The ancients said that good things come in threes. For the Thorns recently, average things have come in twos. Two weeks, two roads games, two sunny warm days, two draws, two points, two zeroes, two goals by two teams.
Part 1 of 2
FC Kansas City hosted the Thorns on a lovely spring day with small crowd of 1,800 on hand. FCKC has not been playing very attractive soccer this year and this game was no exception. The fans were “treated” to ninety minutes of tight defensive football with a ton of turnovers and almost no shots on goal.
For the first hour, Portland had the bulk of possession and all the offense. Allie Long made this gorgeous turn to get the game’s first shot on goal in the 28th minute. What wonderful skill to take two defenders out of the play with one move.
The second shot on goal came in the 64th off the foot of Christine Sinclair. About 30 seconds later came FCKC’s shot on goal after a poor pass by Emily Sonnett left Sidney Leroux alone with AD Franch. Franch made a brilliant save to keep the clean sheet.
Portland nearly scored in the 36th on this shot by Sinclair that rolled ever so slowly into the goalpost and away.
And at the death, the Thorns had another good chance that did not count as a shot on goal. You can see the overall excitement level by observing the ball kids in this sequence. Note the girl doing some micro-groundskeeping by the “Nike Soccer” sign. It was just that sort of day.
Part 2 of 2
On another lovely spring afternoon, the Thorns visited the Boston Breakers. Last year’s NWSL cellar dwellers are this year’s NWSL darlings, and for good reason. This match was a lot more exciting with plenty of offense and a larger, near-sellout, crowd. Jordan Field has a worn Field-Turf surface that is very hard and bouncy. This favors quick and technically gifted players.
Both teams traded chances in the opening half with Boston’s first chance ending with Adriana Leon laying on the carpet for several minutes. She had collided with Adrianna (two n’s) Franch and got smashed in the mouth. After Nadia Nadim had a decent chance in the 24th, Natasha Dowie scored for Boston by outjumping Emily Sonnett on a corner kick.
Early in the second half, Boston doubled their lead with another headed goal, again over Emily Sonnett who did not jump at all this time. But Portland pegged one back a few minutes later as Lindsey Horan attacked the Boston box and drew a penalty kick for a clear hand ball. Nadia “Ice” Nadim scored the penalty despite the keeper guessing correctly on her dive.
Ten minutes later, Meghan Klingenberg suffered an apparent brain lock and sent wunderkind Rose Lavelle in alone against AD Franch. Franch came up huge, as she had in Kansas City.
Late in the match, as the Boston fans were perhaps beginning to make plans for their victory celebration, came a sequence of pure brilliance from the Thorns. Sinclair to Horan, who makes a truly lovely single-motion take, turn and pass to Hayley Raso, who in turn threads the needle to Nadim who makes no mistake in front of goal. Footie just doesn’t get a lot better than this.
I usually offer a Woman of the Match (WOTM) award, but this time there’s a Woman of the Road Trip (WOTRT) and it’s Lindsey Horan. Her effort to carry the team through this trip makes me wonder if she didn’t also pilot the plane, load the luggage, and drive the bus. Her ratio of meaningful good-to-bad touches was 28:4 in KC and 37:4 in Boston. If only she could find the net!
Christine Sinclair is always a steady contributor and came so close to scoring the game-winner in KC. Her ratios were 22:2 and 21:4. Amandine Henry was similarly solid, which was especially important in the Boston match when Allie Long was out with a knock. Her ratios were 19:4 and 20:5. It’s no surprise that Nadia Nadim scored a brace in Boston, as she was generally more involved in the game in Boston than in KC. Her ratios were 13:2 and 22:5. AD Franch was big in both games (16:6 and 12:2). Her distribution was iffy in Kansas City with 11 of 25 kicks turned over, but excellent in Boston losing only 4 of 17. Both Emily Sonnett (12:6, 13:4) and Emily Menges (11:4, 9:4) were mostly reliable although each had scary moments.
Celeste Boureille started out very slowly in KC with only four touches in the first half and two of those turnovers. But she ended that match at 16:9 and posted a 15:3 ratio in 67 minutes at Boston. Hayley Raso had the lovely assist in Boston but otherwise her final ball remains an issue. Her ratios were 14:4 and 16:2. Meghan Klingenberg was on-and-off. Her ratios were 13:5 and 12:7 with almost all the poor touches coming late in the matches. It makes me wonder if she may still not be 100% physically fit.
Allie Long was nominally on the bench for the Boston match for an injury suffered between the two matches. In KC, she was a significant contributor (19:1) and the team did well to mount the comeback in Boston without her. Mallory Weber played twenty minutes in KC (9:2) and then the full 90 in Boston (16:3). Her defense was particularly strong – she tracks back relentlessly and fears no tackle – but attacking she still tends to run aggressively into blind alleys. And lastly, after a token appearance in stoppage time in KC, Meghan Cox played almost half an hour in Boston with a 7:3 ratio including three dangerous long throws.
