Thorns FC: Ten minutes and a free kick

Thorns FC now sits alone in second place on the NWSL table, two points clear of now-third-place Chicago, five behind league-leading Carolina.

Because Saturday evening PTFC had a hell of an opening ten minutes, Chicago couldn’t find the back of the net with a rangefinder and GPS unit, and Emily Sonnett headed ten feet to her right, not eleven.

The week before Thorns FC whipped Houston all over Providence Park.  This weekend?  Well…it was a win on the road, okay?  I’ll take it.

That first ten minutes, though?

They were delightful.

In the third minute Lindsey Horan knocked a long pass up to where Sinclair and Raso were racing through the entire Chicago backline.  I have no idea why the Red Stars were caught so flat; I assumed that Sinc, at least, would be wearing a Julie Ertz hoody the whole match.  But it was little Hayley Raso that took the ball in stride and – as Sam Johnson clipped her heel (for what would probably have been a DOGoSO had Raso failed to convert) – slotted the ball home.

Then, six minutes later, Portland scored what may well have been the loveliest teamwork goal I’ve ever seen them create.  I’ll just put up the screenshots for you to ooh and ahh over.  Here’s Amandine Henry – look, Aly, she’s not actually slowing the play down! – beginning the sequence with a header off a Chicago clear;

Looks like Chicago’s backline has this covered, right?  Well…let’s see.

Still looking composed in back but there’s a lot of red pouring forward.

Little triangles, short, accurate passing, runs into dangerous space, and picking out open teammates?  Check.

Dagny with the tiniest of touches, but the one that lays the ball back perfectly for Sinclair.

Boom, baby.  0-2 Thorns, just like watching Brazil.  Wasn’t that fun?

Glad you enjoyed it, because that was the last bit of fun PTFC had for the rest of the entire half.

I didn’t record a single sustained dangerous sequence from Thorns FC between the 9th minute and the 55th, while Chicago drove forward again and again.  In the 16th minute Christen Press scored, and the worst part was what the Thorns’ defense did to help her.

Alyssa Mautz lofted a good long shot from about 28-30 yards out.  A.D. Franch went high and to her left and got a hand on it…but couldn’t turn it over the crossbar.  Instead…

…the ball pings off the bar and back out.  And Kat Reynolds and Emily Sonnett have stopped following the play.  They’re just lolling about 12 yards upfield – presumably knowing that Press, who was onside with the shot, is still onside.

That’s inexcusable.  Press slams the ball home and suddenly Chicago is back in the match almost inside of a quarter hour.

Twenty-two minutes later they drew level, this time on another long effort, this on from Johnson up to Julie Ertz.  Ertz had both Sonnett on her back and Menges in her face, and yet managed to escape this –

– and tap the ball out to Huerta, who rounds Menges and roofs the ball over Franch to bring things all square with 52 minutes to play.

During this period Ertz managed to close down Sinclair and take away the center of the Chicago midfield, and the Thorns’ attack dried up.  The match degenerated into a scrappy brawl.  Portland, which had had 59% of the possession in the first quarter hour, went into the dressing room at halftime having had 46% over the full half and, having had two shots and two goals in the first nine minutes…still had two shots and two goals after 45 minutes.

The second half was much more even.  Shots 4-3 (Chicago), shots on-goal 0-1 (Portland), goals 0-1 (Portland).

The goal, yes; a well worked pass up the left touchline forced a foul on Sykes (and a yellow for Gilliland).  Klingenberg lofted a nice curling ball into the pack and it was Emily Sonnett that floated high and flicked the ball on and down into the bottom right corner and it was 2-3 Portland.

That was enough…but that was all.  Portland barely managed to get past the halfway line for the last half hour.  Sonnett blocked a close range Short effort at 58′.  Horan headed clear a dangerous cross at 72′.  Nagasato’s pass found Press barely offside three minutes later.  In the 79th minute Press latched onto a long pass inside the Portland 18 but Reynolds was on her when she turned to clear safely away.  In the 87th Huerta received a floating cross just wide of Franch’s far post but couldn’t control it.  A minute from time a bad Weber foul gave Chicago a free kick 25 yard out from the left post; Sinclair headed clear.

The match ended with Chicago still pressing.  Their “expected goals” calculation works out to 2.47 (Portland’s xG is only 0.927, reminding us that the Thorns were deadly in front of goal in this match; 3 shots on goal, 3 goals…) meaning that the equalizer wasn’t out of reach had Portland’s second half defending had a derp lurking similar to the first half letdowns.

But the defense didn’t derp.  Chicago didn’t finish, and Thorns FC has climbed up to the penultimate step on the table with seven games left to play.

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Player comments and PMRs:

Raso (89′ – +9/-2 : +8/-3 : +17/-5)  Yet another excellent performance from Raso, whose interplay with her attacking teammates has finally lifted her above the outstanding attacking runs and passes that distinguished her game in the early part of the season.  Did a lot of defensive work, as well.  The complete package.

Dagny (61′ – +4/-1 : +1/-0 : +5/-1) Elegant assist on the Sinclair goal as well as a lot a tough grinding in the top of midfield and outside the Chicago 18.  Understated but effective, although didn’t get much of a good look at goal and ended without a shot.  Could be more effective if she would take a crack every so often.

Sykes (74′ – +7/-6 : +5/-2 : +12/-8)  For a forward surprisingly more effective defending, with some critical high-press tackling to break up Chicago attacks.  Several strong runs but her passing eye was out, though; 5 of her 8 minuses were poor passes that shortstopped Thorns attacks.

Lussi (29′ – +4/-1)  Decent shift, although her first act on the pitch was to yank Colaprico’s braid and then tromp on her arm, forcing her off the pitch and, I suspect, earning Tyler a suspension for the next match.  Lucky to avoid a red, though I don’t think the cleating was at all intentional.  Defensive sub, and defended well enough to justify it.

