Thorns FC @ FCKC Playoff Match Story: Semi-tough

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

3-2 Come from behind win sends Thorns to the final

Sometime after Desiree Scott stomped on Tobin Heath's clearly injured right foot, sending her off in a fit of clear pain and frustration, a photo emerged (on Tumblr, naturally) of Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow Cone with Heath atop her back, as the Portland coach carried her somewhere on the sidelines.

It was a touching sight, but if we're looking for visual metaphors, the carrier and the carry-ee should have been switched, dontcha think? After all, it was that very same right foot that pulled back a goal when the Thorns were down 2-0 in the first half against FC Kansas City in a do-or-die playoff game in which the Thorns appeared to be close to the latter. Heath's 33' tally resurrected the Thorns, spearheading an epic overtime 3-2 win over a side favored by most to take the first ever NWSL championship. The Heath-lead resurgence most likely, if scuttlebutt is to be believed, salvaged Parlow Cone's job.

Speaking of scuttlebutt, let's not forget that most of us live in Portland, the town that never heard a soccer rumor it didn't tweet, and so the whispers before this game provided an undercurrent of drama in a game that ultimately needed no extra plotlines, it turns out, but why not indulge: Tobin's foot injury is worse than they're letting on, said the chattering masses. Cindy's job is on the line. There's a rift in this team.

That last one, by the way, is the only whisper that had any empirical evidence to back it up, at least until early in Saturday's game, when we would see Heath alternating between her usual trickster brilliance and crumpling to the ground in pain. Suddenly Parlow Cone's assertion a few weeks ago that "Tobin's just got a little thing going on with her foot" seemed woefully understated, and that fact combined with the absence of Alex Morgan (who was dressed but, really, we didn't expect her to play at all, did we?), combined with this team's history of faltering when it counts, combined with a 2-0 deficit...well, it didn't add up to good things. Especially as Heath was carried from the sideline at 56 and the cameras caught her pounding on an equipment bag in a combination of frustration and physical agony.

But, for as many valleys as this Thorns season has provided, there have been peaks of dizzying altitude, and this game pushed us to the top of the mountain several times. The win had it all: Head-hanging despair followed by inspirational play from a player who had to be carried out of the game, unlikely heroes and unexpected bacon-savers, an underdog (who would have thought that at the beginning of the season?) slaying a team that's commandeered the league for weeks.

The timeline:

12': Despite the fact that she won the NWSL Rookie of the Year award, despite the fact that she stung the entire league for six goals, despite the fact that Tom Sermanni found her good enough to be called into USWNT camp, FCKC's Erika Tymrak is allowed to float all by herself with an ocean of space around her, a few yards outside the top of the box. And so when Leigh Ann Robinson is herself given plenty of room and slips a pass to Tymrak, the newcomer predictably converts a low, skipping drive that hops past outstretched Thorns keeper Karina LeBlanc. 1-0, FCKC.

25': FCKC's Lauren Holiday draws a double team and still has plenty of space to feed a nice through ball to Merritt Mathias, who crosses in to forward Melissa Henderson in the 18-yard box. Henderson sends a header that beats LeBlanc to the upper 90. 2-0, FCKC.

It's here that the gloom descended, over the several watching parties across Portland; over who knows how many PDX households; over the Rose City Riveters tent, where a handful of SG faithful cheered their team on halfway across the country; and, most importantly, if body language is to be believed, over the 11 Thorns who almost sleepwalked through the next 10 or so minutes at Verizon Wireless Field, shoulders slumped. But then:

33': FCKC's stalwart defender Becky Sauerbrunn makes an uncharacteristic unforced error, turning the ball over to the Thorns' Angie Kerr, who combines for a lovely give-and-go with Christine Sinclair. Kerr pairs her eagle-eyed field vision with precise execution, slotting in perfect pass to a streaking Heath, who cracks the ball home for a goal. It's Heath's first goal as a Thorn. 2-1, FCKC. Hmm.

34': Heath pumps her fists, Sinclair body bumps her, her eyes blazing, and the whole team's body language shifts noticeably.

40': Mathias tests LeBlanc, ripping a shot hard to the near post that the Thorns keeper snags. Still 2-1, FCKC.

56': Parlow Cone subs Tiffany Weimer on for Danielle Foxhoven.

65': Nikki Marshall, who has been on her horse making overlapping runs and defensive stops all day, races up the sideline to get to a loose ball. She crosses into the box. Sinclair freezes the defense with an impressive dummy, allowing Weimer enough space to pop a shot home from the six yard box, in a flash of headband and ponytail. 2-2. Are you kidding me?

90+': For the first time in a long time, Tymrak gets free, carrying for 20 or 30 yards before unleashing a close-range shot. LeBlanc has no time to get her hands up --her only hope is to stop it with her body. She does. Still square at 2-2. Okay, okay. Do we have this?

103': Weimer sees Allie Long loping goalward in the center of the offensive third. Weimer delivers a 10-yard pass to Long's foot. Long slides, wrapping her body around defender Lauren Sesselmann. Long finishes, slipping the ball past Barnhart and into the back post. 3-2, Thorns. Are you KIDDING ME?

120+': Final whistle. 3-2, Thorns. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

All season long, we've heard Parlow Cone preaching patience: This team just needed to jell, she said. She said this, in different ways, almost to the final game of the season, far after the jell should have been set. It seems the Thorns waited until the second half of the second-to-last game of the season to find that cohesion that has mysteriously eluded them all year.

And, as often is the case in postseason wins, it was "role" players who stepped up. While the rest of the team took 20 minutes to get their engines going, Marshall was the only player who played from the start like she didn't want the season to end. It was Marshall who pushed upfield as often as she could, setting up scoring chances by stretching the defense and delivering quality crosses.

Similarly, Kerr had her best game of the year. Finally untethered from the bench, the UP alum pulled the strings like a master, her vision and passing touch in perfect sync. She almost scored, too, on a laser shot from 20 yards out that forced Barnhart into a tough save early in the first half.

In fact, as a team, the Thorns, for perhaps the first time all year, did what they needed to do. They made smart substitutions. They gathered themselves defensively. They shut down the formidable force of Lauren Holiday, making other players on FCKC beat them. They gutted out a win, but they did it not via luck or long ball, but by actually putting together some crafty combination and cohesion.

In short, they jelled.

And that'll more than do for now; the whispers and rumors and offseason fates can wait. Because right now, the battle for one of the most unsightly trophies in sports comes down to Portland Thorns FC @ Western New York Flash, Saturday, in Rochester, New York.

Let's bring that ugly f*cker home, ladies.

GOALS

1

2

OT

F

Portland

1

1

1

3

FC Kansas City

2

0

0

2

SCORING SUMMARY

Goal

1

Time

12

Team

FC Kansas City

GoalScorer

Erika Tymrak

Assists

Leigh-Ann Robinson

Note

2

25

FC Kansas City

Melissa Henderson

Merritt Mathias

3

33

Portland

Tobin Heath

Angie Kerr

4

65

Portland

Tiffany Weimer

Nikki Marshall

5

103

Portland

Allie Long

Tiffany Weimer

CAUTIONS AND EJECTIONS

Time

Team

##

Player

Card

Reason

50

Portland

2

Marian Dougherty

Yellow Card

Reckless Foul

61

Portland

10

Allie Long

Yellow Card

Reckless Foul

73

FC Kansas City

11

Desiree Scott

Yellow Card

Reckless Foul

86

FC Kansas City

6

Jen Buczkowski

Yellow Card

Reckless Foul

SUBSTITUTIONS

Time       Team                                            OUT                                                      IN

56         Portland                      #9 Danielle Foxhoven                    #19 Tiffany Weimer

74         FC Kansas City             #2 Melissa Henderson                    #7 Casey Loyd

74         Portland                      #17 Tobin Heath                           #20 Courtney Wetzel

82         FC Kansas City             #9 Merritt Mathias                         #8 Courtney Jones

136       Portland                      #8 Angie Kerr                                #24 Tina Ellertson

136       FC Kansas City             #14 Lauren Sesselmann                   #17 Sinead Farrelly


SHOTS

1

2

OT

F

Portland

7

11

3

21

FC Kansas City

5

8

1

14

SHOTS ON GOAL

1

2

OT

F

Portland

3

7

2

12

FC Kansas City

4

5

1

10

SAVES

1

2

OT

F

Portland

2

5

1

8

FC Kansas City

2

6

1

9

CORNER KICKS

1

2

OT

F

Portland

2

1

1

4

FC Kansas City

0

3

0

3

OFFSIDES

1

2

OT

F

Portland

1

2

0

3

FC Kansas City

0

0

0

0

FOULS

1

2

OT

F

Portland

5

6

0

11

FC Kansas City

5

2

1

8

Officials: 
Referee:
Christina Unkel

Asst. Referee: Felisha Mariscal; Jennifer Jones
Fourth Official: Kara Honthumb

Attendance: 4016

Portland Player Stats

##

1

Name(*forstarters)

Karina LeBlanc*

Min

120

G

0

A

0

Sh

0

SOG

0

YC

0

RC

0

CK

0

Off

0

FC

0

FS

1

12

Christine Sinclair*

120

0

0

6

2

0

0

0

1

0

0

2

Marian Dougherty*

120

0

0

1

0

1

0

0

0

2

1

16

Rachel Buehler*

120

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

3

2

10

Allie Long*

120

1

0

2

2

1

0

0

0

4

3

6

Meleana Shim*

120

0

0

3

3

0

0

0

0

0

0

5

Kathryn Williamson*

120

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

7

Nikki Marshall*

120

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

8

Angie Kerr*

106

0

1

1

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

17

Tobin Heath*

74

1

0

2

1

0

0

3

0

2

2

19

Tiffany Weimer

64

1

1

4

3

0

0

1

1

0

0

9

Danielle Foxhoven*

56

0

0

1

0

0

0

0

1

2

0

20

Courtney Wetzel

46

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

24

Tina Ellertson

14

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

TEAM TOTAL 1320     3       3         21        12       2          0       4      3       13    10

Portland Goalkeeper Stats

##  Name(*forstarters)

Min

GA

Sh

SOG

Sv

D

1      Karina LeBlanc*

120

2

16

12

10

W

TEAM TOTAL

120

2

16

12

10

FC Kansas City Player Stats

##

18

Name(*forstarters)

Nicole Barnhart*

Min

120

G

0

A

0

Sh

0

SOG

0

YC

0

RC

0

CK

0

Off

0

FC

0

FS

0

4

Becky Sauerbrunn*

120

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

6

Jen Buczkowski*

120

0

0

0

0

1

0

0

0

4

0

13

Leigh-Ann Robinson*

120

0

1

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

15

Erika Tymrak*

120

1

0

3

3

0

0

0

0

0

3

19

Kristie Mewis*

120

0

0

2

2

0

0

3

0

1

1

11

Desiree Scott*

120

0

0

1

0

1

0

0

0

1

0

12

Lauren Holiday*

120

0

0

4

3

0

0

0

0

1

7

14

Lauren Sesselmann*

106

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

9

Merritt Mathias*

82

0

1

2

1

0

0

0

0

0

2

2

Melissa Henderson*

74

1

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

7

Casey Loyd

46

0

0

2

1

0

0

3

0

0

0

8

Courtney Jones

38

0

0

1

1

0

0

0

0

1

0

17

Sinead Farrelly

14

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

0

1

0

TEAM TOTAL

1320

2

2

16

12

2

0

6

0

10

13

FC Kansas City Goalkeeper Stats

##  Name(*forstarters)

Min

GA

Sh

SOG

Sv

D

18    Nicole Barnhart*

120

3

18

9

6

L

TEAM TOTAL 120          3        18             9       6

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