I’m afraid that Mark Parsons remains frozen on the Tycho Brahe step. It’s a great team accomplishment to go on a long grueling trip and come home undefeated. It’s an even greater accomplishment to do it when missing so many key players. Good job! But in truth, that is the expected baseline performance for this team.
When you see a sequence such as led to the second goal in Boston, you have wonder why we aren’t scoring goals in bushels. It’s not the lack of quality players because that was our minimum squad, lacking even Allie Long. It’s not tiredness, because that was late in the second half of the second game. If we can do it when short-handed and tired, why can’t we do it all the time?
This group sometimes seems to be making a holding action, as the second-string Thorns did during the Olympics in 2016. “We’re hanging on until our ‘good’ players come back”. This mentality is dangerous because (a) it underrates the players we have; and (b) gives them excuse for not winning; and (c) what if (apostasy) Tobin and Dagny don’t come back this season? I believe, and would cite that second goal in Boston as evidence, that this Thorns lineup can be the best team in the NWSL.
With two road games, there isn’t a lot of actual Riveters news. However, there was a frustrating saga of streaming to occupy NWSL fans. In the first week, the go90-delivered games had all sorts of issues. The FCKC match stream was broken up with black bars and black screens as camera angles were changed. This got progressively worse as the match went along until the feed was almost unwatchable by the end. Another game simply sat on the “Your event will begin shortly” screen costing those viewers the first 30-ish minutes of the match. Nobody had a good experience with go90 that week.
In a surprising twist, the league actually listened to the fans and responded immediately. Last week’s matches were all offered on go90 and without restriction on nwslsoccer.com. The improvement was immediate, as the Boston match streaming was essentially perfect (we won’t talk about the announcers).
I have been researching the league’s video distribution in an attempt to figure out why this is working so poorly. Here’s what I’ve learned:
There are four entities involved in bringing you a match: the home club’s media staff, Vista WorldLink, Disney|Hearst (owner of Lifetime), and Verizon (owner of go90). For the Lifetime game of the week, traditional TV and satellite technology is used. Lifetime arranges their own on-site equipment (cameras, operators, production truck, satellite uplink) and uses on-site announcers and producers. This part is no different than any sports network, e.g. ESPN. Lifetime’s quality has been excellent from opening day.
It gets more interesting for the other games.
For a non-TV game, the home club’s media team provides ambient sound and cameras with operators. The audio and video feeds are streamed individually over Internet and private backbone circuits to Vista WorldLink (VWL) studios in Ft. Lauderdale Florida. A director in the VWL studio selects the camera angle and overlays graphics, essentially acting as a remote production truck. The announcers sit in a booth at VWL and commentate the match while viewing the final feed.
You may have noticed in Boston that the primary camera could not swing far enough to pick up the near corners. When the ball went out of frame, the VWL director would switch to a different camera. Several times this didn’t happen and the match commentators were left floundering. This hints that VWL is not showing the commentators all the feeds, but rather only the “finished” stream. All indications are that VWL needs to work on their production process to make this process more seamless.
The finished stream from VWL, with commentary added, goes to go90.com and nwslsoccer.com for distribution. There have been many quality issues with both distributors, but go90 is clearly struggling the most. During the Kansas City game there were multiple disruptions to the go90 feed that are not in the archived broadcast. For the Boston game, NSWL had opened up nwslsoccer.com to unrestricted access. Both streams’ delivery was excellent. This may have been due to NWSL lightening the load on go90, or go90 cleaning up their act, or both. Time will tell.
Go90 has their own internal issues and it’s almost like a telenovela. In January, Verizon laid off 155 people at go90 just ahead of their earnings announcement. Verizon had purchased a startup subscription YouTube alternative called Vessel in 2016. With the January announcement, the former Vessel essentially took over go90. Plans were laid to rebuild the technical side of go90 on the Vessel platform.
On April 13, NWSL announced the partnership with go90 for a rumored $2M payment by Verizon. This was two days before the first game kickoff. It appears that the content side of go90 wasn’t talking with the technical side, as the launch was a disaster that continued to drag along for more than a month. Two weeks later, the general manager of go90, Chip Canter, was fired. There was no hint that his firing was related to the NWSL deal. He had also just paid $21M for the rights to show a single early-season NFL game between mid-level teams in the early morning hours. Reading between the lines of the official announcement it sounds like a palace coup by the former Vessel management.
Between the layoffs, platform switch, management shuffling, demanding new clients, and a parent company with embarrassing news to report (Verizon also owns Internet train wrecks AOL and Yahoo) one can imagine the chaos in the go90 offices. Hopefully it will soon settle down and we can go back to screaming at the referees instead of the broadcasters.
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje, who is not associated with go90, Lifetime, or VWL.
Some articles for more reading: