(In which the Thorns are held in check, but return the favor. Postseason looms)
The Thorns made the long trip to Florida and came home with a point and a record-breaking clean sheet. With the home semi-final locked up, the objectives for this match were different than normal. Primary objectives: get the defense back in shape following the poor showing in Boston and re-integrate the returning international players. Secondary objectives: get Tobin Heath back on the field and survive another 90 minutes without a Horan yellow card. Tertiary objective: win the match.
By these standards, the match was a success in spite of the 0-0 score. The match was played at a high pace but with many interruptions for fouls, dives and balls out-of-bounds. For all the action, there wasn’t much threat. Orlando only mustered two shots on goal, both from distance by Alex Morgan. The Pride did not even attempt a shot from the six-yard box as they never had any possession in the danger area.
Portland had the best opportunity of the match through Ashleigh Sykes near halftime, and a near-chance in the Orlando box at the end. Both teams repeatedly tried long balls over the top, Orlando more so. Both assistant referees struggled, which cramped the teams’ ability to pull off the ball behind.
The first instance was this offside call on Nadia Nadim in the 18th minute. The angle isn’t perfect, but as you watch the run unfold it seems that she must have been onside.
Eleven minutes later it happened again. This one isn’t very close at all.
In the 35th, it was the Pride’s turn to get burned. Alex Morgan is clearly onside and would have been alone with AD Franch – a prospect which I was happy to not see unfold.
The center referee, Christopher Spivey, did a respectable job as he let them play as much as possible. For example, in the 37th Allie Long cleaned out Camila on a foul that could have earned her a yellow card. She’d already talked her way into one card, so was fortunate to avoid an early shower. Similarly, Camila committed a ton of fouls and added a couple dives, yet was never carded.
The marquee moment of the match came in the 39th when Ashleigh Sykes played a one-two with Hayley Raso that sprung her into the Orlando box one-on-one with Ashlyn Harris. Her shot was low and hard, as she tried to simply blast the ball through the keeper. It nearly worked, but the looping rebound was cleared off the line by Monica.
The second half followed the same pattern as the first. Orlando had one sorta-highlight as Alex Morgan unleashed a shot from the top of the eighteen, which Franch parried. No Pride player was following up, so the ball was easily cleared. Franch’s save is nominated for Save-Of-The-Week, mostly because it kept the NWSL-record 11th clean sheet in a season by a goalkeeper.
Portland had two highlights in the second. First was the return of Tobin Heath. She was introduced along with Amandine Henry, at the hour mark. Tobin looked a little rusty, as should be expected, but she also looked very fit and her passing improved with each minute. In the closing minutes, Heath made this lovely shovel pass to Christine Sinclair. An uncharacteristic poor touch by Christine prevented what could have been Portland’s second highlight moment and a potential game-winner.
The first objective was clearly met- the Portland defense was solid all match. There was none of the desperate chasing and lunging that we saw in Boston. When a high-powered offense like Orlando’s cannot generate a single shot in the box, you know the defensive positioning and effort was stellar. The returning international players did quite well after an initial few minutes of sloppiness. When Henry and Heath entered, Portland’s game shifted from competent to dangerous within minutes.
All-in-all it was a tense game with a high energy level with nothing much to show for it. For a neutral, a snoozer. For the partisan, a knuckle-biter. Portland fans should have no complaints – we always want to win but a cleanly earned road point against a playoff team is a tidy outcome.
The result leaves the league standings unchanged. Orlando needed a win to guarantee a playoff spot but they got it anyway when Seattle lost to FCKC later. Portland needed a win to keep pace with North Carolina for a long-shot at the Shield. When the Courage also drew their game, the Shield race remained as it had been. Chicago punched their playoff ticket, so the only remaining question is which team will come to Providence Park and which will go to Cary. As things stand now, the Thorns will host Chicago on two consecutive Saturdays and the Courage will do the same with Orlando.
The two best Thorns on the pitch this day were Adrianna Franch and Ashleigh Sykes. My nod for WOTM is AD Franch – it’s not every day you set an all-time league record. She as quick to credit the defense for the accomplishment as she well should. This was not a “stand on her head” match for AD. She had 15 positive touches including two routine (for her) saves, to 6 poor touches two of which were goal kicks straight out of bounds in the first half. Overall her decision-making, positioning and distribution were up to her usual standard. I am sure she is just as thankful as we that Alex Morgan was called offside on a breakaway, but we’ll never know who’d have won that battle.
Ash Sykes is finally finding her feet with the Thorns. Her performances have been steadily improving recently. Her goal attempt nearly went in. Might she have tried to round Harris, or chip her? I suspect she was trying the chip and just didn’t pull it off. Still, she was the Thorns’ main threat and contributed defensively per usual. Her positive-to-negative meaningful touch ratio was 14:1.
The defenders had good outings. Emily Menges made a few forays forward, only once mistimed. Her touch ratio was 11:4. Emily Sonnett had a ratio of 9:1 and delivered several good free kicks. Katherine Reynolds had a quiet afternoon with a touch ratio of 6:2. Meghan Klingenberg had a ratio of 8:0 in the first half but only 1:0 in the second. The entire defense had only two poor touches in the second half – a major contributor to Orlando’s frustration.
