Thorns FC: Cat’s Game

I’m going to make this quick.

I apologize for my lethargy in getting this piece written. I’ve been slammed working 14 hours days on a project up in Washington state, and between long days and lack of sleep and…well, you don’t want to hear me snivel.

But here’s the thing: I fell asleep watching this match, and I thought it was me.

But now that I’ve watched the whole thing, awake?

Nope.

It was the match.

Frankly, this one was a long snoozy slog punctuated by moments of sheer terror. Since I’ve been using the whole “games” theme for the fall series, if the home win over Utah was an interminable Monopoly session and the home destruction of Tacoma was a fast and furious game of tonk, the away draw in Salt Lake was tic-tac-toe.

When my daughter was little she loooooved tic-tac-toe. And, because she was little, she was bad at it, and I had to intentionally let her win, because she loved to win and I’m her dad and love her.

But as she got older, and better, I stopped doing that and she discovered what every tic-tac-toe player since Ninevah and Tyre has; that unless someone makes a mistake or deliberately throws the game, every game of tic-tac-toe ends in a cat’s game. A draw.

In Utah last Sunday the Royals – an utter shitshow at both ends of the pitch in the previous meeting – were well-organized defensively and creative in attack. And the Thorns, rolling like a big wheel over the hapless lion-esses two weeks ago…

(and as an aside, what the fuck’s up with both Tacoma and Utah flaunting a male lion head in their crests? Is it some sort of non-binary lion statement? Just goofing? What the hell’s wrong with an actual lioness? I mean, they do all the work while ol’ Simba lies around 24-7 with his big ol’ furry head pounding its ear. You’re women. You’re lionesses. C’mon, you two. Get it together.)

…were gassed from whipping Tacoma in midweek and seemed to have some other issues, as well. The result was a pretty stale sort of draw where the goals came largely off defensive breakdowns and both squads had issues connecting attacking passes and putting shots on goal.

Two stats make Portland’s Rio Tinto issues clear. With 58.7% of the possession, with 80% pass completion, and more than 100 passes to the better of the Royals – 468 to 322 – the Thorns generated only 14 shots to Utah’s 16, five on goal to Utah’s six, two corners to their seven, and, obviously, only one goal to equalize theirs.

That’s kind of the definition of “possession without purpose”, and I’m going to chalk it up to Utah being way better and Portland’s big guns having played the full 90 midweek.

So it turned out to be the sort of game that puts tired geotechs to sleep.

But the bottom line from this cat’s game was that Portland scratched out a road point and stayed undefeated in whatever this “fall series” is going to turn out to be.

So…kind of fine.

But now the Thorns have to travel to Tacoma and beat the Curse of Cheney; taking all three points in a venue where they have never won. We’ll see how THAT goes in just a day or so, and then we’re done for the year.

SHORT PASSES

Passing the Passing Test: 80%. That works.

But as discussed in our earlier matches…a lot of that was harmless little crossfield dinks or backpasses, and that final pass or cross or shot or goal just weren’t there. If we’re gonna beat the Curse of Cheney, we’ve got to make that key pass and set up that sweet shot.

Okay, remember: only dangerous attacking and possession-gain (or -loss) passes count. A “1” is a pass to and from feet. “L” is a long pass, “H” a headed one, “F” a free kick, “X” a cross. For goalkeepers “GK” is a goal kick, “P” is a punt, and otherwise they are rated like the field players.

If a pass was exceptionally good – a “key pass”? – I’ve added bold and italic and underlined to the symbol in the “completed” column. The same iconography in the “missed” column means a very bad pass – in this case, the Horan derp that led directly to Utah’s goal.

Got it? Let’s go.

PlayerCompletedMissed
Weaver111X
SmithXX
Sinclair1
RodriguezFLL
OgleX11F11
HoranHXLH111LL
WestphalLXLLXLLXL
Menges11L
SauerbrunnLLH
PogarchLX11LLL1
EckerstromG
Everett
CharleyX
Salem11
Hubly
Lussi

I pissed and moaned about Westphal not getting up and providing service against Tacoma last week, and she obviously heard me, so she did in this game.

One of the two corner kicks was short, but neither really produced anything, so it’s kind of a wash.

Image by Portland Thorns on Facebook.

Player Ratings and Comments

Weaver (45′ – +4/-2) I’ll drop this in Weaver’s comment, but it applies to all the Portland forwards in this game other than Smith; the combination of Utah’s defensive organization (largely in midfield but also in back – and let me just say that while I like Sauerbrunn and she’s been damn fine, Liz “Wrecking” Ball is a little…well, wrecking ball, and I miss the hell out of her, even though we got one of the world’s best centerbacks for her…) and the Thorns’ inability to connect with their forwards pretty much took the forwards out of the match and blunted Portland’s attack.

