningful touches and made good on all but six. I did not even try to count her defensive interventions, which seemed constant to the very last minute. Joining her for honors was the entire back four – there were no miscommunications, no scrambles in the box, no silly turnovers in our defensive third. Not one for the entire match. Chicago’s goal came on a shot from distance which was not wide open. Sometimes stuff happens.
For the Western New York Flash game, you have your choice of three WOTM: Lindsey Horan, Allie Long or Emily Sonnet. Both Horan and Long played virtually flawless games; creating lots of opportunities, allowing none. But I’m going with Sonnett even though I have no statistics to back me up. She simply shut down the Flash’s attack on her side and, as is typical of his stubbornness, Riley had his team bang their head on that wall from start to finish. I’m guessing he saw “college rookie” on the lineup sheet and convinced himself that she’d surely tire or crack eventually. She never did.
In past posts, I’ve been quite critical of Nadia Nadim’s play. In these two matches she was much better. Her good to bad touches ratio was 12:8 versus Chicago and 14:6 in Rochester. She made several fine crosses and was only offside a couple times. This after flying across the Atlantic, playing 120 minutes over two games and scoring twice for Denmark. Here’s hoping that she’s rounded the corner. Now to find the back of the net regularly as a Thorn…
And finally, with two goals in two games, is our captain and all-time favorite Canadian. Excepting maybe Joni Mitchell. But no, I’m kidding – Joni Mitchell never scored a game-winning goal for anyone and Christine now has six for the Thorns. But no, I’m kidding – Christine Sinclair has never written a song anywhere near as good as “Both Sides Now” and probably can’t sing it very well either. But no, I’m kidding – we can love them both equally, right?
It’s hard to be too critical of anyone with a pair of results like this. I do however have two concerns.
Dagny’s finishing. Brynjarsdottir is almost always hovering around the opponent’s goal when things are heating up. But she rarely uses her size to advantage. She sometimes seems oddly polite. I’d like to see an element of ruthlessness and simple brute force from her. You don’t always need to blind them with brilliance when you can bulldoze them with brawn.
Franch’s jumping. Adrianna allowed three balls to hit the crossbar in the two games. All three were within reach, basically right at her. She failed to touch them and they came back into play as dangerous rebounds; one backspun into the net. If I can notice this, you can be sure that Rory Dames or Laura Harvey already have. AD needs to work on that part of her game, which is otherwise stellar.
This is the section in which I normally describe the supporter’s view of the matches. Since there were very few Riveters at either match and the YouTube broadcasts never showed them, there is little to say. I did hear anecdotally that the Chicago supporters were chanting, “We Hate Allie Long”. May they feel it even more strongly on the 22nd, although I bet they change their tune for the Olympics!
The attendance was not great at either match – 3,300 in Chicago and only 2,200 (officially, generously) in Rochester. Each for a first-place team hosting a marquee visitor; you’d think more folks would want to see that.
The Riveters were well-represented at the Pride Parade. Here’s a video shot from within the roughly 200 marchers from TA and RCR.
Unfortunately, all was not unicorns and rainbows in Portland this week.
Some annoying news
The final consignment of magnetometers has arrived at Providence Park. They’re going to try them out on us tonight (June 22) along with new bag-size restrictions. If you have a baby, you’ll need two smaller bags to get in. If you have big panniers on your bicycle, you’re SOL. But hey! You don’t have to take off your shoes.
The club did decide to hold off on the final steps in their masterplan to make us all miserable, postponing until 2017 the replacement of the concession stands with Chili’s Too and Hudson News along with the ban on use of cellphones during the first and last ten minutes of the match and the requirement to stay seated until Christine says it’s okay to move around.
Now you can go the park knowing you’ll have most of the discomforts of flying without the need to actually leave town. For the club, this seems motivated more by a fear of lawsuits than terrorism. But just because the club cannot trust us doesn’t mean we have to be fearful or hateful of each other. Spread the Love.
Some very bad news
The US Soccer Federation made an official announcement of their contempt for women’s club soccer. The Olympics training camp will begin the first of July. This means that the NWSL clubs will be stripped of their star players one day before the biggest holiday weekend matches of the season. One day!
Could Jill Ellis let the women enjoy the holiday weekend, and start camp on July 5? Could she give the NWSL owners an opportunity to fill their stadiums for fireworks and hot dogs? Apparently not. Are our chances of winning the gold medal really enhanced by the extra three days of training? The pure selfishness of this announcement is almost astonishing.
Some terrible, horrible, really rotten news
In the Flash match, Meg Morris started at left back but had to be subbed out in the 21st minute. She fell down about five minutes earlier, not due to any contact, and was unable to continue. You can see the moment in this video, and the trainer attending to her at 19:07 on the game clock (31:40 in the video).
It turns out that Meg broke her hip on that innocuous play. Her season is ended. While she sounds determined on her social media communications, the hip is a serious injury. Obviously this is heartbreaking news for Riveters who have come to love Meg’s game and personality. It’s also bad news for coach Parsons going into the four game stretch without our national team players. Morris was clearly going to feature in these games, and everyone was hoping for the best from her. Now all we can do is hope for the best for her.
by Richard Hamje