Thorns FC 0 : 1 Sky Blue FC – Bullseyed like Womp Rats

The cunning rebels of Sky Blue FC snuck into Portland tonight and managed to blow up the Death Star on a deadly 80th minute strike from substitute Taylor Lytle; the imperial legions, stunned by the blow and already exhausted from battering themselves against the tough rebel defense, couldn’t find the equalizer.

As the Empire reels, the question remains; how could this have happened?

1.  Both Morgan and Sinclair had a jour sans.  And SBFC did a great job both handling the Thorns midfield and marking Morgan out of the match.  Other than a lovely speculative ball in the second minute Christine Sinclair looked out of sorts and off-pace all night.  Being Sinclair, that meant that she was merely an outstanding soccer player.  But she wasn’t the game-breaker we’ve come to expect.  Alex Morgan had several nice half-chances and ran at the SBFC defense all night.  But when she was there the service wasn’t, and when the service was there she was half a step off, or a SBFC defender was there first.  And the Thorns FC midfield had a collective off night; no shame there, we all have those days when nothing works right – what the cycling pros call a “day without”, a jour sans.  Unfortunately almost ALL the midfield had one tonight.  In particular Nikki Washington either chose to or was directed to move inside, where she was ineffective, but SBFC made a meal of the entire Thorns midfield all evening.  I talked about the Thorns’ midfield issues as they appeared in the last away match; those issues reappeared Thursday and SBFC exploited them to a fare-thee-well.

2.  Jim Gabarra outcoached Cindy Parlow Cone.  SBFC came into Portland with a plan and executed it perfectly.  Jam up the center of the pitch.  Mark tight and play a ruthless trap.  Use Thorns FC giveaways and possession losses to counter quickly.  Take every opportunity to nick a goal and then make it stand up.

It was clear by the end of the first half that SBFC was packing the center, clogging the passing lanes, and taking away Portland’s attack through the center of the pitch.  For long stretches the sidelines – especially on Portland’s right flank – were as empty as the sands of Tatooine as both teams bunched up in the center of the pitch.  Thorns FC tried lobbing long balls over the SBFC backline only to find that the rebel scum were fiercely disciplined and were either first to the ball or had played the Thorns attackers offside.  Rampone’s troops played a tenacious and effective match, and the Thorns’ usual attack couldn’t solve it.

Grand Moff Parlow Cone’s only hope was to attack the rebel flanks and spread the defense.  But the home side continued to bunch up and try to go over rather than around the visitors.  It didn’t work.  Finally Parlow Cone brought Foxhoven on late in an attempt to spread the field but without effect.  Instead Gabarra brought on Lytle for Kendall Johnson at 78 minutes and two minutes later Lytle put that damn missile down the ventilator shaft.  We all know what happens then.

Boom: Thorns FC has taken its first loss.

We knew it would come eventually, and to lose to Sky Blue is no shame; they’re a good team and came in well-prepared.

The Empire’s resources are great and Parlow Cone will have what she should need to rebuild the Death Star and handle the next attack, the Washington Spirit arriving Sunday.

But the crucial thing is that she will need to learn the lessons of this match and be prepared to outflank and outwork the Spirit if they try to repeat Sky Blue’s tactics.   SBFC got a lot of help from an off night felling our two stars, but the failure to recognize their bunched defense and counter with attacks down the flanks was entirely on Parlow Cone.  Continually lobbing the ball for Morgan to run onto is a one-pony trick and a difficult one to execute; Sky Blue were ready for it and we should assume Washington will be, too.  The rest of the league has now seen how to destroy the Death Star.  The question now is can Thorns FC figure out a way to destroy the rebel shield generator and make themselves dangerous again?

To lose one Death Star is an accident.

To lose two in a row?  That would seem like carelessness.

Thorns FC @ Chicago: That Thing is Operational!

As you probably know, PTFC was 5-nil on aggregate this past weekend.  The Timbers spanked the dire Goatboys of Chivas USA 3-nil and the Thorns FC handed the Chicago Red Stars their second consecutive 2-nil loss to a Portland that now sits comfortably on top of the NWSL table.

Portland soccer fans were handed a nasty dilemma by the two leagues this past Sunday, with the Timbers kicking off at 2pm and the Thorns at 3pm.  Given that I was single parenting and couldn’t get to Jeld-Wen, and the womens’ match wasn’t recordable – I chose to tape the Timbers and watch the women.

