Thorns FC: First Look

Thorns FC took the first preseason match from Chicago 1-nil on a chill, rainy Sunday.

I didn’t want to make this a full match report and don’t have player ratings, but I do have some general observations and first impressions of the players and teams below the fold.

I thought both Chicago and Portland looked well organized (for the first preseason match, anyway). Defenses looked generally better than the attackers, tho both attacking units had some good looks. Both units’ strikers’ finishing was…very preseason.

Portland’s defending was very fluid, and the backline went from 3 to 4 to 5 depending on the shape of Chicago’s attack.  I thought the basic formation was a 4-3-3 with Weber wide left, Sinc central, and Nadim wide right, tho Nadim (as is her wont) tended to drift inside.

I thought that Chicago, in particular, missed Press as much as they did last season (generally when Press scored Chicago did well; when she didn’t, they didn’t). McCaffery didn’t impose herself, and Mautz wasn’t really a factor. Chicago’s best chance might have been in the 8’ when Courtney Raetzman hit a rasper that Franch could only parry upwards; luckily it was up off the FRONT of the crossbar instead of the underside and Franch collected the ball.

Chicago’s backline looked fairly composed without Johnston (who got married today, BTW).  Short had one truly dangerous cross, but in general the Thorns kept her and Gilliland home.

Interestingly, perhaps the best bit of play the Thorns put together was late in the second half with several starters off the pitch, as PTFC moved the ball around Chicago’s penalty area with some pretty passing and intelligent movement.  Sinc was a big part of that, but Mallory Weber had some terrific runs that broke down Gilliland several times during the sequence.

I thought that several players looked well advanced for preseason. Sinclair, Menges, Sonnett, and Klingenberg all put in good shifts. Shim had some nice touches and looked better than she did this time last season.  Long was in beast mode tracking back; she tackled like the ball owed her money.  Nadim looked kinda preseason-y in her half-hour; some nice touches, some heavy ones. I thought Boureille and Henry needed a little more time to get in synch with their teammates; both made some poor passes, several of which gave Chicago possession in dangerous positions.

Allie Long kept dropping deep into the backline; despite Parsons’ insistence that she wasn’t going to imitate her USWNT play she spent more time dropping back than Henry did.  At the other end of the pitch, though, she had some terrific half-chances including a goal – ruled offside – in the 67′.   Sinc put her in along on Dalton a minute later, but Allie couldn’t control the pass and ended up feebly doinking it into Dalton’s hands.  A driven ball in the 77′ went right to keeper.

Franch was in command of her area and made the stops she needed to. I just wish she was five inches taller; that Raetzman shot wouldn’t have troubled a taller player, but that’s kind of a feature, not a bug of women’s keepers. One thing I hope she doesn’t continue to do is play these little dink-clears to the CB right at the top of her 18; they always seem to come right back to her because the opposing F closes down almost immediately.

Great to see KJ back on the pitch (on for Kling at 58′) and looking effective.

Draftees or trialists Flynn, Cox, Hubly, and Herndon all saw at least 15 minutes in the second half and looked perfectly decent.

No Heath in the 18 (Goldberg says it was just a precaution for a minor knock). No Horan, either – at JJ’s wedding?  Dagny and Morris not dressed, either; still rehabbing..?

Sorry we didn’t get to see Ellie Boon.  Hope we’ll see her on Wednesday.

Fashionista Corner: I liked the all-black practice kits the Thorns wore for this match; very stark.  I think it’d work as a third strip behind the primary red and a secondary light-colored (white?) kit.  Any haters out there?  Anyone else like these, too?

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I’d say that overall the team looks about where they should be; not exceptionally great but nothing brutally ugly.  Communication and interplay is coming and nobody looks truly awful.  Several players look like they’re shaping into good form early.  I think Parsons is doing well at bringing the team up to Opening Day.

I caught the last fifteen minutes of the Houston match against the US U-23’s and thought that Houston looked as stymied and ugly as they did in preseason here last year with the score 1-nil…only to go for a beer and return to find that the Dash had scored two in the final minute and added time.  Houston pestered the U-23 backline a ton but didn’t really look likely to score, until they did.

Both Portland and Chicago looked further forward than the final quarter hour of the other two sides, so we’ll see how the Thorns shape against the Junior Nats this Wednesday.

