Thorns FC: Collegiate

Thorns FC defeated the college-age women’s soccer players of the State of Arizona 15-0 on aggregate over the past weekend.

This is – in one sense – a good thing.  A year ago today the Thorns scratched out a meager 2-1 win over the University of Portland Pilots in their sole preseason match.  The team was without their national team players, in a hasty inaugural season’s training, and struggling with organizational and fitness issues that would soon appear on the pitch. Continue reading

Thorns FC: It’s All Gone Quiet Over There

Well, somewhere in Portland the Thorns are training.

OK, well, I’m being a bit dramatic.  We know where the Girls in Red are training; they’re right over the West Hills from where I’m sitting.  They’re at MultnomahCivicPGEJeld-WenProvidence FieldStadiumPark cooling down after today’s drizzly two-a-day.

Still.

There is a lot we don’t know about this year’s Thorns. Continue reading

Thorns FC: Quick Quick Slow


If you’re a Thorns fan you already know that the Girls in Red came back from 2-nil down to take the match in overtime, 3-2.  I can’t add too much to Jonanna W’s fine match report over at Stumptown Footy.

However, if you were one of the many who doesn’t get FOX Sports 2 (Or  “The Ocho“, as we like to call it around here…) and didn’t get to watch the game you might not have had to pound out the flat spot in your forehead after the first half hour.  Actually watching the match was a bipolar swing between quick despair and slowly building hope.  Because, as Jonanna says, within 30 minutes the game seemed all over –

“It’s here that the gloom descended, over the several watching parties across Portland; over who knows how many PDX households; over the Rose City Riveters tent, where a handful of SG faithful cheered their team on halfway across the country; and, most importantly, if body language is to be believed, over the 11 Thorns who almost sleepwalked through the next 10 or so minutes at Verizon Wireless Field, shoulders slumped.”

The Thorns truly looked like a beaten team.  Kansas City’s goals weren’t just goals, they were shots right to the head; two in the skull, quick-quick, a sudden killer.  The very worst examples of the sort of defensive breakdowns that have killed Thorns FC all season.  Tymrak had eons of time and acres of space to place her shot, and Karina LeBlanc looked slow to dive to her right.  Then the defense simply stopped, ballwatching, as Melissa Henderson looped a header over LeBlanc for #2.

I was watching the game at Bazi Bierbrasserie – which was a terrific host and provided a great venue; thanks, Bazi! – and after I finished pounding my head on the table I looked around and saw I wasn’t the only one.  Too many other Thorns fans had seen this before; the defensive derp (TM), falling behind on soft goals…and too many of us have seen the team crash and burn in this situation.

Only Saturday it didn’t.  The two quick-quick Kansas City goals were their only goals that day.

Instead, slowly, the Thorns fought their way back into the match.

Perhaps it was Tobin Heath, refusing to just lie down and die, pulling back the first goal, roaring and driving on her teammates and lifting their heads back up.

Perhaps it was Christine Sinclair, wrathful as always, working tirelessly up front, making runs, moving skillfully and intelligently off the ball (her brilliant dummy at 65′ practically makes Weimer’s tying goal happen as the defense freezes long enough for Weimer to calmly claim the ball at the top of the six and drive it past Barnhart) and forcing FCKC to respond to her moves rather than start its own.

Perhaps it was Coach Parlow Cone, whose substitutions were timely and effective.

Perhaps it was Beuhler and Williamson, Marshall and Dougherty and Ellertson tightening up for the last 90 minutes; communicating with each other and with their midfield, marking Holiday out of the match, acting like a tough, composed band of well-drilled professionals instead of four strangers who just happened to wander onto a grassy field.

I’ve had some hard things to say about the Thorns backline this season.  I have some hard things to say about the first half hour they played Saturday.

But after that they did a woman’s job, all of you; well played.  That was the Thorns defense we all hoped we’d see this season.  That defense saw out the full time drawn 2-2.

And then the game went into overtime.

There’s no way to describe the tension of the last half hour of play.  Both teams looked gassed.  The hot day and the brutally hard pitch looked like misery.  It felt at that point like the next goal, whoever scored it, would be the winning goal.

So when Allie Long took a sweet pass from Weimer and slotted it into the FCKC goal to put Thorns FC up 3-2 I’ll bet that people emerging from the Fred Meyer all the way down on SE Hawthorne and 39th must have heard the roar from us down on 32nd.

Hell, when the long whistle blew people out in Corbett must have looked around and up at the cloudless sky, wondering what that strange distant bellowing noise was.

What is was, was pure wonderment.

The wonderful thing about this match was that slow, remorseless comeback; the Thorns’ refusal to concede.  For perhaps the first time all season this team, this entire team, showed ferocity and cohesion instead of fragility.  From the 33rd to the 120 minute, from Coach Parlow Cone’s substitutions to the play on the pitch, this team looked like the team the rest of the league started out afraid of.  The Death Star.  Mentally and physically tough, technically skilled, and tactically smart.

Now.

My father used to say that the reward for work well done was more work, and that is surely the case here.  The reward for this wonderful win is a hard hour and a half in Rochester, where Mary Abigail Wambach and Carli Lloyd and another dozen or so talented players will be waiting for Thorns FC this coming Saturday.

We’re there.  We’re in the Final, where “they” said we would be back in April.

I could thoroughly break down Western New York against PTFC here as I did FCKC last week, but why?  You know and I know and Coach Parlow Cone knows what we’re going to see in Rochester and what we have to do about it.

We’re going to see Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd.  We will have to put a collar on them; defend in depth, with our keeper and our backs and our midfield communicating and working as we did over that last hour and a half in Kansas City.  We will have to watch especially for long balls over the backline, the Wambach specialty.

And then we have to score; our midfield has to protect the ball, move to space, and make accurate passes.  Our midfielders and attacking fullbacks will have to spread the Western New York defense wide and pass into our forwards.  Our forwards have to make the timely runs, take the passes in stride and turn them into goals, something we have yet to do in Rochester.

But the Thorns showed last Saturday that they can do things they haven’t done before.

If there is ever a time to do that again, if there is ever a time to show that last Saturday was the team as it is and can be, it will be next Saturday.

I learned one other important thing from Jonanna’s post; the NWSL Championship Trophy may well be the butt-ugliest piece of silverware ever offered up as a professional sports prize.  Seriously.  It’s fugly.  Reeeeeally f’n ugly.  I’ve seen kid soccer trophies that looked better.

There’s only one hope for it.

The damn ugly thing will look a whole lot prettier sitting in the trophy case at Jeld-Wen Field.

Thorns FC: Goin’ to Kansas City…


I mentioned the last time that the upcoming semifinal match in Kansas City might be anybody’s game.

After looking back at the season past I’m still not sure who can pull off a win at the fabled Shawnee Mission District Stadium.  The four meetings between Thorns FC and FC Kansas City tell wildly different stories, and while it’s worth looking back to see what happened I’m not sure that we can predict this coming Saturday’s match from the preceding games.

It’s also probably also worth looking at FCKC’s recent form and try and suss out who we should be worried about.

But first – let’s roll tape, shall we, and see if we can learn anything from it? Continue reading

Thorns FC: Level One Complete


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.

For example:

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.

Thorns FC: Low Expectations


It says something fairly damning about the current form of our Thorns FC that the nil-nil draw at Western New York they scratched out Saturday seems like a huge relief.

It’s when you are satisfied with the Death Star as a sort of big clumsy black interstellar bug-zapper that you realize that your expectations have been lowered substantially from the euphoria of preseason.

And the NWSL table reminds us of the implacable fact that a win in Rochester was a must-have for home field advantage in the playoffs.  With the season series at 0-0-2 WNY still owns the tie-breaker that will prevent Thorns FC from hosting the semifinal match if the current positions are unchanged after this coming weekend’s match at Tukwila.

I can’t really say much about the match itself other than at least Thorns’ defense didn’t ship a soft goal.  In fact, the play in back looked improved from the two preceding matches and the double man-marking kept Wambach under control, or as much as you can control Abby Wambach without actually hiring Shane Stant to club her on the knee.  Still, Karina still had to make 10 saves to preserve the clean sheet.

And no Thorns match in the last could of months would be complete without the patented Thorns Defensive Derp ™ – this game’s was on Marianne Dougherty, who was in the process of shepherding a bounding long ball back into her own penalty area when with her goalkeeper no more than 3 or 4 yards away and little or no pressure on her back inexplicably tapped it to LeBlanc with her boot, setting up a dangerous opportunity inside the Thorns 18.

Luckily for Thorns FC Carli Lloyd skied the subsequent free kick and the Thorns managed to see out the rest of the game without any more defensive breakdowns.

The less said about the attack in the first half the better; there was little to speak of.  The midfield was a disorganized mess as WNY ran the playbook on Thorns FC and pressed every Thorns midfielder as soon as they touched the ball and were rewarded with the expected errant pass.  Thorns defenders were, if anything, worst, booting every ball randomly upfield.  Any Thorns attempts on goal (and the percentage was, as usual, less than half, 3 of 7) were tame and easily saved.

Somehow Thorns midfield managed to gain more composure in the second half and actually strung together some decent passes.  About ten minutes into the half Angie Kerr provided an excellent cross but neither of the Thorns inside the 6-yard box could get to the ball or, in Allie Long’s case, control it well enough to shoot on goal.  But that was pretty much it.

The match pointed up to me how this is really Alex Morgan’s team.  Without Morgan the attack seemed almost random, as various players tried one thing or another without any really looking dangerous.  Christine Sinclair – whose two shots were the most attempts of any Thorn and pretty much makes the point of how scattered the attack was Saturday –  is still far off her international form.  If Coach Parlow Cone has a Plan B I couldn’t see evidence of it.

With Kansas City falling to the suddenly-dangerous Boston Breakers Thorns FC could have pulled within a point of the league lead with a win, but, frankly, I have a hard time seeing how this team, at this point, playing as they are, could have managed to put a goal past WNY’s goalkeeper Franch (who had her usual solid outing) or defend a one-goal lead if they had.  My expectations were so low coming in that a clean sheet and only one Thorns Defensive DerpTM seems like a decent result.

Fortunately for Thorns FC Sky Blue couldn’t manage a win, either; all three second-place clubs remain in the same order they were on Friday.

Seattle suffered a gutting loss at Washington Saturday, losing 1-nil on an almost Thorn-like defensive breakdown late in the second half.  The Reign have nothing to play for other than spoiling Portland’s post-season.

A win in Seattle seems more like a need than a want at this point.  It could still secure a home semifinal.  But more to the point, this team needs confidence; confidence that they can play 90 minutes of solid football, confidence that they can score, confidence in themselves.

Saturday in Rochester Thorns almost managed the first.  Next Saturday in Tukwila they will need to solidify the defending and score.   That seems like a very low expectation.

But it’s what we have right now.