Thorns FC: Left hanging…

A makeshift Thorns side drew a similarly cobbled-together Houston Dash 1-1 on the final night of the preseason tournament

This somewhat underwhelming ending left us fans with as many questions as answers about what we’ll see in two weeks.  It did give us another look at some players we hadn’t seen much of, and that might see here and there when the season starts, but left us wondering what we’ll see from the players we didn’t see, that we assume we will see more of, and more importantly, that the team will depend on more once the regular season begins.

The U.S., French, and Canadian national team players were gone to their respective training camps tonight, so Portland was without Sinclair, Long, Klingenberg, and Henry.  Houston was without Lloyd, Ohai, and Beckie.

Replacing the internationals was only one move Coach Parsons made tonight.  The other was a shuffling of his roster on the pitch.

Britt Eckerstrom got the start in goal.  Celeste Boureille moved from right back to midfield and was replaced by Meghan Cox alongside Sonnett and Menges in the middle, with Kendell Johnson starting at left back for Klingenberg.  Shim and Hubly started alongside Boureille in midfield.  Up front Mallory Weber started as center forward, with Ashley Herndon wide left and Nadia Nadim wide right.

To make a long match report short – while the match tilted largely to Portland – 14 shots to 8 (though only 4 to Houston’s 5 on frame), 12 corners to 5 – the finishing wasn’t there for either side.

Houston won a couple of corners in the sixth minute that produced crazy scrambling in the six-yard box and the Dash were desperately unlucky not to poke in a goal.  Eight minutes later Henderson was played through the Portland backline and Eckerstrom misplayed her cross; Cox cleared the ball off the far post.

Portland had repeated half-chances; Boureille with a 20-yard blast over in the 20′, Shim over again in the 88′, and a gorgeous looping ball Boureille pitched up put Weber in alone on keeper in the 92’…but Mallory controlled the ball with her arm.

Both concessions were shots from distance.  Shim’s 17′ goal was nicely struck…but Williams should have done better with it.  Daly’s 76′ strike was a thunderbolt to the top corner…though Cox might have given her a skitch too much space.

Coach Parsons made some other changes for this match.

The Thorns’ played much more compact, with an exceptionally high backline.  The open space in midfield that the U-23s exploited was gone, and Houston didn’t have the speed or movement to take Parsons’ dare to run through Portland’s pushed-up, packed-in defense.

The gawdawful goal-mouth dinking around was, thankfully, mostly absent.  In part because Parsons seems to have instructed his backs to stop said dinking, but also because Houston just didn’t press particularly high and didn’t put the ball into Eckerstrom’s hands enough to force her to play out of the back.  When she did they largely left her alone and she played safely away.

Overall, a solid outing.  A good test for the team’s organization and communication, and a look at some trialists and depth.

Here’s how everyone looked; player PMRs from the front of the pitch to the back:

Weber (+9/-2 : +8/-2 : +17/-4)  The second terrific match in a row for Mallory.  She did it all, from attacking runs and shots, to passes, to defensive actions as she harassed Houston as soon as they got possession.  A very good outing for a player who I characterized at the end of last season as not “bringing anything in particular”.

Nadim (66′ +3/-6 : +4/-2 : +7/-8)  Nadia had another very…Nadim…sort of game.  Some nice movement, though tended to drift inside.  Some good passing, mixed with some heavy touches.  Some good tackles, and some ugly giveaways.  Was looking better when she was pulled.  Hopefully this is just her starting slow after her injury.

Herndon (75′ +5/-2 : +6/-0 : +11/-2)  Did a fine job on the left side of the attack, like Weber on both sides of the ball.  Making a good case for herself as a non-rostered player.  Great passing, dangerous runs.

Fitzgerald (24′ +7/-0)  Brought a spike of energy and creativity to the attack in the last half hour.  Three dangerous runs at goal along with incisive passing and crossing.

Morris (15′ +5/-3)  What I love about Megzilla is that for a player built along the lines of those Trader Vic tiki statues she has two speeds; fast, and faster.  What drives me crazy is that she often uses that speed to zip around the pitch like a madwoman, using her pace to recover when she makes a poor pass or gets tackled for loss.  Great to see her back on the pitch, and hopefully more minutes will temper her enthusiasm with judgement.

Boureille (+4/-3 : +10/-2 : +14/-5)  Not as involved in midfield as at RB, and less comfortable there initially.  Grew into her position as the match wore on, however, and was extremely effective by the second half.  I think Parsons adjusted her and Hubly at halftime, resolving their positions and making Boureille more of a pure DM, Hubly more of a pure AM.