Weaver had an excellent shift – in particular she had a hell of a great run at goal in the 12th minute that she fluffed by trying to strike Smith’s cross with her right boot and shanking it wide, and again in the 28th minute that Mallory Weber had to be terrific to stop – but just couldn’t really get enough in front of goal to change the game state. Good work…but nothing to show for it.

Everett (45′ – +3/-2) Same story here when Everett replaced Weaver for the second half. Some good work – in particular a fierce ball recovery in the 59th minute, left-side run, and cross that produced a half-chance, with their Smith crashing Horan in the goalmouth – but not enough and not productive in the end.

Everett did a Simone Charley in the 88th minute, driving hard at goal under a terrific long Westphal pass and was only thwarted by an amazingly brilliant crushing slide tackle in the box that could easily have given up a PK if it had been just a fraction less perfect but WAS perfect and thus saved a 1v0 against the Utah goal.

And who put that amazing tackle in?

Liz Ball.

Of course.

Lussi (1′ – no rating) In her four-or-so minutes Tyler Lussi had two touches, one shot, a soft header that Smith took without effort, which, if that’s not Tyler Lussi, I don’t know what is.

Smith (45′ – +9/-5) So remember last match when I said that we always want Sophia Smith to be TSTSTD*? Well…in Salt Lake, she was. Constantly attacking, getting into dangerous positions, putting in crosses…Smith was good trouble. Should have picked up an assist in the 12th minute as noted in the Weaver comment.

That said…this match was the first time that I’ve seen Smith look like an actual rookie. All five of her minuses are for getting tackled for loss. Too often she either tried to dribble through what a veteran would have seen was a set defense, or she didn’t pick her head up in time to see the outlet and was swarmed.

I like that Smith trusts her ball skills. What I’d like to see is that same thing I hammer Heath about; girlfriend, you have a team of damn good players around you. Use them! As the nasty old Scot I used to play behind used to shout at any teammate caught in possession; “It’s no your ba’! Y’didnae pey for it! Fookin’ pass, mon!”

*(The Straw That Stirs The Drink, in case you couldn’t figure it out…)

Charley (45′ – +7/-4) Smith’s replacement had a very similar night; lots of good effort, not all that much to show for it. But Charley did get a sorta-assist on the equalizer, so good work, Si-money. Lots of her usual long runs onto or under direct balls, but this time Utah was ready for her and saw her off.

Sinclair (+3/-3 : +2/-0 : +5/-3) Any night when Christine Sinclair’s PMR is in the single digits is a hell of a subdued night for the captain, and even with the goal (which, to be honest, owed more to 1) Horan’s cross, 2) Charley’s shoss, and 3) Utah’s defense falling apart than it did to the GOAT’s tap-in. I mean…good on you, Sinc, but…) Sinclair looked like she was suffering the worst from the midweek game.

But we can’t talk about Sinclair in Salt Lake without talking about the 33rd minute, starting with the free kick.

Image by CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Ogle – who we’ll get to in a moment – drops a dime on Horan as she runs off her marker’s shoulder to the back post.

Image by CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

As I note in the screencap, lots of other Thorns are doing good things here, too, including Sinclair who’s moving into space, so…

Image by CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…when the ball and Sinclair arrive at the top of the six together the space inside the left post is beckoning.

Image by CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Sinc shoots, Smith dives…and then what happens?

Image by CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Well, that depends on how you looked at it. This is what a lot of us saw; a clear goal. The CBS announcing crew certainly thought and said so. But…

Image by CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…the camera inside the goal made it look much different. As I noted in the screencap, I don’t see a “clear and obvious” error on the call.

And the bottom line is that if Sinc really puts a boot through that ball, instead of a sort of side-foot dink? It rockets past Smith and the Thorns are level by halftime.

So…tough break, and very much in keeping with the match as a whole.

Rodriguez (62′ – +5/-5 : +1/-1 : +6/-6) Another player that looked to be fighting with deadleg, Rodriguez didn’t really have much of an effect on the match, either positive or negative…which is kind of a problem in itself, since she’s supposed to be pulling strings. Part and parcel of the whole “cat’s game” thing.

Salem (29′- +1/-3) Not as poor as her PMR suggests. Came on to close Utah down and preserve the road point, and did, so that’s her job done. Nothing flashy, solid, and that’s sort of the “DM-in-a-road-draw” kind of thing, so good work, Salem.

Ogle (+6/-1 : +1/-1 : +7/-2) Composed, professional complete game from young Emily Ogle, with good work on both sides of the ball. When the Thorns heeded some energy and fresh legs, Ogle did the job, and nicely, too.

Horan (+8/-1 : +4/-6 : +12/-7) Another Reign-victim, Lindsey Horan had some of her usual Great moments, such as the 33rd minute discussed above, coupled with some appalling mistakes like the turnover in the 9th minute that led directly to the concession. Her passing completely went to hell in the second half, and I think Parsons should have yanked her some time after the hour, as she was pretty obviously gassed. But she’s Lindsey Horan, so, no.