As always, Jonanna W has the details at her match report over at Stumptown, and does a good job of describing the hammering that the Thorns FC Death Star handed the plucky band of rebels led by Lori Chalupny.  For all that Chicago looked better than they did in their first outing against Thorns FC the scoreline flatters them; the match could easily have been 3-nil or 4-1.  Portland soccer fans are suddenly confronted with the sensation hitherto known only to supporters of outfits like ManU or Barca; rooting for the bully of the league, the Evil Empire.  While not yet familiar enough with the sensation, it’s…surprisingly pleasant, isn’t it?  Suddenly I have the awful suspicion of what it’s like to be a ManU supporter and revel in the one-sided beatdowns of loveable little teams and their pessimistic little fans.

Are we unstoppable?  (Can you believe that we can even ASK that question?!?)  How WOULD you stop Thorns FC?  What can the rest of the NWSL do to handle Thorns FC, and were there any hints visible Sunday?

Here’s what I saw, coming through the laggy feed from Suburban Multiplex Stadium, Illinois;

1) They will have to body up on Alex Morgan.  Before the season opened we thought we’d have two devastating smoking barrels up front; Sinclair and Morgan.  But shortcomings in midfield have drawn Christine back into the trequartista role she’s fulfilled nicely.   That leaves Alex Morgan, and as she showed in the third minute in Chicago, if you give her so much as a centimeter of space she’ll create something out of nothing.  Any hope of beating Thorns FC will have to include a Morgan jour sans as well as a glove-like man-marker to stick a boot in every time she touches the ball.  But that leaves the problem that

2) They will ALSO have to mark the hell out of Sinclair, Long, Foxhoven, and Washington.  The bottom line is that Thorns FC is, like the Death Star, a nightmare when it attacks.  There’s just too many weapons there, and if the Empire doesn’t shove a death ray down the middle it will work its legions around the flanks and bomb you to death with crosses.   Or the Sinclair Particle Beam will strike from distance.

3) But…there are some undefended exhaust ports in midfield.  One thing that Portland has still to cover up is poor passing and lack of connectivity in midfield.  Far too many passes went astray in Chicago; it was an ugly giveaway in midfield that led to the Red Stars’ one real opportunity, a point-blank blaster-burst from Julianne Sitch that LeBlanc did well to save.  Much as I wanted Angie Kerr to be the midfield engine Parlow-Cone has clearly dropped her in favor of playing Sinclair as a withdrawn forward and making Long the midfield pivot.  It has worked, and that’s hard to argue with.  But I still get the sense that a club with a very aggressive pressing midfield can disrupt this Thorns FC unit and force enough turnovers to counter effectively.  Which brings up the other potential vulnerability, that

4) The Empire is strong in attack but not invulnerable in defense.  Chicago never managed to maintain enough possession to mount a period of sustain pressure.  But another team – Sky Blue, perhaps, or Kansas City whose midfield looked effective in Thorns FC road opener – might be capable of exploiting the occasional openings that Portland gives up in back.  From what I could see the Portland midfield looks effective playing forward; the connection between the backline and midfield wasn’t nearly as tight.  Much of Thorns FC attack Sunday started with Chicago giveaways in midfield (the rebels were affected with pretty severe Stormtrooper Effect themselves); out of the back I saw a lot of long balls that went to Red Stars as often as not.  Again, a team with a midfield that tackles well, presses high, and plays together could, if nothing else, provide the Death Star with an uncomfortable moment or three.

And, pat as some George Lucas dialogue, here comes Sky Blue FC this Thursday, ready to try and take down our fortress.  But as Darth MGoEcon observed; the ability to destroy a Red Star is insignificant next to the power of the Thorns. 

I am confident.  Sky Blue will feel the might of the Empire; with our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the NWSL.

 

Thorns FC remain unbeaten with 2-1 win over Washington

Thorns FC got goals from forward Alex Morgan and midfielder Nikki Washington to lead Portland to a third consecutive victory with a 2-1 win against the Washington Spirit.

and goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc made six saves as Portland Thorns FC earned their third consecutive victory with a 2-1 win against the Washington Spirit on Saturday in front of a sold-out crowd of 5,011 fans at Maryland SoccerPlex in Boyds, Md.

Match Notes:

  • With a goal on Saturday, forward Alex Morgan has earned at least a point in three straight matches.
  • Midfielder Meleana Shim made her NWSL debut for Portland, earning her first start of the season.
  • Defender Jazmyne Avant made her NWSL debut, entering the match as a 64th minute substitute for injured defender Nikki Marshall.
  • All three of Portland’s road games have been witnessed by sellout crowds.

Here’s a few quick thoughts on the match:

  • Portland has a defense too. While much of the talk about Thorns FC has to do with their offensive talent (and for good reason obviously), Coach Cindy Parlow Cone has her club playing some solid defense. Washington forced keeper Karina LeBlanc to come up with six saves, but to be honest, none of those really ever challenged the veteran.
  • Speaking of defense, Rachel Buehler played her best match of the season. It took a few matches but we got a glimpse of the Rachel Buehler we’re used to seeing with the United States Women’s National Team. The ‘Buehldozer’ was everywhere and was a big factor in spearheading a defense which rendered Washington’s attack pretty futile in the final third.
  • Unsung hero: Allie Long. I mentioned it in another post, but I’m waiting for the league to partner with Opta Stats or someone similar, because I’d love to see the passing stats and heat map for Allie Long. Yeah, she can be a dodgy tackle sometimes and seems on the brink of getting a yellow card every match (she’s the Thorns Diego Chara maybe). However, Long makes the right pass almost 100% of the time and yesterday she had another stellar effort.

Quotable: 

Head coach Cindy Parlow Cone
On forward Alex Morgan being the team’s focal point:
“Alex is a true professional in every sense of the word. She may be a young player, but she’s wise beyond her years and she understands the position she is in and has embraced it. She has been great for our team and great for this game. We’ve been to Kansas City and Chicago and everywhere we’ve been people are shrieking Alex’s name.”

On Washington’s defense:
“They’re a fantastic team. Their backline is very good with Robyn Gayle, Tori Huster, Ali Krieger and Hodak with Ashlyn Harris in goal. That’s a very strong back line. In front of them having (Lori) Lindsey and Julia Roberts, that’s tough to play against. I said it before the game that that’s going to be a tough block to break down because they are a very good defensive team.”

On Portland’s defensive pressure forcing miscues:
“We’re sorting out our defensive pressure. We want to be a high-pressing team and we saw moments of it tonight. The one turnover we were able to get a goal on was Nikki Washington’s in the second half (while Morgan hit the post after a turnover in the first half).”

Match Stats:

Portland Thorns FC (3-0-1, 10pts) vs. Washington Spirit (0-2-2, 2pts)
May 4, 2013 – Maryland SoccerPlex (Boyds, Md.)

Goals by Half              1         2        F
POR                              1          1         2
WAS                             0          1         1

Scoring Summary
POR – Morgan (penalty kick)                       12
POR – Washington (unassisted)                  51
WAS – Matheson (penalty kick)                   86

Misconduct Summary
WAS – Harris (caution)                       13
POR – Long (caution)                        70
POR – Edwards (caution)                   82

Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Karina LeBlanc; D Marian Dougherty, D Rachel Buehler, D Kathryn Williamson, D Nikki Marshall (Jazmyne Avant, 64), M Becky Edwards, M Allie Long (Courtney Wetzel, 83), M Meleana Shim (Danielle Foxhoven, 90+3), M Nikki Washington, F Christine Sinclair (capt.), F Alex Morgan

Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay

TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Sinclair, 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Sinclair/Morgan, 2); FOULS: 7 (Edwards/Shim, 2); OFFSIDES: 4; CORNER KICKS: 3; SAVES: 6

WAS: GK Ashlyn Harris; D Domenica Hodak (Jazmyne Spencer, 75), D Robyn Gayle, D Tori Huster, D Ali Krieger, M Lori Lindsey (capt.), M Diana Matheson, M Ingrid Wells (Tiffany McCarty, 46), M Julia Roberts, F Caroline Miller, F Stephanie Ochs

Substitutes Not Used: GK Chantel Jones, D Candace Chapman, D Kika Toulouse, M Colleen Williams, M Lupita Worbis

TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Three players tied, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 7 (McCarty, 2); FOULS: 7 (Hodak, 4); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 4; SAVES: 3

Referee: Christina Unkel
Assistant Referees: Shannon Poplstein, Danielle Chesky
Fourth Official: Hagan Barnett
Attendance: 5,011
Weather: 66 degrees, clear and breezy

All statistics contained in this box score are unofficial

Match Highlights:

From her own wings: Thorns FC seen from the north end

Once again my compa Chris Singer is there “fustest with the mostest,” so I won’t add anything other than a recommendation to read his match report from Portland Thorns FC’s first ever victory, the 2-1 win over the visiting Seattle Reign this past Sunday. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also direct you to the by-now-indispensible JonannaW’s report over at Stumptown Footy.

Having been in the North End for the match I thought I’d just add some of my own observations from Section 109.

