Thorns FC: Drawing Ugly

Last Saturday Thorns FC managed to steal two points from the Seattle Reign on a late Allie Long header and a Jess Fishlock own goal.

The match was a game of two halves, with one common theme.  Ugly.  Ugly fouling, ugly play, ugly tempers…it was just ugly all over.

I’m obviously biased, but Jessica Fishlock could have been tossed out of that match anytime after the 70th minute.  Based on both her conduct and her attitude she (and her midfield pal Rapinoe) came to a back-alley beating and a soccer match broke out.  Fishlock thumped Horan, Long, and Henry with gleeful abandon, and saw nothing but yellow for it.

The Welsh rarebit’s enthusiasm for hitting people in red was part of her coach’s plan, from the look of it, and that should come as no surprise.  Paul Riley has showed the rest of the league how you beat Portland; you hit them, you bum-rush them, you gang-tackle them.  You press high and commit to every tackle as hard as possible.  It worked for the Courage in Carolina, it almost worked for Chicago here two and a half weeks ago, and it worked well enough to secure Seattle the road point.

The Portland Thorns currently sit second in the league on 7 points, but a less convincing second I have seldom seen, especially given that there’s a handful of teams sitting just below at 6 points and after the opening weekend against Orlando – this year’s Boston – the Thorns haven’t looked particularly awesome against anyone else.

That’s mainly for two reasons.

The backline and ‘keeper we’ve discussed to death.  Seattle’s second goal was a perfect example.  Meghan Cox was beat to the byline by Naho, who passed to Stott into the top of the 18…

 

There’s already some troubling developments here; lots of Thorns…but who’s marking who?  Look at where Emily Menges is leaning.

Yep.  She’s doing something; ballwatching, counting on Sonnett to cover Mathias, worrying about the large open area of fake grass in front of her…who knows?

What she’s NOT doing is marking Merrit Mathias, who is as open as a former-forward-turned-fullback could wish to be.   Also note the ring of red shirts surrounding Stott while not actually doing anything to impede her progress, which…

…is not good, because before they CAN close her down Stott slips a nice little pass into Matthias, who…

…put Seattle back on top moments after Hayley Raso has worked her tail off convincing Fishlock to score once for each team.

Now.  Derping aside, the backline and A.D. looked better Saturday.  There were no really obvious, horrific backpass errors.  Most of the play out of the back went cleanly, even under Seattle’s high pressure.  The first Seattle goal was an outright stunner, even though Lindsey Horan gifted Fishlock the ball to start things off.

So, better.  Yes?  Yes.  But, still, a work in progress.

The other issue is that the Thorns are missing the attacking flair from last season – largely, I think, in the form of Tobin Heath – and are stifling under the heavy pressure the rest of the league is using against them.  In the first half the Thorns could only mount four real attacks; a nice run from Raso at 11′, a pretty little Henry-to-Boureille-to-Nadim sequence at 22′, and two speculative efforts near the 30th minute, including a Cox cross that Henry shot weakly at 34′.

All this changed with the addition of Klingenberg for Cox at halftime, and pushing Henry and Horan further up with Raso continuing to run wide out left while Boureille pushed up on the right as Kling added the danger from the other flank.  I counted a total of twelve good attacks, including a long spell of dangerous possession between the 62nd and 65th minute.  Those attacks included, obviously, this:

Raso making a run.  Run, Raso, Run!  It’s kind of a storyline, a meme, a “thing” this season, isn’t it?

Raso’s cross is hard and fast, and the clear only goes out to Klingenberg, who…

…lofts a cross onto the head of an onrushing Long, whose looping header is just good enough to get under the bar for the hard-won home point.

Here’s the problem, though.  Allie’s goal was only the Thorns’ fourth, and only the second from the run of play.  Discounting penalties and opponent own-goals Portland has scored only twice in 360 minutes.  That’s not much attack.  That’s not enough attack.  I’m not sure if the team needs Heath back, or needs to figure out how to score without her.

But Coach Parsons and the Thorns need to figure out something to get the scoring started, and soon; we have KC this coming weekend and then a home-and-home with Boston, and the Breakers have looked damn good this year.

PMRs and comments:

Sinclair (+1/-0 : +11/-4 : +12/-4)  Tough first half for Sinc, who go no service, none.  Wen the match opened up in the second half she became the “Captain Sinc” we know.  Still, tough night, and a lot of hard work just to save two points.

Nadim (74′ – +2/3 : +6/-3 : +8/-6)  Just not effective enough.  Same problems as all the forwards in the first half, and then just couldn’t find space enough in the second.  Still struggling with her first touch and her passing.

Raso (+9/-3 : +6/-1 : +15/-4)  She should have a sideline jump-starting dead batteries.  What an engine this woman has.  She STILL needs to find her shot.  Great individual hustle on the Fishlock own-goal, but just a danger all night.

Weber (16′ – +2/-2)  Not really an effective substitute for Nadim.  Had a couple of nice touches, but didn’t really bring anything special at a time the team needed something special.

Long (+1/-2 : +6/-5 : +7/-7)  A thankless night for Allie until her utterly unexpected strike.  Carried a LOT of water for the backline, especially early when Sonnett and Menges were not working well together.  I think she got lucky on the goal, but, then, sometimes lucky is good enough.

Henry (+13/-3 : +10/-2 : +23/-5)  Fought an epic battle with Fishlock all night.  Earns my Woman of the Match not just for her hard work, but for not punching that annoying Taffy right in the head.

Horan (+4/-2 : +11/-0 : +15/-2) I don’t know what Marc Parsons said to Lindsey at halftime but it worked like a dose of salts.  Terrific passing and lots of help tracking back.  I want to see the second-half Horan for a full match next time.

Boureille (+5/-1 : +8/-1 : +13/-2)  Solid, solid match from Celeste.  Was effective going forward, the biggest difference between her and Cox.  Did a good job locking down Rapinoe when she came out wide on the right, too.

Menges (+3/-4 : +12/-2 : +15/-6)  Another good-news-bad-news night for Em, and, like Horan, hugely better in the second half.  Some shocking defensive errors, though, which is NOT the Great Wall of Emily from 2016…but had a terrific steal off Rapinoe’s feet at 73′.  That was Menges’ night in a box.

Sonnett (+3/-3 : +4/-0 : +7/-3)  The Somewhat-Shaky-Wall just is not working well together yet.  Steadied up in the second half after an iffy first 45 minutes.  Not awful, not even bad…but not as good as she was at this point last year.

Cox (45′ – +3/-5) I didn’t think that Meghan had a bad night.  But she wasn’t getting forward under Seattle’s pressure, and in Parsons’ system the fullbacks have to do that.

Klingenberg (45′ – +7/-6)  Kling gets huge props for helping kickstart the attack.  But she was also Kling, meaning that she had some iffy moments defending as well as some questionable decisions.  But given that she’s coming off injury, and assisted on the goal, I’m inclined to give her a good grade for her work.

Franch (+2/-2 : +3/-1 : +5/-3)  Much, much fewer distribution problems.  Still losing a LOT of her goal kicks, but, again, I think that’s a feature of the game, not a Franch thing.  Huge, huge save in the 78th minute.

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Well…it was ugly.  But it WAS a point, and a point that the Thorns looked to have lost for almost 90 minutes.  Now the team needs to find what it takes to take advantage of a limping FCKC on the road and lock up their position up in the top of the table.