(In which the Thorns give a clinic in midfield play and two noobs find the net)
Portland hosted the Houston Dash for a brunch affair and came out on top 2-1. Aside from a few brief moments, the Thorns dominated the match. By the fiftieth minute the Dash looked they could not wait to be on the plane home.
The match had been moved up to an eleven o’clock start in a successful effort to avoid the scorching afternoon temperatures. The Thorns had three key players who had returned the day prior from the Tournament of Nations; Houston had four. Portland also had Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Amandine Henry just back from the European Championship. Four of these players (Horan, Raso, Lloyd, and Poliana) started and played the entire ninety minutes. Fatigue seemed to more of a factor for the players who had enjoyed the two-week FIFA break.
All the scoring happened in the first half. The Thorns came out attacking from the opening whistle. The team committed to high pressure against Houston for nearly the entire match and the Dash wilted more often than not. In the 12th minute the work paid off as Meghan Klingenberg delivered an excellent free kick to the far Houston post. Tyler Lussi rose highest and headed the ball down and across the net where Emily Sonnett poked it home from a yard out. This was Lussi’s second assist in her fourth appearance. It was Emily Sonnett’s first regular season goal, and second goal ever, in her short career.
Ten minutes later, another sequence of lovely passes resulted in a near goal for the Thorns. Houston was already reeling, but they then received a lifeline from Karen Abt, the referee, when she blew for a penalty on a very soft foul in the Portland box.
Adrianna Franch had no chance as Carli Lloyd delivered a powerful and perfectly placed kick. This was Franch’s first penalty kick concession of the season – she is now down to an “only” 75% save rate.
Six minutes later the Thorns got the lead back through Tyler Lussi’s first professional goal as she beat half the Houston defense to shoot past the static Jane Campbell.
One minute after Lussi’s goal, Carli Lloyd got a yellow card for a harsh foul. She was to eventually commit six fouls; 60% of the total by the Dash. As halftime drew near, AD Franch made an excellent save of what proved to Houston’s last shot on target for the day.
If the first half tilted in Portland’s favor, the second was pure domination by the women in red. All match long, Lindsey Horan had been matched up with Carli Lloyd and Lloyd was clearly frustrated by her inability to make or receive a pass without pressure. In the 54th minute, Lloyd committed an obvious yellow card foul. You can see in the video clip that the referee ran over, reaching into her pocket for the card. She then saw that it was Lloyd – FIFA World Player of the Year™ and USWNT captain – and pulled her hand out empty.
The deserved second yellow would have seen Lloyd sent packing. It’s really a disappointing display of favoritism, or spinelessness, and it had Mark Parsons apoplectic. There is a long beep and fuzzy circle over Parsons’ mouth in the Lifetime broadcast.
The Thorns had several excellent chances to score the insurance goal but just could not find the right ball. In the 57th, Emily Sonnett stepped up to intercept and then delivered a fine cross that couldn’t get steered in. Lindsey Horan just missed in the 69th.
Allie Long rang the crossbar on one she really should have scored in the 81st. In the 85th came Abt’s chance for redemption when Amandine Henry was clearly knocked down in Houston’s box. No whistle came.
The two first-half tallies proved to be enough as the Thorns easily staved off any Houston threat and saw out the lengthy stoppage time. Seven minutes! Three for a water break, two for the four subs that had been made to that point, maybe one more for a couple routine injury stoppages. My estimate watching live was for five, possibly six. My previously-held opinion of Karen Abt as a decent referee is gone – she joins Marco Vega in my Pantheon of the Pathetic™.
The result temporarily moved Portland to the top spot in the table, but later results saw us end up third. Next up is a two-game road trip: Saturday at Chicago followed by Wednesday in Kansas City. The former should be a barnburner – #2 against #3 with both teams near full strength. The latter is more likely to be a plain-old burner – FCKC is in last place with a bad home record. Surprisingly, considering it’s August in the Midwest, both matches have pleasant weather forecast.
The Thorns have taken nine of a possible nine points in this just-concluded homestand. If the Thorns should get these six points on the road, a playoff berth would be virtually assured. The remaining schedule favors the Thorns with only two top-four teams to play: Seattle away and Chicago for the home closer.
Three Thorns had notably outstanding performances on Sunday: Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, and Meghan Klingenberg. I’m giving Lindsey Horan my nod for WOTM honors for four reasons. First, she had the second-best positive-to-negative touch ratio (26:5, evenly spread between halves) on the pitch. Secondly, she marked Carli Lloyd, FIFA World Player of the Year®, completely out of the match. Third, she was outstanding holding the ball in the corner to kill the clock late – she may be best player in the league at this particular skill. And fourth, she did all this after playing 30 minutes in the Tournament of Nations match in Los Angeles on Thursday night versus Japan. The second reason is the most important – Lloyd can be a very effective passer, has a hard accurate shot and is a fearless defender. On Saturday, she was none of these.
Christine Sinclair had the best touch ratio of the match (34:5 also evenly spread between halves). Clearly Christine is figuring out her new role in the midfield. More than that, she seems to be reveling in it. As in the prior match, she was impervious to the double-team and was first to the loose ball every time.
Meghan Klingenberg may have turned her best performance of the year. Maybe she was trying to show Jill Ellis that she erred in her team selection for the Tournament of Nations. Or maybe she is finally truly 100% healthy. Or maybe she just likes playing soccer immediately after her first cup of coffee. Whatever the cause, she got forward in the attack all day, played tight defense, and delivered some top-drawer free kicks including for the first goal. Her touch ratio was (24:4).
