The next time we see our Portland Thorns on the pitch, the results will matter.
That wasn’t the case the three times we saw them the previous week; the “Thorns Invitational” was only an opportunity for us, and the coaching and training staff, to see how well the players and team are shaping as they approach Opening Day.
In the past I’ve done separate match reports for the preseason games; this year I was just not far enough recovered from big surgery to sit and take notes for the full ninety. Instead, what I’d like to do is provide my observations, and then open the comment thread for yours. Let’s talk about what we saw, or didn’t see.
Matchday 1: Thorns vs Chicago
I missed this match, it being less than 48 hours post-op. The match report, however, provided me with several things to ponder. This would turn out to be the only match where the Thorns would field a team that included all their internationals – the US players would be gone by mid-week – and, unsurprisingly, that affected the shape of the match.
1. The report suggests that many – or most – of the Thorns’ opportunities came either from set-pieces or strikes from distance. Not surprising but not really illuminating, either.
2. Disturbingly, though, it also suggests that almost all Portland’s scoring chances came from or went through Heath. While it’s great that the Notorious TFH is in midseason form in March, it’s not so great when you realize that we’re going without her for a big chunk of midsummer.
3. Dagny Brynjardottir came on late in place of Lindsey Horan. Could that be the early season plan, much the way Dagny was the “late-match Henry” towards the end of 2017? That could work. Wish we had some individual stats from this match to see how well it worked.
4. Sounds like Kelli Hubly may be on the bubble for this match; otherwise I’d have thought that Kat Reynolds would have replaced Ellie Carpenter at the half instead of Hubly getting half an hour; looks like Parsons wanted a good look at Hubly, instead.
Matchday 2: Thorns v U.S. U-23 WNT
I did manage to totter out to Merlo for this game, only to find that not only were the internationals gone from the Portland 18, but that Coach Parsons had decided to use the match to look at nearly all his trialists and invitees. The only regulars that saw the full match were Eckerstrom in goal, Hubly for the defense, and Weber up top. Ifeoma Onumonu went deep into the second half, though, and Liz Ball for an hour. Everyone else either got just a half or less, or were some variation of rookie or trialist.
The result was a match that ended up looking much even that it probably should have – less like a professional side against a group of gifted amateurs and more like a couple of college all-star teams.
I had a very difficult time sorting out all this confusion, and so instead of ratings ended up with some random jottings about players and the match.
- None of the trialists/NRIs really stood out. None were obviously over their heads, but none were clearly ready for a signed contract. Several did make impressions one way or the other. I’ve bolded the trialist’s names in the section below to make them more accessible:
- Simone Charley looked active and dangerous all evening. Smart player, good positioning, pacey. Mind you, I thought that when she tried out here last spring and she didn’t take, so we’ll see.
- Arden Holden, on the other hand, looked singularly unimpressive in midfield, passing into danger and being dispossessed far too often. That showed up particularly in contrast to Madison Pogarch, who played just behind her at left back; Pogarch was solid defensively and had a particularly deft touch passing. Apparently Parsons has seen enough, too, as he lifted Holden for Gabby Seiler at the hour mark.
- Much was made of the debut of middle-school-age trialist Olivia Moultrie, who played the second half. She looked fine, which in itself is a pretty impressive achievement for a player who was playing three or more tiers above her age level. Hopefully we’ll see Moultrie again in half a decade or so.
- None of the regulars particularly distinguished or embarrassed herself; most were solid (Weber, Ball, Hubly) without looking particularly forward in their preparation. Two regulars each had a “moment”, though, each of which had me scratching my head.
- Eckerstrom was fine in goal and guiltless on the concession. In the second half, however, she had collected the ball and was waiting for her team to push upfield when she rolled the ball several yards in front of her. U-23 forward Ashley Sanchez, who had been a caution all evening, immediately darted towards her. Eck had no outlet and, with Sanchez rushing on, had to boot the ball into touch. Since she’s not coming off a layoff it’s irking to see her make these little goofs.
- Onumonu had what might be the most Onumonuesque moment of the match in the 12th minute or so. Pogarch (I think) zipped a gorgeous ball up the left channel, but with SO much zip on it that it seemed impossible for any player to run it down. Onumonu ran it down. And then, with her marker beat and nothing but green between her than the WNT keeper’s near post, Onumonu shanked the ball over the byline with her first touch.
- As a team the Thorns were, unsurprisingly, all over the place. That wasn’t particularly troubling, but it wasn’t particularly heartening, either. The midweek match seemed like more a placeholder and a chance to look at the rookies than a genuine tune-up for the season.
After the midweek match my biggest concern was that the loss of Heath and Horan took a lot of the fire out of the Thorns’ attack. The defending looked good enough to keep Macario & Co. at bay, but the chances were few and far between.
Matchday 3: Thorns v Reign FC
The rubber match was sort of a mashup of the first two. Like the Chicago match, both coaches brought what looked like their starting XI to the pitch. Like the U-23 match, however, missing players – in this case, Heath, Horan and Sonnett for Portland, Rapinoe and Long for Tacoma – had an outsized impact on the game.
Both teams created some very good chances, but either couldn’t finish or were beaten by good defending.
The Reign outshot PTFC 12-9 and put 7 of those dozen on target; Eckerstrom dealt with all seven, including a wild flurry in the 50th minute that included two pointblank reaction saves and a strong jump to turn a Beverly Yanez shot over the bar.
Late in the second half the Portland defense suddenly forgot how to deal with pressure on a loose ball near the goal. Liz Ball dropped an awful backpass that forced Eckerstrom into a panic clear that fell short. The ball dinged around the top corner of the 18 before dropping to Jasmyne Spencer, who shot hard but at a tough angle. Eckerstrom smothered Spencer’s shot at her near post.
At the other end the scoreless result wasn’t so much goalkeeping as shooting.
In the 8th minute Sinclair looped a cross into the six-yard box that Lydia Williams couldn’t hold and spilled forward onto the boot of an advancing Ana-maria Crnogocevic. With Williams stranded all AMC had to do was dink an easy chip into the goal, but she couldn’t control her shot and it went high.
About half an hour later it was Caitlin Foord’s turn. Carpenter picked out her far-post run and delivered a gorgeous cross, but Foord either couldn’t control the pass or shanked it over the byline – I was screened by other fans and couldn’t see the end of the play.
After the restart Dagny headed well over, and Foord had another chance at the hour mark but her on-target header was denied by good work from Michelle Betos.
If I had to characterize the midfield battle I’d have called it a draw. Without Rapinoe and Long Tacoma couldn’t really dominate the center of the pitch, and without Horan and Heath neither could Portland.
Portland generated a respectable attack – less the critical US midfielders, which is reassuring – but AMC and Foord continued last season’s finishing woes. The Thorns also looked less than steady in back without the Great Wall of Emily. At right back Carpenter was terrific, but on the right side Klingenberg was her now-usual mashup of clever passing and defensive errors. Eckerstrom has been solid.
Those were just my impressions from a somewhat random preseason invitational. To me the team looks about where I’d expect; still a work in progress, and with many of the same strengths and weaknesses we saw in 2018.
How about you? Any hot takes from the past week? Let’s discuss in the comments!