Thorns FC: Takin’ Care of Business

Maybe it was the beer. I’d had a few, and that 10-and-a-half-buck-induced hazy vagueness always makes things look a little better.

Maybe it was seeing the Thorns score their first goals from the run of play since late July.

Maybe it was the 3-1 scoreline.

Maybe it was just my naturally insanely cheery optimism that made me skip out of the old Civic Stadium gates convinced I’d seen the Thorns play an outstanding match, a terrific match, a rousing, routing, thumping domination of the Washington Spirit.

Nah.

It definitely was not that.

But given my unusually cheery takeaway imagine my surprise when I watched the stream to write this piece.

The game was, indeed, a solid win for Portland. But my initial impression of a romp was wrong. The match was actually a fairly even encounter that turned out to be interesting more for a number of things I hadn’t realized at the time in my malt-induced daze.

The Thorns Needed a Solid Win. They Got One.

Let’s face it; the Damned Courage beat themselves as much as the Thorns beat them. Before that we dropped a clanger to Seattle. Before that it was a frustrating draw to Sky Blue before we get back to the stomping of Houston at the end of July.

One goal from over 270 minutes of play, and that a PK?

Ouch.

So having the slumping Spirit come to town, and seeing them off after taking all the points? Nice! We needed that.

Even nicer was that the way the Thorns got them was through the sort of brutal efficiency we haven’t seen a lot of this season. The Thorns had only five genuinely good chances over the course of the match.

From my notes:
5′ – Sinclair cross, poor clearance, falls to Raso, goal, 1-nil (offside?)
19′ – Heath to Raso, shot, Bledsoe block, corner; Heath to Sonnett, goal, 2-nil
34′ – Purce gain, shot blocked, falls to Kling, serve to Dagny, headed shot wide right
62′ – Heath corner, Bledsoe mishandles, scuffle inside the 6, Portland corner kick
63′ – Heath corner, cleared to Sinclair, goal, 3-nil

Three goals on five chances? That’s pretty damned efficient.

Then, once they went up a couple of goals, the Thorns parked the bus in the second half.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Notice all the red shirts behind the ball? Yep, that’s all ten. That wasn’t pretty (and it did ship a Sullivan golazo…) but it worked, so it was smart soccer.

And it worked because Washington couldn’t have put together a solid attack last Saturday if their opponents laid down and took a nap.

Andi Sullivan and Rose Lavelle were the only real threats, and it was indicative of how important Lavelle was that when she was off the pitch being evaluated for concussion – between the 31st to 37th minutes – Washington had ab-so-lute-ly nothing, which leads to Interesting Point #2…

Washington needed a solid game. they GOt one…

The Spirit had lost their last two, both tough one-goal losses to Chicago and, before that, the Damned Courage. Washington needed to come out strong and find the sort of form that had made them a playoff contender in midseason.

And they did some out strong, in a sense; Washington was all over the stats board.

The Spirit outpossessed Portland (58% to 42%), outpassed them (516 to 354 total, 488 to 305 accurate, 84% to 78% completion), and got the ball into the final third more often (47 occasions to 35). Washington led damn near all the statistical categories – except goals.

Here’s the xG charts – Washington (xG 1.7) on the left, Portland (xG 2.0) on the right:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Here’s the key pass chart:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

That’s not a romp. Those are two pretty damn evenly-matched teams…

…but Washington needed to get goals. They didn’t.

,,,except on goals scored.

So all of that good work ended up meaning nothing because the Spirit either 1) couldn’t finish, or 2) couldn’t get past A.D. Franch. Again, here’s my notes:

3′ – Staab feed Sullivan, shot well over the crossbar
38′ – Thomas cross, Lavelle shot, Franch save.
47′ – Dougherty-Howard leads Lavelle, shot, Franch save.
50′ – Douougherty-Howard lead pass to Thomas…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…Klingenberg ballwatching as DiBiasi breaks upfield; Thomas through ball to DiBiasi…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…while Thomas continues run (Horan doesn’t close) – but DiBiasi shoots wide left.
68′ – Logarzo cross, Lavelle gain, square to Sullivan, shot, goal, 3-1
92′ – Thomas right-side run, cross, Hatch weak shot, Franch take.

Six chances, one goal, three saved, two booted. When Franch wasn’t stoning them Washington just didn’t have the incisiveness and precision to finish their chances. They weren’t a bad team. They created some good opportunities.

But they weren’t, on the night, good enough, or as good as they needed to be.

So Portland was good enough, Washington wasn’t, and then there was…

That Goal.

Interesting point #3? Or just “controversial point #1”?

Since the final whistle of the match Thorns fans have been debating whether or not Hayley Raso should have been credited with the first goal, because as Raso teed up the ball…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…Dagny Brynjarsdotter was getting off the turf right in front of the goalmouth.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

The debate seems to be not whether Dagny was in an offside position – since she clearly was – but whether her position met one of the conditions that the Laws of the Game call for the referee to declare a player “offside”. Everything seems to come down to what the viewer thinks the referee should have thought.

First, I think this is the important part of the Laws:
In situations where:
8 a player moving from, or standing in, an offside position is in the way of an opponent and interferes with the movement of the opponent towards the ball; this is an offside offence if it impacts on the ability of the opponent to play or challenge for the ball

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Raso strikes her shot, Bledsoe sees it’s going to her right, turns, and then sees Dagny is where she needs to dive to save Raso’s shot. She’s in the process of moving to the ball, but stops, kind of bending forward to follow the ball as it passes over Dagny’s head.

I don’t think Bledsoe stops because she gives up on the shot; I think she stops because she’s 1) distracted by Dagny being there, and 2) thinking that if she dives she’s going to crash into Dagny.

So Dagny just lying there does impact Bledsoe’s ability to play for the ball – at least, without injuring herself, or Dagny, or both.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

So I think Dagny was offside, and I think the goal should have been disallowed.

Y’know what I also think?

I think that Washington was going to struggle in this game whether Raso got that goal or not.

I think that Portland was going to take care of business whether Dagny was called offside or not.

I think this game was there for the taking and Portland took it.

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Player Ratings and Comments

Purce (71′ – +7/-6 : +1/-0 : +8/-6) Yet another muted performance from Midge Purce. Not a bad performance, no, not by any means. But the Brief Reign of Queen Midge appears to be over; she’s a worthy piece of the Thorns attack but no longer the Chosen One she appeared to be after the first Chicago match back in early June.

Foord (19′ – +2/-2) Not really a factor, but hard to blame a striker for not doing anything spectacular when her entire team is pretty much bunkering.

Raso (+8/-2 : +6/-2 : +14/-4) Regardless of where Dagny was, it was a well-struck goal, and Raso followed up a fine match against North Carolina with another good outing; lots of intelligent runs, slick passing, and solid defending. One of the best Thorns – and players – on the pitch.

Sinclair (+6/-1 : +1/-1 : +7/-2) Gets a hockey assist on the Raso goal, and was otherwise busy in the first half. As the team fell back in the second half Sinc was less involved until suddenly she pops up and puts the match away with a sweet little half-volley. That’s perhaps one of the most Sinclair things I can think of.

Heath (+5/-2 : +3/-1 : +8/-3) I didn’t think that Tobin Heath was a monster against Washington; good, yes – creative, active, and dangerous – but less of a force than Horan or Raso. The InStat muzhchiny thought she was not just the best Thorn but the best player on the pitch.

I’m not gonna die on that hill; Heath was good, more than good enough, and that’s what she needed to be. Gets the assist on the Sonnett goal, and was effective on both sides of the ball.

Brynjarsdottir (83′ – +5/-1 : +4/-1 : +9/-2) Fine work, primarily defensively, though some good passing out of midfield. Should probably have scored in the 34th minute.

A note on the whole Raso goal/no goal thing. Several years ago Christine Sinclair was in a similar position; knocked down near the goal when the Thorns were raging in front of the net. She couldn’t get to her feet and get back onside in time, so she scrambled over the byline and off the pitch.

I’m not sure whether Dagny could have done this in time to get inside the goal and out of the arc of the shot, but just sayin’; Sinc is one of the smartest players I’ve ever seen, and that was one of the craftiest things I’ve ever seen her do.

Dagny’s no dummy, but…well, that’s what makes Sinc so good.

Ball (7′ – +2/-0) Solid work in limited minutes.

Horan (+11/-4 : +8/-2 : +19/-6) A Great Horan sort of night, ballwinning all over the pitch, passing and creating through the first half, tackling and destroying all through the second. My pick for Woman of the Match.

That said…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

this sort of thing is going to get you in trouble. If I have any issues with Lindsey Horan, it’s that she’s sometimes way too quick to beef her opponents around.

This 44th minute cleanout of Lavelle could easily have led to a Washington penalty and letting the Spirit back into the match just before halftime. You’ve been a professional long enough to learn to be a bit more crafty. There’s a time to foul, and a time to look nice and douce and tidy. This should have been the latter.

Carpenter (61′ – +6/-3 : +4/-1 : +10/-4) Solid on both sides of the ball. Limited by her injury rehab protocol to the first hour, but was still playing well and looked pacey when she came off.

Reynolds (29′ – +4/-0) Excellent half hour from a player we haven’t seen much of lately.

Sonnett (+4/-3 : +4/-2 : +8/-5) Another one of the players the InStat guys and I disagree on. They rated her fifth best player on the pitch, which probably owes a lot to her goal. I thought she was generally decent with several of her signature brain-farts; one in the 27th minute, when Kellond-Knight torched her like flashpaper, and the other in 66th minute, when her lazy cross-field pass turned over the ball within 30 yards of her own goal. Neither led to a concession, so, fine, but, still…

Menges (+4/-4 : +3/-3 : +7/-7) Several fine long passes in the first half, including the one that started the break that eventually led to the second goal. But also some badly errant long balls, and some uncharacteristically poor defensive plays early in the second half. Still struggling to find her form, I think.

Klingenberg (+2/-0 : +4/-4 : +6/-4) Couple of iffy defensive moments in the second half but otherwise solid, very solid, and some fine defensive plays to offset the goofs. Kling has settled a little from her incredible start, but she’s settled in well and isn’t making the sort of mistakes that had been driving me nuts the previous seasons. Well played.

Franch (+1/-0 : +4/-0 : +5/-0) Not at fault on the concession, an unsaveable hammer of a shot from Sullivan. Franch made big saves in the 38th, 47th, and 92nd minutes, and came out strong to take dangerous lofted balls in the 72nd and 88th. This was the second match in a row that Franch’s quick hands and feet were critical to her team’s success.

I like Britt Eckerstrom. A lot. But it’s hard to deny that Franch is a better pure shot-stopper, quicker to get down or dive sideways than Eck is. They’re both very close in overall technical quality, but the last several games Franch has been lit, and I hope she takes this form into the stretch run.

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Coach Parsons – Well managed match, both in the tactics on the pitch and the substitutions. The coach needed to get a team onto the pitch that was settled down from last weekend’s freakish display, calm, and ready to do business. He did, and they did, and that’s a solid three points in the bank.

Next up? Chicago, who was shocked by Sky Blue a week ago, but is likely to regain their confidence tomorrow when the Orlando Purple Points Dispensers shamble into the Seatgeek to hand over a win to the Red Stars. The Stars will show up this coming weekend on short rest but, surely, full of fight because a win here coupled with the sure three points they’ll get Wednesday would put them on top of the table.

So that’s the next order of business; cut down Chicago and Sam Kerr just like a busy barber with one more top to crop.

Next!

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Update 8/22: Well, how about you, Chicago? You go and drop all three points to Orlando at home. Orlando? At home? Seriously? Yeah, I know that Kerr picked up a knock against Jersey, but…Orlando? At home? WTF?

So, okay. I now officially know nothin’ about nothin’, and what we’re going to see her Sunday? I got nothin’. Except Chicago has now just lost two in a row to the two worst teams in the league, and what the hell that means?

I guess we’ll see Sunday.

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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