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Thorns FC: Winning Ugly is Still Winning

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Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

We have a lot of Thorns soccer coming this week, so I’m going to be brief in reviewing the 1-3 win in Houston.

1. The match wasn’t all that pretty to watch. Both teams were often sloppy in possession and did a lot of random passing. Three of the four goals owed as much or more to defensive errors than attacking quality.

2. That said, given the roster turmoil, the nasty humid heat in Houston, and the possibility of a lingering malaise from the Courage beatdown, I’m inclined to give the Thorns some credit, because;

3. A forward scored. The defense didn’t derp - much. Portland took three points from a much improved Houston side they could only draw the last time the two played at the steambath that is BBVA Compass Stadium.

4. And there was this; one of the prettiest team goals I’ve seen the Thorns score in some time.

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

Christine Sinclair hits a diagonal pass up towards Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, but the Swiss striker appears to be well marked; the play looks like it is likely to end with Crnogorcevic tackled or her shot blocked.

Instead, Crnogorcevic sells a gorgeous dummy and the pass rolls through to a charging Tobin Heath. Jane Campbell comes off her line late and slow, and Heath slots the ball home, 0-1 Portland

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

Here’s the whole play drawn up:

Image by InStat. Used by permission.

Damn, that’s gorgeous.

5. The good news is that the win moved Portland back into the top four and sets up an opportunity for the Thorns to move even higher with a win over Sky Blue this coming Wednesday and a Utah win over Seattle.

So, kinda sloppy and ugly, but three points in Houston? That works for me. I have only one regret to carry away from the match.

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

I’m desperately curious to know what joke Huerta was making that broke up Sonnett and even got Captain “On Matchday I’m All Business” Sinc to crack a smile, and a trifle sad that I’ll never know.

Player Ratings and Comments

Crnogorcevic (66’ - +8/-2 : +3/-0 : +11/-2) I thought that AMC had the best match I’d seen from her to date. The InStat boys agree; her Index of 210 is in the top five Thorns on the night. She did get a trifle lucky on her goal, a goofy junk-ball that probably should have been cleared off the line by one of the two Dash defenders that watched it roll past, and she missed two sitters - a header over the crossbar in the 20th minute, and shooting wide left in the 37th. Still, being lucky can be better than being good and unlucky, and extra credit for that dummy, so well played, die Schweitzerin.

Lussi (24’ - +4/-0) A good shift from Lussi, who was unfortunate not to have a wonderful chance at goal when Sinclair’s cross rolled behind her in the 72nd minute. Provided active pressure on the Dash backline that helped break their rhythm and see out the win.

Carpenter (88’ - +7/-1 : +6/-2 : +13/-3) Ellie Carpenter didn’t score, but she was a menace to Houston along the right flank all evening with her forechecking defense; 5 of her 13 pluses are for tackles for gain, including a nifty little piece of work in the 85th minute in which she ran Kyah Simon down from behind, dispossessed her, and then forced her to foul to try and win the ball back.

Weber (2’ - NR) Pure timewasting.

Sinclair (+12/-4 : +8/-1 : +20/-5) My pick for Woman of the Match, and InStat agrees; her Index (283) was the highest of the match, the best of her season to date, and the best of any Thorn so far this season. Sinc completed 4 of 6 key passes, one third of the entire team’s key pass completions. Tireless, creative, deadly from distance (with some help from Campbell, who was fairly awful all evening), and led a team that could easily have come out flat after the last match.

Heath (56’ - +5/-3 : +4/-3 : +9/-6) The Notorious TFH had an extremely Tobinesque evening in Houston, displaying all the wonderful Heath creativity we love - cheeky ball work and a clinical finish on the first goal - alongside all the galling Heath carelessness we hate; turning the ball over with poor passes and getting tackled for loss. One of these days she’s going to have a match with all the former and none of the latter and then the Thorns will whip someone 10-nil.