If Horan quieted Lloyd, it was Emily Sonnett and Kat Reynolds combining to frustrate Houston’s danger-woman Rachel Daly. Both Thorns had few forward-going touches in the first half but more in second as Houston’s threat diminished. Sonnett ended up (8:4) with a goal, and Reynolds (7:2) with a near-assist in the second half.
Emily Menges had what may have been her quietest day as a Thorn. She had only five positive touches all day and zero negative ones. She had to make a few defensive plays on Nichelle Prince but generally saw very little action. This suggests that Dash boss Omar Morales decided to avoid Menges’ side as part of his tactical approach to the match.
In the second half of this match, Adrianna Franch could have pulled out a lawn chair and read a book. There were zero shots taken at her goal and she had only two goals kicks to take. The first forty-five was a bit busier, but not much. Her distribution was near-perfect. AD’s touch ratio was 9:1. This does not count the failure to stop the penalty kick – no keeper is ever to be blamed for that.
The other midfielders had their moments to shine. Ashleigh Sykes started off slowly with four bad touches in the first quarter hour. But she then calmed down and finished the day with a ratio of 17:4. She stepped out in stoppage time for a cameo by Celeste Boureille who managed two positive touches helping Horan kill time in the corner. Dagny Brynjarsdottir had a low-key match. She certainly helped Horan with corralling Lloyd and the other Houston midfielders, but she didn’t get many opportunities to use her height around the goal. She did, however, recover the most Dash goal kicks of any player. Her final touch ratio was 16:2 for 75 minutes. Her replacement was Allie Long who really should have scored a late insurance goal facing the empty net from eight yards. Allie had a 6:1 touch ratio for her brief time on the pitch. Amandine Henry made an appearance having returned following France’s unexpectedly early departure from the Euro’s. In her 30 minutes, she had a touch ratio of 7:2 including a shot from distance that went high and the uncalled penalty. We can only presume that Amandine had her pancakes after the match this week.
Tyler Lussi showed everyone that she’s the real deal. She scored a goal, her first as a professional and assisted the other. She’s no shrinking violet either, committing two sharp fouls and contending for every loose ball. She also helped defend Houston’s free kicks. Her touch ratio was 14:5 and she showed the willingness to run at the Houston defense with and without the ball.
Lussi’s strike partner was Hayley Raso. While the Riveters didn’t get to serenade her, she contributed all over the pitch. One first half play was typical Raso when she joined a double-team with Kat Reynolds near the Thorns box, came away with the ball and charged the length of the pitch to deliver a cross that led to a decent scoring chance at the other end. Her touch ratio was 13:6 in the first half and 7:2 in the second as she flagged a bit late.
Mark Parsons was ranked with Aristotle in my last match report. Considering that the Thorns played better in this week’s game, he needs a bump upwards. Unlike the prior game, the Thorns came out ready to play from the opening whistle against Houston. Parsons also had the tactics right in this match, as evidenced by the inability of Lloyd and Daly to make an impact. And he did a good job of managing the workload of some tired players. So, we move up one notch to Johann Goethe. Should the Thorns make a similar effort and get a similar result on the road against Chicago, it will absolutely be Newton-time.
This was the earliest kickoff yet for an NWSL match. In an attempt to avoid the potentially 100-degree afternoon highs, the game was moved up to eleven in the morning. It worked: there was still a hydration break in the second half, but the temperature never reached ninety. There was, however, an incredibly long line at the Dutch Bros. coffee stand.
The early start time also had little effect on the attendance: 18,243. This pushed the season average up to 16,875 with is only seventy shy of last year’s record. There are three more home matches in the season and each will have playoff implications. The home closer is versus Chicago, a match that could well decide the Shield. Last year, there were two sellouts over the final matches of the season and there’s no reason not to expect the same in 2017. I predict that the full season average will end up over 17,000.
Saturday was a big day for women’s soccer in general. The European Championship Final in Enschede, Netherlands was a packed house (28,182) with a TV audience over one million in Holland alone. Nadia Nadim scored the opening goal but the Danish defense was not up to the challenge and the Dutch won 4-2. Neither country had won the Euros before so this was a great showing for both, kicking powerhouses Germany, France and England to the curb (kerb, in England’s case).
It was fantastic seeing Tyler Lussi score her first goal. The match saw a new banner unveiled in her honor. Now the Riveters need a short creative chant to honor her. If you have an idea, come socialize it in 107 before the next home match. Or put it in the comments for this report and I will pass it along. A new Weber banner was also hung from the walls for this match to honor Mallory breaking her duck.
Lifetime TV produced a fun pre-game intro to the Riveters for this match. It was shot at the North Carolina game a few weeks ago. You can watch it here (it won’t let you skip the two ads, but they’re short).
This coming Sunday from 11:00-4:00, there will be a painting party at the tifo warehouse on 17th south of Alder. This is a chance for you to make banners and two-sticks using the resources of 107IST. All you need is an idea – the Riveter’s tifo crew will provide the projection, paint, brushes, cloth, sewing, etc. If you ask nicely, you might be able to get some artist assistance also. It’s free and a lot of fun. All are welcome, but signups are appreciated.
Our next home game is August 19 against – wait for it – the Houston Dash. I don’t know about you, but I’m getting real tired of them. But I never get tired of the Thorns, or of winning. See you then!
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje