Thorns FC: It was just a little bit frightening.

I thought it was brilliant commentary on the match that the halftime show at Jordan Field last Sunday was a martial arts exhibition.

Because the Breakers took the field having decided on doing a little kung-fu fighting.  They pressed high and marked tight, chopping Thorns up and chopping them down, and between feinting, and a slip, and a-kickin’ Hayley Raso’s hip for over an hour Boston made the Thorns look slow and ugly and unlikely to lock down that home semifinal that night.

A lucky against-the-run-of-play goal meant that the visitors took all three points and secured the home semi.

But…damn.  Thorns FC sure didn’t fight with expert timing, and it was lucky that they picked Boston to play a crap game against and not Chicago, Carolina, or Orlando.

Let’s get this out of the way first.

Portland did enough.  Enough to win on the road.  Enough to guarantee that the first-round playoff match will be here in Portland.

But it was against the current holders of the Wooden Spoon and, in doing so, resurrected a whole lot of problems that I thought had been dealt with.

Boston’s high pressure and aggressive tackling in midfield neutralized the Portland possession game.  That, in turn, starved the forwards for service and almost completely neutered the attack.  Here’s Hayley Raso in the first half:

That’s as un-Raso-like an action matrix as I’ve plotted up.  Firing wide from distance, off-target, and losing possession, both on poor passing and tackles-for-loss.  Only a single successful run to the byline, and the ensuing cross from that run passed a covered-like-a-blanket-Nadim and rolled harmlessly to the far corner.

The graphic also does a good job of illustrating one of Thorns FC’s biggest problems Sunday; a sudden and total inability to pass in and out of tight space.  Boston’s pressure was relentless.  But rather than responding with rapid movement and accurate passing PTFC started getting caught in possession, or booting the ball randomly about.  Completion percentage?  A discreditable 64.9%

(Meanwhile Boston looked like friggin’ Barcelona, completing 78%-plus percent and tapping around little tika-taka passes like smilingly-douce debutantes daintily passing about the finger sandwiches.)

The second half was, if possible, worse for Portland in every way but the scoreline.  Here’s Raso again:

Now she’s not getting tackled or passing the ball away.  Instead she barely gets a sniff of the thing.  In the 72nd minute she bullies her way through three Boston defenders who had no business letting her get through into the 18-yard-box and bangs a pointblank shot off of a blue sock that rolls wide to a trailing Sinclair.

Christine slams the ball away and it’s 0-1 Portland.

But…how it stayed 0-1 Portland?

Completely baffles me.  Because all evening Portland was doing stuff like this when Boston attacked:

Don’t believe me?  “Oh, it’s the 90th minute, the Girls in Red are just tiring.  First-world problem, durr!”

Okay, fine.  Here’s the right side of the Thorns’ backline getting beat like red-shirted-stepchildren in the freaking-7th freaking-minute:

Luckily for Thorns FC, Dowie’s 7th minute effort was over both Franch’s head and the crossbar.

Believe me now?  Yes, it was that ugly.  PTFC hadn’t put on a defensive derpfest like last Sunday’s since some time back in April or May.  At least A.D. has cleaned up her clearances since then; an April-type giveaway would likely have been an easy goal given the way Boston was all over the Portland backline and midfield.

Back to the 90th minute:

There’s so much suboptimal defending going on here.

None of her teammates have warned Sonnett that there’s an attacker to her right or, if they have, she has ignored or not heard the warning.

Rather than go to her left, where she has Klingenberg open, Sonnett tries to tee the ball up on her favored right foot and in so doing puts it right into the path of Unomonu.

Sonnett has no time to evade Unomonu, who crashes into her and the ball and blocks Emily’s attempted clearance down, loose, almost inside the 6-yard-box.  But…

When I say that “Portland was doing this all match” I’m not exaggerating.  Portland was comprehensively outplayed for almost the entire game.

Here’s my notes for just the second half.  Significant Boston attacks in blue, Portland in red.

49′ – Leon cross goes to Dowie 10 yards out but fires over.

51′ – Boureille trips over the #@$!#! ball!!! Leon steals but Boureille runs back and makes recovery tackle.  Whew!

58′ – Leon wins CK, headed out but short, Boston take, worked around to Purce, long cross to King who runs in unmarked and heads barely over.

60′ – Reynolds horrible giveaway, Boston possession ends with Leon shot/Franch save.

61′ – Long ball up to Dowie, Franch save.

63′ – White long shot, over.

67-69′ – Long Boston possession, pressure but PTFC frantic defending, finally White heads off-target.

72′ – Sinclair flick-on to Raso, Hayley fights through three defenders, bangs shot off blue leg, rolls out to trailing Sinclair who beats keeper far post, 0-1 POR.

75′ – Boston dangerous attack!  Chapman beats Reynolds, runs to L corner, cuts inside, square to Stengal who crosses to Salem but her shot off-target.

78′ – Kling caught upfield, Leon cross to White, turns and shoots but blocked out for corner.  Leon serves in to White again, powerful header Henry gets boot to the ball, blocks it straight up, Franch takes.  Thank you, Amandine!!!

86′ – Lavelle strong run at Boureille, blocks out for CK, short corner cleared.

90′ – (The attack illustrated above).

Winning ugly is still winning, but…wow.  That’s really ugly.

This worked against the worst team in the league, but it took a hell of a lot of luck, a freakish goal, some outstanding goalkeeping, and a Boston attack that was desperately unlucky not to get the equalizer, or worse.

Thorns FC cannot count on that sort of luck against the next two teams they play, or in the semifinal, regardless of where it is played, or in the final, if they reach it…which they won’t if they play like this.

Three points on the road, but…ugh.  Thorns FC is way better than this, so let’s not do this again, okay?

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Player comments and PMRs:

Long (91′ – +3/-5 : +5/-1 : +8/-6)  As I get started I want to draw attention not just to the large number of players with overall negative ratings but the low number of overall pluses and minuses for most of the players.  That’s a good indication of how thoroughly Portland was outplayed last Sunday.  Allie Long didn’t just have more poor touches than good ones; she had very few “significant” touches overall, meaning that she saw very little of the ball, something that the team shot and possession statistics also reflect.

So it wasn’t that Allie had such a poor match – she wasn’t good, but pretty much nobody on the team was very good – but that she was unable to do much to influence the match in any way, for good or ill.  This was Boston’s match and they should be kicking themselves for losing it, and Portland should be kicking themselves for letting the last-place team dog them around.

Raso (+2/-3 : +3/-1 : +5/-4)  Hayley Raso with a total of 9 significant touches?  One of them is the assist on the goal, but, still…  Worked hard in all her usual ways, but just not good enough to beat anyone not-Boston, I fear, not playing like this.

Nadim (75′ – +5/-3 : +1/-0 : +6/-3)  Like all Portland’s forwards, starved for service and relatively ineffective even though she worked hard, proving, in case anyone had any doubts, that hard work is not always justly rewarded.

Weber (15′ – +1/-2)  Helped see out the win so, based on that, a good shift.

Brynjarsdottir (1′ – no rating)  Just timewasting.

Sinclair (+1/-2 : +2/-3 : +3/-5)  Tough night, even with the goal.  Swarmed over in midfield and given neither space nor time, and couldn’t figure out a way out of that trap.  Not the usual night from Cap’n Sinc.

Henry (+7/-0 : +3/-1 : +10/-1)  One of two Thorns that had decent nights by their own standards, and the 78′ block was critical in saving two points.  Had trouble with her passing, but so did nearly everyone else, and as much because of Boston’s aggressive pressure as the Thorns’ own issues.

Horan (+7/-3 : +8/-2 : +15/-5)  Amandine had the flashy block, but Lindsey was the hard woman that ground out the hard work to keep this match and bag the three points.  Tough in defense, and as aggressive in attack as she could be.  Tackling for gain, clearing out of the back, dribbling and passing…Horan was the driving force in as much midfield as Portland could bring to this match, and so she’s my pick for Woman of the Match.

Reynolds (+3/-8 : +4/-3 : +7/-11)  Horrific first half, steadied later in the match.  Had some serious derps that could have hurt badly had Boston had better luck.

Sonnett (+1/-7 : +2/-6 : +2/-13)  Oh.  My.  God.  If there was any question how critical Emily Menges is to the Thorns’ central defense this match conclusively answered it.  Without her Wall of Emily partner Menges Sonnett shambled around in a welter of poor positioning and questionable decision-making.  The worst I’ve seen from Sonnett all season, and there’s no real excuse; you should and can be better than this, Emily.  Fortunate not to have been punished worse.

Boureille (+3/-2 : +8/-3 : +11/-5)  Steadiest of the defenders, but Sonnet’s night made it clear that she can’t CB like Menges can CB.  Still, a decent shift and critical in hanging on to a match that could easily have gotten out of hand otherwise.

Klingenberg (+6/-7 : +5/-5 : +11/-12)  Despite her overall -1 rating, I thought Klingenberg had a good match; she had to fend off Purce all game and Purce was a mortal load, so to be almost even plus-minus isn’t really shameful.  Got skinned couple of times, but that’s Kling, and usually recovered enough to do enough to keep Boston off the scoresheet.  Did especially excellent work after the goal to keep possession and frustrate Boston.

Franch (+4/-1 : +3/-1 : +7/-2)  Another indicator of how difficult a match this was; Franch’s PMR is usually something like +2/-1 or +5/-2.  A.D. had to come up big several times and she did.  No real problems with distribution (see below) and did what she could to control her penalty area with Boston crashing in like madwomen.

Distribution:  A.D. put a total of 27 balls in play; 11 goal kicks, 3 free kicks, 7 clears, and 6 punts.  Of those a total of 14 went to a Portland player (51%); 7 of the goal kicks, 3 of the clears, 2 of the free kicks, and 2 punts.  The remainder went to Boston.  Of those two were returned immediately (or rapidly) for dangerous Boston possessions, 7%, or roughly the average for a good Portland result.  Well done, A.D.

Coach Parsons: It’s difficult to have hard words to say about a gaffer whose team wins on the road, even against a cellar-dwelling bonfire like Boston.  Between Boston playing way over their heads and Portland’s thin bench, well, the win was a win.  But…Portland looked genuinely poor for much of the game, and Parsons didn’t seem to have any way to adjust to Boston’s pressure or solve the problems his team was showing.

Hopefully this was just a one-off, a nasty convergence of travel jet-lag, late-season exhaustion, and an opponent with nothing to lose going all-out and going in hard.

But the team’s form last Sunday was a little bit frightening.  This is not the time for crapfests, even one-off crapfests.  Two games – about four weeks – until the semifinal and a chance to get at another one of those ugly-ass NWSL championship trophies?  This is when the team needs to cut like a knife-hand and hit like a stone fist.  This is when Thorns in sudden motion need to make their opponents skip.  This is when Thorns FC needs to be as fast as lightning.

C’mon, you Girls in Red.  Let’s blitz those purple people.

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So I assume that most of you have already read C.I.’s announcement over at Six Degrees.  I hope you all wish him well and will continue to read his work at Stumptown Footy.

At the same time C.I. was approached the same editor reached out to me about moving Thorns FC: over there.  It was a harder decision for me.  For one thing, I’m not sure how I will fit in there.  Katelyn is already doing a fine job writing about the Thorns, and Jeremiah is still in the picture now and again.

For another, I owe Kevin the heavens and the earth; he got me this gig and it’s been a great one for almost four years.

For a third, I don’t have the same desire for the thrones and dominations, for all the kingdoms of Earth and the glory of them, that draws C.I. to the bright lights and the big city.  I like our little place here, and our conversations about the Thorns.  I thought I was fine with the small venue

But after talking with the Stumptown editor, and considering all the possibilities, I guess that I can’t resist the challenge of taking abuse for my opinion and analyses of Thorns FC from a wider audience, either.

I’ve decided that I’m going to give this Stumptown Footy thing a try, as well.

I hope that you will have enjoyed my material enough here to come over to my new joint, continue to read Thorns FC:, and continue our conversations there.

Although…hey.

If I’m gonna be a Big Name Blogger I need a catchier name for this joint.

Rose Test Garden?  COYGiR-Up?  Thornsapalooza?

You’ll have to look me up at my new crib to find out.