In the stands:

The numbers.  The last time I recall seeing the old Civic Stadium this full for a women’s match was the last time the U.S. women’s national team played here. in 2012, and that crowd was less raucous and less partisan than Sunday’s.  I can understand how the Thorns FC players and coaches were impressed.  While I don’t expect the stands to continue to be quite that packed, I think we showed our colors as Soccer City, USA, and those colors were bright red and white.

The overall sensibility inside the Shed was very different from a Timbers match.  I think the effect of the large general admission seating section (the entire lower bowl all the way around to Section 110) and the smaller size of the Rose City Riveters supporters group had the effect of diluting the fervor of the North End.  I think that this will sort itself out over the season, as louder and more vertical will gravitate towards 107 while the quiet sitters will move away.

One effect of “early days yet” seems to be that there was some confusion on where exactly “general admission” was located.  The event staff was quite definite; all the 100 sections ending at 110.  But the couple behind us at the west end of 109 had reserved seats for that section, and so did another group of five sitting where we first sat.  We had no trouble finding other seats, but hopefully Thorns FC and Jeld-Wen work this out quickly; having supporters dueling over places to sit or stand won’t help anyone focus on the match.

The other issue that club, supporters, and venue will need to work on figuring out is “who stands”?  On Sunday pretty much everyone across the North End over to 108 was standing.  But in our section the confusion began; several whole areas were sitting, some behind supporters who were standing.  This didn’t seem to be a big issue when the ball was 20 yards or more from the end line, but when a player worked the ball down into the near corner it forced the sitters to stand to see the play.  This jack-in-the-box jumping up noticeably increased in the second half as Portland repeatedly attacked Seattle’s goal, and I can see this becoming an issue in the future as some solid citizen objects to those yobs standing in his way.  The Timbers’ North End match supporters have worked this out pretty well; you know going in that everyone is going to stand so you either stand or move.

The Riveters did fine work Sunday, keeping the energy high and mixing in enough familiar TA (but non-Timbers specific) songs and chants with new Thorns FC material to keep the noise level up.  The Thorns FC songs were a trifle sotto voce; this, too, will strengthen with time and familiarity.  Special kudos to Sunday for her awesome Rosie the Riveter outfit; we already knew she was brilliant for her work as a Timbers capo; she was a rock on the main capo stand Sunday and she’s already bringing the heat to the visiting teams.

The title of this post, by the way, comes from the Thorns’ unofficial slogan, She Flies With Her Own Wings, which is one English version of the State motto Alis volat propriis. The Thorns season ticket holders were all about sporting a handsome scarf with that motto knitted into it; it’s impressive the diversity of scarves this club and its supporters have created in just a few months…

On the pitch:

After a shaky start against Kansas City away, Thorns FC looked an order of magnitude better against Seattle Sunday.  I thought that some of this had to do with the relative strength of the KCFC midfield compared to the less-active, looser-pressing Seattle unit.  But I think a lot of it had to do with better composure and better organization in the Thorns midfield and backline.

For all that, Portland still needed almost 45 minutes to work out how to consistently push the ball up to the forwards.  From what I could see a huge part of this was Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock, who was a complete beast both offensively and defensively.  She went in hard on every tackle, had a nasty instinct for closing down passing lanes and in attack was a pest and a caution all match.  Rachel Buehler and Kathryn Williamson, the Thorns FC centerbacks, had trouble with her all match and her persistence paid off with a 74th minute goal.

Buehler seems to help settle the Thorns FC backline, but Williamson (who seems like a decent CB but nomination for “player of the week” last week was…confusing, to say the least, given the defensive breakdown that led to the Cuellar goal) was nowhere in sight when Fishlock’s mucker Keelin Winters knocked Buehler down to free her pal up for the easy strike.  Over the course of the match the back four looked solid, but the confusion as the ball bounded about in front of goal was a nasty reminder that this unit has very Timberesque moments when soccer just flies out of the room.  Parlow-Cone is surely talking to them about that this week…

Karina LeBlanc’s bicolor mohawk was ridiculously awesome; so was her steady keeping, though she was relatively untroubled most of the match she was blameless on the Fishlock goal.

It is interesting to watch Christine Sinclair’s evolution from a Abby Wambach-style frontrunning striker into a trequartista.  I understand why Parlow-Cone has moved her back; her tackling behind the ball and her service to Morgan and Washington up front make all the difference in midfield.  Allie Long is working hard, but without Sinclair in the #10 position the midfield was overrun at KCFC.  Sinclair adds there what she did upfront; a combination of skill and muscle that stymies the opponent and frees the Thorns FC strikers.  More than ever I am awed by this woman’s gifts; she is truly a great player and it is a gift to watch her play.

In the end:

Portland has shown Thorns FC some love, and at 1-0-1, Thorns FC have returned that affection with a great start to their season.  Their next opponent is Chicago; the Red Stars drew the Reign 1-1 the opening weekend, bombing Seattle keeper Betos with 14 shots, 9 on goal.  This should be a real test for the Thorns FC organization in back.  The defenders will have to have a solid 90 minutes than we’ve had up ’til now.  But I’m confident – Onward, Rose City!

I should add this odd little tale before I go, though.

I picked up our tickets on the Saturday before the match; parked off 17th and walked down Morrison to the box office at the north face of the field.  The woman in the ticket booth glanced up over her cat-eye glasses at me when I asked what was open for Sunday and informed me in a smoker’s voice that the only reserved seats open were at the far southwest end near the visitor’s section.

“That’s terrific…” I replied, “I had no idea that the tickets had sold so well.”

“Well, yeah, that’s Portland…” she rasped, pulling off my tickets and shoving them through the hole in the window. “…but Portland ain’t the whole league, y’know.”

We looked at each other for a moment; both of us, I think, remembering all those other professional women’s soccer leagues come and gone.

And I pocketed the tickets and walked back down the street.

Three quick thoughts on the Thorns FC victory

Want a recipe for an epic day in women’s soccer? Take Portland Thorns FC defender Jazmyne Avant absolutely nailing the United States national anthem, Karina LeBlanc’s hair, add the Rose City Riveters beautiful tifo and finally throw in 16,479 fans rocking Jeld Wen Field and you have a pretty phenomenal day.

It was most definitely a more epic day for Thorns FC supporters as they watched goals from Marian Dougherty and Alex Morgan lead Portland to a 2-1 victory over Seattle Reign FC.

Here’s three quick thoughts on the match:

* Christine Sinclair is pretty good.

Cindy Parlow-Cone said this about Sinclair in the postgame press conference: “Everybody talks about Christine in terms of scoring goals but she’s one of the best passers in all of women’s soccer.”

Coach hits the nail on the head there. NWSL needs to get some Opta Stats, because I’d be drooling over Sinclair’s heat map and distribution chart from today’s match. She was in one word: spectacular.

* Cindy Parlow-Cone can coach.

If you watched the first match of the season against FC Kansas City, you know the team didn’t display the kind of play Thorns FC was hoping for and Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan had way too few touches. In this match, Cone had Sinclair playing more withdrawn and underneath Morgan. As a result, Sinclair had many more touches on the ball and a much more influential impact on the match.

* Still room for improvement.

We saw some terrific flashes of brilliance from Thorns FC yesterday and with time, things should only get better. It’s still amazing to think that last week was only the first time every Thorns FC player was available for a full week of practice. That definitely showed against Seattle as every player was much improved over their first match in Kansas City. I have to think that every more steps will be taken in the next match against Chicago Red Stars.

Quotable:

Cindy Parlow-Cone on the atmosphere at JELD-WEN Field for the first Thorns FC home game:
“This was awesome. I was walking around the field with Rachel Buehler and we looked at each other and she’s like, ‘This is like the World Cup!’ That’s what it felt like. It felt like that atmosphere we had at the World Cup and at the Olympics. It was an unbelievable atmosphere.”

Game Stats:

Portland Thorns FC (1-0-1, 4pts) vs. Seattle Reign FC (0-1-1, 1pts)
April 21, 2013 – JELD-WEN Field (Portland, Ore.)

Goals by Half                1          2          F
Portland                        1          1          2
Seattle                            0          1          1

Scoring Summary
POR: Dougherty (Washington), 45
POR: Morgan (Sinclair), 52
SEA: Fishlock, 74

Misconduct Summary
POR: Long (Caution), 10
POR: Kerr (Caution), 11
SEA: Reed (Caution), 30
SEA: Nairn (Caution), 33
POR: Washington (Caution), 68
SEA: Fishlock (Caution), 78

Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Karina LeBlanc, D Marian Dougherty, D Kathryn Williamson, D Rachel Buehler, D Nikki Marshall, M Nikki Washington, M Becky Edwards, M Angie Kerr (Danielle Foxhoven, 76), M Allie Long (Courtney Wetzel, 80), F Christine Sinclair, F Alex Morgan

Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay, D Jazmyne Avant, D Emilee O’Neil, M Meleana Shim, F Jessica Shufelt

