(in which the Thorns dispatch the Pride at home and now are going to the Final in Orlando)
The Thorns beat the Orlando Pride 4-1 at Providence Park to earn a berth in the NWSL Final. One more win, this time versus the North Carolina Courage, and the Thorns will be the league’s second team with two stars on their crest.
Portland got off to the best possible start scoring two goals in the first 15 minutes of the match. Amandine Henry scored a tap-in of a largely uncontested cross from Meghan Klingenberg. The Riveters had barely finished singing One Goal Beyond when Emily Sonnett flicked a header past the near post off a Tobin Heath free kick.
Eight minutes later, Orlando pegged one back on a nice corner kick play with a flicked-in header by Toni Pressley redirected into the top corner of the Portland goal by Alanna Kennedy. A nervous fifty minutes later, the Thorns regained their two-goal advantage on a Hayley Raso first-time shot and then Christine Sinclair settled matters with a beautifully taken shot to the far post.
Orlando’s weak spot all season was their defense and this match exposed that for all to see. The Thorns had six shots on goal and five others close. Orlando blocked none, a sign of defenders arriving late. Henry got goal-side of her defender in the box for the first goal and three minutes later Sonnett did the same for the second. With Orlando pushing for an equalizer and courtesy of two top-class assists, Raso and then Sinclair got behind the last defender to score the other Portland goals.
The Pride’s strength, especially later in the season, was attack through Alex Morgan and Marta. Marta delivered one good corner kick for Orlando’s goal. Morgan had one open look at the Portland net but shanked the shot far wide. Last week, the Pride lost their midfield powerhouse Camila to a knee injury. Her loss was keenly felt as Orlando could not play through Portland’s relentless pressure.
By now you have probably seen multiple replays of the goals in this match. I will instead highlight some other moments of the match which illustrate how things went. First, let’s look at what the Orlando defense had to deal with. Here is an example from the 13th minute as the Pride try to work the ball out of the back only to run into the brick wall that was Lindsey Horan. Horan initially headed their attempted long ball back to the defense and then stole the follow-up pass. She retained possession against two Orlando midfielders to create a dangerous opportunity for Portland with a pinpoint pass. This type of tenacious play was Orlando’s undoing.
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A few minutes later, we have another example as Hayley Raso fights off two defenders and delivers an entry ball to Tobin Heath that was called back for offside. The call was a close one, but the play leading up to it shows how Orlando was under constant attack.
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Later in the match, notice how the Orlando defense on this Tobin Heath corner kick left Lindsey Horan completely unmarked near the penalty spot. Horan is the best header of the ball on the Thorns, and surely the Orlando coaching staff knew this, yet a simple move left her all alone. Nothing came of it, but it’s not hard to imagine that turning into a goal.
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Portland’s defense was also a bit shaky at times but Orlando did not make them pay. Here we see Ashleigh Sykes run back to defend but then switch off, giving fellow Aussie Steph Catley a free run to the goal. Fortunately for Portland, Catley’s cross found nobody in purple. The score was 2-1, so a goal then would have set up a nerve-wracking ending.
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With the score still 2-1, Chioma Ubogagu retrieved a loose ball near the Portland box. Two Thorns were there but neither closed her down. She launched an uncontested cross toward Alex Morgan. Kat Reynolds was one Thorn doing her job – she had tracked Morgan closely and cleared the cross with a decisive header. This play left Morgan with a big bump on her head. I could hear the clash of heads from the first row of the stands – it sounded like someone splitting coconuts.
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Those two lapses were the sum total of Portland’s defensive mistakes on the day. Orlando could not punish the Thorns for either and so could not work themselves back into the match. As they tired, the Pride’s lack of depth became evident. Coach Tom Sermanni sent in Rachel Hill, Jasmyne Spencer and then Danica Fields only to see his team’s deficit widen. On the other side, Mark Parsons had the luxury of sending in three starting international players — Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Nadia Nadim and Allie Long — to lock things down.
Ultimately, Orlando was outplayed at every position on the field. Their big stars had few chances to deliver and failed at those. Their supporting cast just wasn’t good enough or determined enough this day. Thankfully, the inexperienced refereeing crew had no impact on the outcome of the match.
The Thorns return to Orlando for the Final. The North Carolina Courage hung on for a 1-0 defeat of the Chicago Red Stars to earn their spot. So this year we get a rematch of last year’s semi-final and the 2013 Final. Here’s hoping the result matches the latter. The Thorns converted four of six shots (67%) on target versus Orlando, which was an improvement on the past two games which had an other-worldly 50% conversion rate. The Courage will have to do something special to keep a clean sheet on Saturday.
The Woman-of-the-Match for the Thorns was Lindsey Horan. As always, I count positive-to-negative meaningful touches and Lindsey was first on the team by a wide margin: 20:3 in the first half and 13:3 in the second – 33:6 for the entire match which is the highest I have seen this season from any player. Her through ball to Raso for the third goal was as perfect a pass as is possible. She was constantly destroying Orlando attacks and springing Portland ones.
