Thorns FC: First steps…

Last season Thorns FC opened the 2016 campaign with a 2-1 win over Orlando in the home opener.  That win was the first in a season that brought a Supporters’ Shield to the Rose City for the first time since the Timbers won the USL in 2009.

This past Saturday Thorns FC repeated their home opener win over the very same team by very nearly the same score; in this case, 2-nil.  But I’m not sure that the wins are really that similar and it’s my opinion that this one is telling us that the 2017 Thorns still have some growing to do.

Beginning with some very obvious growing pains in the backline.

The defensive issues showed up early.  In the 2′ Klingenberg passed directly to Jazmyne Spencer but the Orlando striker couldn’t get a shot off.

In the 7′ Emily Sonnett coughed up a short clear to Weatherholt and had to throw herself down to tackle the ball back.

At 10′ A.D. Franch repeated the mistake that cost her a goal against the U-23s; she kicked a short clear directly out to Spencer but luckily for PTFC Jazmyne shot well wide.

Five minutes later Sonnett booted a lazy ball across her own penalty area; Franch had to come up big to save from Spenser who ran onto the pass.

A.D. Franch spent the afternoon alternating between making good stops and committing boneheaded errors, like this one in the 42′.  It begins with a good long ball out of Orlando’s backfield that bounces ahead of the onrushing Ubogagu:

Franch seems confused whether the ball is going to bounce far enough for her to handle.  When it doesn’t she pokes a poor clear high into the air, and both she and Ubogagu turn to follow it.

At this point it looks like Franch has the closest line to the ball, and can simply boot it into Row ZZZ and safety, but…

…for no reason I can understand – no Orlando player was closer than Ubogagu, who is still running back for the ball – Franch stops running and even retreats a couple of steps.  This allows Ubogagu to get to the ball, and Franch, realizing that she’s now in deep trouble…

…does her best Nigel De Jong impression and hacks down Ubogagu.  Luckily for Portland the ensuing free kick went well over.

The Thorns kept a clean sheet, and that’s something.  But a fair bit of that had to do with good luck and Orlando’s inability to finish.  One has to wonder whether an Orlando with Marta and Morgan would have done as poorly.  The problems weren’t just on Franch; the Thorns defense had some truly sketchy moments, like here in the 52′:

You’d think that everything is going to be safely dealt with here.  The Thorns backline looks like it has Orlando’s attackers in front of them.  And the Pride looks static; nobody’s running at goal.  But, though you can’t see it, the Portland centerbacks are about to take some time off.

Does Monica have space?  How much space does she want?

How about THAT much space?

Luckily – and it seems like we’re using that word a lot, doesn’t it? – Monica can’t get high enough to head strongly down.  But Franch can’t assume that; she has to stop and set herself to dive for the shot, and because of that she can’t get her hands on the ball when it goes through.

Luckily (there’s that word again!) Monica has to turn to the ball and Spenser has slipped, so…

…Franch is able to get to the ball first.

I’m not saying this to pile on the Thorns’ defending.  I’m pointing out that this wasn’t as comfortable a win as the scoreline suggests.  The Thorns did well enough to win, and three points are three points.  But unless the defending tightens up, and quickly, a better opponent (hint…North Carolina!) will be more difficult to see off.

And can I say again how lucky we are to have Christine Sinclair?  Both goals came directly from her skill and hard work.  She made the first in the 31′ from a good long looping pass from Henry.  Sinclair took the pass in stride and knocked it off Kennedy’s arm to force the PK that Nadim converted. The second was a lovely little piece of work that began with Allie Long, who started the play by stripping Evans and running at the Orlando backline with Sinc to her left;

She sees the seam in the defense and, more crucially, sees Sinc bending her run to her left, going outside the Orlando right back;

Allie cuts left and draws both defenders as Sinc continues her run…and Allie…

…slots a slide rule pass through for Sinclair to latch onto.  Sinc teases Harris into coming out and sees that far post is uncovered.

And finishes perfectly.

Long and Sinclair have played together a long time, and you can see it here.  But Captain Sinclair is a soccer goddess, a genuine treasure, and I really hope that everyone who loves and supports the Thorns realizes that.

Plus-minus ratings and player comments to follow.


Sinclair (+7/-0 : +13/-1 : +20/-1) Woman of the Match.  What more can I say that I haven’t already?

Weber (61′ – +4/-2 : +2/-2 : +6/-4)  Did more than her numbers represent; a constant irritant to Orlando’s defense with her intelligent and pacey runs.  Was visibly tiring in the second half, though, so an intelligent substitution by Parsons to pull her off for Raso.

Nadim (79′ – +1/-2 : +3/-4 : +4/-6)  Still in early season form.  Nicely taken penalty combined with a lot of heavy touches and positional issues, although her tendency to drift inside was balanced by Sinclair’s and Weber’s tactical flexibility.  Really needs to sharpen into what we saw from her last season.

Raso (29′ – +9/-0)  Very good half-hour; active, speedy, and dangerous.  Good runs, effective passes.

Long (+9/-1 : +6/-3 : +15/-4)  Played much as she did in preseason, starting deep and falling into the backline as often as not.  Shifted forward in the second half.  Was well offside on the two goals she had called back; could work on holding up her runs.  Good outing overall.

Horan (68′ – +5/-0 : +3/-2 : +8/-2) Lindsey was her usual intelligent and effective self in her hour-plus.  Clearly tiring late in the second, so, again, Parsons made an effective sub bringing on Shim for her.

Henry (+8/-5 : +15/-3 : +23/-8) Plausible alternative as WotM; tireless in defense and terrific in distribution, Henry was a big factor in the Thorns control of the midfield and, thus, the match.  Another of what I’m beginning to take for granted as her “usual outing”.  More and more the Henry deal is looking like a terrific aquisition for PTFC.

Shim (22′ – +3/-3)  As with Weber, did better than her numbers suggest; lots of good work controlling midfield and providing options in attack.  Mana is looking much better this spring than she has in years past.

Klingenberg (+7/-6 : +4/-1 : +11/-7)  A solid outing from Kling.  Torched a couple of times to the outside but not as often as she might have been given the difference between her and Spenser’s speed in an all-out sprint, and her positional defending and tackling were excellent to compensate.  Did have one awful derp at 59′ where she stabbed at a long pass, missed, and fell on her ass.  Ouch; you’re supposed to be too good for stuff like that, Kling!  Her passing, which was erratic in the first half, improved markedly in the second.

Menges (+6/-3 : +3/-6 : +9/-9)  The Menges side of the Great Wall of Emily is still starting slowly.  Some bad positioning and failure to mark tightly when needed, and some surprising lack of communication with her backline, seeing as they’ve been playing together over a year now.  Was damned lucky (in my opinion) to avoid drawing a penalty in the 43′ when she appeared to push Spenser down into the path of Ubogagu thus preventing either one from getting to a bounding ball near the PK spot.  But…also had some crucial clears and blocks in the second half protecting the lead.  My guess is rust and possibly nursing a knock and she should improve with playing time.

Sonnett (+5/-3 : +6/-5 : +11/-8) Here I’m going to reverse my comments to Shim and Weber; I thought than Sonnett had a worse match than her numbers suggest.  She’s not a rookie anymore, so rookie errors like her sluggish cross-field pass in the 15′ just aren’t acceptable.   Was torched several times, as well, perhaps the ugliest in the 74′ when Evans blew by her and she appeared to grab an arm to pull Evans off balance.

This seems to be the “mystery foul” that no one at the time seemed able to explain; even the Lifetime commentors seemed mystified.  Very little contact, but also a very poor piece of defending.  Sonnett just can’t keep doing stuff like this.

Emily brings a great deal to the pitch.  She has terrific vision and a deft touch to pitch long passes up to start the attack.  She’s generally solid in defense.  But she still has odd holes in her game that I’d like to see her fix, and they’re often the same holes she had last season; careless back- and lateral passing, occasional ballwatching and positional naivete’, and failure to communicate with her teammates.  If she can improve those this season she will be a lock for NWSL Best XI.

Boureille (+5/-2  :+5/-5 : +10/-7) Generally solid work from Celeste.  Looked to be tiring in the second half; her two “minuses” in the first were simply passes that went astray, and these were balanced out by terrific work like the long forward pass to Sinclair in the 24′ that forced Harris into a diving header to clear away.  But by the second half she was caught out of position several times, particularly on quick Orlando restarts than caught her woolgathering.

Morris (11′ – +4/-4)  Brought energy and hustle late when the team started to look a little gassed.  Still needs to use an ounce of thinking instead of a pound of speed, but did well enough at what she was asked to do.

Franch (+5/-3 : +5/-3 : +10/-6) Kept the clean sheet.  Distribution was not as random as I’ve seen from her before (1st half: 11 GKs/punts – 7 to PTFC (including a terrific long drop ball to Sinc that forced Harris into a reaction save), 2nd half: 9 GK/punts, 5 to PTFC).

That said…Jesus wept, Adrianna!  If you’re going to do this all season I will have lost what little hair I have left and you will be responsible for your teammates’ mental breakdowns.  If the Thorns benefited from good luck today you were the wearer of the rabbit’s foot; you did what you could to give this one away, but Orlando just couldn’t snatch it from your gloves.  Made some good stops, but these awful errors of judgement can shake the backline’s confidence quickly and really need to stop.  Must do better going forward.

Coach Parsons – Made effective substitutions and managed the match well to see out the win.  Hard to say if his tactical set-up would have worked as well against an Orlando side at full strength or one that had managed to take advantage of the breaks that fell their way.  Had one of the many defensive errors in the first quarter hour gifted the Pride a goal the match might have taken on a very different character.  But a win’s a win for a’ that, and Thorns FC is 1-0-0 on the season.

Next week is the Wenches-who-once-were-Rochester away, and I have a problem already.

The NWSL has finally announced it’s “streaming partner” and it is some sort of mobile-app gimmick called “go90”.  My cell phone is the lowest-tech device imaginable because I need it to be Milspec waterproof given my working day.  I cannot justify buying a tablet just to watch soccer.  So I am not sure whether I will be able to watch the away match, or, if I can, whether I will be able to tell what’s happening from a tiny hand-held screen if I do.  I will do everything I can to try and bring you a report from North Carolina.

See you next week…I hope!