TOTAL SHOTS: 11 (Morgan, 4); SHOTS ON GOAL: 5 (Morgan, 2); FOULS: 11 (Long, 4); OFFSIDES: 2; CORNER KICKS: 6; SAVES: 1

SEA: GK Michelle Betos, D Emily Zurrer, D Lauren Barnes (Jenny Ruiz, 84), D Kate Deines, D Ellie Reed, M Kaylyn Kyle, M Teresa Noyola (Kiersten Dallstream, 54), M Jessica Fishlock, M Keelin Winters, M Christine Nairn, F Liz Bogus (Kristina Larsen, 66)

Substitutes Not Used: GK Hayley Kopmeyer, M Lyndsey Patterson, M Kristen Meier,

TOTAL SHOTS: 7 (Three players tied, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 2 (Fishlock, Nairn, 1); FOULS: 10 (Fishlock, 2); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 2; SAVES: 3

Referee: Josh Wilkens
Assistant Referees: Felisha Mariscal, Desmond Miller
Fourth Official: Jason Perlewitz
Attendance: 16,479
Weather: 51 degrees, overcast

Meet Thorns FC’s Emilee O’Neil

At times it may be an overused cliche, but in the case of Portland Thorns FC thirty-year-old defender Emilee O’Neil, timing really is everything.

When O’Neil signed as a discover player with Thorns FC on April 5, it was the culmination of a lifelong dream of being a professional soccer player.

Not many thirty-year-olds can say that and when I talked with O’Neil on Friday, you could tell she was still just soaking up the entire experience.

“The organization here has made this experience so professional. Players who have played in the previous leagues have said Portland has been the most professional by far. It’s been awesome,” said O’Neil.

O’Neil missed out on the first top-tier women’s professional league, WUSA, as she was still playing for Stanford University where she was a four-year player from 2001-2004. By the time she graduated in 2005, WUSA had folded.

When the second professional league, WPS, kicked off in 2009, O’Neil had gone over 4 years without playing in a competitive environment. She had played pick up and was active in coaching youth soccer, but she still shied away from taking a chance at playing in WPS. For O’Neil, It just seemed like she had been away from the game too long.

Yet again though, timing played a key role in O’Neil rediscovering her love for the competitive nature of the game.

When she became a full-time graduate student, O’Neill decided to try out for the Bay Area Breeze in the W-League. She made the team and after a seven year absence from competitive soccer, she completed her first professional season last year with the Bay Area Breeze.

After getting reintroduced to the competitive atmosphere of a professional team, O’Neil was hooked.

“It was more fun than I expected and because it was such a good experience, I was reminded of my passion for playing at that level,” said O’Neil.

Timing was again in her favor in November when the announcement for the new women’s professional league was released. At the time, O’Neil was preparing to finish up her graduate degree in graphic design in December.

“My dad and my husband, Michael, both really gave me the confidence to give it a shot. So I decided I’m not going to regret not trying so I just went for it,” said O’Neil.

After making the commitment to give NWSL a shot, O’Neil decided that Portland was an obvious choice for where she wanted to play. Her husband is from southern Oregon and he has a brother in Bend. O’Neil’s brother lives in Portland.

But it wasn’t just because of family that O’Neil had her eyes set on Portland.

“I knew from the beginning that Portland would be a great city for a team because of the atmosphere and the Timbers in MLS so it was really the only team I pursued playing for,” said O’Neil.

I couldn’t help laughing when O’Neil told me what she did next.

“I went to the website and called the office and asked if I could speak with Cindy Parlow-Cone. She hadn’t even moved to Portland yet but I was able to eventually get a hold of her and tell her my story,” said O’Neil.

O’Neil played centerback and outside back for Stanford University and featured mainly at centerback last season for the Bay Area Breeze. O’Neil says she’s comfortable playing anywhere on the backline. With the small rosters in NWSL, O’Neil’s versatility will definitely be in her favor. O’Neil’s speed, technical ability and composure on the ball also make her a good fit within what coach Cindy Parlow-Cone wants to do on the pitch.

Against FC Kansas City, O’Neil saw her first action as a Portland Thorns FC player coming off the bench in the 61st minute and playing left back.

When asked about her time so far with Portland, O’Neil broke into a huge smile when talking.

“This whole process has been so surreal…so amazing. I’m so thankful for this opportunity. The coaches, my teammates, everything has been so great since I’ve been here,” said O’Neil.

You can reach out and follow Emilee O’Neil’s season on Twitter at: @EmileeONeil

Thorns FC: Impressions from the “first ever draw”

Chris has already done such a fine job with his match report of the 1-1 draw that the Portland Thorns FC scratched out against Kansas City FC that I just thought I’d add some of my impressions of the gamecast and the game itself.

