Thorns FC: Winning Ugly

It was one ugly ass road win.

It was an ugly opponent; Orlando, this season’s Sky Blue. And boy, howdy, were they ugly. Defensively porous ugly. Offensively impotent ugly. Hacky, cheap-shot-foul-y ugly.

It was an ugly game. Sloppy; 63% passing, Thorns? 59% passing, Orlando? Ugly.
Dirty; twenty-six fouls and only twenty-seven shots? Yep. That’s ugly.

It was even ugly in the middle; center referee Marie-Soleil Beaudoin didn’t have a great evening, letting Pressley and Boyles play hack-a-Thorn, and that’s without the whole bizarre “hour-long weather delay to play the final two minutes and change of added time” thing.

And then there was this:

Image from Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Anybody want to guess that the fuck that is? An explosion in a paint factory? A particularly bizarre example from Picasso’s “Blue Period”? What you see when you watch “Spongebob Squarepants” after consuming fourteen ounces of really potent agarics and a half rack of Natty Light?

No.

It’s a screencapture of the Yahoo! Sports “stream” of the Orlando match. About minute four of the first, utterly-unwatchable, 16 minutes that all we could see was a freakishly dadaist, pixellated moving mess.

Now, excuse me fore a moment, because this is where I break off and rant for a bit.

<rant>

This league is seven years old. It has some issues with funding and attendance and salaries and officiating.

But it’s the longest-running women’s professional league in the nation.

And, as such, there is no excuse for this sort of ugly-ass mess of a broadcast.

“Image” is an often-derided concept, but – particularly for sport – image is important. If you look professional observers will usually take you as professional. If you look chaotic, disorganized, slipshod, and incompetent? Fans, journalists, and casual observers will take that to mean that you ARE incompetent.

The loss of the Lifetime network agreement was reported as a mixed blessing; the network was derided as a poor fit for sports, but it had provided a platform that was accessible to the walk-up fan with a barely-above-basic cable or satellite package. The shift to the Yahoo! stream was treated with caution by those who remembered the amateur antic of the early YouTube streams.

Given that level of skepticism, allowing this kind of pixillated junk to go out over the internet is a black eye for the league. If the league office wasn’t on the phone to Yahoo! breathing fire within minutes of kickoff, they should have been. If the Yahoo! execs haven’t been forced to sign a pact in their heart’s blood never, ever to let this happen again, then they should be, and the league should ensure they do.

This is a professional league. The players, and the fans, deserve and should receive better than this.

</RANT>

Photo Credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

Okay. That’s enough about that.

Rather than do a regular match report – why rehash an ugly game in detail – let’s just go over some of the lessons learned from this sucker.

Lesson #1: mark up on set pieces!

The Thorns learned this lesson the hard way in the 10th minute.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Orlando had been pressing hard on the Thorns’ defense for the preceding five or six minutes. Finally a 6th minute flurry around the Thorns’ penalty area gave Orlando the corner kick. Someone – I believe it was Emily Menges, sorry, EM… – lost track of Toni Pressley, who made the near post run and flicked the corner in; 1-nil Orlando.

Fortunately for Portland, Orlando was next in line for the schoolin’.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

We should start by noting that Ellie Carpenter’s throw-ins are a hell of a weapon. If the Thorns can get a throw anywhere within about 20 yards of the byline she can be deadly.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

The gaggle of four purple shirts around Brynjarsdottir and Foord did them no good at all, and Andressinha is already moving to space to pick up Dagny’s little headed (or chested) central drop/pass.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

The play almost died there, though – remember, I told you this was one ugly game – because Foord can’t run onto Andressina’s slightly-overhit pass, and it looked like the ball would just roll harmlessly away towards Ubogagu at the top corner of the penalty area…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

…until Celeste Boureille comes flying in and tattoos the ball right through the crowd. Seven defenders (and Andressinha) are between the ball and the goal and yet somehow no defender sticks a leg out and blocks that sucker.

Hayley Kopmeyer had a huge moment later in the match, where she made not one but two terrific saves to deny the Thorns a fourth goal from a penalty kick and rebound. But here? She dives too weakly and too late, and the ball pings off the near post.

This is where we learn the next lesson.

LEsson #2: follow the shot!

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

This is something that drives me nuts much of the time. This is Attacking Soccer 101; your teammate bangs a shot, you don’t stand there nodding in admiration – go towards the goal!

There’s no guarantee of anything in soccer, any more than life. The ball may go in, or the keeper may hold it. Or it may rebound off the keeper, or the post, or the crossbar, or a defender. Who knows? But if you’re not moving to get a lick at it, that maybe-coulda-shoulda-woulda will never happen.