7 Comments Thorns FC: First Look

  1. John Whitehead

    I liked the black outfit OK, but I hope they won’t wear it when it’s 90F+ on the pitch.
    It seemed to me that Parsons was trying out a kind of revolver midfield, with Long, Henry, and Shim cycling through the positions. I’ll be interested to see if it happens again with Horan in the mix. I didn’t notice how much time Long played far back compared to Henry, but it did seem to me that she ventured much farther forward. I wish Mana was bigger and faster (though it seemed to me her speed has improved a bit), but man, she serves some nice balls into the box. Too bad no one could capitalize..

    Reply
    1. John Lawes

      Long dropped back quite a bit in the first half, pushed up more in the second, or at least it seemed that way to me. Henry looked to be playing more of a central midfield role; I didn’t see her in the backline much. The team as a whole seemed more mobile than they did this time last season; I’m guessing the effect of having played together for a year. I do hope we see Horan in the mix on Wednesday.

      I pretty much stand by what I said about Mana in my preseason writeup; she is what she is. She lacks the size and speed to be much more than a roleplayer and midfield depth. She doesn’t have a terrific shot from distance most of the time, so she either relies on service to her feet or she’s the one providing the service, as on the Long PK-draw. Unfortunately, as you point out, Portland doesn’t really have a tall holdup forward to serve TO, so the crosses have to be perfectly timed to find someone making a run. Sinc is terrific at threading those sorts of passes through, as she did to Long on what should have been a goal at 68′.

      Reply
  2. Roy Gathercoal

    I agree just about completely with you, John. Good analysis, as always.

    After seeing the Chicago uniforms, I am so grateful to everyone involved in making decisions about what the Thorns wear.

    There were two things that stood out to me as (hopefully) indications of it being the pre-season.

    (1) It seemed that many Thorns were not thinking ahead in the game. As if someone would receive a pass, then raise her head to see what she might do now that she has the ball. At this level, you have to have your head in the game, and professionals really need to be able to anticipate their possession. Especially if you decide to take four or five too many touches before you send the ball on its way (to some uninhabited space on the pitch).

    (2) The most frustrating aspect of the game for me was our inability to get the ball out of our defensive third. Time and time again, we gifted Chicago with several passes backwards, only to commit a turnover deep in our own half. Defenders seemed better than expected at being in the way, but again, once they got possession of the ball, it seemed they had to stop and think a while before making a move. That gave Chicago enough time to react and close down the passing lanes, resulting in an aborted pass back to a CB or keeper.

    We really need to be able to work the ball forward through the midfield, not to rely solely on the long ball to Sinc, which is wonderful if it happens to connect, and a simple turnover when it doesn’t. I would expect that teammates would move enough, and our defender would be skilled enough, to move the ball at least square when confronted with a single opponent on guard.

    I did appreciate the team hustle. There were some amazing run maneuvers after loose balls, and some great defensive plays to capture possession.

    Reply
    1. John Lawes

      “Time and time again, we gifted Chicago with several passes backwards, only to commit a turnover deep in our own half. Defenders seemed better than expected at being in the way, but again, once they got possession of the ball, it seemed they had to stop and think a while before making a move. That gave Chicago enough time to react and close down the passing lanes, resulting in an aborted pass back to a CB or keeper.”

      Boyfuckinghowdy was this prescient, Roy; as I’ll discuss in my post about last night’s U-23 match, this went from being an irking nuisance to a nuclear meltdown. I’m not sure if this lazy dinking around the backline is a player thing or a coaching thing, but if the former I hope Parsons rips the backline a new one and if the latter I hope that Wednesday night was enough to put a stake in its heart…

      Reply
      1. John Whitehead

        I think it’s a coaching thing (the backpasses, etc.) Parsons likes the tactic of holding the ball back until the opponent commits, and then quickly taking advantage. This presents two issues the Thorns obviously need to work on. First, they have to work out just how far they can tempt the other team forward without giving up a goal. (Which means lapses like Franch’s are completely unacceptable. As he said postgame, “Thank God that happened in the preseason!” or words to that effect.) The second issue can be summed up in a word: quickly. They have often done a great job of sucking the opponent too far forward, but then squandered the advantage by not moving the ball up quickly enough.
        These are practice games, after all. I don’t think, though, that Parsons sees these games as a way to decide on whether or not to use this tactic, but rather as a chance for the team to get better at it, which they will clearly need to do. For those of us who can avoid heart attacks or apoplexy, it should make for some exciting soccer.
        We should recognize, also, that the U23s were very good. Their energy and relentless pressure were exactly what the Thorns needed. As Parsons also noted, there were some very valuable lessons in that game. Let’s hope the Thorns have learned a lot from them.

        Reply

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