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Thorns FC: Another One of Those Days

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Image by Lifetime/ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

The look on Kelli Hubly’s face said it all; it was gonna be Another One of Those Days.

Missing Tobin Heath and Midge Purce (ankle injuries), and forced to field Hubly for Emily Sonnett (out with back problems), the Thorns would have to throw out another makeshift XI on another road pitch and would have to scramble for a road point against Samantha Kerr and the Chicago Red Stars.

Well, the Thorns got their road point.

But would be just fine - except the Thorns missing the perfect chance for two more.

Beginning with Lindsey Horan’s pass in the 15th minute.

Image by Lifetime/ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

After a nice spell of possession in front of the Chicago penalty area, Horan dribbles across the pitch and slots a lovely pass up to Ellie Carpenter, who takes the ball in stride and hammers a shot on goal.

Image by Lifetime/ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

It’s a tight angle, so even though Carpenter hits a rasper Alyssa Naeher is able to guard her near post and parry the ball safely away.

But Mallory Weber is working her tail off at the far post, sees the ball coming, and drops off her marker to collect.

Image by Lifetime/ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

Weber looks up and sees Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic unmarked right at the top of the 6-yard box; she loops a pass in; a trifle high, sure, but controllable with the right touch.

Image by Lifetime/ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

Crnogorcevic doesn’t make that touch. Rather than chesting it down, or taking the ball on her right foot, she tries to volley with her left.

Image by Lifetime/ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

Predictably, Crnogorcevic blasts her shot well over the bar and the match remains scoreless.

If Crnogorcevic buries that sitter it’s 1-nil, and Chicago is faced with chasing the game for over an hour. Instead she misses, and what have we been complaining about for the whole first half of the season?

Oh, yeah; “Forwards, score!

Well, that didn’t happen then, and it didn’t happen in any of the other 94-odd minutes, either.

Again.

How about the other thing we’ve been saying - “Defense, don’t derp!”

Here’s a funny little fact; derps come in all sizes.

There are huge, egregious, unmissable derps, megaderps, derps so awful they’re visible from space.

The Thorns didn’t make that kind of derp last Friday.

But there are also little, tiny, almost-invisible derps. Micro-derps. Derps like viruses, but derps that will still steal your points as viciously as that brutal megaderp.

Hubly made one of those tiny little derps in the 42nd minute.

Hubly is chasing a Yuki Nagasato through-ball. She’s between the ball and an onrushing Kerr, and looks likely to clear it safely away.

Image by Lifetime/ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

Just as she reaches the Thorns’ penalty area, though, Hubly inexplicably pulls up and takes a couple of stutter steps, slowing down just as Kerr steams past her. The different angles of the two players’ bodies tell the whole story; Hubly jogging, upright, Kerr, bent forward as she runs full sprint.

Image by Lifetime?ESPN. Licensed under Fair Use.

Beaten, Hubly lunges for the ball and makes some contact with Kerr’s trailing leg.

I’m not going to argue the penalty award; yes, I think it was soft, but if Hubly just keeps going full gas after that Nagasato pass she boots the ball into touch, or over the byline, and the penalty never even happens.

So the forwards didn’t score and the defense derped - just a tiny bit - and Chicago went up at the end of the first half. At the half Coach Parsons yanked Hubly and shifted Carpenter to right back and the Thorns - looking much more composed in back - equalized early in the second half and held on for the point.

But, gah!

The frustration of having one of those days, another one of those damned days, those damned irritating days when the problems the Thorns still haven’t been able to solve come calling again, slap them up the side of the head and leave them, and us, wondering what might have been.

Player Ratings and Comments

Crnogorcevic (+6/-6 : +3/-3 : +9/-9) Of all the matches I’ve seen our Schweitzerin play, this may have been the most frustrating. The point-blank miss was the worst, but overall Crnogorcevic’s control just seemed atrocious all night. She’s always terrible in 1 v 1 challenges - her success rate is about 20% - but in Chicago she added a positively-Onumonuesquely brutal first touch. As her PMR suggests, for every good thing she did she added something poor. I’m starting to think her international form may have been a fluke, or padded by scoring against the UEFA tomato cans.

Weber (76’ - +9/-1 : +5/-1 : +14/-2) With the usual caveat that she’s not scoring, either, I thought Weber put in a decent shift against Chicago. Her stats suggest otherwise. She had trouble with getting her pocket picked - lost 10 of 14 challenges. Weber had no shots, was successful in only 51% of her attacks, and connected only 52% of her passes. So I have to accept that I was over-impressed with her aggression and Weber wasn’t as good as I thought she was.

