(in which we have a brief recap of the Thorns’ glorious successes to start September)
Since my match report is late, I decided to try a different format this time. Borrowing from others, here are my highlights by the numbers in no particular order.
2 – Crucial wins against the soft part of the remaining schedule. With the last two matches against playoff contenders, it was important for the Thorns to show well against the league weaklings. And they certainly did versus Washington but the Boston match was a “win-ugly” affair. The statistical domination that Portland displayed at home was virtually identically reversed in Boston. But the only stats that matter, goals in the net and goals not in the net, favored the Thorns both times.
6 – HUGE points and a guaranteed home playoff match. The Thorns can coast now, but they probably won’t. Last year in a similar position, Mark Parsons pushed the team to the last match and snatched the Shield. But did that perhaps take a toll, as the more important semifinal was lost? The Shield contender in 2016 was Washington and they coasted in to second place. Unlike they Thorns, they wound up in Houston.
50 % In the two matches, the Thorns converted half of their shots on goal. Had they done this all season, the girls in red would have posted a perfect 22-0 record and locked up the Shield in August. Too bad they are human. But if that conversion rate can be maintained for four more matches, the second trophy will be in Portland.
4 Goals Beyond. For the first time since the debut of the chant, the Riveters got to sing Four Goals Beyond! I had a wonderful vacation but I am sorry to have missed that. I’m sure it was ecstasy.
1 streak broken. When Emily Menges subbed out, in the 83rd minute of the Washington match, it marked her first minutes on the bench as a professional. Afterwards when Parsons learned of it, he said he was “pissed” with himself. He also said, “We were thinking about what would happen to our backline if we suddenly lost Menges.” He found out in Boston, as Emily was sadly gone due to the death of her brother. The Thorns were lucky that Boston forgot where the goal was because they had several quality chances. You have to believe that with Menges back there, the Breakers wouldn’t have had as many, or as good, opportunities.
10 Clean sheets. A club record for AD Franch. She is now tied for the most clean sheets in an NWSL season with the great Nicole Barnhardt. North Carolina have 11 this year, but by two different keepers.
17,335 A new league, and world, record average season attendance. A sellout for the final home match would push this to 17,776. Total attendance is certain to exceed 200,000 – it’s 190,691 now. At $25 a head, that’s $5,000,000 in tickets alone – a tidy gross profit given a $315,000 total salary cap.
5th leading scorer on the Thorns this year is … Emily “Setpiece” Sonnett with three. She’s tied with Allie Long, who is the team’s 2nd leading scorer all-time. If Allie had managed to stay onside, she’d be first but is now one behind Christine Sinclair.
21 The stands were filled with Raso ribbons at the Washington match – a sign of “mourning” for Hayley’s yellow card accumulation suspension. The plan was to sing the “Raso, Raso, Raso” chant starting at 21’. Fate intervened, as Allie Long drew a penalty kick at 20:40 and Nadia Nadim converted for the first goal. The One Goal Beyond chant was still echoing when Christine Sinclair added another goal. The opportunity to honor Hayley’s absence in song was lost.
6 But there were no such conflicts at 6’ and the Riveters spent the entire minute singing the Mana Shim song as a bittersweet farewell to an original Thorn. May she prosper in Europe!
My WOTM award for the Washington match goes to Christine Sinclair. She had the best positive-to-negative meaningful touch ratio on the day (21:2) and scored a pair of goals. In the far uglier Boston match, it’s a tossup between Lindsey Horan (15:2) and Hayley Raso (15:4). The edge goes to Raso for her great hustling assist on the lone goal – the most important goal of the season to date. Raso did not play versus Washington due to yellow cards. Lindsey Horan had another great match though (21:4). In Boston, Sinclair was invisible (6:4) except for the one crucial moment when she struck the match winner.
Adrianna Franch had two great matches, one in the heat and the other in the crosshairs. Her distribution was mostly good with one gaffe at home that arguably wasn’t all her fault – an intercepted pass out of the back that Amandine Henry turned away from. Her ratios were 12:3 at home, 22:7 away.
Meghan Klingenberg was the most consistent player of the two matches – 17:2 and then 13:2. Emily Sonnett posted 14:2 versus the Spirit with a goal and a more tepid 8:3 in Boston. Her set piece deliveries were quite good in both. Emily Menges was 10:1 for 83 minutes at home. Kat Reynolds went 12:3 in her usual fullback position at Providence Park, but looked shakier in Boston at centerback (7:5). Her replacement in Boston was Celeste Boureille who had a hard time keeping up with Midge Purce and was frequently out of position (11:8).
