Thorns FC: It shall go hard

“Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me, I will execute,
and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction.”

~ William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, Act III, Scene 1.

At halftime I was certain we were going to see another scoreless draw.

The heat was oppressive, the humidity vile, the hideous fox-thing had been seen earlier and was still surely lurking somewhere about, and after an energetic opening fifteen minutes the rest of the half had been a slog in which it didn’t look like either the Thorns or the Dash had a goal in them.

Even the handful of fans who remained after the long weather delay seemed…ummm…less than energized by the play offered up to them from the pitch.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

And then, in the 51st minute, disaster!

Disaster for the visitors, anyway, if elation for the home fans; Kyah Simon got her head to a Nairn free kick and put the Dash up 1-nil.

I won’t kid you; I thought that was it for the Thorns. Given their play to that point I just didn’t – couldn’t – see where they would find a goal.

But that was because I overlooked an often-overlooked Thorn, and to show me the error of my disbelief Tyler Lussi revealed that her left boot had thunder and lightning in it.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Goddamn it, if that ain’t Goal of the Week there shouldn’t be a Goal of the Week.

But the Thorns weren’t done. They had started the second half defending with the sort of organization we have seen all too seldom this season.

Organization like this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

And this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

And this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

And then, five minutes after Lussi’s golazo, they did this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Dagny Brynjarsdottir starts the play with a long lob that looks like it’s going to be easily cleared. But, instead, Ally Prisock…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…inexplicably flicks it on.

Forgot she had two Thorns behind her and trying to flick it back to her keeper? Just reflexively trying to get a head to the ball? Jumping for joy? I have no freaking idea.

But whatever the reason, instead of going to Jane Campbell the ball plonks Lussi square in the chest.

Meanwhile Amber Brooks – for an even less comprehensible reason – has stopped running with Midge Purce! WTF!? All Lussi has to do is chest the ball down into Purce’s path, and…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…boom.

It’s 1-2 Portland, and now the heat and humidity and horrible fox-thing and all the bad parts of playing soccer in Houston in June work for the Thorns and not against them.

Between the 75th and 92nd minute I logged a total of seven Houston attacks.

One was genuinely dangerous; an 82nd minute Kealia Ohai cross that sailed past Liz Ball and Ellie Carpenter to Simon who they’d left unmarked.

But Gabby Seiler got up in Simon’s grille quickly and the Australian couldn’t turn on the ball and had to drop it out to Haley Hanson; by that time Ball had recovered and tackled the ball away.

But that was it. Other than that the last quarter hour was Portland grinding down the clock to chase away the Dash and the hideous fox-thing and secure all the road points.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

This match – heat, humidity, fox, first-half-slog and all – impressed me perhaps as much or more than any Thorns match this season, and as few other Thorns matches have over the past seven years.

It would have been remarkably easy for Portland to have thrown up their hands after the Simon goal.

Some Thorns teams in past seasons would have hung their heads, whipped by the weather and the shit luck and the difficulty the squad had putting attack together that night; the Thorns assembled 20 major attacks prior to the Houston goal and 65% of them failed – not due to great defending but broke down because of a poor pass, a bad shot, or some other unforced error.

The team we saw in Houston last Friday never quit.

Did they suddenly become Barcelona?

No.

The Thorns ended the match with a total of 31 significant attacks. Only 10 were defeated by good Houston defending; the other 19 – nearly twice as many – fell apart on their own.

But lightning struck twice, lightning from from a cloudless sky.

By that, and by craft, and by guile, and by luck, but mostly by sheer hard, ugly, gutty work, the Thorns found themselves at the end of the day at the top of the table.

Photo credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

short passes

Just a couple of notes before we move on to individual performances.

Passing the passing test. For five of the past seven matches the Thorns failed to complete more than 65 percent of their passes. Friday night?

67.6%

That’s better. A hell of a lot better. Almost there, gang. Another solid week of practice and we’ll get there.

Streaming like a mighty river. I watched the match on my laptop because I couldn’t sit in the pub and drink for ninety minutes waiting for delayed kickoff. And the stream was 99.9% glitch-free; a couple of tiny freezes, but otherwise fine. So props to Yahoo! and the league.

But that’s where the clapping ends. Because the announcing team..?

I heard a lot of bitching about the announcers on social media afterwards but admitted that I hadn’t heard anything out of what I consider the ordinary inanity of these talking heads. I don’t need the chatter and so I tune it out quickly.

What I did hear that was irritating is that the idiots seemed to know absolutely nothing about the Thorns. I don’t expect homer announcers – and that seemed to be what they were – to know the visitors’ entire roster. But when you mistake Andressinha for Liz Ball? C’mon. I expect more from professional broadcasters, even ones who have to work alongside a horrible fox-thing.

And speaking of incompetent Yahoo! things, there was this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

See the little box under the scoreline graphic up in the top left?

When you announce that a red card has been given to a player who isn’t even on the pitch? That’s weak. That’s really weak. That’s a positively heckuva-job-Brownie-level of incompetence.

So the stream was fine. Everything else…needs work. The league and Yahoo! need to have a talk, NWSL media coordinator.

Seriously.

player ratings and comments

Purce (+6/-3 : +6/-3 : +12/-6) Another outstanding match from Purce; relentless both in attack and in defense. My pick for Woman of the Match simply because she worked her tail off all game and Tyler Lussi played a quarter of an hour…

That said, could (and really should) have had a brace, but dithered a second too long in front of goal in the 5th minute. That’s a minor quibble over a fine body of work. Well done.

Charley (63′ – +4/-4 : +1/-2 : +5/-6) It’s starting to look like the Midgey and Charley Show is on hiatus, with the top banana ready to take her solo act on the road and the network mulling outright cancellation.

This was the third match in a row that Charley has looked pedestrian, and at this point she seems certain to be headed to the bench – at best- when the internationals all return. Not giving up on her, but she needs to regain her connection with her striker partner and her own form if she’s going to hang onto her slot.

Lussi (17′ – +3/-0) A hell of an outing; goal and assist in barely over a quarter hour? This may have been the single most impressive match Tyler Lussi has played in her entire Thorns career. Until now she has been the bottom of the Thorns forwards depth chart. Can she build on this? I’ll be fascinated to see.

Andressinha (77′ – +6/-2 : +1/-2 : +8/-4) Lots of crisp passing in the first half made it look like Brazil’s early exit from the World Cup would bring some benefit to the Thorns. But Andressa Junior tired quickly – probably from Houston’s physical play as much as her own lack of minutes in France – and was tackled for loss increasingly often; looked more than ready to come off when she did.

Boureille (11′ – +0/-0) Cee Bee wasn’t awful, she wasn’t brilliant, she was just…there. And that’s all she needed to be; just be there and see out the match. So good on you, Cee Bee.

Seiler (+7/-3 : +7/-1 : +14/-4) Hell of a match from Seiler, who has grown steadily into the DM slot. Terrific defending, aggressive, intelligent movement with lots of loose ball pickups, and good forward passing. Seilier is beginning to look like a potential double-pivot partner for Horan; I’ll be fascinated to see what happens in a couple of weeks.

Brynjarsdottir (+7/-1 : +5/-2 : +12/-3) Solid, workwomanlike match from the shieldmaiden. Great tackling and aerial defending, as always, but also some good passing in the first half.

Dagny is another “left-behind” Thorn who has grown into her job this season. After the terrible outing in Seattle two years ago I would have laughed at the idea of Dagny as ninety-minute CM. Now? She’s fine. Just fine.

Hubly (+8/-6 : +4/-2 : +12/-8) Kelli Hubly is never going to make the USWNT. She’s just not that sort of quality. But here, and now, she’s playing as well as she can, and that’s getting the job done. With that in mind, she has got to work on her passing; 54% completion just won’t feed the bulldog, and 6 of her 8 minuses are for random boots that went right to an orange shirt.

Klingenberg (+2/-2 : +4/-3 : +6/-5) Last couple of seasons I used to complain about Good Kling and Bad Kling. They were twin sisters; one good, one evil, who had a sort of portal that ensured you’d never knew when each would show up. Good Kling would drop dimes and throttle opponent attacks. Bad Kling would get caught upfield and skinned and make poor defensive decisions. Sometimes Bad Kling would go into the dressing room at halftime and Good Kling would emerge to start the second half. Sometimes it was the other way around. It was very frustrating, because Kling herself is kind of terrific and I wanted her to succeed.

Last season Slow Kling merged both Klings; she wasn’t rando, but she could be timed with a sundial and opposing wingers beat her regularly. That was the Kling I ranted about at the beginning of this season.

Instead this season a fourth Kling showed up; Terrific Kling, who tore up the first four matches or so, both defending and attacking like she was trying to land a fullback spot on Olympique Lyonnaise. That Kling had me munching happily on my earlier criticism.

Now for the past several matches we’ve seen yet another Kling; Steady Kling. Not as outrageously good as Terrific Kling, but not as mercurial as Good Kling/Bad Kling, and much more reliable and effective than Slow Kling. Not back to her USWNT form, but a good, solid, steady defender who can go forward now and then and still has the occasional dime in her boot.

And y’know what? I like this Kling pretty many a lot.

Reynolds (+4/-3 : +4/-2 : +8/-5) Reynolds’ night seems like a good metaphor for the Thorns defense as a group. Solid. Decent. Good enough. Not some sort of swarming monster, but no Horrible Goofs, either…

(Well, okay, damn lucky that Ohai belted THIS “clearance” right into Eckerstrom’s gut.

Image by Yahoo! Sport. Licensed under Fair Use.

A reminder that there’s a reason the Kat Reynolds isn’t a regular starter and still has some work to do.)

Still. Reynolds and her backline were there. There in time, there in place, there in numbers enough to keep the match under control. And against Houston that was good enough.

Can the Thorns return to the Final match with that defense (or a little better, with Sonnett at centerback..?)

We’ll see, beginning in about a fortnight or so.

Menges (+1/-4) To my eyes, still suffering from her injuries; looked slow and tentative compared to her usual form. Good tactical move to sub her off.

Carpenter (+7/-3) For all her mixed reviews in France Ellie Carpenter looked fast and creative going forward and tough in defense in Houston. Good to have her back…although I’m sure she’d disagree.

Ball (+4/-4 : +4/-4 : +8/-8) See the Reynolds comment above. I had real aspirations for Wrecking Ball after the Sky Blue match, but I have to accept that it was Sky Blue, not Ball, that produced the weapon of mass destruction we saw that night.

Still decent in the back but not the monster she was in Yurcak. But, unfortunately for her, that means she’s unlikely to remain on the pitch regularly when Sonnet returns and Menges gets healthy.

Eckerstrom (+3/-0 : +2/-1 : +5/-1) Couple of big plays in the Houston flurry between the 11th and 15th minutes, including a strong dive to push a weirdly deflected long shot from Nairn around the post. Not at fault on the concession, and a good match otherwise.

Coach Parsons – Definitely won the battle of the subs; Simon scored for Houston, but Lussi scored and assisted on the second, Carpenter energized the second half after a dead half-hour ending the first, and Boureille was fine.

As for his matchday plan…well, the Thorns came out smoking hot and hammered the Houston goal for the first ten minutes.

Then they got hammered by Houston for about five minutes.

Then both teams sort of wandered around for the remaining half an hour.

I have absolutely no idea what to make of that as coaching.

The Thorns woke up in the second half and, essentially rode a golazo and one good attack to three points, and that’s just fine; three points are always good.

But I’m not sure how the coach got them there; a lot of this match looked like individual players’ creativity making things happen when they did happen, and Lussi and Purce grabbing opportunity by the neck. Maybe in time I’ll be able to look back and put this match in perspective.

Right now I’m just enjoying the win and the tough team we have that grabbed it and hung on to it.

In two days Reign FC comes to town.

The Reign have been on a parallel path to the Thorns; three wins, two draws over the last five games. They’re right on our tails; one point behind, sitting in third. A lot of how Friday’s match goes may depend on whether Jessica Fishlock’s injury in the win over Utah is serious or not; she’s been a beast for the Reign. But Fishlock or no, Tacoma is always a battle.

(Update 7/4: Fishlock is out for the season with a torn ACL. I’m no lover of Reign FC, but I have to admit that this season they are just cursed.)

Last Friday Thorns FC showed they can grind out a trench war.

This Friday, perhaps they can take that up a to “shock and awe” and just carpet bomb the Reign.

Because that couldn’t happen to a nicer team.

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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