In January of 1842 a British army of some 4,000 infantry, cavalry and artillery began a forced march from the Afghan city of Kabul. A handful of survivors reached British India; the remainder of the entire column was killed or taken prisoner.
This past Sunday the unfortunate Boston Breakers discovered in the person of Nadia Nadim why Afghanistan is often referred to as “The Graveyard of Empires”.
The Thorns forward’s hat trick was one of the highlights of a 5-1 demolition of the visitors. The scoreline suggests domination…but the match wasn’t quite that simple.
Play began with both teams exchanging opportunities. Henry threaded a nice pass to Raso in the 4th minute but Hayley was a skosh offside. The pair combined again seven minutes later but Raso’s touch failed her and the ball ran to Boston.
But a minute after than Emily Sonnett dinked a horrible non-clear straight to Dowie; luckily for Portland Dowie’s shot was off-target.
The Thorns’ attack couldn’t get going in the first quarter hour, largely because of this:
Boston played a high line and pressed the midfield hard. Portland had only a single player open off the ball, if that, for long stretches of the opening minutes. What didn’t help is that both Nadim on the left and Raso on the right tended to drift inside, allowing the Boston backline to stay compact.
That changed in the 14th minute, when a pretty Long pass allowed Sinclair to win a corner, and then the maple leaf maestra put Nadim’s service into the back of the Boston net.
Boston was now forced to chase, which opened the match up, and things like this began to happen;
In the 21st minute Portland had perhaps the prettiest piece of play we’d seen yet on the day. It began, as much of the day’s work began, with Allie Long flicking on, in this case to Nadim. Nadia saw Raso racing down the right flank and turning the Boston backline…
…and pushed it up to her. Raso ran onto the ball and, head up, saw two of her teammates making weakside runs through the retreating Boston defense. Raso knocked a strong diagonal pass into the path of, as it turned out, Horan…
…who took a touch and beat the ‘keeper low to put the Thorns up 2-nil.
The play was called offside, a call I defy you – looking at the sequence above – to justify.
Against another team, in a different season, that might have shaken the Thorns’ composure enough to have had an effect on the entire match. It is a pleasant sight to see this season’s Thorns simply shrug and continue to play soccer. This is a confident team.
That was critical, because four minutes later the match might have, indeed, gone sideways. Emily Menges was caught uncharacteristically napping on a long pass up to Natasha Dowie. Dowie skinned Menges and shot at close range…only for Michelle Betos to come up huge and parry away to keep the score 1-nil.
Both teams had half-chances over the next 15 minutes; neither could profit from them. Finally the Thorns worked the ball up to Boston’s 18, and Raso threaded a sweet little pass into Lindsey Horan. Horan, surrounded, just turned and beat the ball off a Boston defender’s hand – which looked to be in a very “ball-to-hand” sort of position, incidentally – and the whistle blew for the PK.
Call it karmic justice, or hard graft, or just good luck, but Nadim’s PK sent the team into the half up the 2-nil that Horan’s goal should have had them. And, no, I’m not bitter about the westside linesman’s lack of competence, why do you ask?
It was more hard work that put the Thorns up by three less than five minutes into the second half. Again, the work started out of the Thorns back, with Sonnett making a good tackle for gain and pushing it up to – who else? – Horan.
Horan sees Klingenberg running up the touchline and knocks a simple square pass out to her.
Kling sees Sinclair racing to the corner and feeds her with a nice long ball. Sinc’s run, like Raso’s on the Horan non-goal, has pulled open Boston’s backline.
From there it’s easy-peasy. Nadim has pulled in her marker, and King is only able to stab out a leg as the ball rolls past her to an unmarked Allie Long, who takes her time, squares up and hammers past Stout’s left to make the score 3-nil.
At this point all Portland really needed to to was sit home and defend and, indeed, the Thorns played some solid defense in the second half. But I think this team wanted not to win but to dominate the visitors, so they kept pushing up and the chances kept coming.
Mana Shim and Tobin Heath came on in the 63rd minute, and the Notorious TFH immediately began her usual ball trickery. Allie Long had a good run that ended in a blocked shot in the 68th. Two minutes later another long attacking sequence from Portland culminated in Long getting knocked off the ball less than a dozen yards from goal. Kling had a run at goal a minute later. Finally, Allie Long began a brilliant run all the way out of Portland’s half after service from – again – Horan…
…Long proceeded to dribble damn near 60 yards…
…beating two defenders and running in on a collapsing Boston defense.
Long makes this play. But what makes the goal is her with her teammates; Heath is giving her an option to her left, and she has a drop behind her as well as another possibility at the far side of the 18. But the best option is the simplest; Nadim, open, right in front of her.
All this spring I berated Nadim in this space. Berated her for her heavy first touch, for her inability to make space, or make intelligent runs off the ball, or to do what a striker is paid to do. Finish. Score.
Sunday I have to say this; Nadim was a master at work with all of those skills, and this was, perhaps, her finest piece of art. With a deft touch she turned on goal and forced Stout to come off her line. With another little shift she juked Stout, carried the ball past her – without tripping on the ball or booting it away – and finished; neatly, sweetly into the open net.
