(in which the Thorns go cross-country and lose a tight one)
The Thorns visited the North Carolina Courage for their inaugural home match on the lovely pitch at WakeMed Soccer Park in Cary, NC. The game was a chippy affair with 21 fouls called, two yellow cards issued, a saved penalty kick and several angry moments. The Courage won 1-0 in front of 6,298 new fans. The win makes the Courage the only team in the league with a perfect record while the Thorns drop into a two-way tie with Kansas City for third place.
The first half mostly belonged to the Thorns. Over the first fifteen minutes, Portland had four good chances versus only one half-chance for the Courage. At 7:40 Allie Long took the ball from Sinclair, nutmegged a defender on the edge of the six yard box, but could not get off a clean shot.
Two minutes later Long cracked a shot from the top of the 18 yard box that flicked off the outside of the far post. In the 32nd, Amandine Henry took a shot from distance that D’Angelo had to save.
The Courage came on strong after that. They had several shots blocked in the last ten minutes, and nearly scored on a scramble in the box after Franch spilled a save. The half ended 0-0.
The second half was even sloppier than the first with numerous turnovers by both teams. It seemed like ten minutes would go by without either side completing three passes in a row. The Courage began bypassing their midfield, sending one long ball after another hopefully forward for Lynn Williams and Jessica McDonald to chase. In the 58th, this strategy worked for the first time as Williams got behind Emily Menges but missed the far post just wide.
Allie Long had another go in the 63rd but just missed. Ten minutes later, Williams got behind the Portland defense again, this time attempting a cross that hit Emily Sonnett in the hand. As everyone in the Rose City groaned and hid their eyes, Sam Mewis stepped to the spot and took a poor penalty shot that Franch saved cleanly.
With nearly the entire Courage squad in Portland’s box after the PK, the Thorns counter-attacked with a six-player jailbreak. The frustrated Mewis charged back and committed an ugly foul on Lindsey Horan to stop the threat. The referee issued a yellow card but I would not be shocked to see it “upgraded” to a red by league review. Horan was injured on the play and was replaced by Hayley Raso.
In the 81st minute, the Courage found their goal. A poor pass from Long started the attack by McDonald down the right. Menges marked her closely but the former Thorn still managed to deliver a dangerous cross. Debinha raced in from behind and scored on a diving header. It was the first NWSL goal for the Courage’s diminutive Brazilian star.
As you can see in the video clip, the Thorns defense is well-positioned. The cross is almost blocked by Menges and then nearly flicked away by Sonnett. Ultimately, the culprit was Celeste Boureille who allowed a player nearly a foot shorter to get a header in front of her.
After the goal, the Courage bunkered, ceding all the possession to Portland. Nadim delivered multiple corner and free kicks into the box but not one was even steered goalward. In the final minute of stoppage time, Nadim had a corner kick followed by two open crossing opportunities, but she was obviously tiring and none of them even reached the Courage box.
It wouldn’t be NWSL without at least one element of the bizarre per match. Tonight’s was a pass from Abby Erceg to her keeper, which D’Angelo remarkably picked up. The referee clearly hadn’t read the entire rule book as he saw nothing wrong with this in spite of Sinclair’s protests. Without question, this should have been an indirect free kick near the Courage penalty spot. It’s a big miss by the official as a free kick that close is a high percentage opportunity.
Amusingly enough, on the replay the TV announcers noted the touch back by Erceg with admiration. Clearly they hadn’t read the rule book either.
Who did what
Several players had a nice tidy outing in the first half, but by the end of the match only one player stood out statistically. That was my WOTM, Allie Long. Her good-to-bad meaningful touch ratio was 20:3, evenly split between halves. She generated nearly all of Portland’s dangerous moments in attack and played solid defense. The only unfortunate moment was a midfield turnover which started the goal-scoring sequence for North Carolina.
Christine Sinclair (12:1), Nadia Nadim (21:6), and Lindsey Horan (11:6) round out the list of above-average performances for the day. Sinclair was on the receiving end of the other yellow-card foul of the match by Yuri Kawamura in the 21st, and it looked for a while like she might not be able to continue. Had Long scored on her shots from distance, Sinclair would have had an assist as she was making the passes to create the chances. Horan was competing ferociously in the midfield until her injury.
Amandine Henry (13:5) had a nice attempt on goal but also made several uncharacteristically poor passes and seemed angry and out-of-sorts most of the evening. She has probably dropped Makenzy Doniak off her Christmas card list. Mallory Weber (7:5) was energetic, as usual, but didn’t generate too much. Celeste Boureille (12:6) had a great first half but fell off in the second and bears much fault for the concession.
In the back Emily Sonnett (10:8) actually had a decent outing in spite of the penalty award which was obviously not intentional. Similarly, Emily Menges (8:8) used her superior speed and stamina to shut down most of the Courage attacks. Both Emily’s were outmatched for height, and neither is quicker than Lynn Williams in a footrace but they did a decent job keeping the threat tamped down.
