In the wake of an eventful trip north on Saturday (abridged version: my car broke down between Olympia and Tacoma, I had to be rescued by a friend from the Fishing Village, but managed to get to Memorial in time for the second half), I’m trying something new this week. Having been unable to do a standard postgame write-up, it seems like a fitting time to kick off what I hope to make a weekly discussion about the girls in red.
A note on the name and concept: the extent of my acting career was a six-week drama class I took in middle school. I remember very little of it, except that we played improv games. The other thing I remember was a system of critique the teacher used, called Roses and Thorns: after a performance, he’d ask the rest of the class for roses, which were positive feedback, and thorns, which were criticism.
I think it’s a suitable framework, both in name and format, for a weekly discussion about the Thorns. So, without further ado, here are my takeaways from the weekend, and beyond:
A rose to Hayley Raso, who scored both Portland goals in Seattle over the weekend. That means she’s now tied with Christine Sinclair with five goals on the season. (Speaking of which, I hope you’ve all seen this photograph.)
Also Sinclair (the grizzled, seasoned veteran) and Raso (fresh faced rookie) is the buddy cop movie I'd watch (cc @TheKaylaKnapp) pic.twitter.com/2kiJtWMfoo— Ann Odong ⚽️ (@AnnOdong) August 26, 2017
Raso’s brace netted the Thorns their fiftieth club win—they’re the first NWSL club to hit that mark—and made Portland just the fourth team ever to beat Seattle at Memorial. There was a portentous symmetry to the Reign-Thorns rivalry going into this match, with each side sitting on 49 total club wins and the head-to-head even at 6-6-3. You can read as much or as little into those numbers as you want, but this is what good rivalries are built on.
That this particular Thorns win was delivered by a rising star who’s been transformed by her time in Portland speaks loudly about the ethos of this club under Mark Parsons. For all the star power in the Rose City, some of the most memorable moments over the last two years have been delivered by players that were waived by other teams—it’s hard not to be reminded of Meg Morris scoring in last year’s home win against the Reign.
Raso’s growth over this season has been tremendous. In April, she was a raw speedster with a lot of hustle and little else. It’s easy to imagine her, a few months ago, getting on the end of Kristen McNabb’s sloppy back-pass to Haley Kopmeyer, taking a hard touch, and whiffing it over the endline. The same can be said for her second goal, which she put away after Kopmeyer blocked her initial shot. It’s a beautiful thing to see a player come into their own like Raso has.
Speaking of sloppy back-passes...
A thorn to the Seattle defense, and the Seattle midfield, and really just everything about Seattle’s performance. I don’t want to take anything away from Raso, but Seattle was incredibly poor from front to back. Kopmeyer looked utterly shook, and the back line was in disarray, with some sort of psychic wedge between them and the midfield that manifested like this:
That’s what you call a gaping hole between the defense and the midfield. I don’t know what the back line is thinking here. I surely don’t know what Jess Fishlock and Christine Nairn are thinking here. It’s hard to believe this is the same team that nearly pressed the life out of the Thorns the first time they met this season.
Meanwhile, Portland looks better and better. Starting Sinc with Amandine Henry and Lindsey Horan in the midfield is a different and better look than the sluggish starting triangle of Henry, Horan, and Allie Long. I’m not going to believe Long is a defensive midfielder until she proves otherwise, and she simply hasn’t. Henry was always the distributor the Thorns needed, and Horan has proven herself an excellent disruptor playing alongside the Frenchwoman. Long has been world-class as an attacking midfielder in Thorns seasons past, but for whatever reason, she’s moved away from that role. I don’t get it, but there it is. For the time being, the Thorns’ best starting XI is one that doesn’t include her.
A rose to the Riveters, more than 200 of whom made the arduous journey north, and who are the loudest ambient noise on the recording of the match, despite not being allowed drums, horns, or noisemakers of any kind. A bonus rose to the Reign and Thorns supporters who joined forces for the Black Lives Matter march in downtown Seattle later that evening.
A thorn to referee Farhad Dadkho, for handing Seattle a goal on what was probably the softest penalty call I’ve ever seen. Ordinarily, I try to stay away from whining about refs. It’s my position that poor officiating sways the actual outcomes of games far less often than people think. But this was an egregiously bad call; the kind that leaves people turning to their neighbors and asking what happened. Watching the replay, it’s hard to tell if there’s even physical contact between Meghan Klingenberg, who committed the supposed foul, and Rachel Corsie, who went down in the Thorns’ penalty box. Nobody in the stadium except Dadkho thought this merited a penalty. Even Corsie, lying on the ground, seemed to look up and laugh in disbelief:
A rose to Laura Harvey, the realest coach in the NWSL. In the postgame presser, Harvey was utterly blunt, coming down hard on her team for their lackluster performance, and saying, in much clearer terms than Parsons would, that she didn’t think they’d deserved to be awarded the penalty. Even if you don’t like Harvey’s team, you have to respect her integrity.
A thorn to the malevolent forces of the universe, for stealing Mana Shim, one of four remaining original Thorns, and perhaps Portland’s most beloved player, from us. There’s small comfort in the knowledge that she left on her terms, bound for Swedish side Växjö DFF, hopefully to a decent paycheck and more minutes on the field.
A rose to the poltergeist that was keeping Tobin Heath’s back from healing, for finally throwing in the towel and leaving the Thorns’ best player alone just as the rest of the team is hitting their stride. We look forward to much weeping and gnashing of teeth from Portland opponents when she makes her way back to the pitch.