Dagny moved. Foord, although she had no defender within six yards, didn’t. I think it may be because she was, or thought she was, offside.

But you play the whistle, and what if one of Dagny’s defenders gets to the ball and it clanks off her?

Sorry, C.F., but that’s why Dagny gets the Ancient Icelandic Order Of Hustling Her Butt Off and you get the Empty Foster’s Oil Can of Standing Around Looking Sheepish.

She followed the shot, and got the goal for it.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Carpenter with the long throw, Dagny with the control down, Andressinha with the drop, Boureille with the seeing-eye shot, and Dagny again with the hustle and it’s all even.

That’s some pretty amazing junk right there. But who cares? Crap goals count just like golazos. And speaking of that…

lesson #3: defend for ninety minutes

Eight minutes later Thorns put another past Kopmeyer on a gorgeous Andressinha free kick golazo. Then in the 57th minute a pretty Foord half-volley rang up Portland’s third.

And the Thorns were pretty lucky that Orlando is a goddamn dumpster fire, because otherwise defending like this…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

…and this…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

…would probably have cost the Thorns against a better opponent. The Return of Menges helped settle the backline, but the Thorns still don’t look 100% steady in the back. There needs to be some serious woodshedding on the practice field this week.

But it wasn’t a better opponent, it was sad, sick, sorry Orlando, so the Thorns took away all three points.

conclusions

This match – as brutal as it often was both on the pitch and on the screen – pointed out a couple of things about the current state of the Thorns. I’m going to be hopeful about both of them; goalscoring, and defending.

Goals. Andressinha’s sweet strike, and the hard graft that resulted in a Dagny Smite, says to me that the goals may well be there, even when all the internationals are gone. The utter dominance of the Big Three – Sinc, Lindsey Horan, and Tobin Heath – last season made me worry that the Thorns would be stymied without them. I worried that a team that had Andressinha pulling strings rather than Sinc would be hammered flat when the opponent got physical. Both worries were somewhat allayed by the Thorns’ work in Orlando, and I’m hopeful that playing together more will make the “left-behinders” even better.

Defense. The Thorns are still struggling with a full ninety minutes of solid defending. There are still too many moments when a truly awful team like Orlando got waaaaay too many good looks at the Thorns’ goal.

The defensive problems are fixable, though. Menges’ return will help immensely, as will this group playing together in practice and on matchday. I can’t think that a player of Seiler’s quality won’t grow into the team, and that Menges will biff Kat Reynolds up the back of the head until she stops hucking long lobs aimlessly downfield, and the backline will learn where everybody is and what they’re going to do on set pieces and breakways and whatever.

Right now the Thorns are lying fifth on the table, even on 8 points with Chicago and North Carolina but with a game in hand, and the chance to take some licks at two teams below them on the table; Washington this coming weekend and then Sky Blue again on Matchday 6.

The Australians will be gone this week, however, and Washington has looked surprisingly perky this spring. Even Sky Blue seems no more than half-dead.

The next two weeks might be a lot more chancy than they looked back in April.

player ratings and comments

Foord (88′ – +5/-3 : +7/-3 : +12/-6) Foord was like the Little Matilda with the Curl in this one. When she was good – as she was when she was forechecking and scoring pretty goals – she was good. When she was bad – as when she was making careless passes and striking poor PKs – she wasn’t. Foord at 80% is a damn good striker, and she’ll be missed in Maryland. It’d be nice to see her a trifle more precise, though.

Lussi (2′ – +1/-0) No impact.

Crnogorcevic (45′ – +3/-3) Same-same as Foord; good and not-so-good. Great 46th minute through ball put Foord through and could easily have been another goal but for Morgan Reid’s crazy tracking back and tackling. But missed a sitter in the 18th minute when Boureille put her in completely behind the Orlando backline and all AMC could do was head weakly wide with only Kopmeyer to beat.

Once Foord is gone AMC is going to be the #1 striker on the depth chart. So she needs, and the Thorns need her, to be better.

Raso (45′ – +3/-4) Hayley Raso’s second half in Orlando reminded me strongly of much of her first year with the Thorns. She ran. Hard. At everything. She got her self into dangerous positions. She worked hard on both sides of the ball.

But somehow she just couldn’t get anything out of that. She’s just not back in the groove, her long layoff shows, and she’s going to have to work herself back into matchday sharpness with the Matildas rather than the Thorns, damn it.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Andressinha (61′ – +7/-2 : +5/-1 : +12/-5) THIS is the player I thought we’d see last season. Creative and energetic. Terrific on set-piece delivery. Decent on defense and a hub for the attack. She can’t replace Sinclair. But if she can continue in this fashion she looks to do a lot of what Sinc was doing…at least until she gets the call to France and after Brazil’s early exit.