Four-nil Portland. Nadia’s hat-trick goal in extra time was just a treat after her hard day’s work.
Here’s the PMR’s and my comments, with the players ordered from the front to the back of the pitch. Again, the format is (first half +/- : second half +/- : total +/-)
Sinclair: (74′ – +4/-2 : +4/-1 : +8/-3) An effective if relatively quiet day from our captain, but all the more important for the composure and confidence she provides even when she’s not a monster. Finished well on what was, admittedly, a poorly-defended corner but which her own hustle earned in the first place. Welcome back, Sinc.
Nadim: (+6/-1 : +9/-5 : +15/-10) Obviously a three-goal match is an outstanding match, but Nadim worked hard on both sides of the ball. Tough first half while Boston packed the back, but the opening of the match late allowed her to run wild and earn what might well have been the Woman of the Match from me, except that…
Horan: (+14/-5 : +10/-1 : +24/-6) was just outstanding both ways. Should have had a goal, obviously, but also earned the PK, passed brilliantly and defended tenaciously. The heart of the Thorns attack all day. WotM for me.
Raso: (63′ – +12/-6 : +4/-2 : +16/-8) A good day for Hayley, with a bit of a slow start. As the first half progressed she began – or Coach Parsons directed her – to see the opportunities in going out wide right. Was fading in the second half, tho, and came off at the right time.
Henry: (63′ – +8/-3 : +3/-0 : +11/-3) Solid match from Henry. She and Raso connected well from the opening whistle and troubled the Boston backline with direct passes and deep runs – which opens the intriguing question of what might have happened if Henry could have stayed on and Raso started for Weber in Seattle – and combined well with Long to lock down the back of midfield.
Long: (+13/-2 : +9/-1 : +22/-3) Another of what are becoming the “usual terrific” outings from Allie. Well-taken goal, and brilliant assist on Nadim’s second. Making a strong case – were Heath not playing the best soccer of her Thorns career – for Player of the Year.
Klingenberg: (+4/-4 : +9/-2 : +13/-6) Started a trifle rough, spraying poor passes and bad shots in a nasty reminder of her bad day in Seattle. Lifted her game in the second half, though, possibly because of her better rapport with Heath.
Menges: (+6/-6 : +11/-3 : +17/-9) The Left Half of the Great Wall of Emily had a tough first half, as well; she tried too many long passes that went astray, and was split by Boston runners several times, particularly on the Dowie attempt at 25′. As the match opened up her passing became more precise, and she and Sonnett settled in more comfortably in back.
Sonnett: (+6/-7 : +4/-1 : +10/-8) I’m not sure what was nagging the Right Half of the GWoE, but I’m guessing that playing with a broken nose might have been a big part of it. Several poor clears and not efficient defending in the first half, settled in alongside Menges in the second. Can and will be better.
Reynolds: (+5/-3 : +7/-1 : +12/-4) Again, settled down in the second half, particularly her passing. Solid match for the most part after the initial trepidation in the first quarter hour.
Heath: (27′ – +13/-4) What can you say other than “We have $#!%#! Tobin Heath”? My initial thought was that Parsons was resting her against the weakest of the three-opponents-in-one-week but my understanding is that she had a family issue that kept her out of training last week. Her usual self, other than several strangely poor set-piece serves. Coming after the bad day she had in Seattle I’m not sure what’s going on, but Heath being Heath I suspect she’ll correct her deficiencies most quick smart.
Shim: (27′ – +7/-0) Effective on both sides of the ball. I’m not sure why Mana’s game has improved so much since the beginning of the season, but she’s on the reverse of her trajectory of last season when she played her way off the XI by August.
Boureille: (16′ – +3/-1) Fine as a late defensive sub for Sinclair, otherwise little impact.
Betos: (+5/-3 : +1/-1 : +6/-4) Huge, huge first half save. Poor judgement coming off her line on the King goal late marred an otherwise typically solid outing from Michelle. Her distribution not troublesome.
Coach Parsons: Overall not sure how to grade the coach on this one. The team seemed unsettled coming out, which opens the possibility that they weren’t well prepared or as confident as perhaps they should have been…but the attacks kept coming, the defense hung on just enough to get the first goal and keep the clean sheet until well in command. For all that Boston never quit their shortcomings made it nearly impossible for them to get back into the match after the Thorns’ second.
We are likely to face sterner tests against Houston mid-week and WNY this coming weekend that will let us better assess how the Coach is doing. So far, so good.
Aside from the fun of a steamrollering at home, the other good news is that all the other playoff-position teams could do no better than draw this past weekend; Washington, WNY, Chicago, and Seattle all drew and Sky Blue lost to FCKC, meaning that Thorns FC gained two points on the first four and three on SBFC. Important points, and perhaps much needed depending on the results of this coming Wednesday’s match.
Because playoff teams don’t want to head into the playoffs looking like Doctor Brydon escaping the Graveyard of Empires…