Carpenter (+6/-3 : +5/-0 : +11/-3) Had many of the same attacking issues Weber had; low success rates for her attacks (55%), challenges (5 of 17, 29%), and passes (17 of 29, 59%). The move into the backline helped stabilize the team, however, so it’s hard for me to be too harsh on Carpenter’s night.

Given the problems that Chicago’s attack exposed on the improvised backline, Carpenter might be better played at fullback, at least until Sonnett can get healthy.

Raso (14’ - +4/-1) I thought Hayley Raso did decently in her limited time, but the InStat boys disagree; they have Raso fighting it out with Kat Reynolds and Katie Naughton for the Ballon d’Nope - Raso’s Index of 144 barely beats out Reynolds’ 138 and Naughton’s 134.

Raso did have several opportunities she might have done better with, including whiffing on what should have been a dangerous Klingenberg cross in the 82nd minute. But Horan and Lussi couldn’t put a boot to that ball, either, so she was in good company.

I’m not disappointed with her initial return outing. I thought she looked active and aggressive, and we’ll have to see if she’s still got her shooting boots in her kit bag.

Lussi (45’ - +2/-1) Here’s one InStat and I agree on; I didn’t think Lussi managed much of anything in her half of play, and InStat’s Index value of 146 puts her down in the basement, too. Not awful, but didn’t add much at a time when Portland needed more from the forwards.

Horan (+9/-10 : +7/-4 : +16/-14) Normally it’d be easy awarding my Woman of the Match to the goalscorer, as well as the player with the highest positive PMR and InStat Index (237, best on the night).

My problem with that was her indiscipline spoiled her day for me. She came in flying, cleats up, in a meaningless 54th minute midfield challenge on Danielle Colaprico. That’s a yellow at any time but, dammit, Horan, if you were going to pick up a yellow, why couldn’t you have waited until this coming Friday? Do that and you could have kicked back on the bench and enjoyed a beatdown of the hapless Joisey Goils. Why pick it up in a pointless mid-half, mid-field encounter in a stalemated game in Chicago with Houston looming?

The team is unlikely to need you against Sky Blue; they’re very likely to regret not having you in Houston. Ugh.

Other than that, a fine match for Horan, including the goal and some nifty passing such as the opening 15th minute sequence illustrated above.

So you get both my Woman of the Match and a wag of the finger for being a Reckless Brute, Horan.

Sinclair (+2/-0 : +5/-0 : +7/-0) An uncharacteristically subdued match from Christine Sinclair. Was beaten like a drum by everyone in blue other than Kerr and Nagasato; lost 7 of 13 challenges, including all 3 against Colaprico. Didn’t do poorly so much as she didn’t do as well as usual, and her metrics reflect that. Her +7 significant “positive” actions is her lowest positive rating of the season. InStat agrees; her Index of 149 is her lowest for the season’s matches I have on record.

It’s not hard to suspect that Captain Sinc’s struggles were reflected in her team’s tough night.

Andressinha (60’ - +7/-6 : +2/-0 : +9/-6) Andressinha’s hour was a hard reminder that the Thorns still haven’t filled the hole left by Amandine Henry. The Brazilian isn’t a lockdown #6; her role is supposed to be more of a creator and distributor.

But, other than her free-kick assist, Andressinha was ineffective creating and distributing. Here’s her pass matrix against Chicago:

Original image by InStat. Used by permission.

Even that image is a little deceptive, since most of the passes Andressinha played to Horan were cross-field or drops, rather than forward. She had one nice long pass up to Carpenter in the second half, but that was it. That’s not a midfielder who’s linking up to create attack.

So Andressinha seems to have trouble linking up with her teammates, and one result of that is that she tends to get caught in possession a lot. Opponents have learned she can be beefed off the ball.

If she’s not connecting passes, and she’s getting dispossessed, Andressinha just isn’t getting her job done.

Of all the midfielders, I think the club needs to do the most work with Andressinha. It, and she, doesn’t seem to know how to use her well, and so after a bright start she’s faded badly. I hope they, and she, can figure how to help her improve, and soon.

Hubly (45’ - +7/-8) Kelli Hubly became the poster child for this match the moment Sam Kerr rode the nose plow into the Thorns’ penalty area, but by my measure she didn’t have an awful match. She wasn’t great - she was burnt by Kerr’s speed and often befuddled by Nagasato’s craft - but I think that one moment unjustly overshadowed the rest of her half. She won only 50% of her challenges, but none of her backline teammates did any better, and she hit over 70% of her passes.

She is what she is; a decent role-player and backline depth. To ask her to try and lock down the 2017 Golden Boot - with a makeshift backline beside her - is asking a brave little sheepdog to keep the direwolf out of the fold. Let’s try and get everyone healthy so Hubly can go back to doing what she does well.

Boureille (30’ - +6/-3) An excellent shift from Celeste Boureille; InStat agrees - her Index of 182 is second-best on the Thorns and fifth-best player on the night. Stepped in to lock down the back of midfield, distribute, and did just that, winning challenges (4 of 5), attacking (successful in 29 of 24, 83%) and passing, (73% complete, including 10 of 14 attacking passes). Well played, CB!

Reynolds (+0/-2 : +2/-1 : +2/-3) I thought Kat Reynolds had a spectacularly unimpressive evening, wandering around out of position and generally uninvolved. She lost 2 of 4 challenges, but more importantly for a defensive back she entered fewer duels than anyone outside of Raso. Chicago simply ran around or through her. With the backline in disarray, Reynolds’ needs to be crisper than ever, and she simply wasn’t. The “good news” is that this was Reynolds’ first sub-par outing in some time, so I’m hopeful that it was just a hiccup.

Menges (+4/-3 : +6/-2 : +10/-5) Emily Menges’ incomplete return to full match condition was bluntly illustrated by her shockingly poor “clearance” off Reynolds’ back in the 6th minute. Normally one of the fastest players on the pitch, Menges was torched by Kerr several times, seemingly not through pure speed but by Menges’ fractionally-slower anticipation on passes or crosses. We need to be patient, because the Menges part of the Great Wall still needs some tuck-pointing and fresh mortar.

In the 89th minute, Menges reminded us of what she is capable of at her best; Bourelle slipped and fell, allowing Alyssa Mautz a free lead pass up to a sprinting Kerr. With a two yard deficit to make up, Menges caught Kerr at the edge of the Thorns penalty area, turned her towards the byline, then tackled the ball off Kerr’s legs for an Eckerstrom goal kick. Nice.

Klingenberg (+8/-2 : +4/-2 : +12/-6) I thought Klingenberg had a decent match. Nothing flashy, and she couldn’t quite provide the service she would have probably liked to (I think that was as much on the forwards and Chicago’s defending as on Kling) but just solid defending and good distribution.

Eckerstrom (+2/-0 : +2/-3 : +4/-3) Three terrific saves; off the Nagasato penalty in the 43rd minute, off a Mautz rasper in the 64th, and huge save off a Kerr rocket in the 86th.

However, the 86th minute save was followed a minute later by a shockingly poor box straight into the air that Eckerstrom was then forced to tip over the bar to concede a subsequent corner kick.

So a good match in general, but with some reminders that Eckerstrom is still A.D. Franch’s backup.

Coach Parsons - The coach had another match where it looked like he brought the team he had (not the team he wanted to have, I’m sure) to the pitch well prepared for their opponents; the Thorns did a decent job of keeping Kerr and Nagasato contained to the degree those two players can be contained. Parsons saw the defensive issues and largely corrected them by pulling Hubly, moving Carpenter, and bringing on Boureille for Andressina. He tried to spark the forwards by inserting Raso. I’m not sure if there was much more he could have done without real-magic magic spray for Heath’s ankle, Sonnett’s back, and Franch’s knee.

Got the point, but a tough result given 1) last weekend’s other results, as well as 2) the jammed schedule for the third week of June.

Utah’s win over North Carolina knocked Portland out of the top four.

And Portland now faces three games over eight days; fortunately the middle one is Sky Blue here on June 27th.

But the first is Houston on June 22, which after the recent trade is likely to run out an attack led by Sofia Huerta, Rachel Daly, and Kealia Ohai, and that’s a damn load.

And the last is in Seattle on June 30th, where we already know what we have to face. Megan Rapinoe. Nahomi Kawasumi. Jessica Fishlock.

Allie Long, dammit.

That’s a lot of soccer, and a load of dangerous opponents, for a battered Thorns roster.

But where there’s danger there’s opportunity.

Three Portland wins over those eight days - combined with Utah going 2-0-1 over the same period - would jump the Thorns back into playoff position. Three wins combined with that Utah draw, and Orlando and Seattle dropping three points each, would pull Portland level with both the latter on points.

So this would be a good time not to have more of those kinds of days.