The midfield had a choppier outing. Orlando’s midfield is probably comparable to Portland’s quality, with Marta and Camila. The battle was a stalemate, such that nobody stood out for the Thorns. Allie Long had a rough day, drawing an early yellow card for dissent and nearly getting a second. She is clearly not impressed with Camila and the Brazilian style of playing-cum-diving. Her touch ratio was 8:2 for 60 minutes. Amandine Henry did better, posting a 9:2 ratio in only thirty minutes. She also attempted two shots from distance, one high, the other wide. Lindsey Horan had a quiet day by her standards with a touch ratio of 12:2 and no noteworthy springing passes.
Up front, Christine Sinclair had a mediocre match (7:3). She disappeared for long stretches and her touch was off a few times – most notably in the 88th when she could have been in alone. I cannot attribute this to her effort, which was consistent, or to close defensive marking as she was often left alone. It was just one of those days, I suppose. Maybe the warm weather or long plane ride contributed. Nadia Nadim turned in her usual Energizer bunny performance (10:3) for an hour. Her two best chances were both called back for offside and another time she elected to try a near-post shot instead of a centering pass. I sometimes think she tries too hard and this may have been one of those times. Her replacement was Tobin Heath finally taking the field after a six-month rehab of a back problem. She contributed a 7:2 touch ratio in a half-hour, with the negative touches her first two. By the end of the match, she looked almost her usual 2016 self. Hayley Raso (12:4) was the nominal striker in this match. She nearly had an assist on the lovely one-two with Ash Sykes, but no real opportunities of her own. The through balls from her teammates were all slightly too fast for her to catch up to.
Mark Parsons had the Thorns ready to play in this match. The team had a chance to win right up to the end, in a match where winning was not the prime objective. The double-switch substitution at the 60th worked well. Might he have given Savannah Jordan some minutes for Raso toward the end? Perhaps Jordan is still not 100% – she was listed as healthy but those lists are often fudged. Lindsey Horan avoided getting her fifth yellow card, which raises a dilemma for the coaching staff. Does Lindsey play versus Chicago and risk being suspended for the semi-final? Not if I’m Parsons. [Note: as best I can tell reading the NWSL rules, a suspension earned in the last game of the season must be served at the next game, whether playoffs or the following season opener.] [UPDATED note: thanks to bfredrix who found in the 2014 NWSL Operations Manual, the most recent version available, that this specific situation is addressed in the rules. If Horan gets her fifth yellow on Saturday, she will NOT be suspended for the semi-final. She will have to pay the $100 fine now and serve the suspension next season. Bottom line: this is not an issue.]
Attendance at the match was just over 7,000 which is not a good look in Orlando’s large and lovely new stadium. However, this is actually above average for the Pride in 2017 although well below last year’s average. This is strange, given that the Pride finished next to last in 2016 but are now playoff-bound (and with big names like Morgan and Marta). Some type of sophomore slump maybe, or folks had a bad time last year and aren’t coming back. The announcers attributed it to the rain that fell before kickoff, but doesn’t Orlando have a short rain shower every afternoon this time of year?
Speaking of announcers, the Lifetime duo came off as a pair of Alex Morgan fan girls. The broadcast tilted distinctly toward the home side, especially from Aly Wagner, the color (purple) analyst. At one point, she rattled off all the titles that Alex Morgan had won – World Cup, Olympic gold medal, UEFA Champions League, and even a WPS title. The implication left with the uninformed viewer was that Alex has never won the NWSL title and has never played in the league prior to Orlando.
Lifetime had a small technical glitch that threw off a lot of viewers including yours truly. The TV game clock stopped for 30 seconds at the 88:50 mark and never caught up. As a result, the stoppage time announcement appeared to happen at 89:30 and three minutes later the match ended although the TV clock said 92:30. Apparently nobody on the broadcast team realized.
There were clearly a LOT of Tobin Heath fans in the crowd as one of the day’s biggest ovations greeted her entry. There were also plenty of Riveters in the stands. Nearly every crowd shot showed some red-clad amongst the purple. One particularly optimistic fan flew this banner, referring to his expectation to see the Thorns again on October 14.
Ah yes, October 14th – the NWSL Final in Orlando. The Riveters contingent is likely to be substantial. You can get tickets and arrange accommodations at http://rosecityriveters.org. You can also learn about other events occurring on that weekend such as supporter group pickup soccer, the WoSoCo women’s soccer conference, and pride weekend festivities.
Our next match is the regular season finale against the Chicago Red Stars. This is another Lifetime game – in fact all the Thorns’ remaining matches will be on Lifetime – so the start time is 12:30. It’s Prom! All wild and crazy Riveters are encouraged to wear formal dress to see the season out. It’s also Buy You Capo a Pint day, where you can thank the capos for their season effort by donating the equivalent of a beer or cider. Funds raised go to the Rock ‘n Roll Girls Camp. Last but far from least, the Riveters’ Supporter’s Player of the Year will be awarded after the match so plan to stick around and see who wins.
Stand up for the Rose City!
By Richard Hamje
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