Thorns FC: Boston Massacre

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”.

Nadim 9-4-16

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:

Breakers defense

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;

Horan goal 01

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…

Horan goal 02

…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…

Horan goal 03

…who took a touch and beat the ‘keeper low to put the Thorns up 2-nil.

Horan goal 04

Or not.

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.

Long goal 01

Horan sees Klingenberg running up the touchline and knocks a simple square pass out to her.

Long goal 02

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.

Long goal 03

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…

Nadim second goal 01

…Long proceeded to dribble damn near 60 yards…

Nadim second goal 02

…beating two defenders and running in on a collapsing Boston defense.

Nadim second goal 03

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.

Nadim second goal 04

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…

The Remnants of an Army 1879 Elizabeth Butler (Lady Butler) 1846-1933 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1897

The Remnants of an Army 1879 Elizabeth Butler (Lady Butler) 1846-1933 Presented by Sir Henry Tate 1897

13 Comments Thorns FC: Boston Massacre

  1. Timber Dave

    Nadim, Long, and Horan were all masterful in this one. I sure hope they can bring a similar level of play to the Houston game – if all three of them do that, and Heath brings her usual incredible level of play this season, we’ll have a very strong attack. And if Sonnett can play with her normal professionalism — something that’s been a bit missing lately — our defense will be strong too. Although the Dash have beaten us twice this year, this will be a different team than the one we fielded against them before.

    Re the offside calls- two bad calls cancelled each other out. Horan should have had a goal, and Nadim shouldn’t have (on the pass from Long after her terrific run). It’s not often you get such symmetry — usually one side or the other has good reason to feel mistreated when refs blow offside calls.

    Nadim and Horan are both on 4 yellow cards now, so an additional card will mean they have to sit the next game out. Hopefully they play carefully but not tentatively, if such a thing is possible. Though it seems unlikely, I’m hoping they can make it to the end of the season before picking up any more cards.

    Question: The NWSL rules don’t say anything about yellow card accumulation being cleared before the playoffs, but they also don’t say they’re carried over into the playoffs either. Anyone know how that would work?

    1. John Lawes

      I meant to mention Nadim’s late yellow in the post but forgot whilst writing. I’m guessing that if we hold form and a playoff spot and she/they either 1) get(s) (their)her fifth in the next two matches, or 2) is still sitting on four at the end of Sky Blue away they/she’ll be fine. BUT…if she or Horan picks up their fifth AT Sky Blue that may be a problem; I can’t imagine that the league will just blow that off and let them play the semi.

      Nadim DID look offside on her second; I’m not certain (given that the camera angle is bad) but I tend to agree with you that she probably was. My argument would be that those two errors wouldn’t really have cancelled each other out had Dowie scored in the 25th. Horan’s goal stands and it’s still 2-1 and the Thorns are in control and Boston is chasing. Dowie scores without Horan’s goal and Boston is perfectly fine with bunkering up and nicking the away point. Nadim’s second just put the Thorns up 4-nil and even after the King strike it’s 4-1 and no panic. In this case the context of the two scores made the first error – in my mind – worse than the second.

      I’m a trifle concerned about our defending against Ohai and Houston. They’re on kind of a tear lately, and a couple of our defenders have had some soft games lately. Sonnett, in particular, needs to pull herself together and get on the same page with Menges. Boston – not the most potent attack in the league – had some success early throwing long balls at runners splitting our centerbacks. I’m not wanting to see that level of disconnect with Beckie and Daly and O’Sullivan and Ohai running at us.

  2. rhamje

    Excellent as always John! I had a similar takeaway from the match except I thought that Menges was the weaker of the two centerbacks. With Kling having another off day (for the first hour), our left was weak and we nearly paid for it. Surely a better team would have punished us, which is worrying for Wednesday and especially Sunday. But I’ll bet Heath starts, and for some reason Kling always plays better with Heath on the pitch.

    FWIW, I thought the Horan offside was a correct call, albeit super close. It’s so hard to tell when the only view is the centerfield camera, but it looked to me that Horan was perhaps a foot and ankle ahead of the line. Close calls are supposed to go to the offense. But he had a better view than anything I could get from the video and his other calls were all correct so I gave him the benefit. A shame, because it was a sweet sequence and Lindsey deserved at least a point on the day for her work.

