Thorns FC: The Third Time is Enemy Action

The military philosopher Sun Tzu (or perhaps it was von Clausewitz.  Or Napoleon.  One of those guys, anyway…) is supposed to have warned against engaging the same enemy too often because of the danger that repeated contact would allow that enemy to become familiar with and, eventually, master their opponent.

This past weekend I was worried that 1) the third encounter with Thorns FC meant that the Houston Dash might have learned dangerous lessons from the first two, and that 2) the midweek win over Boston meant that the Texans might have figured out how to use Beckie and Hagen to create an effective attack in the absence of Carli Lloyd.

Saturday’s 2-nil home win made it clear that 1) they hadn’t, and 2) they hadn’t.

Mind you…as good as it was I don’t think that the win was as much of a beatdown as we thought it was at the time.

Watching live, I thought that after about the half hour Houston looked out of ideas and Portland solidly in control.  Watching the replay, I’m not so sure.  Yes, Houston looked tired and lifeless.  Yes, Thorns FC dominated midfield play, and Houston generated very little dangerous attack.

But no, I don’t think that Portland was as dominant as the match stats suggest and first look suggested.

I don’t think that had as much to do with the relative quality of the two teams; PTFC appears comfortably better right now.  I think it had a lot to do with both teams’ exhaustion after a long week with a lot of mileage and the rough play that got out of hand late in the second half.  But there were some fairly long stretches of mishit passes and fairly aimless knocking about from both clubs.

Aside from a home win, this often wasn’t a “pretty” match to watch – and that was before the fighting broke out in the final 25 minutes or so…

The most notable uptick in Portland’s play I noticed was in energy and aggressive defending.  Remember “forechecking” and how it wrecked Houston when they were here two weeks ago?  And how the lack of that fierce disruption helped FCKC last midweek?

Well, that aggressive high pressure forechecking was back:

Just as I did in the last Houston match, I picked a random moment in the first half to illustrate this.  Houston hasn’t moved the ball halfway to the midfield stripe and already Portland’s midfield – Henry, here – is harassing them and giving them no time to get their heads up and look for good options.

Still can’t push the ball up and now it’s Sinclair’s turn; PTFC did this most of the evening, and you could see (and we’ll talk about what happened when) it really started to get under the Dash players’ skin.

Still not past midfield, now it’s Horan, Portland has run ten seconds off the clock, and there’s still nothing attractive for Houston.

Meanwhile, on the other end, Portland created what it needed to; a headed goal from Horan off a pretty Klingenberg service at 14′, and another header, this one on a Nadim cross to Henry, in the 48th minute.  Houston has been horribly vulnerable to that sort of long service and headed shooting all season, and Parsons’ troops threw cross after cross at them.

Oh, and Portland should have had at least two more; a 41′ Sinclair shot came off the crossbar to Dagny three yards in front of goal, but the ball had too much pace and Brynjarsdóttir couldn’t control before the ball was cleared.  And Nadim put a point-blank shot wide in the 83rd minute.

The best Houston could manage was in the 34th minute, when Poliana netted but was well offside on the service, and Poliana again, in the 89th, when she got through the backline but shot off-target.

As I noted; Portland’s relentless pressuring finally drove Houston utterly batshit.  Between the 73rd and 79th minutes center referee Christina Unkel handed out three cautions and an ejection to three Houston players (and, although at the time it wasn’t clear, the red on Daly was straight for violent conduct and not a second yellow) as well as a yellow to Emily Sonnett; the bulk of the seven yellows she issued during this match.

What that meant was that the final ten minutes was a kickabout; Portland played keepaway and Houston tried to chase and, largely failed.

Solid win.  But…kinda ugly, and over a team that looks like they’re in free-fall right now.

Still.  With the three points solidly in the bank and a tight grip on second place on the table, it’s time to look towards Memorial Stadium this coming weekend.

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Player comments and PMRs:

Raso (78′ – +6/-2 : +8/-2 : +14/-4)  Little Hayley had a good night; don’t be fooled by her low-ish “plus” number.  She, and most of the Thorns, were 1) fighting fatigue at the end of a long week of soccer, 2) fighting the Dash, who were just fine kicking Thorns if they couldn’t find a ball to kick, and 3) fighting for time and space on the pitch and having to do a lot of dog work to find it.  Aggressive and creative as usual.  Also one of the few Portland players willing to run at defenders, and that opens up a lot of time and space for her teammates.

Weber (12′ –  +9/-1) Last Wednesday I gave Mallory hell because she was useless against KC.  She either came on the pitch determined to make a liar out of me or was just energized by the pending eclipe, but she was a spark in her less-than-quarter-hour Saturday.  Great shift, and a huge part of seeing out the win.

Brynjarsdóttir (45′ – +6/-5) I didn’t think Dagny had a terrific half and now that I’ve looked at her passing matrix I’m sure she didn’t.

I’m not saying she was jakin’ it.  But she had few touches, even fewer truly effective, and was sloppy with the ball.  Desperately unlucky on the Sinclair rebound, but – assuming that the substitution wasn’t pre-planned – was unsurprisingly lifted at halftime.

Nadim (45′ – +9/-1) Oh, Nadia!  Lovely half, so much energy, gorgeous hustle and cross on the assist to Henry, just everywhere as always…but how could you miss that shot???

One thing I like that Nadim brings – and her passing matrix shows – is focus.  She knows what she’s on the pitch to do, and does it.  Well…except for missing that shot…

Kidding, Nadia.  (Sort of.)  Great shift, and great to see you back again.

Sykes (+10/-3 : +9/-2 : +19/-5)  Perhaps the best match of the year from Ashley; just a ton of activity, great passing and crossing, tough defending…she’s my First Runner-Up WotM.

Sinclair (+6/-4 : +12/-3 : +18/-4)  A tough first half for Sinc that culminated in several misses, including the crossbar.  Better in the second, where the addition of Nadim allowed her to drop a little deeper and create from the top of the center circle.  Overall a very sound outing from our captain.

Horan (+14/-2 : +13/-2 : +27/-4)  The Return of Beast Mode!  A terror in midfield at both ends of the pitch (obviously, with the goal…) and Woman of the Match.

Henry (54′ – +11/-1 : +4/-0 : +15/-1)  Very good, very La Destructeuse sort of match plus the nicely-taken goal, to the point where I worried when she was lifted for Allie Long.  I shouldn’t have worried.  Here’s Henry in the first half:

That’s good stuff, eh?  Strong on the right flank, lots of tackles-for-gain and distributing all around the pitch.  But…here she is in the nine minutes she played in the second:

The goal is great…but that, to me, is a tiring player.  And here’s what happens in the 36 minutes that Long played in replacement of her:

Aside from the crap shooting, if that doesn’t shout “fresh legs!” I don’t know what does.  Good shift from Amandine…but also a timely substitution for her…

Long (36′ – +7/-1)  As shown above; active in defense, precise in distribution, and providing midfield control when Thorns FC needed to lock the game down.  Great work, Allie.  Now…you and Nadia need to spend some time after practice shooting on frame.

Ahem.  Just sayin’.

Klingenberg (+1/-2 : +10/-2 : +11/-4)  What is it with you and halves, Kling?  Other than your great assist you were kind of just hanging about in the first half.  Then in the second you went completely berserk.  You had half of a terrific match, but the other half was only just kinda there.  Play every minute like you did after halftime and you’d be Player of the Year…

Menges (+3/-1 : +8/-1 : +11/-2)  Em’s numbers, like the rest of the backline, reflect the hard graft their midfield and forwards did in the match, especially in the first half.  In the second, when Houston had to throw everything they had forward, they had to be more involved and were, and were generally fine.  Still, that didn’t leave the backline as much work to do as usual, and that’s fine, too.  Meant a lot of Menges’ touches were casual short passes not under pressure or solid clears.  You don’t get a “plus” for dinking three yards out to Horan with the nearest opponent five yards away, so you tend not to get much in the way of pluses or minuses…

Sonnett (+1/-0 : +5/-1 : +6/-1)  See the Menges comment above.  Thoroughly fine outing, just less hard work than usual.

Reynolds (+2/-3 : +5/-0 : +7/-3)  Tougher night than her backline sisters; a lot of what Houston could throw came through the Thorns’ right flank.  Kat did well there (two of her three “minuses” are just long clearing passes that went wide…) and had a fine match otherwise.

Franch (+1/-0 : +1/-0 : +2/-0)  Slow night for A.D. other than a couple of strong takes (the 56′ off of Hagen, though, was pretty critical…).

Distribution:  Total of 21 clearances.  Six goal kicks; 2 lost, 3 controlled by Portland, 1 just pinged off random heads.  Also 6 free kicks; 2 won, 4 lost.  Of A.D.’s 7 clears 3 went to PTFC, 4 went to Houston.  Punts were 50-50; 1 lost, 1 won.  Of the 11 “lost” clearances, however, none were returned for “danger”, so a very good night overall for Franch.

Wee heidies:  A total of 33 high balls played (27 by Portland, only 6 by Houston – gives you an idea how aggressive Portland was attacking the ball).

A total of 19 were played back up high in the air.  Portland lost 8 of their 15, won 6, and had 1 that pinged around.  Houston won 2, lost 1, and had 1 that bounced randomly.

Seven were flicked on.  Portland won 3 and lost 3, while Houston won the only one they flicked.

Seven were played down; Portland won 4 of their 6, while Houston, rather surprisingly, lost the only one they attempted.

Coach Parsons –  Great match, coach.  Timely and effective subs, effective tactics, and rallied the team from what must have been a dispiriting loss in KC to take all the points.  Well done.

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So…this coming weekend PTFC travels north to meet the Reign for the last time.

And I gotta tell ya; I’m getting sick of getting whipped in that nasty pile of concrete.  It’s time for a good old-style 2013 beatdown of the Queens.  Get stuck in, you Thorns.  Remember what Queen Cersei herself said; in the game of thrones to lose is to die.

Go.

Kill.