Amandine Henry was excellent at home (21:3) and had good first half at Jordan Field (13:0). But she faded in the second half (4:0). She had no shot attempts in either match which is concerning – she’s usually good for at least one crack from distance. One foot out the door?
Nadia Nadim was all over Washington (17:8) with most of her negative touches being ill-advised shots. But she disappeared in Boston (5:3). At home, she went 83 minutes, replaced by Savannah Jordan (2:1). In Boston, Nadia lasted 75 minutes, replaced by Mallory Weber (4:0) who looked slightly panicked on the ball for most of her shift.
Ashleigh Sykes played a fairly ineffectual first half at home (6:1), was subbed out and did not travel to Boston. Weber replaced her and wasn’t much better (6:0). Dagny Brynjarsdottir and Kendall Johnson made time-wasting appearances without touches.
Allie Long hasn’t played center forward professionally in a fair while and it showed. She struggled with her timing (offsides six times, including twice when she “scored”) and heading accuracy (something she’s normally very good at). Her numbers were 10:4 and then 7:2. If Parsons wants her on the pitch, perhaps he could try Horan at center forward and Long at center midfield.
Speaking of Mark Parsons, his genius award remains at the highest level. He may well be matching the great man for brains but not for hair.
His next challenge is deciding whether to make a run for the Shield or rotate the squad to minimize fatigue going into the playoffs. Favoring the first option is the general demand for achievement in Portland, and two home matches in a row. Also, if the Thorns win one more match the league will be forced to make North Carolina play their makeup game in Houston. More minutes, more risk of injuries, less rest, and more travel by the Courage are a good thing for the Thorns.
Arguing for resting the starters recognizes that making the Final means two cross-country trips to Orlando which are draining, and the need to get some real minutes for potential contributors Savannah Jordan, Tyler Lussi, and, especially, Tobin Heath. My suspicion is that Parsons is leaning to the latter: he rested Emily Menges specifically for fear of losing her to injury with things sewed up. And he had the 2016 experience to reflect on – the final push may have been a bit too emotionally, and maybe physically, draining on the team. If the Thorns win the trophy nobody will be crying too hard about not winning the Shield. The last argument for coasting is that the Courage essentially have the Shield locked up with a two point lead, and a game in hand to be played against lowly Houston.
19,141 fans braved the heat to watch the Thorns spank Washington. The game had been pre-announced as a sellout but the 100-degree temperatures forced an earlier than expected start time. Vytas of the Timbers was in the house and stopped by to visit the Riveters in the concourse.
This fantastic banner graced the walls of Providence Park, along with a giant red ribbon for “Tie a Raso Ribbon” day.
The Boston match drew 3,015 on a lovely evening – a near-sellout. There were plenty of Riveters in Beantown as evidenced by a couple flags hanging from the railings and large sprinkling of red throughout the stands. When Sinclair scored, the cheer from the crowd was the loudest of the night by far.
As mentioned before, Emily Menges missed the Boston match on bereavement. Her brother Bobby lost his battle with cancer and his family is continuing his fight with the Bobby Menges “I’m Not Done Yet” fund. The Thorns showed their solidarity by penning “Play Good Like Menges” on their forearms for the Boston match.
With the home closer and a home semifinal coming up, the Riveters will be extra-busy and could use your help. There will be tifo painting at the warehouse (just south of Alder at 649 SW 17th) on September 21st and 23rd. You can sign up for a shift. There may also be a call for a sit-down (no kneeling on concrete) work party during the week of the 24th. Please watch your newsletter, social media, or http://rosecityriveters.org/ for details.
A few reports ago, I mentioned a great new book on WoSo, Under the Lights and in the Dark by Gwendolyn Oxenham. She will be at Powell’s Books with Allie Long on Friday Sept 29th at 7:30 pm. Allie features in the book and will be signing copies.
Finally, check http://rosecityriveters.org/ for details on tickets and accommodations for the NWSL Final in Orlando October 14. While you’re there, you can vote for the Riveters’ Player of the Year. If you can’t decide who to vote for, may I suggest Lindsey Horan?
By Richard Hamje