Purce (29′ – +9/-2) Is this what Midge Purce is gonna do this season? Comes on late and runs at goal like a mad thing and draws PKs? I like it!

Lots of other good stuff in her barely-half-an-hour shift, too, including a bunch more strong runs, some decent passes, and tough forechecking. Damn good work.

Boureille (+11/-2 : +8/-3 : +19/-5) Cee Bee had a hell of a match, including sparking the Dagny goal. Hard to choose between her, Brynjarsdottir, Carpenter, and Menges for Woman of the Match, but I tend to lean towards Boureille for just all-around hard graft. Her 76% pass completion looks sketchy in absolute terms but was a full 10% better than her teammates, so she looked good on the pitch relative to them (and the whole Orlando squad). Solid outing from Cee Bee.

Brynjarsdottir (+8/-3 : +3/-2 : +11/-5) InStat gives her the top rating of all players on the pitch, but I thought that – while she was outstanding early – she faded markedly in the second half. Still one of the best on the field, though, and great to see her open her scoring accounts. Will need to step up even higher once Andressinha is called away, but right now is working well with her midfield partners, Andri and Cee Bee.

Carpenter (+9/-4 : +11/-4 : +20/-8) Whoever fills in for her at right back will be a big step down. That’s not a knock on them, but a testament to how good this player is right now. What’s scary is that she has years to get even better.

That’s the good kind of scary.

Klingenberg (+5/-1 : +8/-1 : +13/-2) Another solid outing from Kling. If I was a superstitious man I’d bet she had found the fountain of youth somewhere in the swamps outside Disney World before Matchday 1. She’s having a season like I’ve never seen from her in years, and I couldn’t be happier for her, and her team. Get some, Kling!

Menges (+11/-4 : +8/-3 : +19/-7) I could tell you why she was so important, but instead I’ll just show you, starting in the 54th minute.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Lots of defenders – including a lot of the other Portland defenders – might have tried to slide in, or overcommit, or panic. Menges, being Menges, stays on her feet and just stays in front of Ubogagu.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Now Menges has some teammates arriving – and Ubogagu doesn’t.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

This is where Menges shows another of her tools – her pace. She doesn’t let Ubogagu blow past her, instead putting herself in position to take advantage of a tiny error.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

And she now owns the ball, and Ubogagu.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Damn, EM. It’s good to have you back.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Reynolds (+3/-8 : +5/-4 : +8/-12) Dammit, Kat Reynolds…just STOP IT!

Because you know what all those minuses are for, don’t you, Reynolds?

Yeah, you do. A whopping 10 of your 12 minuses are for junky long balls that went right to Orlando. This wasn’t North Carolina; these jokers weren’t pressing you. There was no need to throw that crap downfield all night. It was pointless, and you had better options.

You had a decent night defensively, but just stop it with the pointless Route One. It scares the civilians and doesn’t help your team.

Seiler (+2/-6 : +2/-1 : +4/-7) Meh. Not awful, not great – but didn’t have to be, with Menges beside her hoovering up loose balls and tackling like a beast. Also something of a crap-pass artist – 4 of her 7 minuses are giveaways – not a good thing for a back.

I see Seiler as something of a problem with the wingback/three-back setup. She can’t play in the middle – that’s Menges’ spot. But when she’s hung out on the left back she gets attacked, and while she’s a decent replacement-level she’s not that good. Not sure how that gets fixed in the coming month, but it looks like it might be a problem against a better opponent.

Eckerstrom (+2/-2 : +4/-0 : +6/-2) Not really at fault on the concession, and made a couple of big saves, off Marta in the 33rd minute and from Weatherholt in the 67th. Also had several strong takes in the second half. Distribution adequate, and Eck generally controlled her penalty area well enough.

Photo credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons – Hard to really evaluate Mark Parsons for this one, what with Orlando doing everything they could to carpet-bomb their own positions. His replacements for the internationals did well enough, as did his 3-5-2-ish formation (or was it more like a 3-2-2-1-2..?) but, again, Orlando.

Whatever the circumstances, however, Parsons’ work helped get his team it’s second win, and kept them undefeated, now two-thirds of the way through their long road trip.

Two matches remaining, though, and Washington’s Cheyna Matthews had a monster game against Sky Blue, while Sky Blue is showing signs of real life from Imani Dorsey and Savannah McCaskill. There’s a lot of road to travel, and a lot of tough roster holes to fill, before the Thorns can run out on the home turf again.

John Lawes

I've been writing about Thorns FC ever since the inaugural season - first at Slide Rule Pass, and then at Stumptown Footy - and have been a fan and player of the game for a couple of decades.

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