In the opening days of the Civil War, the Confederate ironclad Merrimac steamed into the Hampton Roads naval yards and, without a viable opponent, promptly sank a defenseless relic. Eventually, the Union’s Monitor arrived on the scene. The two exchanged shots from point-blank range for an entire day and ultimately retreated without a victor.
Twenty-second century schoolchildren may not read about the NWSL match on May 6th, 2017 but there are some parallels. The Seattle Reign showed up for the match at 7:00 pm sharp and sank a goal immediately. At 7:06 they very nearly bagged their second. Finally, the other team arrived and things got interesting. Shots were exchanged at close range for the remainder of the evening. The battle proved indecisive and the war will be decided in future encounters.
The Reign were coming off an embarrassing loss at Boston and were clearly psyched up for the first Cascadia derby match. Jessica Fishlock, bane of the Thorns since 2013, scored the opener in less than a minute with a goal-of-the-week laser from outside the box.
In the 6th minute, Megan Rapinoe, the other bane of the Thorns since 2013, very nearly doubled the lead. Both the goal and near-goal came as the result of very aggressive high pressing by Seattle causing turnovers in the Portland end of the field.
After the second scare, the Thorns settled down. Seattle was still pressing hard but the Portland midfield found their passing touch and started working the ball wide and up the field. In the 33rd, Celeste Boureille sprung Amandine Henry for an open look at goal but her shot was weak. A couple minutes later, Hayley Raso beat Carson Pickett to the end line and sent a hard cross toward the onrushing Lindsey Horan. Fishlock dove to cut out the cross but only managed to deflect it past her own keeper.
With the score now tied, Portland began pushing forward only to be undone in the back. Merritt Mathias received a short pass that somehow sneaked past Emily Menges and was able to lift it over Adrianna Franch to restore the Seattle lead. Was Mathias offside on the play? It’s really close and we were not given a good replay. The far-side AR was trailing the line and did not raise his flag.
The second half started just like the first! Again Portland was not prepared to play soccer when the whistle blew, and again Seattle scored in the first minute. Oh wait, I lied. They did not score but they probably should have.
Unlike the first half, the Thorns recovered their poise quickly and began pressing the Reign successfully. Aside from a bad moment by Menges in the 50th minute, Portland controlled most of the play through the 67th. Meghan Klingenberg had been introduced for the second half and she made her presence felt. In the first half, Seattle focused on defending the right flank (Raso’s side) and attacking the left. In the second, Portland had dangerous attacking speed on both flanks and the Reign were unable to defend both.
Allie Long provided the equalizer with a great header off a Klingenberg cross. A few minutes later, Christine Sinclair very nearly won it for Portland with a low hard shot that beat Kopmeyer but was saved off the line. So the battle ended in draw and the rematch awaits July 1st.
I read an article claiming that Allie Long set a team record for passing completion in this match. By my count, she wasn’t quite as perfect as OPTA claimed, with a good-to-bad meaningful touch ratio of 19:4. However, her midfield presence and constant effort, plus scoring the equalizing goal, surely qualifies her as WOTM.
Nearly all the Thorns had a quiet first half. Celeste Boureille and Amandine Henry kept the team in it with 12:5 and 15:5 touches respectively. They both slowed in the second half (6:3 and 4:2). For the second week in a row, Henry seemed frustrated with the refereeing and committed petty revenge fouls. But coming on strong in the latter stages were Christine Sinclair (13:1 in the second, 18:2 overall), Hayley Raso (11:1, 15:5 overall), and Meghan Klingenberg (11:1).
Raso has been criticized for being all energy and no results. An example is this moment below where she beats Carson Pickett around the corner but then makes a poor pass. But while we’ve seen a lot of this from Raso this year (and last), against Seattle she mostly shone. It was her cross that Fishlock turned in for an own goal and Raso saved the ball which Klingenberg delivered to Allie Long’s head for the equalizer. We’re all rooting for “Danger Raso” to be the new normal.
