(In which the 2017 season gets an auspicious start)
The Thorns started the new season with an attractive win over the Orlando Pride, the league started the new season with new media partners, and the Riveters started the new season with a display worthy of the team’s ambitions.
The opening statement
The Thorns won 2-0, scoring a goal in each half. The score hints at a level of dominance that was not there for much of the match. Especially in the first half, the Thorns made some silly errors in the back. Orlando lacked the quality to punish these mistakes.
Mallory Weber got the game off to a quick start, attacking the Pride box and forcing a save within seconds of the whistle. Orlando never could cope with Weber’s quickness as she got behind the defense several times. Her cross just missed by Nadim was a work of art. When Hayley Raso replaced Weber after an hour, she enjoyed the same success. Ultimately however, it was not speed that killed Orlando but wile; nobody mistakes Christine Sinclair for a rabbit these days.
The first goal was a clear penalty for a handball on Alanna Kennedy as she tried to deal with Sinclair on the edge of the Orlando six-yard box. Nadim buried the PK. But some scary moments occurred before Portland got the lead.
Five minutes later, Emily Sonnett had a moment of insanity and rolled a slow pass across the Thorns box about 12 yards from goal. Franch did well to save the resulting Spencer shot.
In the 42nd minute, another adventure in dribbling by Franch led to a turnover just outside the box. Franch fouled Chioma Ubogagu to prevent the shot and was fortunate not to be carded or sent off.
Aside from these heart-in-throat moments, the team also struggled to move the ball out of the back on more routine plays. The Thorns were fortunate to host Orlando sans Marta and Morgan – a high press by those two would have surely resulted in goals. The Thorns were playing a 3-6-1 formation with Allie Long as the middle centerback. It was a variation of the defense used versus the USWNT U-23’s in preseason. In that preseason match Long rotated with Henry dynamically throughout the game. It was not a success. Parsons apparently simplified things for the season opener.
In the first half, the Thorns favored their left side moving the ball forward. Klingenberg and Weber had 18 meaningful touches combined, while Boureille and Nadim had only seven on the right. The team’s best chances also come from Klingenberg, who missed with a good look in the 20th, and Weber who had multiple chances saved.
The closing argument
The second half started much as the first ended, except the attacking side tended more to the Thorns right. Klingenberg with Weber / Raso had 14 meaningful touches while Boureille with Nadim / Morris had nineteen. Incidentally, Orlando favored their right side heavily for the entire 90 minutes.
The Thorns also were much steadier in the back in the second half. I have a feeling that Parsons was not kind to Sonnett and Franch in the locker room.
In the 68th minute, the game broke open. On her very first foray to the halfway line in the entire match, Allie Long intercepted a pass, shrugged off a would-be tackler and slotted a perfect pass to Christine Sinclair for the simple finish.
Orlando tried to get back in the game after conceding the second but this just left them more exposed. Long netted the ball twice in the next 15 minutes on passes from Sinclair, but was offside both times. And she had a near miss on a third chance. Raso had a couple more looks and Meg Morris had one.
Both of Long’s offside calls were correct. Danielle Chesky’s crew did a good job officiating with only one dubious foul (for Orlando) called, one (on Long) not called, and one card not given to Franch.
The league announced a partnership with OPTA for statistics on the matches this year and this scribe was thrilled. No more stepping through the match one minute at a time counting touches. Ha! Player-level game stats are either not included in NWSL’s package, or are not offered to the general public. So the old way remains the only way. But enough whining – here are the results:
Four Thorns had essentially perfect outings with zero negative meaningful touches: Menges (9:0), Sinclair (17:0), Long (19:0), and Henry (20:0). Raso (7:0) and Morris (5:0) were also flawless, albeit for only a third of the match. Both Raso and Morris get a ding for touches they did not make – it was them and not Long who should have been on the end of those Sinclair feeds. Presumably the more experienced forwards would be better at staying onside. But neither of them was in the neighborhood of goal on those plays.
Two side notes: Even though it was a fairly warm day, Menges did not roll her sleeves up. “Sun’s out, guns out”, Emily. In a preseason interview, Allie was asked if she was going to put her husband’s name on her kit. She replied, “Wait and see.” Well we waited and we saw – it’s Long.
There are strong arguments for Sinclair as WOTM, given her goal and “assist” for the penalty. Also Allie Long for her assist, three near-goals, and general great defense. But my WOTM was Amandine Henry. Playing central midfield she spent ninety minutes breaking up Orlando attacks and springing Portland runners. It’s hard to fathom playing such a key role for so long with no mistakes.
Celeste Boureille put in a fine shift (12:3), especially in the second half. Mallory Weber had a great first half (10:1), but flagged in the second with only one touch each way. Nadia Nadim had her usual decent outing (9:3) as did Lindsey Horan (10:3). Mana Shim (3:2) was energetic and had a very good chance on goal.
That leaves Emily Sonnett (5:3) who had a rough first half but a better second. She had many more touches than I recorded, most of them very short passes back and forth with Long and Menges, but not many passes that started an attack.
And finally, we have AD Franch (21:4). She made some excellent saves. Her goal kicks and punts were long and accurate with only one miss all game. But the four bad touches included three doozies that a better opponent could have netted. Call me skeptical, but we didn’t see these mistakes last year with Betos, or in the Houston preseason match with Eckerstrom. Coach Angerer has some work to do.
