Match Story (Sort Of): Blinded by the Light

USA TODAY Sports

Thorns draw 0-0 with Flash. It wasn't pretty.

Portland Thorns FC went into Western New York's Sahlen's Stadium on Saturday with one mission: Come away with three points. Three points, and with a little luck, the other top teams in the NWSL would falter, and the Thorns would find themselves hosts of at least one game in the upcoming NWSL playoffs  --that achievement, of course, being the one the Thorns had been focusing on for the past month or so.

Or, at least, you'd hope that was the mission. The way the Thorns played in this lukewarm affair, it appeared they were content to survive and advance, and even then, just barely. The result was a 0-0 draw in a match so tepid, the halftime chicken wing eating contest looked inspired by contrast.

Given Western New York's complementary sluggish effort, Portland should have shifted into neck-stepping mode, but instead only managed to conjure up seven shots in the entire game (four in the first half), and only three on goal (all of which came in the second half). The Thorns defense managed to preserve a shutout  --its first in eight games--  but it was goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc's season-record 10 saves that kept the sheet unsullied, not a particularly stellar showing by the defense.

And yet, at the beginning of the match, it appeared the soccer gods had been bought off by Merritt Paulson, as the Thorns were still handed a chance that could have defined the match in spite of the ensuing Flash-dominated run of play. At 2', the Thorns offense unfurled in the way it's supposed to: Christine Sinclair passing to Tobin Heath, Heath working some magic, then slipping a Heath-ian pass to Danielle Foxhoven sneaking past the backline. Nikki Marshall overlapping up the far flank, Sinc lurking dangerously behind the first line of attack, and Foxhoven getting the ball in stride, just goalie Adrianne Franch to beat. Foxhoven settling the ball, shooting it...and missing just wide.

Given how Portland's season has gone this year, you kind of knew that's how it would go. And you kind of knew it would be Portland's only real chance of the half. Sure enough, the Thorns went on to give up five shots on goal, earning none for themselves.

There were other chances, yes, and Will did a bangup job describing them and the other particulars here. I'm not going to rehash them, because embedded in the game's specifics are a bevy of inexplicables that comprise an alternate narrative, one that has much to say about the Thorns season as well as this singular game. To wit:

1. With the exception of Foxhoven's chance, this team looked hideous, especially in the first half. The disarray was most apparent when veteran goalkeeper LeBlanc made a bizarre rookie-like error, picking up a back-pass from Kat Williamson in the 25th minute. The error led to an indirect free kick in the box, maybe 10 yards from the goal. Carli Lloyd's ensuing delivery flew harmlessly over the crossbar, but it was jarring to see KK make such a mistake. Jarring, and hard to explain.

2. Portland head coach Cindy Parlow Cone's post-game reaction (as published at NWSLNews.com) to the first-half troubles:  "I thought the first 20 minutes were a little bit rocky for us to say the least. I think there was a lot of contributing factors for that. One of them is [laughs], I thought it was really difficult to see. The sun was in our eyes the first 20 minutes." Also, the dog ate their homework.

3. Sinclair's post-game comments about Portland's meager scoring chances (also thanks to NWSLNews.com): "Obviously, we had some longer shots. I think as a team, I think our focus in tonight's game was defensively. In the past couple games, we've given up quite a few goals and it was our focus tonight to not do that and that was sort of our priority." This is the one that just plain makes me sad. Are the Thorns only capable of playing on one side of the ball at a time? Since when does concentrating on defense preclude success on offense, and vice-versa? Since when does a proven veteran  --a leader, a legend-- make this kind of excuse?

4. Last week, Parlow Cone noted that the Thorns had to stop fouling in spots on the field that lead to opponents' advantage. She noted that there's a time and place to foul, and that her team needs to make better decisions about when and where to do so. She also said, albeit without a whole lot of conviction, that with four yellow cards apiece, both Heath and Alex Morgan have to stop committing stupid/reckless fouls.

In this game, the Thorns committed six fouls in the first half, three in the second. The totals could have been worse, but it was the spots in which they committed said fouls that was the problem. Several times, a Thorns foul allowed for a free kick into the box, the ball aimed by a Flash player directly at Abby Wambach's head. Wambach never scored, but this was uncharacteristic, and the Flash must have been salivating every time the instance occurred. The Thorns were lucky.

Heath, meanwhile, cut down a Flash player early on in the match in much the same way she clipped Lori Chalupny from behind two weeks ago. That foul on Chalupny drew a yellow, and injured the Red Star's ankle. Heath's foul in the Flash game easily could have been her fifth yellow, and could have been equally damaging.

The question here, then, is how exactly has Parlow Cone addressed this problem?

