Thorns FC: Winless in Seattle

After three tries the Seattle Reign finally took three points off of Thorns FC at Memorial Stadium last Saturday, evening the season series at 1-1-2.

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Now…we’re winless there but Seattle hasn’t won in our house this season, either.  And the 3-1 scoreline flatters the hosts a trifle.  The second Reign goal was the result of a horrendous individual error by Emily Sonnett and the third was a garbage-time Rapinoe strike as the Thorns pushed up to try and wring out an equalizer.  So this wasn’t some sort of tire-fire like the mess in Houston.

The story of this loss wasn’t a team-wide collapse but more a matter of several Thorns having individual Off Days.

I rode the Riveters bus up to Memorial concerned that this Reign squad would be better than the three we’d seen previously.  The Miracle of Herat was partly due to horrendous Seattle finishing and the slow congelation of the Seattle midfield, and riding those to an away win seemed unlikely.

It was.  Seattle’s midfield was crisp, active, and in synch.  The result was that the midfield battle went to Seattle almost from the whistle.  If the Thorns had hoped to play through the middle (and frustrate Seattle there) their hopes were further battered by losing Amandine Henry to injury in the 18th minute.

This forced Mana Shim on, Horan deep, and deprived Nadia Nadim of service through the center.  On one flank Mallory Weber seemed unable to connect with Nadim, while on the other the Notorious TFH wasn’t having the best of days, and Meghan Klingenberg was…well, sorry, Kling, but you were giving the ball away like you were holding a one-woman promotional soccer ball giveaway.

Seattle’s effective passing, pressure, and movement continued to make space and throttle the Thorns until at 27 minutes their work paid off.

Melis goal 01

Look at that space!  With that kind of space Winters could practically have built a little blue-colored party cannon out of the pieces of scrap pipe and broken tile that are falling out of the bathroom walls up at Memorial Stadium and blasted the damn ball upfield to…

Melis goal 02

…Kawasumi, who herself has an immense expanse of green as big as the Ginza all to herself out wide right.  Klingenberg proceeds to treat her as if the round thing at her feet is a live grenade as Manon Melis splits the Portland centerbacks.

Melis goal 03

Thing is…Sonnett and Menges aren’t badly positioned at this point.  Melis has torched Sonnett – and this wasn’t Emily’s day, as we’ll discuss in a bit – but Menges is in a good place to close her down; ball-side-goal-side, Defending 101.

But with all the time and space in Seattle Kawasumi floats a perfect long pass in front of Melis.

Melis goal 04

This is where the slack defending that killed the Thorns all afternoon kicks in.  Betos has goofed already; she hitched coming off her line so she couldn’t get to the ball before Melis.  Menges has been skinned by Melis’ speed and Sonnett has given up, being thoroughly beaten.  Betos’ only hope at this point is to dive at Melis’ feet, and even that would be no better than a half chance.

Melis goal 05

Instead Michelle tries to pull up and go high, and Melis finishes with a pretty chip, 1-nil Seattle.

To give you an example of the difference between the defenses, look at this Heath drive in the 41st minute:

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Three blue shirts locked onto TFH.  Two more filling in the center of the 18 with a sixth Queen wide in case Tobin gets the cross off.

Ouch.

Having lost Henry to an early knock, Emily Sonnett proceeded to get headbanged in the 38th minute.  She didn’t come off, but I think she was hurt more badly than she, Coach Parsons, or the physio thought.  In the first 28 minutes her plus-minus ratio was +4/-4.  After the knock she went +0/-4 for the rest of the half and +1/-4 for the second half (where to round out her rotten day she thumped her face off Utsugi’s forehead and bloodied her nose late in the match).

Emily’s +5/-12 PMR was the worst of the team Saturday and the worst I’ve recorded since I started keeping track of these touches.

She was responsible for Melis’ second goal.  Simple as that.  Failing to move to an admittedly sluggish Reynolds backpass she got skinned by Melis and couldn’t catch up to her before Melis handily beat Betos at close range, and the match went to the half 2-nil.

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Thorns FC had a better second half than the first offensively.  Part of that was several players stepping up their games.  Horan, in particular, who had been horrendous with the ball in the first 45; +11/-13 including only 4 significantly good passes to 4 for loss, another two tackles-for-loss, three touches that ran to Seattle, and four passes that resulted in a teammate losing possession or being forced into poor position.

Klingenberg, who had been a turnover machine in the first half (+4/-12 including 9 poor passes (5 directly to Seattle) started connecting with her teammates (+8/-4 in the second including three critical passes).  The team as a group started passing and defending better that eventually resulted in the 91st minute Long goal that made the match 2-1.

But…even late in the game we were doing stuff like this: welcome to “The Thorns Show You How Not To Defend A Short Corner”

70th minute 01

That’s a Seattle corner in the 70th minute, and I have no idea what Nadim was thinking.  But what she was doing was beating the ball not over the byline but straight across the face of her own goal!

70th minute 02

And lurking at the back post is Kim Little who, somehow, insanely, manages to smash the ball into the post and not inside it.  The ball blasts back out at Horan charging back towards her own goal and then caroms off Horan’s leg back across the goalmouth to…

70th minute 03

…Yanez!

Fortunately for Portland Em Menges is there to close Yanez down and boot the ball somewhere towards the suburbs of Everett.

As I said, the 3-1 scoreline was a little deceptive.  Taken overall, however, the Thorns never looked like they could win this match; too little going forward and too many people having trouble in the back.

Here’s the full breakdown for the team’s performance on Sunday, with my observations, in order of total positives.  The format for PMRs is (first half +/- : second half +/- : total)

Long (+9/-0 : +12/-4 : +21/-4)  Allie had a terrific game in a losing effort.  Her first half pluses were largely defensive, including 7 tackles, 5 for gain, but as the team pushed up in the second half she started distributing, too; of her 12 pluses (which includes her goal) 5 were good passes).  Woman of the Match, even without the goal, but with it it’s no contest.

Heath (+8/-7 : +13/-8: +21/-15)  TFH had a troubling match, typified by her cute little sombrero in the 45th minute.  She was her usual active self, but interspersed in with the good passes and runs were poor shots, turnovers, and uncharacteristic errors.  She took all the corners in the second half – seven of them – and I considered at least three of them poor to very poor; badly placed or unplayable.  Not her best.

Horan (+11/-13 : +9/-7 : +20/-20) Lindsey was not sharp Saturday.  In particular her passing was atrocious; of her 20 minuses half were poor passes or outright giveaways.  On a day when the Portland midfield needed to be their best…she was not.  I don’t know how much of that has to do with sitting on her duff for the Olympics, but I’m always willing to attribute failings to Jill Ellis, so I’ll blame her for Horan’s troubles.  Get well soon, Linz.

Reynolds (+6/-6 : +11/-8 : +17/-14)  Had some passing issues as well, but improved markedly in the second half and defended well generally.  Should have picked up Rapinoe on the late goal, tended to get caught ballwatching, but way better than the FCKC disaster, and repaid Parsons’ confidence putting her back out at RB.

Nadim (+10/-8 : +5/-5 : +15/-13) Her numbers are deceptive, in that she had difficulty with her first touch in the initial period but really did well trying to lay off and set up her teammates; not her fault that she was stranded and isolated for almost all of the match.

Shim (72′ – +7/-3 : +7/-2 : +14/-5) Mana had one of those “good games that lack something special” sort of days.  She had some nice passes initially then transitioned into a deeper defensive role late (after Raso came on) but somehow couldn’t make that final run or pass that broke Seattle open.  Played well but not well enough to overcome the tough day her teammates were having.

Menges (+7/-6 : +5/-2 : +13/-8) Another generally solid outing from the left half of the Great Wall of Emily made more difficult by Sonnett crumbling to her right and Kling’s howlers to her left.  As noted above, might have done better on the first Melis goal but might not: that was a damn good goal.

Weber (76′ – +8/-4 : +4/-3 : +12/-7)  At the time I was frustrated with Weber’s inability to connect with either Nadim or the other AMs Horan, Long, and Heath.  In reviewing the tape I 1) gained a hell of a lot more respect for Winters and Fishlock, who largely wrestled her to a stand, and 2) think that her problems had more to do with Horan and Heath having off days.  Solid outing in a losing cause.

Klingenberg (+4/-12 : +8/-4 : +12/-16)  Saturday, like harsh daylight on an aging actor’s face, picked out the worst things about Kling’s game.  The random long passes and the failures to close down attackers (or to get back on defense quickly enough).  Her tendency to freelance.  Her first 45 minutes were like a clinic on “how to give the ball away if you’re not under pressure”.  In the first ten minutes alone she knocked two horrible backpasses that 1) forced Betos to boot away for touch in the 6′, and 2) forced Reynolds to block out for a corner in the 8′.

Like TFH, far from her best game, and between her, Tobin, Horan, and Sonnett I really wonder if a Zika mosquito got loose in the USWNT billets or something.  Didn’t bite Allie Long, apparently, but the others..?

Hmmm.

I’m not worried that this is a thing; Kling is normally better than this.  But when she’s not…man, things get ugly fast.

Raso (14′ – +6/-0)  I love Hayley Raso more than fine old peaty Scotch whisky, long, deep, slow, wet kisses that last two days, sunrises, and fluffy baby kittens.

Sonnett (+4/-8 : +1/-4 : +5/-12)  Horrible, just horrible, and ridiculously atypical for the Other Half of the Great Wall of Emily.  As noted above – I am not entirely sure whether the training staff missed a concussion in the 38′, because this was not an Emily Sonnett sort of match.

Henry (18′ – +4/-1)  Hard to rate Henry; effective for her short stint and her loss may very well have been a critical factor in both the openings in the back and the loss of effectiveness going forward.  Hopefully her injury is minor and she’ll be fully fit by the coming weekend.

Betos  – as discussed, could have done better on the first Melis goal, and had a ridiculously awful bobble in the 16th minute where she failed to come out strongly on a looping pass and fumbled the ball straight onto Naho’s feet.  She recovered the thing with a desperation dive but could well have given up a truly bad goal.  She had another heavy touch on a backpass in the 48th minute that almost put Melis in the same position.  Not at fault on the other two concessions, but didn’t do a particularly spectacular job of organizing her defense.

Coach Parsons – If I had to lay any of this on the coaching it would have been not to have lifted Sonnett earlier, moved Reynolds inside and pushed Weber back to RB with Raso coming in as winger.

But I’m not sure I would have seen the problems, either; Emily is normally a rock in back, and a big part of the problem in this match seems to have been individual rather than tactical; a bunch of people just picked a really bad time to have really bad days.  Losing Henry early…Dagny out with injury and Sinclair from travel…there just weren’t a lot of alternatives for the coach to tweak this one, I think.

Chalk it up to experience, and move on.

The good news is that Houston stepped up after laying a “lookout block” on Washington earlier and drew Western New York, holding them down two points below Portland in the run to the playoffs.  The bad news is that we have to play them as one of our last four matches, and this is not a good time for the league doormats to start getting frisky.

Oh, yeah, and Boston is suddenly winning and they’re coming here next week.