Thorns FC: First Intermission

While we’re on hold for the international break, here’s some USWNT pump-up music to occupy you.

Oh, and here’s a picture of Mana Shim gardening.

Mana Shim gardening

While we enjoy the sight and sounds, let’s talk about the Thorns’ season to date and peek ahead at the next couple of months.

How’s the season look so far?  Well, if you look just at record alone, fine.  Thorns FC sit in second (albeit the Spirit have a game in hand…and Orlando and Rochester are just a point behind) and still cling to the last undefeated record in league.  Now…

That said…the league has, as we’ve discussed, been kinda of awful this season.  The scoring has been low and many of the matches unlovely.  Dan Lauletta over at The Equalizer was pretty blunt: “All in all, too many games are being clogged in midfield and final passes to put players in dangerous scoring positions are few and far between. Also missing from this season is a signature game. None have been decided by a goal in the last minute or stoppage time. And the only game remotely resembling one you would re-show as promotional footage was a scoreless draw between the Spirit and Thorns that included the league’s best player to date (Tobin Heath) this season being sent off.”

Ouch.

Thorns FC’s “undefeated” run has been…kind of like that.  Mixed in with a solid Opening Day defeat of Orlando and a gleeful 4-1 thrashing of Washington here we had a fairly dour home draw against Seattle where “not losing” was treated as a victory, the above-mentioned scoreless draw at the Spirit and another draw where Portland had to equalize late against a 10-player FCKC to save the point.  The other win was at Boston and a fairly ugly piece of business it was, too.  So you’ll have to pardon me for repeating this, but…the Thorns are the least convincing “undefeated” team I’ve ever seen.  So far we’ve been the Queens of the Crap Match.  But I keep fearing that inside the team is a really crap match wanting to burst out, like that alien chest-larva thing in the movie.  Ugh.

Still…so far, so good, right?

Speaking of good…who’s been good?  Bad?  Ugly?  Good?  Well…you can pretty much start with Tobin F*ck!ng Heath.

She’s tearing up the entire league, the best player in the NWSL at this point.  She’s playing the best soccer of her career and she’s been largely responsible for dragging this team along at times.  Coach Parsons was right; the key to this season so far is that WE have f*ck!ng Tobin Heath.

Allie Long has, wonderfully for her, suddenly revived her long-moribund USWNT career.  The good news is that means she’s probably going to Rio this August.  The bad news is…that she’s probably going to Rio this summer.  The Thorns will miss her from the midfield, perhaps not as much as Heath…but will miss her.  She’s been solid for the Thorns, though perhaps, oddly, not as effective as she has been for the Nats, perhaps because Parsons has asked her to sit deeper than she does for the WNT and has thus muted what she brings forward.

Perhaps the second-best player on the Thorns right now is Emily Menges.  I had doubts whether Em could do as well inside as she had at fullback, but she’s been a rock.  A hell of a lot of the Seattle draw-win was her controlling the inside of the 18.  She’s making good decisions, playing well off her teammates and looks like she does a lot to run the backline that has, so far, largely avoided the horrendous derps that have been a Portland defensive trademark since 2013.

I mentioned my little Megzilla last week; Meg Morris has been a caution coming in late as well as starting against Seattle.  She’s blazing fast for someone who looks like a Roloff relative and works constantly all match.  I love the dickens out of her.

The one thing about her that concerns me is that she tends to wander; against Seattle she overshifted several times and was caught by Seattle switching fields.  She’s so damn fast, though, that she made the ground up and was seldom truly burned.  I do worry that if she tries that against, say, Steph Catley and Alex Morgan in July she might get torched…

Christine Sinclair has struggled with her leg injury so far all season, but she’s still among the Greatest of All Time.  Get well, Sinc; we need you back to being you; the Washington match here showed how much difference you make.

Among the other players that have looked solid so far this season I’d have to include Kat Reynolds, both keepers, as well as those you’d expect; Klingenberg, Horan, Sonnett, and Dagny.  But.

If you force me to be blunt?  I’d really like to see all four of the latter step their games up some.  Each one has played at least one stinker this season, and none of the four has had a truly outstanding match.  Solid is good.  Solid is fine, and solid has helped the team stay in playoff altitudes thus far.  But I’ve seen all three be “more than just solid” for their respective national teams.  I’d like to see more of that here more consistantly.

How about the…well, let’s say “not so good”?  You’d probably have to start with Mana Shim.  Again this season she’s just…not good.  Not awful, not “OMFG why is she playing???” bad.  Just…not good.

She’s often invisible when she’s on the field and when she is it’s unfortunately because she makes a poor pass or gets tackled for loss.  I’ll say this again; I like Mana as a person; she seems to want to work hard and do well.  but…she just hasn’t.

I’ve been accused of being unduly harsh on certain players.  And I agree; I am harsh and I am down on certain players so far.

Because I’m not here to hype up and root for the team.  I do that on matchday.  After the chanting and singing stops, though?  I take off my Thorns-rose-red-colored glasses and try and look hard at what helps and what hurts this team.  Here?  I’m here to be analytical, judgemental.  That’s what sportswriters do.

In a league like the NWSL, where tiny rosters and low, low, low caps make every player important, no team can afford a player that can’t help the team for very long.  At least, no team that wants to win can do that.  So…while I like Mana, I think she needs to start lifting her play if she wants to stay in the XI.  Hell…she should lift her game just to stay in the matchday 18.  The way she’s playing, in a team with more options I think she wouldn’t dress on matchday…

You all know how I feel about Nadia Nadim.  Why the hell can’t you score for us like this, Nadia?  You’ve been our starting forward, meaning your primary job is to score goals.  Right now you have one goal – that tire fire of a defensive foulup in Seattle.  You’re putting only 44% of your nine shots on goal (only young Raso is doing worse) and you’ve been caught offside about a gajillion times (okay, only eight but, still; that’s nearly 40% of the Thorns’ offsides this season..!).

Sigh.  Like I said; you know how I feel.  I really don’t LIKE slagging off on Nadim.  But she has GOT to step up, especially with the Olympic Games coming soon.

And speaking of that…  Richard Hamje at Riveting! has an outstanding rundown of what late June and July is going to look like.  Conclusion?  A little worrysome.

The entire USWNT contingent – looking at this point most likely to be five; Long, Heath, Horan, Sonnett, and Klingenberg – will be missing for the July 9 home match with KC. The other iffy date is the second home Seattle match on 7/30; just four days before the start of the US-New Zealand match of the Olympic group stage.  Will Ellis call the Nats into camp before the 30th..?  You tell me; would Ellis’ record suggest a concern for the NWSL teams’ schedules?

How about the rest of July?

The Sky Blue home match on 7/2 should be unaffected.  But…Les Bleues play on the 16th and 23rd of July and Canada on the 23rd.  While this doesn’t overlap directly for any current players it suggests that the process of slotting Amandine Henry in the XI for July might be rugged.  She’ll only miss the match in Houston on the 16th…but she’ll also miss a ton of training time.  Unless she’s some sort of DCM-savant she might well have a difficult time meshing with her teammates, and this team needs more roster chaos like Portland elementary schools need more lead in the drinking fountains.

On the road against the league leaders Chicago this Sunday.  It’s time; let’s get that convincing road win, eh, gals?

Onward, Rose City!