    1. fdchief218

      What’s funny about all this is that I had forgotten that I was texting back and forth with a friend during the match. After writing both the post and the comment above I went back and looked at the thread and at the time I said “Nadim a good foot offside but the flag stays down and it’s 4-0 Thorns…”

      I thought Menges had a rough day defending, especially in the first half, when Dowie split her and Sonnett several times. She was much less consistent than she usually is, and Boston made money lobbing long balls between the CBs – NOT something we usually see. My notes include stuff like this: “18′ – Menges good defending to close down Dowie. 19′ Dowie nearly free behind Menges but barely o/s. 21′ – Good long pass to Dowie but Sonnett bodies her off. 43′ – Engen outjumps Menges AND Kling – Betos take.” I agree that a better club would likely have hurt us, and hopefully 1) Heath starts tomorrow night and 2) Sonnett can shake off whatever’s bugging her and return to form…

  3. rhamje

    FWIW, the league’s 2014 Ops Manual says: “All Players will start the Playoff Games with a zero yellow card total. A playoff suspension system total will be determined prior to the playoffs, which correlates to the playoff format.” No reason to think this has changed. So if Horan and Nadim can go three games without a card, they’ll be OK.

    1. fdchief218

      Or if they pick up a yellow tomorrow or Sunday, they serve it and done.

      My concern is what happens if they pick one up on the final day of the regular season, at Sky Blue. By the rule you cite above it sounds like they get a free pass…but I have a really hard time seeing the DC being ok with that. It’d seem like they’d want them to serve their suspension during the semi. I agree that the rule seems pretty ironclad…but we’ve seen how the NWSL can bend their “rules” when they want to…

    2. fdchief218

      …and now that I think about it; the question really is “does five yellows = one red”? I mean, that’s kind of the implication, since you have to sit one game. So I’d have to look and see if you pick up a straight red in the final regular season game, do you sit out the semi..?

      1. tony olson

        Red card in last regular or playoff match – player suspended for next match be it playoff or the following season.
        Clean slate on yellows for playoffs. Yellow cards received during last match of season that puts a player at or above the suspension threshold will serve suspension at next regular season match for that player.

      2. rhamje

        Commonly in tournaments like the World Cup, the card accumulation relief applies only to yellows. The NWSL book doesn’t specifically address a red on matchday 20, but I bet it’s like the WWC and you’re out for the semi. Once the playoffs start there can be no accumulation of yellows since it’s a two-match tourney – if you get two yellows in the semi, you’re out for the final regardless (because it’s a red); if you get one yellow it means nothing.

        1. tony olson

          Unless there have been some major changes to 11.2.2 CAUTIONS AND SUSPENSIONS of the 2014 Operations Manual for the NWSL.
          “Any Player who is awarded a red card in her last Game of the season (Regular Season or Playoff Games), will serve the one Game suspension during her next Game (whether it’s during a Playoff Game, Championship Game, or in the next Regular Season Game of the following season).”

          Full manual minus the exhibits can be found at:


      3. Timber Dave

        Some actual information! Though not about NWSL. The MLS rules say

        “A player who reaches an accumulation threshold in the last 2016 MLS regular season match (e.g. 5th, 8th, etc.) *is eligible* for the MLS Cup Playoffs and *is eligible* for the first regular season match of 2017.

        “A player who receives a red card in his last 2016 MLS regular season match *is suspended* for the next match for which he is eligible, including the MLS Cup Playoffs match or the first regular season match of 2017.”
        [emphasis added]

        So a red and a yellow accumulation are treated differently: yellow accumulation is cleared at the end of the regular season while a red is not.

  4. fdchief218

    So it sounds like if Nadia and Lindsey get their fifth yellow it needs to be either 1) against WNY (so they sit against SBFC, the weakest of the three remaining opponents) OR 2) against Sky Blue, so they don’t serve until 2017.

    I’m okay with either…providing we can take six off the Flash-n-Dash…


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