Weber (16′ – +2/-1)  Did well enough to see out the win, though committed a foolish foul to give up a dangerous setpiece in the 89th minute.  Good enough to give Sykes a breather when it looked like she needed one.

Sinclair (+7/-3 : +7/-0 : +14/-3)  Admiral Yamamoto is said to have predicted that, given strategic surprise, that he could “run wild” for six months – almost the exact time between Pearl Harbor and Midway.  Christine Sinclair’s wild rumpus in Chicago lasted only about ten minutes but did a lot more damage.  Wonderfully taken goal to finish that terrific sequence and helped split the defenders for Raso’s, as well.  After that Dames apparently realized that he needed to sink some carriers and put a body (usually Julie Ertz’s) on Sinclair and eased her as far out of the match as he could.

Henry (+7/-1 : +3/-0 : +10/-1)  I shouldn’t have worried; La Destructeuse was her usual wrecking-ball self in the center of Chicago midfield, taking away Chicago’s preferred attacking lanes.  Gorgeous run and cutback on the Sinclair goal; take that, Aly Wagner!

Horan (+16/-5 : +14/-0 : +30/-5)  Woman of the Match for the second game in a row.  Simply sensational.  Her passing was outstanding and, more importantly, when Chicago started seriously pressing in the second half she tightened up her precision and stinginess with the ball.  All five of her “minuses” were either tackles or passes for loss in the first half – in the second?  None.

Klingenberg (+7/-3 : +6/-2 : +13/-5) It’s pleasant to say that Kling had a very, very good match Saturday.  Tough defending, especially (mind you, she was a trifle fortunate that Short was not on her flank…) and her usual excellent passing.  Great service on the Sonnett goal.

Sonnett (+9/-3 : +5/-1 : +14/-4)  Highly culpable on the Press goal, but otherwise a solid match from Pony-tailed Emily, and her second goal in two matches, which helped cancel out a fair bit of sloppy defending.  Can’t do this stuff in the playoffs, but that’s then and for now, her strike nabbed the three road points so, well done, Emily.

Menges (+2/-5 : +6/-3 : +8/-8)  Just…not what I want to see.  Not awful (although she should have done better with Ertz on the Huerta goal) but certainly could have done better.  Did have a critical stop on Press late in the match and played well enough to ride out a stormy second half, but still seems less definitive than she should be.  Still want to see her and Sonnett look like they did at the end of last year.

Reynolds (+5/-2 : +3/-3 : +8/-5)  Her PMR is deceptive; had to deal with Casey Short all match and Short was a load and a half.  Should have done better on the Press goal, as noted, but also made a huge tackle off Press at 79′.  Put in a good day’s work.

Boureille (1′ – +0/-1)  Got away with murder, fouling Short just outside the 18 in injury time; must have been Portland’s day since she got away with more than Lussi did – didn’t even get charged with a foul at all.  Otherwise no impact.

Franch (+3/-0 : +2/-1 : +5/-1)  Not at fault on either goal, and good saves in the early going.  Came out strong in the second half to take away some Chicago efforts.  Distribution wasn’t outstanding but also not really dangerous, see below.

Distribution: A.D. had a total of 23 clearances – 10 goal kicks, four punts, five clears, and four free kicks.  Of those 8 went to a Thorn and 15 either into touch or directly to a Chicago player.  Interestingly, her free kicks were by far her worst effort (she lost all 4) and her punts a close second (lost 3 of 4).  She lost 3 of 5 clears and her goal kicks were a 50-50 chance.  Still, of all those losses only one came right back at her, so she was only 1 for 15 (6%) on “dangerous clearances” and even better (4%) on danger resulting from her clearances overall.  Good performance.

Wee heidies:  A total of 51 “high balls” this match; 25 came to Portland, 26 to Chicago.  Of those the two teams played 31 (60.7%) right back up in the air and lost 17 of those.  Six pinged around aimlessly and only 8 of 31 came down onto the correct boot.

One interesting piece of information was that in the first half both teams did better with the high headers; Portland won 4 of 11, Chicago 2 of 5.  But as the second half turned scrappy and physical both teams lost control of these headed efforts; Portland keeping only 1 of 7, Chicago 1 of 8, likely the effect of bodies banging as they went up for the looping clear of long pass.

Horan was Thorn Queen of the Air at Toyota Park, winning all five of her aerial attempts, including a the Thorns’ only successful flick.  Sinclair, surprisingly, was grounded hard; of her 6 efforts she won only one that she played down.  Her four other headers went astray and her flick-on did, as well.

Chicago did better playing down to feet; winning 5 of their 8 total; Portland won only 3 of 5.  Flick-ons were few for PTFC – only two, and one was lost.  Chicago, on the other hand, won 4 of their 5 attempts.

Coach Parsons: Hard to give a lot of credit or blame to the coach for this one.  Clearly Parsons brought the team to Chicago in peak form and for ten minutes they played Chicago off the pitch.  But when the match settled down the Red Stars controlled a lot of the pace and a lot of the ball.  A couple of critical defensive blunders let Chicago back into the match, and had Sonnett’s header gone a trifle wider the Thorns would have had to settle for the road point.  Parsons’ game plan did a good job controlling Press, for the most part, and occupying Ertz and Mautz.  But the Thorns’ production exceeded expectations – by two goals! – and getting three goals on three shots on goal is too much to expect going forward.

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This week, short rest and FCKC in Missouri coming off their first win in nine tries, a 1-nil scrape over the luckless Houston Dash.  That Groom Woman to throttle and another chance to pick up some road points.

See you then.