The Portland Thorns last met the Houston Dash about a month ago. On that hot night in Texas Portland were stymied for an hour and a half; what professional cyclists call un jour sans, a “day without” and only snatched the road point on a second-half-injury-time Lindsey Horan free kick goal.
Last Saturday was also uncomfortably hot but otherwise the match, the teams, and the result were utterly different.
Last weekend Thorns FC came back from a mid-second-half concession to beat the visiting Washington Spirit 2-1.
I really wanted that win to whisper secrets about this Thorns team to me. I really wanted to use it as insight into whether this is the team that stonewalled Carolina or the team that collapsed in Seattle. I watched the match in Saturday’s heat and again on the screen in the evening dark looking for clues. Hints. Suggestions.
And after all that watching and guessing and thinking?
I still have no idea.
When my metal hip set off the barrier at Gate 3 Saturday morning I had more on my mind than worrying about that usual nuisance.
I was worried about the Thorns’ recent run of poor form going into a match with the league leaders and that that might lead to yet another loss just like this season’s first meeting or, worse, like last season’s semifinal.
I was worried that the center referee’s penchant for letting rough play go would play into the North Carolina Courage’s physical game and get into the Thorns’ heads as it had in the past.
I was worried that a blowout loss might be lights-out for the Thorns’ 2017 season.
When I walked back out that afternoon I was right about one thing; Koroleva sure did let ’em play. You can argue about whether that’s good or bad. But that’s how she usually calls her games, and she didn’t change that day.
But I was wrong; deliciously, gloriously, wonderfully wrong about everything else.
My Basic Training drill sergeant, SFC Harris, had a very practical approach to life, and that carried over into his outlook on military tasks. He was always willing to let us try something a little different from what the manuals specified to see if it would work.
“If it’s stupid and it works,” he’d comment, “it’s not stupid.”
For about 90 minutes of the away game in Houston the Portland Thorns’ attack looked pretty damn dull, tepid and, well…stupid. Then at 90+change Lindsey Horan lined up over a free kick and struck a stunner for the 1-1 equalizer and that suddenly it wasn’t stupid.
But with North Carolina coming in this next Saturday Thorns FC’s gonna have to get a lot smarter most quick smart. What worked against Houston ain’t gonna work against the league leaders.
Today Thorns FC signed two players who appeared in the preseason tournament here in April: defender Kelli Hubly and midfielder Ashley Herndon. The two will serve as “field player replacements” for Brynjarsdottir and Nadim during the period the two regulars are away at the European championships.
In case you don’t remember them both played well during the preseason.
It was only almost a week – but it seems like almost an eon – ago that Thorns FC put a lickin’ on FCKC through intelligent, aggressive attack and swarming defense.
Three days later the team traveled north to Seattle and, it seems, completely forgot how to do all that.
It wasn’t just the stadium clock that made time seem to run in 86-second minutes. The Thorns looked slow, too; slow, predictable, and, most damningly, thoroughly beatable from the start and were, 2-nil.
In all of recorded human history there are three classic blunders.
Getting involved in a land war in Asia.
Going in against a Sicilian when death is on the line.
And making Christine Sinclair mad.
The weekend before last Thorns FC struggled through a tough loss. Defensive lapses, scoring difficulties, and an…unhelpful, shall we say?…center referee handed the team a real stinker of a home defeat.
When it’s tough at home, what’s a team to do?
Unfortunately, sometimes even those turn out…suboptimally.