The Thorns battled FC Kansas City to a scoreless draw on the road today, in a game marked by lackluster offensive performances from both sides.
The game got off to a slow start. The Thorns had the lion’s share of possession—60% in the first half—but couldn’t string together anything threatening for the first 20 minutes.
The Thorns’ first opportunity came in the 21st minute, when Christine Sinclair passed to Nadia Nadim on the left flank, and an overlapping run by Meghan Klingenberg drew two defenders away. Nadim had a clear shot from the top of the box, but hit it well wide.
As the half wore on, Portland started to pick up more chances. In the 28th minute, Hayley Raso slid a short pass from the upper right corner to an Allie Long who was streaking into the box. Long did a slick spin to shake two defenders and take a quick shot, but Nicole Barnhart saved it easily. Another good opportunity came in the 34th minute, when Lindsey Horan headed a corner kick by Nadim down to Raso just in front of the goal, but she managed to whiff it over the crossbar.
Nadim created a final first-half chance with a deft flick to Sinc over Kansas City’s back line. Sinc was one-on-one with Barnhart, but only managed to roll the ball weakly toward the far post, which it plinked off before being collected by Barnhart.
Early in the second half, Portland looked to be still building off an increasingly threatening first half. In the 49th minute, Sinc beat Yael Averbuch one-on-one in the central third and passed to Horan, who took it to the top of the 18. Becky Sauerbrunn swept in like a hungry shark on what looked like a promising play, and easily cleared Horan’s pass to Raso on the right. Sauerbrunn was happy to reprise that role on several more chances, including one in the 58th minute where she again robbed Horan at the top of the area, and another in the 64th minute when she blocked a cross by Raso—Horan managed to tap that ball back to Sinc for a shot, but Barnhart easily saved it.
Later in the half, Kansas City started to gain the upper hand, and came away with more chances than Portland, although there weren’t many to speak of on either end. Perhaps their best opportunity was in the 65th minute, when Emily Sonnett took a horrible first touch under pressure from Erika Tymrak, leaving Sydney Leroux to scoop the loose ball up. AD Franch came up big, deflecting Leroux’s close-range shot.
Leroux had another missed chance in the 68th minute, taking a diving header on a long pass by Christina Gibbons, but it went wide.
Defense vs defense
Aside from the second-half whoopsie by Sonnett, the Emilies are finally approaching their 2016 form. Menges had some good stops, and Sonnett is playing out of the back in a fashion that’s acceptable rather than terrifying. Kling, as we all know, is more valuable as a player who can contribute to the attack than as a pure defender, but the rotating midfield is working in the sense that Henry and Long do a nice job of slotting into the back line when she pushes forward.
Franch keeps being Franch ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. She showed again today that she’s an excellent shot-stopper, but she also had a couple “no, wait, don’t” moments in terms of distribution. It’s worth remembering that none of those decisions have actually cost Portland a goal yet, but I’m tempted to start a “____ games without accident” tally for her.
Despite giving the Thorns much more room to breathe in midfield than they’ve gotten in the last few matches, the Blues maintained a nigh-impenetrable defense. Sauerbrunn is a destroyer, as athletic and physical as she is brilliant tactically. If not for her performance, Portland might have been able to steal a goal or two.
What’s missing here?
Portland’s attack has been frustratingly lacking in juice thus far, and today wasn’t much better.
Late in the first half and early in the second, the Thorns did look like the better team. Lindsey Horan was probably the most involved we’ve seen her all season, and Sinc did some hard work to get Portland a couple decent chances. Kling, who seems to be fully healthy, is also contributing in her role as an attacking fullback, and she and Nadim are linking up well on the left flank.
But overall, the offense is limp. They’re missing Tobin Heath sorely, but as discussed previously in this space, they have three of the best players in the world in the midfield, and another at center forward, and it’s outrageous that they can hardly figure out how to score with that lineup.
Nadim can create on a good day, but she hasn’t yet had a truly good day. Raso is fast and scrappy but unproven as a scorer, and her touch goes to hell under any kind of pressure. That basically means that defenses can mark Sinc out of the game, knowing Portland probably won’t be able to string anything together in wide areas. Horan’s increased involvement today helped, but wasn’t enough.
In Heath’s absence—and we really have no idea when she’ll be back—they need to throw in the towel on the fluid midfield concept and just stick Long into the #10 spot. I don’t see a reason to use both Henry and Long as box-to-box midfielders; Henry is just as good one-on-one and better as a distributor, and Long, maybe more to the point, is a magician when it comes to unlocking defenses. Why mess with that?