I should say up front  that I missed a sizeable portion of the second half from pure frustration; I was cooking with the live-feed on my wife’s tablet perched on the kitchen window and the buffering had become so slow that I shut the thing off to concentrate on preparing the miso butter for the asparagus.  I turned it back on in the 60th minute in time to see the final half hour of the match.  Chris says the Thorns improved in the second half, though, so I’ll take his word for it.

But I did want to add my takeaways from the broadcast.

1.  For all that I’ve heard Portlanders complain about the Timbers broadcast announcers I can’t say that I really pay much attention to them.

The KCFC announcer Sean Wheelock was impossible not to pay attention to.

Was it his constant reminders of the historical importance of the occasion – did you know that the match was the first ever  in the NWSL?  Sean reminded us of every first ever – first ever goal (by KC’s Cuellar) and first ever PK; Sean even informed us that Emilee O’Neill was the first ever substitution in the NWSL.  For all I know Sean mentioned the first ever use of Magic Spray for the first ever injury.  The live feed wasn’t so great that I couldn’t have missed it.

Wheelock had several more of these catchphrases.  By the 80th minute my children were both using “but we play on…” as a description for not getting booked for quarreling with each other or leaving the top off the milk jug.  And when Nitty the Cat batted her catnip mouse off the sofa she was said to have played “a long searching ball.”

Wheelock’s partner seemed to be some sort of KCFC player or coach but she said so little I couldn’t even learn her name; it was all Sean and his first evers.  As much footy as I watch I don’t often think about announcers but after Sean & Co. I’ve revised my opinion; they need to be like officials – if they’re doing their jobs right you shouldn’t even notice that they’re there.  Are you reading this, Thorns?  I hope so.

2.  As for the match itself, well; KC is a damn good team, and Renae Cuellar is a load.  I’d heard that they had been touted as potentially the best balanced and organized team in the NWSL and tonight they looked it.  The good stuff I saw for the Thorns is that the gals earned a point on the road.  And, well…that’s the bulk of the good news.  The first half was just ugly for PTFC; lots of missed passes, little attack, and several scary moments on defense.

Well, as Chris said, the team tightened up a bit in the second half.  But over the match KCFC imposed their pressing style on the Thorns, disrupted our attack thoroughly, were typically able to pass through the Thorns defense when they needed to, and were visibly the better team on the night.

KCFC completely dominated the Thorns midfield.  Angie Kerr, who looked so composed and resourceful against University of Portland, was not effective.  Far too many passes went astray, or directly to someone in a blue jersey.   The Thorns midfield looked poorly organized, scattered and out of synch for much of the match.

KCFC marked the Thorns forwards relentlessly,  too, and the result was next to no space for the frontrunners Sinclair and Morgan.  Sinclair was reduced to retreating back past midfield in an attempt to gain possession.  After Foxhoven came on for Kerr at 63′ the Thorns had better run of play but the Attack did not look especially dangerous at any time tonight.

The other difficulty the KCFC pressure caused was that the Thorns were unable to consistently possess the ball and thus play the game Parlow-Cone hoped to play.  For long stretches the only attack Portland could generate came from booting the ball forward and trying to run under it – Sean’s “long searching” balls.  One hopes that this was the collected impact of the awful pitch and first-match jitters.  But it never looks good and tonight was no better; those long balls seldom searched out a Thorn or, when they did, the hard pitch made for heavy first touches that were usually immediately lost.

3.  Did I sound dire in the paragraph above?  I don’t want to; I’m not despairing.  This side is loaded with good players, and with more time to gel, on a better pitch, against other opponents – for KCFC is one of the best sides in the NWSL – the Red and Black will get their first ever win.  Parlow-Cone now has 90 minutes of experience to make adjustments from, and the women are coming home next week to their home opener against Seattle.  I had to remind myself that this team has played together less than two months.  And we snatched a point on the road after shipping a third minute goal; that’s nothing to get depressed about.  We will see better from our Thorns.

4.  Overall the match, the broadcast, and “Shawnee Mission District Stadium” reminded me more than a little of the Timbers’ days in the USL than it did a first ever anything.

The screen in my kitchen window tonight reminded me strongly of peering at dumpy little pitches through cheaply filmed video feeds (where the camera was just as likely to be showing the costumed mascot as the play on the pitch) while listening to announcers muttering through badly-adjusted mikes that also picked up every kettlecorn vendor’s cries and gradeschoolers’ chatter.  Stone-hard turf pitches painted over with the local high school football team’s gridiron – I’d almost forgotten how bad that looks for soccer, with the faint yellow lines of the bigger pitch fading out on the screen.