The entire front six for the Thorns were great in this match. Tobin Heath posted a ratio of 20:4 over 80 minutes with an assist. Amandine Henry in her last action at Providence Park had a ratio of 15:2 and the opening goal with her first touch of the match. Ashleigh Sykes gets a demerit for her ball-watching episode shown above, but had a touch ratio of 11:2 over 67 minutes. Dagny Brynjarsdottir replaced Sykes and was great from the first second. Her ratio was 13:3 over 25 minutes. And, of course, Nadia Nadim in her last appearance in Portland had a 5:0 ratio with an absolute peach of a cross to set up the final goal. Allie Long made a late entry replacing Henry and recorded only two touches, both positive.
Up front, Christine Sinclair played her usual controlled game with a ratio of 22:3. One of her negatives was the failure to close down Ubogagu’s cross in the box, shown above. But she scored the “best” goal of the match bringing down Nadim’s cross perfectly with her left foot and finishing the goal with her right in the same motion. Hayley Raso wasn’t chopped liver either. Her ratio was 16:5 with the precisely taken third goal. Both Raso and Sinclair played aggressive defense all game long.
In the back, Emily Sonnett had a perfect 12:0 touch ratio and scored the game winner. Her goal celebration is something to see – as someone pointed out she seems about to spontaneously combust. Her partner, Emily Menges was very active on the back line and came forward a few times as we’ve seen in the last couple games. Her touch ratio was 13:2. Menges was assigned to Marta for the much of the match and shut her down. On the opposite side, Kat Reynolds was busy snuffing out Alex Morgan’s attack. She did this splendidly well with a touch ratio of 13:2 which included two very important interventions in the box. And finally, Meghan Klingenberg was back in her favorite pairing with Tobin Heath. Kling posted a 14:3 touch ratio and assisted the opening goal.
Adrianna Franch is the only Thorn nominated for an NWSL “Best” award this year (how can she be the only one?) but her performance in this match was nothing special. She was little called-upon, had no chance on the goal concession and never had a good opportunity to start an attack with her distribution. As her 6:3 touch ratio indicates, she was steady in the net but not spectacular. But for a fan, the best games are the ones where your goalkeeper doesn’t need to stand on her head.
Mark Parsons certainly retains his genius rating this week. The Thorns were ready to play and the game plan was perfectly aligned to put a Portland strength on an Orlando weakness. His bravest move was benching Nadim, in favor of Heath. Nadia has not been playing well the past few games and clearly Parsons noticed this and had the guts to do something about it. Her substitution was exquisitely timed since she got an assist within a minute of entering the match. Allie Long’s playing time and positioning has been a head-scratcher – Parsons tried her as a striker most recently to get her some starts but her production has been declining. It will be curious to see if she and Nadim get more minutes in the Final. My guess is that we will see no changes next week.
The display featured a line spoken by Ophelia in Hamlet, Act 4, Scene 5. While Ophelia may be crazy, this line is not. The three lifted panels had been stained to look like parchment with 1,000 teabags brewed in a garbage can. Teams of Riveters then painted the words and borders in a two-day marathon.
The pattern in the crowd was a “remake” of the display from the homer opener in 2013, the year of the Thorns’ first championship. The white bar on red was the Thorns original jersey design. This year’s version was formed from several thousand screen-printed bandanas in red and off-white held up by the Riveters and then taken home as souvenirs.
The crowd was not quite a sellout at 18,193 but was still more than enough to set a new world record for total and average season attendance in women’s club soccer.
There were several new banners on the walls for this match including one commemorating AD Franch’s record 11 clean sheets in 2017.
And finally, to recognize Alex Morgan’s mid-week adventure at Disney World (google it), was this little gem.
The Riveters will be sending a large contingent to Orlando for the match. Tickets are still available and another small block of hotel rooms were obtained. There will be pickup soccer for the support groups on Saturday morning at 9:30 am at 480 N Orange Ave. Friday night the Pride’s Crown Supporters Group is hosting a welcome bash, 6:00 pm at The Venue, 511 Virginia Drive. They are also hosting a tailgate noon until 3:00 pm Saturday at Broken Cauldron Brewery, 1012 W Church St.
There will also be some more serious goings-on. The WoSoCo convention is that weekend, as is Orlando’s pride festival. There is a volunteer opportunity to aid Puerto Rico by packing meals for the relief effort on Sunday 11:00 am – 1:00 pm.
Back home, there are LOTS of places you can go to watch the match with other Riveters. The up-to-the-minute list can be found at http://rosecityriveters.org/ Hopefully those of us staying behind can go to the airport to welcome the champions home next week!
C’mon You Girls in Red!
By Richard Hamje