The regular season is over and Thorns FC will play in Kansas City next weekend.
This is because the Thorns ran their season record over the Seattle Reign to 4-0 on Saturday, and because FCKC couldn’t hold off Chicago ninety minutes on Sunday, long enough to win the league and go top into the playoffs. Instead Western New York took the top spot with their win over Boston the day before.
Can we agree that this has been a turbulent and rather intriguing August for the NWSL?
As for Thorns FC…
Well, the match in Tukwila wasn’t exactly the dominating performance I’d hoped to see out of PTFC going in to the postseason. The defense was caught asleep in the third minute and Megan Rapinoe began what turned out to be a 90-minute schooling of the right flank of Portland’s backline by skinning Kat Williamson – with Marian Dougherty pulled out of position – and slotting the ball past Karina’s outstretched leg and inside the far post for the 1-0 lead.
Let me say for the record; Rapinoe is a hell of a great player and I wish we had her. She’s one of those players who look liable to score nearly any time that they have the ball at their feet, and she did that all night on Saturday.
But Saturday the Defensive Derps TM had a conscience and five minutes later the Reign were caught on a similar long ball, this one a perfectly weighted lob from Allie Long onto the feet of a running Sinclair.
Sing, oh Muse, of the wrath of Sinclair.
Christine’s fierce desire to score, and to win, were huge elements of the Thorns’ win Saturday.
Collecting the ball, Christine had a defender closing down on her and the USWNT keeper in front of her. But…Hope Solo then made the inexplicable decision to come all the way out of her 18 and missed the tackle. She was left chasing Christine like a Brittany spaniel pursuing a street dragster. Sinclair went to her right, cleared the Reign players, and deposited the ball neatly into Solo’s abandoned goal.
In many ways Christine has had a frustrating and disappointing season, but every match – one way or another – she does something that reminds me what a hell of a great player she still is, and of how badly she hates to lose.
If Alex Morgan cannot return next weekend I hope Sinclair can somehow infuse that hatred into the rest of the Thorns.
Meanwhile, back in Tukwila Chris’ strike was the end of the scoring for the next seventy-odd minutes; the two teams spent the remainder of the first half and most of the second trying to create another goal and failing.
If you forced me to be honest I’d admit that Seattle had by far the better and the more numerous opportunities. Fishlock and Rapinoe were constant menaces to Portland’s goal, and both Nairn and van Egmond had good opportunities that they either whiffed or couldn’t finish.
Seattle largely won the fight for control of the midfield, while Portland’s attack dried up; Weimer and Foxhoven were not effective most of the match and Shim was energetic but unable to create a really decent chance.
Portland’s backline was…well, Portland’s backline; controlling their penalty area and Seattle’s attack for much of the first half. Until someone missed a mark, was caught ballwatching, or stabbed and missed. At that point a free-for-all would break out, with panicked Thorns racing about trying to recover their marks and clear their lines.
Fortunately for Portland when Portland was panicked and out of position – Seattle was unlucky.
The Thorns defense looked more composed in the second half, and Coach Parlow Cone’s defensive substitutions – Ramirez for Dougherty at 51′, Ellertson for Williamson at 73′ – were, if not inspired, at least effective. I had my particular doubts about pulling Williamson, who had largely done good work throttling down Fishlock, but Ellertson continued to contain the Welsh Rarebit.
No, the substitution that puzzled and frustrated me was Wetzel for Foxhoven at 82′.
For all that she hadn’t been spectacular Foxhoven had rattled the crossbar at 56′, had been doing at least no worse than the other Portland forwards, and didn’t look gassed or out of ideas. Wetzel has not been a particularly effective attacker this season, and to me, at least, the move suggested that Parlow Cone was content to see the draw out and take the away point, a choice – if that was her reasoning – I didn’t and still don’t understand.
Yes, Western New York had already clinched the second home semifinal, so the win wouldn’t have secured a home game. I get that.
But still…here was the final regular match, against the rival Reign, for the chance to go into the away semifinal with a victory if you can score a late goal…and you pull one of your forwards for a defensive midfielder?
I don’t get that, Coach.
Whatever CPC’s plans were, fortunately for Thorns FC she didn’t bother to brief Christine Sinclair who latched onto a long lob from Weimer – less than a minute after the Wetzel sub – and flat outran the entire Reign defense to slap the ball past Solo for the 2-1 lead.
Have I mentioned lately what a terrific player Sinclair can be? How badly she hates losing?
Sing, oh muse, of the wrath of Sinclair..!
After that Seattle kept pressing but the defense held on, and Thorns FC ended their season with a win.
To my mind Saturday’s result in Tukwila vindicated the notion of refusing to settle for a draw whenever possible, and especially when a match is critical, whether its for league standing or team morale.
Sky Blue’s draw to Washington dropped them emphatically into fourth, while FCKC’s loss to Chicago handed Western New York the “Sahlen Meat Products Supporter’s Shield” or whatever the heck the NWSL calls the regular-season championship.
To make things worse for FCKC, Chicago’s unheralded striker Jennifer Hoy scored two of the three goals that she would score in the 2013 season in the match, including the winner deep in second half injury time. That has to be gutting for Kansas City who enters next week’s semifinal on a tw0-game losing streak.
But…Portland’s form hasn’t been outstanding this month either.
The semifinal could be anyone’s match, and we’ll talk about what we might expect in Kansas City in the coming week.