Meghan Klingenberg had an unhappy evening, only lasting 45 minutes and leaving with a (3:3) touch ratio. Something was off kilter for her, presumably a health matter. Her replacement was the rookie Meghan Cox who kept her side clean with a ratio of (8:2) and even came forward a few times when the Thorns were pushing for the equalizer late. Hayley Raso (5:1) had 25 minutes to make a difference and while she came close a couple times her final touch was lacking. Mana Shim (2:1) came on for the injured Horan, immediately had two touches, and then disappeared for the remaining time.
Adrianna Franch (7:5) saved a PK! She read Mewis, dove the correct direction, and got two firm hands to the ball. Lest anyone forget, AD’s great strength is shot-stopping and she showed it in that moment. Her decision making was good all night. She snagged several NC corners and crosses and came out aggressively to narrow the angle on Williams’ attempt. As you saw in the video clip, she had no chance on the goal.
Unlike the Orlando game, Franch was sending more of her kicks long. Unfortunately, the recovery rate on those long kicks was poor: only two of 18 were retained by a Thorn after the first or second touch. None of this is really on Franch – her kicks were reasonably well-placed and plenty long. The team also struggled (again) to play the ball on the ground past midfield. But this remains a concern for the team, probably the #1 concern at this point.
Mark Parsons will still need to wait for his genius rating. The game plan for this match seemed mostly reasonable, with several good chances generated. The team appeared energetic and ready to play, except maybe Klingenberg.
North Carolina bring a lot of assets to a match – two tall and fast attackers who are also useful set piece defenders, an aggressive midfield, a good goalkeeper, and McDonald’s long throw threat. The Thorns countered this with quick passing through the midfield and attacks up the wings. Nadim stayed wide this time, as did Weber, which stretched the Courage defense. The Portland defenders only conceded five throw-ins within 20 yards of the end line and were very conscientious about defending those. As a result, McDonald only attempted one long throw.
Portland had five corner kicks and 7 free kicks in the attacking third. All twelve were taken by Nadim and all exactly the same – a driven ball in the air toward the center of the box. All were easily repelled by the tall Courage players. Some variety of attack might have helped overcome the height disadvantage. Maybe play a couple of the corner kicks short and look for an entry ball on the ground? Perhaps send one long to the back post?
Perhaps Parsons focused too much attention on preventing and defending the long throws. Who can blame him after conceding three goals in the semi-final last year? But when facing multiple threats on defense, the answer may be more possession and offense. That way the defense isn’t playing whack-a-mole for ninety minutes. And indeed, for the first 30 minutes of each half that is basically what the Thorns did. A few minutes more, or a little more quality in finishing, or some luck, and things could have been different.
All of which is to say that the loss was not due to poor preparation or game planning. But it was still a disappointment.
The league announced that the non-TV matches are now available on the go90.com website using a laptop or computer. This alleviates some the of the issues with using the mobile-only version in week one. I found the go90 feed to be choppy with intermittent quality drop-outs when used on a computer while it was far better when viewed on a smartphone.
In replay, the go90 app (computer or mobile) has no timeline controls. You cannot rewind if you miss something, or jump forward such as to skip halftime. It’s quite frustrating to use.
The free replays 48 hours post-match have also begun to appear approximately when promised. They seem to be using a database server without streaming components to serve the video. The feed quality of these is terrible – it’s nearly unwatchable. Here’s hoping they go back to YouTube.
Using YouTube will not improve the quality of the broadcast teams. The local crew doing this match – apparently shown on local TV – were not good. They were ill-prepared, often mixed up the names of their own players, seemed to know little of the history of the Portland v Rochester series, and contributed no analysis to help the viewer understand what was happening. For example, when Meghan Cox was introduced the announcer mentioned that she (the announcer) had coached Cox over the summer and was happy that she got a professional contract. That was it – no mention of Cox’s strengths, or weaknesses, nor even a little anecdotal story about her.
The league started posting partial player stats on nwslsoccer.com this week. They are found on the Lineup tab within each match recap. Still no heat maps. Baby steps.
The match broadcast showed no Riveters although social media reports indicate that there were a few of us in attendance. Back here in Portland, folks were scrambling to find pubs that could show the go90 broadcasts. On the NWSL Supporters Facebook group, there is an effort to crowd-source an accurate list. Please drop a note there if you can contribute an experience (Portland or anywhere else – this is a league-wide effort).
The next match is the Chicago Red Stars visiting on Saturday at 1:00pm. At the start of the season, many folks picked Chicago as a title contender in 2017. But they are off to a tough start and hopefully the Thorns will keep it that way. This will be the Lifetime TV game of the week. In a reverse of last weekend, if you also want to watch the Timbers, you’ll need to hustle from the stadium to your viewing location – the Dallas FC match is at 5:00pm on Root Sports.
The Riveters have an opportunity to give back to the community and your help is needed. We will be decorating a visitation room for youth foster care in Beaverton. The Riveters are soliciting cash and in-kind contributions, design work and eventually your labor to make this happen. Details here.
Onward Rose City!
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje