(in which the Thorns bounce back and the house bounces with them)
This is a short match report for this busy week of three games in eight days.
FC Kansas City came to town in a matchup of the two best defenses in the league. The game was not the grinding affair everyone expected as the Thorns ran riot, scoring three unanswered goals and nearly several more. FCKC had a few moments of brilliance but not enough quality or quickness to beat the Portland backline. The Thorns moved up to third place in the standings with the second-best goal difference; FCKC fell from fifth to seventh.
For the first ten minutes, the match was pretty even but Portland found their footing first. Aside from a brief spell around the 60th, the Thorns dominated proceedings for the remainder of the game. Christine Sinclair opened the scoring in the 15th minute by pounding in the rebound of Allie Long’s blast off the post. A few minutes later, Hayley Raso scored her first goal for the Thorns with a lovely chip shot from the edge of the FCKC box. Sinclair closed out the scoring in the 75th with a curler from the top of the D.
Scattered amongst the goals were a slew of near-misses. The pressure on FCKC was relentless as the Thorns appeared to want a cricket score. For Kansas, Sydney Leroux found the Portland net on a glancing header but was well offside. Shea Groom forced an excellent save from Adrianna Franch in the 25th but her other attempts were all tame.
The Thorns were carving up the FCKC defense all night. Here’s a good example, as a Franch goal kick found Lindsey Horan across the midfield stripe. Horan nodded the ball to Mana Shim who looked up and sent a lovely 30-yard pass to the feet of Christine. Sinclair is not the fastest player on the pitch, yet she was behind the entire FCKC defense who never came near the ball until the end this sequence.
In recent matches by Portland clubs, we’ve seen some complacency when holding a lead. Not on this night. Despite a 2-0 lead, the Thorns opened the second half with an all-out blitz on the FCKC goal. Amandine Henry sent a screamer just over the bar in the 46th minute and less than 60 seconds later came this beautiful sequence from Dagny to Christine to Allie.
And only 30 seconds later we watched Hayley Raso fight off two defenders and earn a corner for the Thorns which was nearly converted into a goal.
In the 70th Ashleigh Sykes made a hard run to the touchline and crossed into the box. Sinclair controlled a weak clearance by FCKC and scored, but the referee ruled that she’d used her arm. From his angle, the call was correct and the available replays were not definitive. But Christine was livid and got a yellow card for suggesting he attempt an anatomical impossibility. With Canadian polite understatement, she later said she was “a little mad”. In any case, she got her revenge minutes later scoring her second to put the game to bed.
We had a rookie referee for this match. Chipalo Street, a Seattleite, had worked 15 matches for USL and Open Cup. This was his first time with the whistle for a women’s match, or a top-division game. He did a quite respectable job whatever his possible personal distaste for Portland. Aside from his disagreement with Sinclair, he missed an inconsequential FCKC handball in our box and then this back pass [note the gif pauses where she touches the ball].
Had he seen the small touch, and he should have, the Thorns would have had an indirect free kick near the penalty spot. Those are high-percentage opportunities and the Portland players were unhappy that he missed it. Here’s an example of a men’s side taking one from about the spot where the Thorns would have had theirs.
It’s really tough to name a WOTM since so many Thorns had fine outings.
One candidate is Hayley Raso who finally broke her duck. She was her usual ball of energy all match long with a positive-to-negative meaningful touch ratio of 18:5.
My “Woman of the First Half” award goes to Dagny Brynjarsdottir, playing at right back for the first time as a professional. Her touch ratio for the first half was 17:0! She was involved in every good thing that the Thorns did in the first half plus played lockdown defense against Erika Tymrak whose stat line was all zeroes. This was Dagny’s best match as a Thorn and she’s had some good runouts in the past. What a way to return to the starting lineup.
“Woman of the Second Half” was Allie Long. Her touch ratio for the last 45 was 12:1 (8:1 in the 1st) and her good contributions started in the literal first minute and ended in the literal last.
Perhaps then you will not be surprised that my selection for WOTM is Christine Sinclair. Her touch ratio was 24:4 evenly split between halves. She scored a pair of goals and could have had two or three more. She gave total effort for the 90 minutes which included defensive work as she twice headed FCKC corner kicks away.
Mana Shim had her first start of the season and looked sharp for her hour on the pitch. Her touch ratio was 12:4 and many of the positive ones were good entry passes. Lindsey Horan for once did not have to carry the entire team but she did her share with a touch ratio of 20:3. She picked up her third yellow card of the season, which is a mild concern. Amandine Henry posted a ratio of 23:3 in 79 minutes. Not only did she narrowly miss a goal-of-the-week shot, her long balls were picture-perfect. In the first half she picked out Mana Shim with a 70-yard(!) ball that created a good scoring chance. To nit-pick, her corner kicks were too long and thus Dagny’s height in the box was not used. Meghan Klingenberg was nearly spotless with a 15:4 ratio. It seemed that the coaches had assigned her to corral Shea Groom and she took the job seriously as the two might as well have been sharing a pair of socks for 78 minutes.
The three substitutes were productive. Ashleigh Sykes had a touch ratio of 7:2 over 30 minutes including the assist on the waved-off Sinclair goal. Meghan Cox was only on the pitch for 14 minutes but had a ratio of 5:0, all defensive blocks and clearances. When Ericka Tymrak went off for FCKC, Parsons sent Celeste Boureille in, matching her fresh legs with Brittany Ratcliffe’s. Ratcliffe was not a factor which means that even though Celeste had only two touches, both good ones, she did her job well.
If any part of the Thorns setup was suspect in this match, it was the center of defense. Obviously, a clean sheet indicates it wasn’t dire. But just because FCKC wasn’t able to punish the mistakes doesn’t mean there weren’t any. Emily Sonnett had the best evening with a 9:1 ratio but her normal quality with forward passes and long balls was not evident. She did make one long, fast run forward all the way to the FCKC box and dished off a nice pass for a goal attempt. Emily Menges struggled with Sydney Leroux as might be expected. Her touch ratio was 11:5 but three of the five negative touches were dangerously bad passes in the Portland half. And while Adrianna Franch made a spectacular save, her distribution was iffy again. Her ratio was 16:9 but she made no turnovers in the 18-yard box.
Mark Parsons certainly earned a genius upgrade this week. First, he started Mana and Dagny, even though it meant playing Dagny out of position. And they both performed. Second, he identified Groom and Tymrak as the FCKC threats – neutralizing them eliminated service to Leroux. By forcing them wide and blocking their passing lanes, FCKC was unable to generate many attempts. Parsons assigned Klingenberg and Brynjarsdottir to the task and they delivered. Third, his substitutions were timely both for resting key players ahead of the weekend, and remaining matched up to FCKC threats. Finally, he had the team ready to play and prevented complacency in the second half. So, we’re back to Einstein, with possibilities for further elevation on Saturday.
It was a perfect weekday evening and 16,199 folks showed up for the party. While there were no special events for the match, everyone still had a good time. It’s not hard when there is red smoke and Goal Madness all night.
After the rose ceremony, the Riveters took up the “Beat Seattle” chant which the players acknowledged. Preparing for Seattle was the theme in all the postgame interviews. The Thorns have never won at Memorial Stadium and have been outscored 12-2 there. It’s time to break that jinx.
Speaking of time, I’ve got to run – it’s time to make brownies for the bus!
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje