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.