Early in the first half of Wednesday’s Houston match the Providence Park screen announced that due to the efforts of the Washington Spirit (defeating Seattle 2-1) the Portland Thorns had clinched a playoff position for the first time since 2014.
It’s pleasing to report that this news appeared to interest the team on the field not a whit.
Thorns FC went about their business and whipped the blue-and-orange visitors off the pitch 3-nil between excellent team (and individual) defending, an Allie Long brace, and two fairly appalling Lydia Williams goalkeeping howlers.
First, let’s talk defense.
The first half against Boston last weekend was a nervy business. The Menges section of the Great Wall of Emily looked surprisingly uncemented, the Sonnett half wasn’t her typical self, and overall the Thorns looked shockingly vulnerable to one of the least potent attacks in the NWSL. If no one else I was on edge thinking about all that striking talent packed into those ugly blue-with-orange-sleeve kits; Ohai, Beckie, O’Sullivan, Daly…in the dumpster fire in Houston the Dash had dashed all over and around Portland’s fullbacks. What genius would Coach Parsons summon to prevent that hot mess from dumping all over our home pitch.
I could tell you at length…but in this case, numbers do the talking better than words. As I tracked the plus-minus ratios last night I kept track of Thorns making “critical tackles” – defensive stops that either snuffed out a Houston attack or started a Portland one. Here they are, from front to back. The format is: tackles made(tackles resulting in possession gained)
Sorted by position:
Forward – 1(0)
Attacking Midfielders – 15(10)
Defensive Midfielders – 12(6)
Defenders – 6(3)
The DM figures are a little skewed by the way both Long and Henry tended to drop into the backline as Kling and Reynolds went forward, but, still; the numbers bear out the impression from the matchplay – our midfield snuffed out a shitton of Houston attacks before they even came close to the goal.
The other numbers bear that out. Look at Houston’s attackers’ stats.
Ohai – no shots. Beckie – two shots, none on goal. O’Sullivan – no shots. Daly – two shots, one on goal. Andressa – two shots, one on goal. Lloyd – three shots, none on goal.
The heart of this match was defending, and the defending started at Houston’s goalmouth. Heath, Nadim, and Horan broke up Houston’s attack all evening. Yes, Michelle made some good saves. Yes, Reynolds locked Ohai down. Yes, the Emilys were their wall-like selves again (and Betos owes Emily Sonnett some rose petals for the block in the 84th…) and the backline generally solid.
But this battle was won on the playing fields in the middle, and well won, too.
Here’s a perfect example, from the 35th minute.
Carli Lloyd has a lot of good qualities as a player. In my opinion, however, “soccer intelligence” – intuition, and the discipline to apply those insights – is not among them. Emily Sonnett, on the other hand, appears to have those qualities in job lots.
Here she sees that just retreating in front of the blue wave will just put their goal at risk. Her backline has the outside runners marked AND she has midfielders coming in support. So…she turns…
…and deftly picks Lloyd’s pocket.
The Houston attack is stopped before it ever starts, and a Thorns attack begins. That sort of tough defending, individually and as a team, kept Houston off the scoreboard all evening. Coach Parsons’ tactics (and his team’s execution) of forcing a high line, marking tight, and relentlessly tackling, tackling, tackling kept Houston disrupted and on the back foot all night.
The other element in the scoreline, however, was Lydia Williams. She made two Goalkeeping 101 errors that directly resulted in two Thorns goals. In the 26th minute she made a brutal error of judgement on a Heath free kick and was dink-chipped by Long to go down 1-nil:
That’s a really, really bad ‘keeper error, but her second error was worse, and it’s in the photo at the top of the post. In the 91st minute Williams came out for a looping lob and completely missed it, let the ball go through her hands.
In the photo it looks like Sinc has headed the ball…but she didn’t have to. When she came down from the jump in the picture there it was, rolling around on the turf like a fat synthetic gopher looking for its hole. Sinc just had to jog over and poke it with her toe to go up 3-nil.
(Let me stop and have a little rant here. Now…I understand that it’s the announcers’ job to make the game look and sound exciting and skillful. And you certainly don’t want to talk trash about anyone playing hard. If a player’s jakin’ it…sure, ride them. But honest mistakes…happen. No reason to make an issue of them.
But. It should be fine to mention that those mistakes happened. If a goal is a brilliant piece of work from the striker, fine, say so. But if it results directly from a goalkeeping blunder…it should be okay to say that, too. Don’t harp on it, just “That one was on the keeper…poorly handled” and move on. NOT mentioning something that is obvious even to the casual fan? It makes you sound like 1) you’re too ignorant to have seen it, or 2) you’re trying to pretend it didn’t happen. Neither is a good idea for someone who is supposed to be interpreting the match for the viewer.
Just my opinion, mind you. And we play on, as Ann Schatz would say)
Now Long’s SECOND goal…now, that was a thing of beauty. You can go watch the highlights again, it’s worth it. Seventy-first minute…classic Notorious TFH move to get free, and pass…and Long collects with an incredible touch, turns and slips the defender’s lunge, settles, and…boom. Lower right corner, 2-nil.
Okay. PMR’s and comments.
Sinclair: (+5/-2 : +6/-1 : +11/-3) Terrific night for Cap’n Sinc. Should probably should have had a brace herself; she was robbed in the 32nd minute by a point-blank Williams save and the right post. All the Sinc positives on display; intelligent, active on both sides of the ball, composed, and strong.
Heath: (83′ – +8/-4 : +7/-1 : +15/-5) Just another day at work for the Notorious TFH. Huge in defense, constantly harassing the Houston player in possession; gave Brian and Lloyd fits – they must hate seeing her do this in USWNT practices. Another great outing by my Player of the Year.
Horan: (77′ – +6/-1 : +5/-3 : +11/-4) Good…but not as good as she was against Boston. Tired? She definitely faded a little in the second half and was subbed off at the right time. Not much going directly at goal but, once again, though, one of the best passers on the team last night.
Nadim: (64′ – +10/-5 : +5/-3 : +18/-6) Long and Sinc and Heath may have been doing all the glamor jobs, but Nadim put in a good shift both tackling and passing. She almost had her league-leading-tied-with-Ohai-goal in the first ten minutes, tackling away in the 6th and then the 9th minutes only to be stoned by Williams. Not her fault that Williams didn’t derp on her shots rather than Long’s and Sinc’s…
Henry: (+7/-1 : +6/-3 : +13/-4) La Roche de Milieu had a terrific match doing what she does – destroying. That she can build on the ruins of the opposing attack is a lovely bonus.
Long: (+16/-4 : +13/-0 : +29/-4) What more can I say? Woman of the Match.
Reynolds: (+4/-2 : +2/-1 : +6/-3) Reynolds’ numbers are deceiving, in that for most of the first hour she was wrestling with Ohai and pinning her shoulders to the turf…to the point where Waldrum shifted Ohai over to the Thorns’ left in hopes of getting a better matchup with Klingenberg (hint: she didn’t). Solid match from Kat – her “minuses” are all attempted long passes that went astray, and not really that troubling.
Sonnett: (+8/-1 : +6/-1 : +14/-2) I wanted Em to look better after the Boston match and she did. Solid, solid all around, and a Thorn in the side of the Houston attack, as the sequence above testifies.
Menges: (+4/-0 : +4/-3 : +8/-3) Just what you want from a centerback; quiet efficiency and rock-solid defending. Good to see the Great Wall of Emily looking sturdy again.
Klingenberg: (+3/-2 : +5/-5 : +8/-7) I really, really want to like Klingenberg more on the pitch than I do. She seems like a fun person and a good teammate, and she works well with TFH. But…for a player of her stature I’d really like to see her do simple things better. She seems to make at least one seriously bad defensive goof per match, either through poor positioning, poor judgement, or both. Every match I’ve rated her she seems to have almost as many “minuses” as “pluses”. Hopefully she’s peaking at the right time, because she’s going to have a load coming at her Sunday.
Raso: (26′- +7/-4) Better than her numbers indicate. Hayley put in a good shift as replacement for Horan and had a tough fight with Rachel Daly that she largely won. I’d love to see her pull the trigger more; had some great shot opportunities late that she passed off to teammates instead and went nowhere.
Shim: (13′ – +2/-1) Appeared to have been instructed to concentrate on defending and was useful there.
Dagny: (7′ – +0/-1) Not a factor but good to see Thor’s Daughter on the pitch again.
Betos: (+3/-1 : +2/-1 : +5/-2) Little work to do. Came out well when she had to, and controlled her area. Still short-legging goal kicks to the point where they can become a start point for counterattacks, but only once kicked so short it was truly dangerous.
Coach Parsons: Got a little lucky that Williams didn’t have her best game with her…but also had a couple of chances for his team to have won this 4- or 5-nil that didn’t convert, so, there. Midfield tactics worked a treat; that will be critical to repeat this coming weekend with WNY arriving. Seems to have the team gelling and peaking at the right time, but we’ll see; the Flash will be a true test, and it will be interesting to see what the outcome of that match means to Sky Blue away – meaningless kickabout, or critical three points on the road?
Boston was a knockabout comedy. Houston was a cleverly-executed caper flick. What kind of show do you think we’ll see this Sunday, against the last of the playoff teams, in the jump-off match to the playoffs themselves..?
I can’t wait.