Hubly (+3/-2 : +11/-2 : +14/-4)  See above.  A terror on the right flank through the entire second half; run after devastating run.

Shim (+8/-3 : +12/-4 : +20/-7)  Woman of the Match for me, not for the goal but for a total effort including scoring, shooting, movement, passing, and tackling.  Might well be the best single-game performance I’ve seen from Shim in a long time.

Johnson (62′ +13/-2 : +1/-1 :  +14/-3)  KJ was terrific defensively at left back (compare her +11 to Kling’s +1 over 75′ against the U-23s) and combined brilliantly with Herndon in attack.  Just a great hour from KJ.

Boon (28′ +6/-2)  Sadly, while Ellie was solid and effective in relief of KJ, she didn’t look anything special.  In what might have been her only chance to impress and earn a roster spot she may not have done enough.

Menges (+4/-0 : +6/-6 : +10/-6)  Still some cobwebs, although 5 of her 6 “minuses” in the second half were long attempts to loft the ball up to the forwards that went astray.

Sonnett (+7/-3 : +3/-2 : +10/-5)  Faded in the second half, but some nice passing out of the back in the first.  Needs a little more polishing.

Cox (+4/-5 : +3/-1 : +7/-6)  Tried way too many long passes up the right touchline (all five of her “minuses”) in the first half that failed.  Settled down in the second.  Not really at fault on the goal, though might have closed down Daly sooner.

Eckerstrom (+3/-1 : +3/-0 : +6/-1)  Effective if unspectacular; made the saves she should have but would have had to have been extraordinary to have saved from Daly.  Commanded her penalty area.  Benefited from Parsons’ directive to the backline to reduce backpasses and to her to cut out the very short clears that were getting A.D. in trouble.  Kicking game about Thorns average – 6 goal kicks (3 lost possession), three punts (all lost).

So.

Now that we’ve had our three preseason matches, can we say we learned anything about this season’s Thorns?

I think so, and here’s how I’d break it down.

Pleasant surprises:

  • Weber – girlfriend has seriously upped her game from last season.  At this rate she might be ahead of Nadim; if Raso’s healthy I might like a frontline of Weber, Sinc, and Raso with Nadim as depth.  Or, possibly…even Herndon as depth.
  • Boureille – possibly the “most improved” player from 2016, and shows that she has the chops as both RB and DM.
  • Herndon and Hubly – might be the best of the non-rostered players.  Herndon might have trouble finding space behind the veteran starters and now Weber, and Hubly in a crowded – at least, we think it’s crowded – midfield.
  • Shim – best match in months.  Hopefully this form will carry over into the season.
  • Team coordination/movement/interplay – much further ahead than this time last year.

Yeah, we knew that:

  • Sinclair – she’s the Boss of all the Bosses.
  • Nadim – is what she is.  But, remember, she came up big when she had to last season.
  • Henry – tres bien.
  • The Great Wall of Emily – solid, needs a little work, but fundamentally solid.
  • Klingenberg – is what SHE is.  I’m not convinced she’s the long- or even the medium-term answer at LB, but I don’t think she’s going anywhere.  That’s the problem with free stuff.
  • Goalkeeping (coaching/overall) – distribution issues, but that’s fixable.  Shot-stopping, communication, anticipation all good enough.
  • The roleplayers; Raso, KJ, Morris, Fitzgerald, Eckerstrom…all look serviceable or better, and KJ looked terrific tonight.
  • Coach Parsons – looks like he’s doing his usual good job preparing for the season.

THAT was disappointing:

  • Franch – another slow start this year.  Needs to sharpen up her judgement and play with the ball at her feet.
  • Cox – just doesn’t look good enough.  Not bad…just not quite good enough.
  • Boon – I really wanted to see Ellie get a break, but it looks like it won’t happen.

Who the hell knows?

  • Heath – how badly is she hurt, really?  What kind of form will she be in in two weeks, assuming she CAN play?
  • Horan – same question.
  • Dagny – same question.
  • Coach Parsons – can he take this team beyond the Shield?  Can he win the semi and the final?  We know he’s a great regular season coach. But the playoffs are different, and so far he’s had problems there.

The next chance we’ll have to get any more answers is two Saturdays from now.  So…I’ll be back after that and, until then…

Onward, Rose City!