(In which the Thorns play a pretty average game but come away with the win)
The Thorns hosted the Chicago Red Stars over lunchtime on Saturday but proceeded to eat the entire buffet leaving nary a crumb for their guests. Portland dominated the match from the opening whistle, completing as many passes as the Red Stars attempted. The Thorns had 58% possession, but most of Chicago’s possession was passing between their back line. The match felt more one-sided than the statistics, and the final 1-0 score, show.
In spite of controlling the ball for most of the ninety minutes, the Thorns got off only three shots on goal and needed the help of the referee to actually score. The match wasn’t completely Portland’s, as in the third minute Christen Press got in one-on-one with Adrianna Franch but panicked and shot far too early.
After this reprieve the Thorns settled down and the domination began. In the 25th, a Press handball in the box was called for a penalty kick. This was possibly the second handball in that sequence and the third of the match after an earlier incident went uncalled.
Nadim buried the penalty, as she always does. Asked after the match why she is picked to take PK’s, Nadia said, “Because I am ice.”
The Thorns lacked punch for most of the afternoon. Tobin Heath had been expected to play but did not make the gameday roster. Reynold and Dagny remain out injured and were joined by Shim and Klingenberg. With one-quarter of the team unavailable, Parsons’ options were limited. Meghan Cox started in place of Klingenberg, having made a brief appearance in North Carolina. The other lineup change was Hayley Raso starting in place of Mallory Weber. This was not a big surprise, as many fans had been suggesting just that in order to start matches with a bigger speed threat.
Portland showed two great strengths in this match. The midfield powerhouse of Long, Henry, Sinclair and especially Horan bossed things all day. And the counter-attack was always a threat. Here are a couple examples that had the crowd roaring:
There were three concerns after last week’s loss to the Courage: (1) Franch’s risky plays; (2) failure to recover long balls; and (3) dangerous passes trying to play out of the back. Two of the three were much improved this week.
Franch had no “derp” moments in this match. Her decision-making was excellent. When she came out for a ball, she got there first every time. She showed no hesitation. She never went for any dribbling adventures.
There were thirteen long goal kicks or clearances by Franch in this match, nine of which were recovered by the Thorns within two touches. This is a big improvement over last week and probably accounts for a lot of the team’s statistical domination.
Portland still often plays from the back and this was our weakness again this week. There were six dangerous back-passes in this match which could have been (and nearly were) turned over for scoring chances. Five were by Emily Menges, but the worst one was by Nadia Nadim. The Thorns have done this three games in a row and have yet to be punished for it. Chicago tried – clearly Rory Dames had seen this on the film and had his team hunting. Next week, Laura Harvey surely will also have her Reign team looking for scraps near our box.
The entire starting eleven had good outings. Here are the good-to-bad meaningful touch counts.
My most-improved award, and WOTM, goes to Adrianna Franch (17:1) in goal. My pleasant-surprise award nominee is Meghan Cox (20:7 overall, 6:0 in the 2nd half) who played really well and also has a long throw-in that could be a useful weapon. This was her first ninety minutes as a professional and Chicago tried to take it to her, attacking her side relentlessly in the first half. After having no joy on the left, they tried Celeste Boureille (16:4 overall, 11:3 in the 2nd half) on the right with no more luck.
The midfielders were excellent this day as they have been in every match to date. Lindsey Horan (27:4) led the pack. Amandine Henry (23:3) had a calmer outing than last week while Allie Long (21:3) delivered her usual great effort. All three players showed no tail-off as the game progressed – their second half numbers were nearly identical to the first.
Up front, Christine Sinclair (21:4) ran the show while Nadia Nadim (14:5) and Hayley Raso (21:5) played off her. Raso sparked several breakaways but her last ball went awry each time. Either she passed but one touch too late or to the wrong player, or she took the shot off-target or weak. While Hayley was hardly the only Thorn who had trouble finishing, hers were the best chances. If this team is to be truly fearsome, those opportunities need to end in the net.
The subs, Mallory Weber (2:0) and Kendall Johnson (0:0) were not a factor.
Coach Parsons is surely worthy of some level of genius award this week. He and his staff recognized and fixed many of the problems in the back. Clearly there is still some work to do but the improvement was quite noticeable. When you consider the very depleted roster available this week, a win is quite an accomplishment. This all seems worthy of the mid-level genius of Tycho Brahe (who also had an awesome mustache). Parsons’ next challenge is teaching the forwards how to score – do that and we’re back in the big leagues.
This match was one of our lighter-attended games in a couple years with 14,471 folks at Providence Park. These noon starting times may not be the best for the average fan. I’d imagine that beer and cider sales suffer also. Our next match is a more normal 7:00pm kickoff, and the opponent is Seattle, so I’m expecting a much larger turnout.
Even with the smaller crowd, the vibe was great. We had a nice break in the weather. There were several key moments in the match which the Riveters feted with a wall of sound. The Red Stars are a veteran group that’s been here many times, so they probably weren’t intimidated. But the Thorns may have been inspired – nearly all those moments ended with a breakaway or shot.
Play the Thorns Prediction Game. It’s free and fun. With 21 more games in the season, there is plenty of time to start predicting and win. Go to Stumptown Footy Fanposts and comment on the latest edition of Reading the PTFC Leaves.
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We are the Rose City!
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje