Thorns FC: Hangin’ in there…

Last Friday, after two straight losses and a bye weekend coming on, things looked pretty grim for Thorns FC.Hang in there

Still top of table…but even with the Washington Spirit (who had two games in hand) on points and just a point ahead of the Western New York Flash (who had a game in hand).  The bye-weekend looked like a potential disaster, and a tumble from first to third and out of contention for a home semifinal.  I won’t kid you; I opened the NWSL website Sunday morning with a heavy heart.

But…

Thank you, Sky Blue!  Thank you (you #@%!$@es…) FCKC!  Both Washington and WNY came out of the weekend with nothing, not a damn thing.  Now the Spirit still holds a game in hand going into the coming weekend (c’mon, you Sky Blue!) but our fate is back in our own heads, and feet.

We have to win at home against Seattle.  Which brings me to the point of this post;

How?

Let’s think about that for a moment.  Why did we drop points to the Blues and the Dash?

  1.  We lost all of our US internationals, Sinclair, and Henry.  Yeah, well, no kidding.  That’s pretty much like an electric fan; you look at it one way and it sucks, then you look at it another way and it blows.
  2.  We had problems scoring; one late goal against FCKC, blanked in Houston.  The ugly realities of both matches were that we really miss Sinclair.  Look at who we have going forward without her.
    1. Dagny – I think possibly because she lacks explosive speed – hasn’t been as effective at both elements of scoring – creating chances and finishing them.  She seems either to provide service, or finish, but she can’t do both, and the problem seems to be that her teammates haven’t seemed to figure out when she’s going to do one and when she’s trying the other. She’s not routinely combining well with the other forwards or AMs
    2. Weber seems to be afraid to shoot.  She can provide lovely service, but she won’t shoot.  One shot off-target against Houston, no shots at all against KC.
    3. Raso is a delight.  I think she’s got a goal inside her scrabbling to get out.  But…she hasn’t made that happen…yet.
    4. Nadim, sadly, has returned to the troublesome lack of form she showed in the early season; making poor passes, shooting at bad angles and failing to finish.  She’s also starting to foul…a lot.  I’m not ready to write her off, but…sigh.
    5. Shim has largely been pulled back in a defensive role and hasn’t been able to be effective in attack.
    6. Pratt…She’s got nothing and neither do I, in that I can’t see what she does that makes her effective in attack or why she can’t figure out how to be better.  She’s got speed to burn, but her touch…ugh.  And she seems to have no connection with her teammates.
  3.  Midfield passing – or the lack of same.  In two consecutive games the passing just hasn’t been effective (tho Houston was an order of magnitude worse…) and that, in turn, has contributed to the scoring problems.
  4.  Defensive breakdowns.  Largely on the fullbacks; Berryhill against KC, pretty much everyone (even Williamson) against Houston…but even the Great Wall of KatEmily had its’ brainfarts and collective lapses.  The only defender who hasn’t had at least one serious mistake in the past two games was Michelle Betos.
  5.  Tactical choices.  Specifically, attempting to push up and press let KC and Houston attackers gain favorable matchups against slower Portland defenders.  Without the internationals Thorns FC doesn’t really have outstanding speed other than from a few individuals (Pratt – but see above – Raso, and Menges come to mind).  The fullbacks, in particular, are fairly slow afoot, and the team paid for that in goals…

So…are there solutions?  Can Coach Parsons come up with some magic to yank three points off the visitors this Saturday..?

We know there’s no answer to #1.  This team, if it can win, has to find a way to win without the internationals.

Scoring?   I think it’s time to try a new look upfront.  I’m not sure what that look is, and that has a lot to do with being unable to get any idea of how the team looks in practice.  But I think it’s time to try a new formation, or new strikers, or both.

Whatever he does, I think it’s time to give Nadia Nadim a weekend off.  Try Raso wide left, Weber wide right, Dagny in the middle with Shim underneath her as ACM?  Try Shim as a forward with Boureille as center mid, dropping Dagny into the DM slot?

Formation…hmmm…the 4-3-3 is a high-pressure, attack-oriented formation that places a lot of responsibility on the central midfielder and is vulnerable to giving space in midfield as well as requiring the backline to be on the qui vive all match.  I’m not sure, honestly, whether Thorns FC has the fullbacks right now to play a 4-3-3 well enough to keep the Reign out of the back of the net.  So…go to a 4-4-2?  Do we have enough quality in midfield to play with four MFs all match?  Or should Parsons go even more defensive – drop a midfielder deep and play a 5-4-1 and try to bunker up?

Passing?  The answer to that is simple; the passing simply has to improve.  But in soccer, as Clausewitz says of war, the necessary things are all very simple…but even the simplest things can be very difficult to do…

Defending?  The fullbacks simply have to be better.  Should Williamson retake her old CB position and push Reynolds out wide?  Will that help the defenders, or simply add confusion of players trying new positions under great pressure?  And what about the LB if Reynolds does move out to the right?  Who can hold down that flank against Naho, Winters, and Fishlock running forward..?  After Houston I don’t have faith in Lofton or Skogerboe, after KC little in Berryhill.  The fullback position is where I want to see some Parsons genius.  I don’t have a good idea, so I sure as hell hope he does.

Tactics?  I hate to say this – largely because I reeeeally don’t want to see another multiple-concession game – but I think Thorns FC has to take chances.  Has to push up, and trust the DM and backline and Michelle to stonewall Seattle and trust the strikers to score enough to win the match.

But I have no idea whether we can do that.  I can, like you, only wait.  And hope.