Players with “average” performances were Nadia Nadim (12:6), Lindsey Horan (15:3), Meghan Cox (6:2 for 45 minutes), Mallory Weber (4:3 with an assist for 20 minutes), Emily Sonnett (12:3), and Emily Menges (11:5). Sonnett was particularly wound up in the second half as Mathias dragged her down by the hair and then Fishlock cleaned her out with a slide (neither deemed fouls).
The match was played the same day as Penn State’s graduation ceremony. Mallory Weber stayed in Portland rather than getting her diploma with her NCAA-champion teammates in Pennsylvania. Last year, Emily Sonnett similarly missed her ceremony and the team had an impromptu celebration in Portland. No word if Weber received the same.
Adrianna Franch had a mostly good match. She made a spectacular save that is nominated for Save of the Week. Her distribution was good with no direct turnovers and her long kicks were recovered 67% of the time. Could she have done better on the second Seattle goal? Possibly – diving at the ball feet-first made it easier for Mathias to chip over her. And she looked tentative on the Seattle attempt to start the second half. But overall, she had a good day and is improving with each outing.
The game plan by coach Parsons was the right plan for the opponent and available roster. There seems to be a common narrative that passing out of the back is not working for the Thorns but I disagree. The kinks are getting worked out. In this match, there were very few turnovers in the defensive half. And you have to credit Seattle’s quality players for some of those – nobody gets the better of Fishlock or Rapinoe for ninety straight minutes. The Reign also played out from the back and the Thorns frequently dispossessed them. It’s a difficult skill and the Thorns are beginning to master it. If you have a 67% recovery rate on long balls in the opponent’s half, but a 90% rate of playing from the back – then playing out from the back is the right thing to do. The key is to do it well, and the Thorns are starting to do that.
Ask yourself, had Christine scored in the 89th and the Thorns won the match, would you then think that Parsons was a genius? For me, the answer is “not so much”. The problem for the Thorns this week and, looking back, for every match this year was the slow start. The team has not come out attacking from the whistle. It was more obvious this week with the first minute concession to start the game and nearly an even faster concession to open the second half. The coaches have not had the players primed and ready. The evening start time might be a factor but it seems that the team didn’t start fast in the midday matches either. Is Parsons perhaps being a bit too cerebral? For now, we remain at Tycho Brahe, who was also pretty cerebral.
There was a tidy crowd of 16,160 on hand for this match. It was a lovely evening for football and the perfect setting for a big derby match. Last year this fixture drew more than 19,000 fans and that was for the short-handed Thorns. So far, the Thorns have been running about 1,000 below last season’s average attendance. It may be too early to be concerned, but other teams are also drawing fewer fans. No Olympics and no World Cup may be part of the cause. Ticket prices are higher in Portland, although still very reasonable.
One thing we can all do is bring a newbie to a match. If you’ve got an acquaintance who hasn’t had the Thorns gameday experience, bring them to a match. Tickets are easily available and you may even be able to find a free one for a good cause like that.
In a tradition started last year, there is a different Rose City Riveters capo stand banner for each match. This week’s was Cascadia-themed.
Next up is nearly-bottom FC Kansas City at Swope Soccer Village on Saturday at 1:00pm. FCKC has been a powerhouse since 2013 up until last year when they lost two star players to maternity. Sydney Leroux is back but not yet approaching her prenatal form. Her strike partner Amy Rodriguez is gone for the year with a knee injury suffered in their first match.
After that the Thorns continue across the country to see the Boston Breakers. That match is Friday at 4:00pm. Boston is a very much improved team from the last few seasons. Having Rose Lavelle on the roster has made the Breakers dangerous.
Both matches are on go90.com. Hopefully by now you have found a place to watch these webcasts. There have been no new developments on the league or broadcast fronts this week.
With heavy travel and ongoing injury woes, the Thorns will do well to come home with more than two points. Here’s hoping.
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje
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