5. I think Parlow Cone subbed Tina Ellertson on for Kat Williamson late in the game not for tactical reasons, but because Williamson, who plays Wambach pretty well, took a knock. At least, I'm choosing to believe that, because why else would you sub on a player who has trained with your team a grand total of twice? One who hasn't played a lick of soccer in two years. And, yes, Ellertson's size makes her a prime candidate to mark a player as physically imposing as Wambach. But why on earth is a player who has barely trained in two years being put on the top goal-scorer in the world?

These are but a few of the puzzles one could try and untangle before the Thorns final regular season game this Saturday against the Seattle Reign. There are plenty more to sift through, but these five are enough to tell the tale. Which is this:

This team does not come out of the locker room prepared. This team is tired and making dumb mistakes. This team is making dumb mistakes for other reasons. This team cannot perform when it needs to the most. This team plays under the additional, unnecessary weight of strange personnel decisions. This team has accepted a culture of making excuses, at least publically. This team has accepted a culture of diminished expectations. And finally: This team could be very, very good.

But it's not.

GOALS

1

2

F

Portland (10-6-5)

0

0

0

Western New York (9-4-8)

0

0

0

SCORING SUMMARY

Goal  Time    Team                                                  Goal Scorer                                    Assists Note

None

CAUTIONS AND EJECTIONS

Time

Team

##

Player

Card

Reason

68

Western New York

8

Adriana Martin

Yellow Card

Reckless Foul

92+

Portland

2

Marian Dougherty

Yellow Card

Reckless Foul

SUBSTITUTIONS

Time       Team                                                         OUT                                     IN

61            WesternNewYork                               #17 Veronica Perez                #15 Vicki DiMartino

71            Portland                                            #5 Kathryn Williamson #24 Tina Ellertson

73            WesternNewYork                               #8 Adriana Martin                  #9 Ingrid Wells

79            Portland                                            #8 Angie Kerr #19 Tiffany Weimer

88            WesternNewYork                                #4 Samantha Kerr                #23 Jodi-Ann Robinson

SHOTS

1

2

F

Portland

4

3

7

Western New York

7

7

14

SHOTS ON GOAL

1

2

F

Portland

0

3

3

Western New York

5

5

10

SAVES

1

2

F

Portland

5

5

10

Western New York

0

3

3

CORNER KICKS

1

2

F

Portland

1

0

1

Western New York

1

1

2

OFFSIDES

1

2

F

Portland

0

1

1

Western New York

0

1

1

FOULS

1

2

F

Portland

6

3

9

Western New York

4

9

13

Officials: Referee: Margaret Domka

Asst. Referee: Amanda Ross; Lauren Dearman
Fourth Official: Chris Trottier

Attendance: 7606

Portland Player Stats

##

1

Name(*forstarters)

Karina LeBlanc*

Min

90

G

0

A

0

Sh

0

SOG

0

YC

0

RC

0

CK

0

Off

0

FC

0

FS

0

12

Christine Sinclair*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

1

2

Marian Dougherty*

90

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

16

Rachel Buehler*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

2

10

Allie Long*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

1

9

Danielle Foxhoven*

90

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

1

2

7

Nikki Marshall*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

17

Tobin Heath*

90

0

0

2

2

0

0

1

0

1

2

6

Meleana Shim*

90

0

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

1

2

8

Angie Kerr*

79

0

0

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

5

Kathryn Williamson*

71

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

24

Tina Ellertson

19

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

19

Tiffany Weimer

11

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

TEAM TOTAL 990       0        0            7            3        1          0         1        1          9      13

Portland Goalkeeper Stats

##  Name(*forstarters)

Min

GA

Sh

SOG

Sv

D

1      Karina LeBlanc*

90

0

14

10

10

T

TEAM TOTAL 90              0            14               10         10






W
esternNewYorkPlayerStats

##

20

Name(*forstarters)

Abby Wambach*

Min

90

G

0

A

0

Sh

4

SOG

3

YC

0

RC

0

CK

0

Off

0

FC

2

FS

2

16

Katherine Reynolds*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

24

Adrianna Franch*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

Angela Salem*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

12

Estelle Johnson*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

13

Brittany Taylor*

90

0

0

2

2

0

0

0

0

1

0

14

Sarah Huffman*

90

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

1

10

Carli Lloyd*

90

0

0

4

1

0

0

0

0

3

1

4

Samantha Kerr*

88

0

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

1

1

8

Adriana Martin*

73

0

0

2

2

1

0

2

0

1

0

17

Veronica Perez*

61

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

2

0

15

Vicki DiMartino

29

0

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

1

1

9

Ingrid Wells

17

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

23

Jodi-Ann Robinson

2

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

TEAM TOTAL

990

0

0

14

10

1

0

2

1

13

8

Western New York Goalkeeper Stats

##  Name(*forstarters)

Min

GA

Sh

SOG

Sv

D

24    Adrianna Franch*

90

0

7

3

3

T

TEAM TOTAL

90

0

7

3

3

X
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