Thorns FC: Silk Purce

And, since you probably know the aphorism, here then is the sow’s ear, per Chris Henderson:

Image from Chris Henderson on Twitter

Yet the Thorns got the road point in Cary, something they haven’t done since the then-Western-New-York-Flash relocated there from Rochester.

How the hell did they do that?

Well, first, Midge Purce latched onto a ridiculous lofted Celeste Boureille lob, beat the North Carolina backline, and chipped keeper Samantha Leshnak like she’d done it a dozen times a day.

And then North Carolina proved once again that without their internationals, with Lynn Williams gone stone cold, with McCall Zerboni and Denise O’Sullivan and Leah Pruitt out of form, and without Merritt Mathias touching the ball on every possession they couldn’t put the ball in the goal if their lives depended on it.

But all that bad passing? It ended up making the match look like this:

Those are my notes from reviewing the game tape; Portland is on the left side, North Carolina on the right. Each entry records a significant offensive or defensive action by the two teams logged by the minute they happened.

Great defensive plays or dangerous attacks get an exclamation point next to the minute number. REALLY dangerous attacks – attacks that result in a shot on goal, a goal, or a save – get stars and exclamation points.

Don’t worry about the details; just look at the amount of black ink on each side. That gives you a sense for which team was the more dangerous at that point in the match.

Up to the Purce goal in the 26th minute things look pretty even, don’t they?

After that?

Yeah. I know. That’s just ugly.

I know I’ve been harping on this for a long time, but the poor passing is a problem that I don’t know how to describe better than a long-time friend of Thorns FC: did in his comment on the Stumptown match report:

” We played Route 1 all game, which turned it into a track meet. A track meet against North Carolina?? No one wins a track meet against North Carolina. It plays right onto their hands. “

~ Timber Dave

Giving away the ball let North Carolina control the match and attack relentlessly, and then parking the bus while under that cosh let in the equalizer and could easily have given the rest of the points away.

Right now Carolina is as weak as they will ever be. They have no players who have stepped up the way Purce, Simone Charley, Gabby Seiler, Madison Pogarch, Liz Ball, and Britt Eckerstrom have.

If the Thorns could have controlled more of the match they might have taken all three points in Cary.

I know I should be happy with the road point. I know that the Thorns are depleted, almost more than any other team in the NWSL (Well, okay, Tacoma is a hospital case, but you know what I mean…).

I know that NCC is our hoodoo team.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

But then I look at this.

I think about the pure, stark beauty of that crazy, wonderful, improbable, insanely gorgeous goal and it just chaps the living hell out of me that that goal couldn’t stand up.

Player ratings and comments

Charley (62′ – +7/-0 : +1/-0 : +8/-0) Active and creative as usual, but largely stranded up high after the Courage took the game by the scruff. Terrific run in the 5th minute that produced a corner and a dangerous Purce shot. She didn’t look to be tiring at the hour mark, so I’m guessing that Lussi was meant as a defensive substitution.

Lussi (28′ – +1/-3) Didn’t add anything to the attack, although might have been a trifle sturdier than Charley on defense. Not really a factor, though, which is a fairly tart comment on her place on the depth chart.

Purce (+8/-3 : +9/-5 : +17/-8) Woman of the Match; Henderson reports that InStat rated her top of all players on the field, and I concur. Her sweet little run – fed by a brilliant through-ball from Meghan Klingenberg – should have produced a second goal in the 76th minute, but at that point Parsons had parked the bus and she had no help in the North Carolina penalty area before getting tackled for loss.

Crnogorcevic (+4/-2 : +3/-1 : +7/-3) AMC has all but disappeared from the main attack; her job now is to provide defensive cover at the top of midfield and venture forward when she can. As such she’s done well, but it’s a thankless job, and I don’t expect she’s going to get much love for it. I appreciate what she’s doing, though; well played, die Schweitzerin.

Pogarch (73′ – +10/-0 : +2/-3 : +12/-3) Solid game from the young midfielder. Sweet tackle for gain off Hinkle in the 48th minute that just made me grin like a fucking hyena.

Ogle (17′ – +4/-0) Emily Ogle stepped in for a tiring Pogarch without dropping a beat. The rookie has looked very composed in her minutes so far, and did so in Cary.

Seiler (+4/-2 : +5/-1 : +9/-3) Not flashy, but solid, very steady, and that’s what you want in a defensive midfielder. Normally I’d be hard on her for completing only 56% of her passes, but Saturday? She was just doing what the rest of her teammates were doing…

Boureille (+6/-7 : +4/-2 : +10/-9) Sigh. OK, the part just now in Seiler’s comment? The one where I wasn’t going to gripe about individual players passing?

Well…I am going to have to say something about this, Cee Bee.

Jesus wept.

Image by NWSL.com in public domain

That’s what 26% passing looks like.

Ugly? Betcherass it is. Your teammates weren’t exactly winning the Punt, Pass, and Kick Competition in Cary, but you were a mess with the ball at your feet. C’mon. You can be better than this. You HAVE been better than this.

Klingenberg (+6/-0 : +6/-3 : +12/-3) Nice mix of good passing and taut defending, on a night when Merritt Mathias was rampaging all over Kling’s side of the pitch; did what she could to contain MM, and had a decent night in general.

Hubly (84′ – +4/-5 : +5/-2 : +9/-7) To get thrown into the Cary fire is always a big ask for a young player, but Kelli Hubly stood the fire well. Huge tackle off Pruitt in the 40th minute that could well have kept the Thorns from going in 1-1 at the half.

Everett (6′ – +1/-1) Pretty much timewasting, but young Everett was another rookie Thorn that has looked cool under fire.

Reynolds (+3/-4 : +1/-2 : +4/-6) An off night for Kat Reynolds. Poor positioning on Spetsmark in the 59th minute helped gave up the goal, and Reynolds was out of position and just looked overmatched all evening.

With Menges out it’s Reynolds’ work to organize the backline, and instead we got a lot of this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

You’ve got a lot of young players out there, Reynolds. YOU are the veteran. YOU have to get them organized, keep their heads on a swivel, keep them focused. You can’t do that if you’re struggling yourself. This is your time to shine; you can, you have before.

The chance is there; seize it.

Ball (+10/-7 : +6/-3 : +16/-9) I’m afraid that “Wrecking Ball” is like one of those rare Pokemon; she’s only visible in New Jersey.

The Liz Ball of Cary was a mix of terrific defending and horrible passing, very unlike the blunt instrument with the razor’s edge we saw in Yurcak.

Five of her minuses are for poor passes, and, sure enough, her 31% completion rate is decent only by comparison to Cee Bee. Terrific defending, but, like her teammates, needs to clean up her passing.

Eckerstrom (+5/-0 : +4/-1 : +9/-1) Can’t really be faulted on the concession, although as a former keeper myself I’ve always wondered why more keepers don’t drill on using a drop-step to react to chips and high lobs. The instinct seems to be, instead, to back-pedal and then try to jump; coming off the heels this is nearly almost a weak effort, as Eck’s was on Spetsmark’s goal.

That said, Eckerstrom had a terrific match, including a brilliant save in the 66th minute, strong boxed clearances in the 8th and 29th, and out powerfully to take dangerous passes or crosses in the 38th, 46th, 78th, 88th, and 90th minutes.

In fact, I’m going to suggest that Eck doesn’t just have the recent form but has shown herself as having as strong a season as Franch did before A.D. left for the WC.

In her first three matches Franch conceded 6 goals (1PK) on 14 shots on goal, making 7 saves, so her GAA was 2.0 and her save rate was 50%. At the time she left the Thorns had a 6.08 xG-against but had conceded only 5 non-PK goals, for a defensive differential of -1.08.

In the following five matches has Eckerstrom conceded 5 goals (1OG) on 23 SOG and made 16 saves. Her GAA is 1.0 and save rate is 69.5%. Over the eight matches since the season started the Thorns have an xG-against of 12.13 and have conceded 11 goals, for a defensive differential of between -1.13.

What do all these numbers mean? Simply that Eck is putting up slightly better numbers – or much better, in the case of GAA and save % – than A.D. Franch did in her first three matches.

The rule in hockey is that you have to go with your hot goalie. Eck is tearing up the NWSL. Franch is sitting on the bench in France.

If I was Parsons, I know who I’d start in July.

Photo credit: Portland Thorns on Facebook

Coach Parsons – It’s hard to argue against a road point in North Carolina.

On the other hand, it’s hard to argue in favor of 41% passing, and the long passing is too common to be mere coincidence. An entire team doesn’t just randomly decide to start hucking long balls downfield. The Route One has to be by managerial decision, and while long passes are fine if you can drop dimes on your teammates, long passes that go right to the opposition are not.

Here’s the thing; Coach Parsons is doing a terrific job with his “left-behind” players. Charley and Purce are phenomenal. Ogle and Pogarch and Seiler and Ball are solid. The reserves are stepping up, the youngsters are taking the strain like veterans.

If the Thorns can just clean up the passing…we could be looking at a top-two team come October. A little more possession in Cary might have seen the Thorns level with Washington on top of the league.

This Friday Utah is coming to Portland standing over the Thorns by a single point. Carolina has a bye week, Washington hosts a Houston coming off two wins in a row (well, the Spirit are on four, so…) – if there was ever a chance to push for the top spot this might be it.

Friday’s match is a six-pointer.

Do the Thorns have what it takes to grab them?

John Lawes

Soccer-obsessive. Stats geek. Thorns supporter. Former Slide Rule Pass and Stumptown Footy Thorns beat writer. One of those people who's "often mistaken but never wrong"...

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