Thorns FC: Ad Franch Propter Stellae

After the dispiriting loss in North Carolina and still struggling with injuries to some of the most critical pieces of the team – Heath, Klingenberg, Reynolds…) Thorns FC needed a result last Saturday against the visiting Chicago Red Stars.

Thanks to a fortuitous penalty and some ferocious goalkeeping from A.D. Franch Portland nicked all three points to move up into a second-place tie with Boston.

The result was good.  The means to get to it…well, let’s talk about that after the jump.

The Red Stars played their usual grinding game, and I thought that this one might go in the books as just another Chicago-Portland draw.  The difference, as it turned out, was a Christen Press handball in the 27th minute.  But…here’s the handball:

Now, yes.  That’s a handball.  Defender’s arm extended = “handball” 99.9% of the time.

And yet…it seems to me that this is a textbook case of “ball to hand” and giving a PK for this effectively stands the intent of the rule on its head.  The handball rule is intended to penalize a Luis-Suarez-type blatantly illegal effort to stop a shot headed towards an otherwise-undefended goal.  This ball is headed away from the goal, and to award a PK seems infinitely less just than it would have been to award a penalty for, say, something like this…

This was the Press-Franch collision that got Rory Dames so upset and, given the outcome of the match, I can’t say I would blame him too much.  While I suspect that Adrianna was playing Short’s cross she never really got close to it and in the process knocked the stuffing out of Press.  That’s a penalty a lot of the time, and certainly more in keeping with the intent of the rules in punishing an attempt to stop an opponent scoring than the Press handball.

I’m a Thorns fan…but not a maniac one.  And in these two instances, I have to admit that Chicago has a case for feeling pretty hard done by.

A couple of general notes, and then PMRs.

The Thorns midfield and forwards played better Saturday than they did in Cary.  Much better.  Look at the stats;  almost 60% of the possession.  Almost half again as many passes made (405 to 287) and completed (285 to 197).  Only in the “duels lost” and shooting did Chicago come out ahead.  The Thorns connected on a lot of good passes, and got players into dangerous positions fairly often; Horan to Raso in 7′ for a corner; Sinc to Nadim to Raso for a corner at 13′; a nice spell of possession in the 26th minute that went Cox-Sinc-Raso only for Johnson to clean Hayley out for the corner that led to the Nadim penalty.  More good stuff in the second half, from Raso in particular; nifty steal and run in the 47th minute, six minutes later another nicked ball and long run with a feed to Long that earned a corner.  In the 87th minute Henry pitched a sweet lead pass to Weber whose cross was barely too early for a charging Raso.

For all this good stuff, though…there’s still some work to be done.  The attack against Chicago was still a mix of lots of pretty and moments of “WTF?”.

Here’s pretty:

And more pretty – REALLY pretty; I can’t stress too much how gorgeous this little sidefoot volley from Raso was…

But.  Did you think about this as you were looking at the first two pictures.  Nice work, but…what’s missing?  What should be there and isn’t?  What are you not seeing?

Yep.  That’s the “WTF?”.  The Thorn that did nothing in the daytime is that far side runner who’s not there.  One of the midfielders, or even Boureille at right back – somebody! – needs to come forward to provide the threat on the weak side.  Nobody did, so all that lovely creation went away.

In back, well…things looked…better.

In some places, MUCH better.  A.D. Franch had her strongest match to date and is my candidate for Woman of the Match.  As opposed to her almost comical “clean sheet” against Orlando Franch stood on her head to keep the scoreline blank and grab the 3 points.

4′ – Sonnett is ballwatching as Hoy blows her doors off and Press slips a crafty pass to her, but Franch comes off her line huge to take.

30′ – Franch goes high to take a dangerous corner.

52′ – Another great take from a Chicago free kick.

59′ – Huerta beats Cox to the byline and pings a shot high in the air off Long’s forehead.  Franch leaps up and back and swats the goofily-looping ball off her line in a brilliant save.

Was she perfect?  No.  She spilled an Ertz bullet that might have been real trouble if Press had arrived first, but A.D. leapt on the loose ball in time.

And backline, backline.   In the first have we saw more of this stuff:

This nonsense begins with Franch and Menges playing “You take it! No, you take it!” on their own byline.  Finally Menges realizes that A.D. is gonna play it back to her every time and looks upfield for some ideas.

Unfortunately, her pass is as heavy as a Shea Groom tackle, and Cox, instead of settling the ball, lets it ping off her boot right back towards goal, which is pure gold for Press, who…

…runs Menges off the ball, and…

…loops a cross into the box.  Sonnett clears, but instead of to a teammate, the ball rolls out…

…to Short, who puts the ball right back in to Press, who has kept going across the goalmouth:

Thorns FC is damn lucky that Christen Press had a hugely Christen-Press-type game.  Lots of energy, lots of chances…horrific finishing, and a matchless tendency to get caught offside.  If she had had any sort of help from Jen Hoy or Julie Ertz the tale of this one might have been different.  But the Thorns’ defense was just good enough, and Chicago’s attack just off enough, to make the one goal stand up.

So this was good; three points, with the injuries and defensive struggles?  That’s good.  Will it be good enough next week?  I think that depends on who PTFC meets in Seattle; the Reign that put five past Houston a week ago or the one that gave up three to Boston last Saturday.

Player PMRs and comments:

Sinclair (+10/-1 : +6/-2 : +16/-3)  Good all day with several truly sweet patches, including a memorable couple of minutes between 59′ and 61′, where she took a Nadim throw and shot barely wide with Naeher beaten, and then a wonderful length-of-the-pitch run and dish to Horan that should really have been the second.  Just another day at the office for our captain.

Nadim (75′ – +6/-3 : +5/-1 : +11/-4)  Aside from another well-struck PK a well-rounded performance from Nadia (her “pluses” included two dangerous runs, four “good” passes (two threaded inside and two crosses), two interceptions and a tackle-for-gain and, of course, the goal).  Not sure I would have pulled her for Weber, who was not a noticeable upgrade; Nadim is terrific defending a lead.

Raso (+9/-1 : +10/-1  :+19/-2)  My alternative candidate for WotM; had she scored or assisted she’d be a lock.  On a day when she could barely do wrong even a horrible turnover in the 57th minute was rescued by a mad run and saving tackle.  As effective as Weber has been Raso looked the better of the two Saturday, and I’d have to think Parsons should consider her a starter against Seattle.

Weber (15′ – +1/-0) Not a factor.

Horan (90′ – +2/-2 : +7/-3 : +9/-5)  Lindsey had some good work Saturday but was largely bypassed in the first half as Portland tried to go up the wings and did.  Much more involved in the second half defending the lead as the Thorns packed the midfield.

Henry (+10/-1 : +5/-1 : +15/-2)  As you can imagine, most of Amandine’s actions in the first half were offensive.  In the second half she sat deeper and was more involved in defending.  Good, effective work on both sides of the ball, as we’ve come to expect.

Long (+9/-1 : +5/-0 : +14/-1)  Purely defensive.  Dropped into the backline nearly the entire match; not a single shot all game, but a good mix of passes, tackles, runs, and clears.  I don’t like to see this Long, but after the backline horrors of Orlando and Carolina might have been needed to mortar the Wall of Emily.

Johnson (4′ – no rating)

Boureille (+6/-0 : +5/-2 : +11/-2) The better of the two fullbacks, largely, I think, because Chicago keyed on Cox and Menges’ side most of the match.

Sonnett (+7/-3 : +5/-1 : +12/-4)  The Sonnett half of the Great Wall looked much, much improved Saturday.  Nothing spectacular (tho she pitched a long pass up to Sinclair in the 90th minute that looked promising but Sinc’s feed to Raso was picked off…) but just the solid defending and intelligent passing I’ve been wanting to see from her.  Good sign.

Menges (+4/-8 : +6/-3 : +1-/-11)  Horrible first half, in which Em continued the awful backpassing, poor positioning, lack of anticipation, and general dinking around the back that got her and the Thorns in trouble in the first two matches.  Parsons must have put the blocks to her at halftime because she smartened up after the break.

Cox (+13/-8 : +2/-3 : +15/-11)  Chicago threw everything but Press’ sweaty socks at her in the first half, and while she had some scary moments she bent but didn’t break.  Her second half numbers reflect the slackening pressure as Chicago had to try and go more direct and through the center of the pitch.  Not a terrific match but, still, helped keep the clean sheet and a net positive outing.

Franch (+3/-1 : +4/-1 : +7/-2)  Woman of the Match, and, more important, much, much more composed and solid than anything we’ve seen from her previously.  Hopefully she can build on this match going forward.

Coach Parsons:  Had a ton of good luck, between the PK, the Franch-Press non-call, and Chicago’s collective attacking indiscipline and lack of quality in the final touches.  On the other hand, settled the team down after a tough away loss, and appears to have had a stern talk with the backline that looked much better after halftime.  Was good enough to see a tough visitor off and sometimes that’s as good as you need to be.

Next week a visit from Seattle, and as mentioned above, there’s some real questions about which Seattle will show up.

Let’s hope it’s this past weekend’s Seattle, shall we?  I always like beating Seattle, and that Seattle looked beatable as all hell.

8 Comments Thorns FC: Ad Franch Propter Stellae

  1. Timber Dave

    Agreed that the handball call was contrary to the spirit of a penalty kick award. I disagree that the handball rule is only for Luis-Suárez-against-Ghana type handballs; that’s what penalties AND RED CARDS are for. Lesser handling offenses, like stopping a cross that *might*, but probably won’t, result in a goal, are also handballs. But unfortunately for Chicago, the law is the law: A direct-free-kick foul in the box, like Press’s handball, is a penalty. Even though unfair, them’s the rules.

    That Franch-Press collision, on the other hand? Chicago has a legitimate beef about that one. In real time I thought Franch got the ball and it wasn’t such a big deal, but after looking at the replays I think we got away with one. Next time we get an unfair call against us we’re going to have to remember this and pipe down. (Do I actually think this will happen? No way. We’ll complain like Cristiano Ronaldo! But in an ideal world we’d shut up.)

    Otherwise Franch was just awesome this game, and I sure hope she can keep it up because we’re going to need her at her best.

    How do Sinclair and Henry manage to be so consistently good? Like clockwork they’re always there, doing their thing constantly and effectively. Once in a while Amandine has a merely good game, as opposed to her usual great game, but it’s rare. And Christine just keeps going and going. We are lucky indeed to watch them on a weekly basis. Can’t wait for Henry to score!

    1. John Lawes

      I agree; as I said in the post…99.9% of the time the Press handball is a PK, period.

      But. Here’s what FIFA themselves say about the question of handling in the 18:
      “Handling the ball involves a deliberate (bolded in the original) act of a player making contact with the ball with his hand or arm. The referee shall take the following into consideration:
      – the movement of the hand towards the ball (not the
      ball towards the hand)
      – the distance between the opponent and the ball
      (unexpected ball)
      – position of the hand does not necessarily mean that
      there is an infringement.”

      IMO Press’ handball meets all three of those criteria. It went to her hand, she didn’t move her hand towards the ball. It was unexpected and at a very short distance (meaning she had no time to try and react and move her arm away), and it had no impact at all on the match in progress; had Press NOT handled the ball it would have flown away out to the 30-yard line…

      Frankly, I think the referee should have let the play go on, as he did with the Franch collision. I want the points, but not that way.

  2. Timber Dave

    P.S. Some writing notes: What’s the right way to use minute numbers like ” 87′ ” ? You wrote “Horan to Raso in 7′ for a corner; Sinc to Nadim to Raso for a corner at 13′; a nice spell of possession in the 26′ “, which tries three different ways (in 7′, at 13′, in the 26′). I’ve always read something like 87′ as “87 minutes”, which I think is how the English language says it outside of the soccer world (definitely it’s that way in the nautical world when reading degrees-and-minutes figures), so it looks funny to me when people say “in the 87′ ” — this reads as “in the 87 minutes”. Please no. Places with editors (mainly online newspaper sites) don’t do this, as far as I can tell — more often it’s “at 87′ “, which for me reads as “at 87 minutes” and makes better sense, or they just write it out as “in the 87th minute”. But online I see people interpreting 87′ as “87th minute”, as in “in the 87′ Henry scored a 45-yard golazo”; this is obviously meant to read “in the 87th minute”, so maybe I should just get used to it. On the other hand, there’s so much bad writing/usage in online writing that taking ones cues from online text is a pretty bad idea. Who’s to know? Caught in changing times….

    Also, a suggestion: John, many of your recent articles have used “below the break.” I find this distracting, maybe because I normally click on the headline to retrieve the whole article and there is no break. But also it calls attention to the mechanics of your writing the blog post, steering attention away from the game analysis you want your readers to focus on. Since anytime there is a break there’s a big “Continue Reading…” button, the break is always implicitly present and I don’t think you need to mention it. (Hope I’m not being too critical here. I really appreciate your articles and analysis in general!)

    1. John Lawes

      I agree on the “minutes” thing; I’m fooling around with that myself not sure of how I like it. I think you’re right tho; if it reads “7′” that’s “seven minutes” and if I want to say “in the 7th minute” I need to write it as “in the 7th minute”. I’ll try and keep it that way going forward.

      As for the “after the jump” or “below the break”, well…it IS a blog post, and I always feel stupid leaving the reader hanging over the “continued” button without some sort of seque or transition. It’s an unnatural way of writing, but, then, the whole contracting-expanding blog post format is an unnatural way of reading.

  3. rhamje

    I have to non-vehemently disagree about the handball. Press’ hand blocked a pass that Sonnett was attempting to make. It’s not within the ref’s job, or even ability, to determine what Sonnet was attempting, or whether her pass would have continued or advanced the Portland attack. It’s entirely possible that her pass would have fallen to an on-rushing Thorn for a bullet to the corner. He simply cannot second-guess what might have happened, only judge what did happen – Portland lost possession on the attack in their box due to an illegal use of the hand. For me, it’s the right call.
    PS – there was a subtler handball in the Chicago box on the previous PTFC attack that definitely met your standard of deflecting a goal-bound shot.

    On the Franch/Press collision, it’s really hard to tell from the replays what exactly happened when. I was standing in the first row immediately behind the goal (a LOT closer than Dames). To me it looked like Press overhit (or maybe double-touched) the ball and it was already over the endline before Franch touched her. Regardless, it appeared that Press was never going to get a shot off – she ran out of room. If you ascribe to the theory (so often not observed, especially in MLS) that the ref has to actually see an infraction to call a PK, then he did the right thing IMO.

    1. Timber Dave

      Someone on STF pointed out that Sonnett’s pass was headed toward Henry, who was open just outside the 18. If that’s right, Press blocking that pass with her arm likely stopped a shot on goal.

      But in the larger sense you’re right, the ref doesn’t have to decide at all whether the pass would have resulted in a shot. Press had her arm out, blocked the ball with it, and so committed a handball.

  4. jdlawes

    FIFA’s own commentary on the handball rule specifies that when considering a call the referee should consider whether the player moved her hand to intercept the ball (clearly not the case here) and the distance between the kick and the touch (the point being that as short a distance as between Sonnett’s boot and Press’s arm makes it more likely that the contact was incidental). And the intent of the defender IS in consideration; FIFA emphasizes that a penalty should result from a DELIBERATE handball.

    So my opinion remains that the appropriate call would have been the same as on the Franch-Press collision; play on.

    And…I’m sorry, Richard, but I saw that story at Stumptown as how Sonnett was supposedly playing a drop to Henry, which is credible only if Amandine had enlisted in L’Armee l’Air and was flying over the pitch in a Eurofighter. Look at the screenshot; Emily has blasted the ball nearly straight up in the air. At BEST she’s hit a high looping ball that would have likely floated 30-40 yards from goal. The notion that Press was cutting off a Henry rocket assumes facts not in evidence.

    1. jdlawes

      Sorry, Richard; it was Dave who mentioned the phantom-Henry thing. My bad.

      Here’s the real crux of the biscuit, tho; Thorns FC, the Shield holders, have scored one goal – ONE – from the run of play in three games. One.

      I’m fine with penalties – crap or otherwise – going our way. But we’ve been living on the referee’s goodwill and as we found in Carolina, that has a way of biting you in the ass.

      This team has tons of attacking talent but, as I pointed out, has been missing some essential element. That has to change, and soon.


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