Overall, one of the factors in the general sterility from Portland. When your best player is laboring like a mud runner, well, you’re going to struggle.

Westphal (+4/-3 : +3/-4 : +7/-7) Another mixed bag, with some fine service and some shocking defensive errors and poor passing. Better in that she was more involved going forward, but struggled with Alex Rodriguez all night and as often as not got the worst of the encounters.

Menges (+3/-3 : +3/-1 : +6/-4) Unlike Salem, whose PMR is unfairly punitive, Menges had a worse night than her numbers suggest, including several fiendishly horrible defensive derps in the first ten minutes; getting skinned by Rodriguez in the 6th minute, then booting the ball away to ARod just a minute later, and then “clearing” directly to Ratcliffe at the top of the 18 in the 9th minute.

She steadied after the concession, but that’s as un-Menges-like as I can think of. Has to get some credit for preserving the road point, but also being the heart of a defense that gave Utah a lot of good looks, including the King crossbar we’ll talk about in the Pogarch comment.

Sauerbrunn (69′ – +8/-2 : +1/-0 : +9/-2) This is what worries me about Sauerbrunn; she definitely faded badly in the second half, and that’s old legs, because she hadn’t played a full 90 up to this point. As with Menges, gets credit for the point. As with Menges, made some uncharacteristic errors that cost her team in the early minutes.

Given how well Ball played for Utah, I really want to see Sauerbrunn 1) go a full match, and 2) play the sort of fiercely outstanding lock-down defense she’s famous for. I mean, that was kind of the point of the trade, right?

Hubly (21′ – +0/-0) Perfectly serviceable, and helped see out the point. So, fine.

Pogarch (+1/-6 : +3/-3 : +4/-9) Madison Pogarch is supposed to be an excellent defender, but, frankly, I’ve yet to see that. She’s not abysmal, but her outing in Salt Lake was very typical of what I’ve seen from her so far. Her passing is iffy, and she tends to make defensive errors at the worst times. Her positioning can be put down to inexperience, but it’s basic stuff that makes her cringey at times.

Example; in the 72nd minute she was faced up 1-on-1 with Tziarra King. King is good, but this wasn’t some sort of 12th-dimension-chess move. Pogarch simply slipped and fell on her ass, giving King all the time she needed to hammer a beauty that had Eckerstrom beat and fortunately for Portland rang off the crossbar (and, fortunately, though it fell at Weber’s feet, was cleared out before Weber could blast it…)

I want to believe that Pogarch is as good as she’s been described, and I want to see her do well. I understand that she’s very young and green. But I’m not asking for brilliance here. Stay on your feet when Tziarra King has the ball in front of you? That’s not a huge ask. I’d like to see Pogarch do better.

Eckerstrom (+2/-0 : +2/-0 : +4/-0) The concession was unfortunate; I think Brick might have done better rather than parry that ball into ARod’s path, but that was always going to be a nasty ball, and she had to rely on her defense to clear away and shield her from danger and they didn’t.

On the other hand, most of Utah’s efforts were pretty tame, and it’s hard to say that Eckerstrom had to stand on her head for much of the match. So not a terrific match, not a terrible match…just a sort of cat’s game, and that kind of brings us full circle.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons: Parsons had a tough job. Turn around after a midweek game, so manage minutes, and get a result from a Utah that was back from the dead, so crush the Royals. His team came out all in pieces at the back and conceded early, so the second part wasn’t particularly well done.

But he made some tactical adjustments and substitutions that held the squad together, they equalized, and are still undefeated in three of the four games that make up this thing, so that’s better. The soccer maxim is win at home, draw on the road, and so far we’ve done that.

But Parsons has never won in Tacoma. Never. And that’s a problem that needs to be solved. With the Reign as depleted as they will ever be, this weekend is as good a time as any to break the Curse of Cheney.

Because right now we’re level on points with Washington, but they’re done. We have a shot at ten points to their seven.

But Houston also has a game remaining, and they’re just a point behind us.

Win in Tacoma and it doesn’t matter what Houston does; Portland reverses the Challenge Cup results and tops the league, such as it is.

So let’s do that.

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2 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Cat’s Game

  1. Ok – I’ll bite. How did Horan have and exceptionally good missed pass? Just when I had your abbrev. scheme down…then again, I’m still trying to figure out the tomato can thing (and yes, I heard the podcast).

    In the everlasting words of WOPR: “A strange game. The only winning move is not to play. How about a nice game of chess?”

    1. Shit! I forgot to add that I did the same thing for an exceptionally BAD pass – the pass in Horan’s column was the one that led to the goal. Arrgh! I’ll go make that correction. Thanks for the catch.

      The tomato can thing of from boxing. Here’s the Wiki explanation of where the expression comes from:

      “The phrase originates in the childhood pastime of kicking a can down the street—a boxer is advancing his career with minimal effort by defeating a “tomato can” and notching a win. “Tomato” refers to blood: “knock a tomato can over, and red stuff spills out.”

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