Thorns FC: The Miracle of Herat

It was probably a very cold day in January of 1988 when Nadia Nadim was born in the Afghan city of Herat, in the middle of a vicious war that had been going on for eight years.

Herat 1988

That she and her family escaped after her father’s murder is something of a miracle.  That from that beginning she grew strong and quick in Denmark to become a professional soccer player is also something of a miracle.  Her journey to Portland, to the Thorns, might well be a miracle as well, though perhaps a shadowed miracle, one full of struggle and not without heartache.

Then, this past Saturday night, the young woman from Herat worked another, very different, very public sort of miracle.

Overall Nadim had a difficult night against the Seattle Reign.  Coach Parsons took a very defensive plan into the match; five in back, defend in depth, and hope that someone could pitch something up to Nadim struggling alone against Seattle’s entire backline.

In the first half Nadim had a handful of chances that went astray either through her own misplay, misconnections with her teammates, or Seattle’s defending.

In the 23rd minute she was running open down the middle…but Fitzgerald’s pass went wide.

In the 27th she and Mana Shim played a pretty little 1-2-3 at the top of the 18, but Shim’s weak shot was blocked.

Over a space of two minutes, around the half-hour mark, Nadia took three corner kick opportunities in a row that looked like they might be Portland’s best chances for a goal; all three were blocked , cleared, or went wide.

Two minutes later Hayley Raso delivered a sweet lob to Nadim at the top of the 18, but Nadia couldn’t control the ball and it ran to a Seattle defender.

I should note that while Nadim was struggling Raso was being what Raso is; a maniac for attack.  She came so close in the 43 minute, pouncing on a lazy backpass and running in alone on goal.  But she had no help, and her forced shot was blocked.

Meanwhile the Thorns were defending well, the back five largely preventing the sort of ugly penetration that was so deadly against Houston and FCKC.  Here’s the PMR’s for the first half, in order of number of touches;

  • Weber – 15 (+7/-8) [Weber did well; her PMR is deceptive because of some poor passing; she did get skinned to the byline in the 17′ but Betos saved her with a strong take],
  • Raso – 13 (+10/-3),
  • Menges – 13 (+9/-3) [another strong outing for the Great Wall of Emily],
  • Nadim – 13 (+7/-6) [as noted above, Nadia’s difficulties were heavy first touches; three of her minuses were losses (along with a pointless foul and two poor passes).  In the first half her pluses reflected her need to defend as well as attack; two possession-gains, a nice run, three positive passes and a critical tackle)],
  • Skogerboe – 12 (+8/-4) [some good tackling from Jennifer, but she was having some difficulty keeping pace with Little on the right back.  She missed her mark on the Mathias shot in the 24th that was blocked, and was skinned  by Naho in the 41st],
  • Dagny – 10 (+6/-4) [Dagny’s first half was similar to Nadim’s; hard work on both sides of the ball]
  • Fitzgerald – 7 (+5/-2),
  • Shim – 7 (+4/-3),
  • Boureille – 6 (+4/-2),
  • Reynolds – 5 (+2/-3) [Reynolds pluses included the saving block on the 24th minute Mathias shot.], and
  • Betos had two big plays in the first half; the take in the 17th minute noted above and coming quickly off her line to take off Naho in the 41st.

The second half saw Seattle pressing forward for the goal and more solid defending from the Portland backline.  Skogerboe stripped Kim Little in the 53rd.  Weber tackled Fishlock for gain in the 55th.

But…Seattle didn’t let up, and the dangerous half-chances kept coming for them.

In the 58th Fishlock put a superb through-ball to Melis who skinned Skogerboe again (at this point I wanted Parsons to get Skogerboe one of those orange bicycles so she wouldn’t keep getting beat…) but Betos came out strongly again to take.

In the 63rd Melis beat the whole Thorns backline, beat Betos, but was offside by…I dunno, the Microsoft logo on her jersey?  Even more horrifying in the 69th minute Betos was slammed going for a cross and dropped the ball behind her feet!

Weber cleared off the two-yard line.

One minute later Little skinned Menges along the touchline, fired across the face of goal…and Betos went down and pawed the ball into her gut.

Two minutes after than Shim took Little down about five feet from the edge of the 18, and Betos dove to her left across the goal to turn the ball along the byline.  Raso took the following possession and skied her shot fifteen feet over Kopmeyer’s head.  The match was looking desperate for Portland.

And then the Miracle occurred.

Starting with Mana Shim stepping up and taking possession of a poor Seattle forward pass.

Nadim goal 01

Shim looked forward to see what was available.  It was Raso.

Nadim goal 02

Raso ran, as Raso runs, to see if there was any space in front of her.  There wasn’t, she had some good options, so she took the simplest and  squared to Fitzgerald:

Nadim goal 03

Fitzgerald, in turn, looked upfield, didn’t see much of value, so she dropped to Shim:

Nadim goal 04

And Shim looked upfield and saw Nadim ready to try what she’d been trying and failing to do all evening; break down the Seattle backline.

Here’s the thing – look at all the space Shim has!  I’m not sure why Harvey wasn’t screaming at someone to close her down.  Perhaps she was, but if so, none of Seattle’s midfield did.  Shim had all the time and space in the world to pick her target, and…

Nadim goal 05

…Shim floated what looked like just another speculative lob, but…

Nadim goal 06

…Nadim flat out-worked and out-jumped her markers.  Shim put in a perfect ball, but if her marker goes up with her Nadim just has another bolo.

She doesn’t, Nadim does, and suddenly…

Nadim goal 07

…the ball is headed for the bottom corner of Kopmeyer’s goal.  The Seattle keeper dives strongly, but…

Nadim goal 08

…you can’t save a Miracle.

The Thorns have a goal, the only goal they’ll need.  Fifteen minutes more tough defending and the Thorns have all three points and it doesn’t matter that Washington wins on Sunday.

Thorns FC is still top of the table.

Just in cause you’re still interested, here’s the Thorns PMR’s for the second half:

  • Weber – 16 (+11/-5) [Weber’s night was summed up in the 79th minute, when Melis rounded her, drove towards the goal…and Weber recovered and chased her back 30 yards from goal.  Not a perfect night for the foward-turned-left-back…but perfect enough.]
  • Shim – 15 (+9/-6) [Her pluses include the assist and three other good passes; her minuses include four passes, two of them long – gives you an idea how many times the Thorns tried to bomb Seattle’s backline in the second half…]
  • Nadim – 14 (+10/-4) [her pluses include the goal, two passes, an off-the-ball run, and six tackles, two for gain.  Effective both ways, Nadim; Woman of the Match, obviously…]
  • Menges – 12 (+8/-4) [end of another solid night for TGWoE]
  • Skogerboe – 12 (+5/-7) [tough outing for Skogerboe; targeted by Little, Melis, and Mathias.  Got burned several times but her teammates bailed her out, reminding us that this was a great team effort and not dependent on individuals…]
  • Raso – 11 (+6/-5) [92′ – Good outing only slightly marred by two hugely off-target shots]
  • Dagny – 9 (+6/-3) [In the second half Dagny pushed up to become a bigger piece of the attack; of her six pluses four were good passes, and all three minuses were attempted passes.  Her presence higher on the pitch was a factor in opening up Seattle for the goal.]
  • Boureille – 6 (+5/-1)
  • Reynolds – 6 (+4/-2)
  • Fitzgerald – 5 (+2/-3) [87′ – Not as bad as her numbers look; two critical tackles for gain, and all three of her minuses were attempted passes that got cut out, largely by good defending]
  • Pratt (6′), Berryhill (1′) – no rating
  • Betos – Four crucial saves or stops; has to share WotM with Nadim for keeping the Thorns in the match…

Given that the “conventional wisdom” was that Thorns FC would just defend and Seattle’s revitalized attack would grind them down, Coach Parsons’ defied expectations with a game plan that kicked ass like a mechanical ass-kicker. Credit to you, coach.


This story might not have ended so happily if not for the big heart of this team, and for a miracle that came to us…

Nadim goal 09

…on a cold night in Herat 28 years ago.