We may have forgotten how lucky we are, here in the Rose City, to have the beautiful pitch we see every home match.

I know it’s early days yet, but if the NWSL management hopes to earn any sort of credibility it really needs to work harder to make its venues look more professional than Middlefield Cheese Stadium (remember the home pitch of Cleveland City Stars? I do now).

Final Thoughts:  Was it a great match (for all that is was…wait for it…the first ever!) for the Thorns?  No.  Was it reason to despair?  Also no.  The gals will be home next week against Seattle, on our own beautiful Jeld-Wen field, with a full 90 against a good opponent to help tweak our play and make adjustments to our tactics.  We will be ready for Cuellar & Co. when they show up out here on D-Day.  We still have a talented side and a lot of time to work out the hitch in our stride.

And I feel confident that day will be a day that will live in infamy for KCFC.

Onward, Rose City!

Thorns FC draws FC Kansas City 1-1 in their inaugural NWSL match

Christine Sinclair converted a second-half penalty kick to help Thorns FC to a come-from-behind 1-1 draw in front of sold-out crowd of 6,784 fans at Shawnee Mission District Stadium in Overland Park, Kansas.

The Thorns FC season got off to a rocky start when FC Kansas City’s Renae Cuellar took a long pass from Kristin Mewis and scored the first goal in NWSL history in only the match’s 3rd minute.

The Thorns FC defense settled down after that but FC Kansas City, with especially strong play from their midfield, looked to be the better team in the first half.

The second half featured a much better showing from the Thorns FC defense as Becky Edwards and the rest of the backline did a much better job containing FC Kansas City’s midfield and denying their forwards opportunities.

Thorns FC got a big break in the 66th minute when second-half substitute Danielle Foxhoven was fouled by Lauren Sesselmann in the penalty area. Sinclair, the captain for Thorns FC, converted the penalty kick with a hard shot to the low right side, recording the first goal in Portland’s NWSL history in the 67th minute.

Next weekend, Thorns FC has their  inaugural home match on Sunday, April 21, against Seattle Reign FC. Kickoff is scheduled for 2 p.m. (PST) and the game will be broadcast on Freedom 970 AM as well as via web stream at www.portlandthornsfc.com.

Game Stats:

Portland Thorns FC (0-0-1, 1pts) at FC Kansas City (0-0-1, 1pts)
April 13, 2013 – Shawnee Mission District Stadium (Overland Park, Kan.)

Goals by Half              1          2          F
KC                               1          0          1
POR                            0          1          1

Scoring Summary
KC – Cuellar (Mewis)                            3rd minute
POR – Sinclair (penalty kick)             67

Misconduct Summary
KC – Mewis (caution)                            43
POR – Washington (caution)              70
POR – Williamson (caution)               82

Lineups & Stats
POR: GK Karina LeBlanc; D Marian Dougherty, D Rachel Buehler, D Kathryn Williamson, D Nikki Marshall (Emilee O’Neil, 61); M Becky Edwards, M Allie Long, M Angie Kerr (Danielle Foxhoven, 63); F Nikki Washington (Courtney Wetzel, 90), F Christine Sinclair (capt.), F Alex Morgan

Substitutes Not Used: GK Adelaide Gay, M Meleana Shim

TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Morgan, 3); SHOTS ON GOAL: 4 (Sinclair, 2); FOULS: 13 (Long, 4); OFFSIDES: 1; CORNER KICKS: 4; SAVES: 2

KC: GK Nicole Barnhart; D Becky Sauerbrunn (capt.), D Leigh Ann Robinson, D Lauren Sesselmann, D, Jen Buczkowski; M Casey Loyd (Courtney Jones, 72), M Merritt Mathias (Katie Kelly, 77), M Desiree Scott, M Kristie Mewis (Erika Tymrak, 81), M Lauren Cheney (capt.); F Renae Cuellar

Substitutes Not Used: GK Bianca Henninger, D Nia Williams, F Melissa Henderson

TOTAL SHOTS: 8 (Two players tied, 2); SHOTS ON GOAL: 3 (Three tied with 1); FOULS: 11 (Two players tied, 2); OFFSIDES: 3; CORNER KICKS: 4; SAVES: 3

Referee: Kari Seitz
Assistant Referees: Kathryn Nesbitt, Kyle Atkins
Fourth Official: Jon Freemon
Attendance: 6,784