Mark Parsons’ initial genius rating will need to wait for a better test. Orlando is clearly weak beer without Marta and Morgan – their midfield was passive and their strikers were poor. Also agitating against a genius rating is Parsons’ handling of Allie Long. I simply do not understand the desire to put Long in the back line. Look at when the game opened up in the Thorns favor – it was the exact instant that Allie Long crossed the midfield line for the first time. We scored one goal and nearly had three more. Why not play that way from the first minute? Especially when you have Henry to play the defensive midfield. Was he trying to lull Orlando to sleep and then pounce? Did he owe Henry an offensive outing? Is he punishing Long? Does he have a crush on Jill Ellis?
The genius test will not have long to wait – the Thorns go to Raleigh to face the Western New York Flash Carolina Courage and Paul Riley. A result there will be a true statement to the league about the Thorns intentions for 2017. Get three points and there will be a picture of a famous smart person in this space next week.
There was a lot of news from the league recently, nearly all good. First was the announced participation by A+E Networks which includes the season-long Game of the Week on Lifetime, digital coverage, and an undisclosed payment/investment in the league. For the first televised match, the quality was significantly improved over Fox Sports last year:
- The match and season was heavily promoted on A+E affiliated networks
- The picture quality on Lifetime is outstanding, at least comparable to FIFA World Cup broadcasts
- The announcing crew was professional, well-prepared, analytical yet occasionally light-hearted. The exception was the sideline guy, who contributed little. The coach interviews were strangely short and formulaic
- The surprise (to me, at least) appearance of Julie Foudy was welcomed. She is so knowledgeable and relatable
- The TV rating was 82k for the match. For reference, last year’s home opener versus Orlando had 120,000 views on YouTube while the home closer against the Flash had only 11,000.
- You need the latest version of the app – the bloatware version that may have come with your phone doesn’t work
- With a good smartphone and either an HDMI adapter or Chromecast dongle, the feed produced an excellent quality picture when pushed to a television
- Go90 is mobile only. With only a computer, live games are not available to US users
- Highlights of the non-TV games were available on nwslsoccer.com almost immediately
- But full archived replays are supposed to be delayed 48 hours on nwslsoccer.com. It took a bit longer than that, but they are available without signin, free.
I saw varying reviews of using a VPN such as TunnelBear or Opera to convince nwslsoccer.com that you’re in Canada and therefore are allowed to watch the match live on your computer.
- It worked well for several folks
- For others the feed ranged from choppy to unwatchable
- A person who actually lives in Canada reported the feed was slow and poorer quality than last year’s YouTube broadcasts
We can only hope the situation smoothes out before next weekend’s non-TV game. If you’re headed to a bar, you may want to check on their preparedness.
The 2017 league season was expanded back to 24 games after two years of 20-game seasons. It’s still not enough football but at least we’ll have more than last year.
Perhaps the biggest news in the offseason was the settling of the Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between US Soccer and the players. Both sides profess to be very pleased. As part of the CBA, the league minimum salary was raised more than 100% to $15,000. This is a living, if non-spectacular, wage for a half-year’s work. Players who go to Australia in the offseason could do fairly well for themselves on a 12-month basis.
The league does not have a commissioner. Jeff Plush left a few weeks ago. His lieutenant, Amanda Duffy, was referred to as “NWSL Representative” – not “Acting Commissioner” – when giving Christine the NWSL Shield.
Speaking of which, Christine Sinclair collected the NWSL Shield in the pregame ceremony. She briefly showed it to the Riveters as the permanent banner was unveiled in the north end rafters. It will now take up its home in the trophy case on the south wall inside the gate 4 entrance.
The Riveters unveiled a number of new “toys” for 2017 including a new song (based on Pitbull’s Bon, Bon, Bon), two new scarves, a cool “fifth” themed shirt honoring the 5th season, a joint Riveters/Timbers Army matchday drive for charity, and a splendid tifo.
The tifo was probably the most complex display ever done in the north end, with 154 unique elements, and was also the first net lift for the Riveters. The theme was shields, in honor of the team’s 2016 achievement and 2017 ambition.
In addition to the large banners, the crowd held up 150 hand-drawn shields created by several dozen folks over the past two weeks. Some shields were messages of support for “whom we wish to protect” such as PBS, refugees, the disabled, math and science, bicycling, forests, and more. Other depict elements native to the players’ countries like the Danish flag, le coq gaulois of the French Football Federation, a maple leaf, even the fearsome Australian drop bear. There were lots of pop culture icons such as “Beaker” from the Muppets, a dual-shield portal, “Hello Kitty”, and “Where’s Waldo”. And also some beautiful abstract designs drawn from Norse and Northwest Native cultures, and even a Jackson Pollock knock-off.
Many Riveters contributed ideas and time to the shields. A particularly intriguing group was a family of three visiting from New York City. They took a few hours out of their vacation to come to our dingy warehouse and paint five shields. And they weren’t even here for the match, although they apparently did see one of their shields on TV. Soccer truly is a global family!
Your author is hosting a free prediction game for all Thorns matches this year. You are welcome to play and it’s all just for fun. Find Reading the PTFC Leaves in Stumptown Footy’s Fanpost section and add a comment to enter. http://www.stumptownfooty.com/fanposts
There’s nothing like winning, especially on a brilliantly lovely day, to make a supporter feel good. The vibe in the stands was mellow and upbeat from the moment the gates opened. Everyone seemed in a fine mood that only got better as the game progressed. With a fresh start is the renewed belief that anything can happen. As excellent as the 2016 season was, it’s yet possible that 2017 will be better still.
By Richard Hamje
Video and Photo Editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje
Featured photo credit: the great Ray Terrill