Raso (34’ - +5/-3) Hayley Raso did what she was sent on to do; she provided pace and disruption down the Thorns’ left flank along with the occasional danger to the Dash goal, so as such she had a good shift. Raso still seems to be working her way back to match fitness and finding her shooting boots, so perhaps it is unfair to expect more.

Andressinha (+7/-5 : +7/-0 : +14/-5) One of the best outings from our Brazilian I’ve seen in some time; her InStat Index (223) is her highest of the season so far. Won 60% of her challenges and completed 89% of her passes, and with Celeste Boureille did good work controlling the defensive midfield and forcing Houston to play down the flanks.

Boureille (+5/-3 : +6/-1 : +11/-4) Filled in admirably for Lindsey Horan, and that in itself is high praise. Solid in defense and good going forward - Boureille succeeded in 82% of her attacks and completed 84% of her passes, including 8 of 12 into the Thorns’ attacking third. After a string of difficult matches it was good to see Boureille have a good game, and especially at a time when the Thorns needed one from her.

Klingenberg (+11/-3 : +10/-2 : +21/-5) If Kling had scored I’d have been tempted to crown her WotM. As it was, I thought she did excellent work Friday evening on both sides of the ball. It’s worth noting, however, that the InStat observers disagreed about her defending, crediting her with only 28% of her challenges won (5 of 18). Both of us saw her passing as impeccable; she completed 62 of 65 passes (95%) including 2 key passes.

Sonnett (+3/-4 : +5/-3 : +8/-7) In general, Emily Sonnett came back strong from a three-game layoff. In particular, however, Sonnett had a couple of the sort of brain-cramps that drove me crazy last season; moments where she’d suddenly play like she’d just picked up the game last week. Her appalling back-pass led directly to the Sofia Huerta goal in the 12th minute, and she was part of this mess in front of the Thorns goal in the 65th minute

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

that could easily have let Houston back into the match.

Kealia Ohai owned Sonnett, Kat Reynolds, and A.D. Franch in that play and only a weak shot from Huerta and a lucky block from Emily Menges prevented that hot mess from flaring up into a genuine dumpster fire.

So, welcome back, Sonnett, but let’s try and keep our heads in the match for a full 90 minutes, ‘kay?

Menges (+4/-5 :+5/-2 : +9/-7) I suspect that part of Sonnett’s issues in this match stemmed from her center back partner not having an outstanding game, either. Not awful, just not up to her Great Wall of Emily standard. Could easily have been culpable for ballwatching on a 40th minute Allysha Chapman cross to Kyah Simon that Simon shot well wide. Crucial block on the above-illustrated play, though, and generally solid otherwise, so good enough. Hopefully more time together will get the Emilies back into wall-like form.

Reynolds (+3/-2 : +4/-3 : +7/-5) Got away with what to me looked like an obvious handball inside the penalty area in the 59th minute, and that sort of sums up Kat Reynolds’ evening. Reynolds wasn’t great, but she was good enough, and then got lucky when she wasn’t. Case in point; in the 44th minute, Reynolds chested the ball down directly into the path of Linda Motlhalo 14 yards from goal - but got back in position to block Motlhalo’s shot out for a corner kick.

See the pattern here, though? The defenders didn’t really have a great evening. But they were good enough, and when they weren’t they either got lucky, or Houston screwed up. That’ll work against Houston and Sky Blue. Against Seattle, or Orlando? Not.

Franch (+1/-1 : +3/-2 : +4/-3) I consider Sonnett more culpable on the concession, but Franch looked unsurprisingly rusty in Houston, both in her technique, and in her tactical control of the penalty area. One example was the 65th minute fire drill shown above. Another was in the 48th minute, when Franch was unable to call Sonnett off a looping drive she should have gathered in that resulted in giving Houston an unnecessarily dangerous opportunity. Did have fine saves in the 13th and 32nd minutes and a strong take in the 60th, and was otherwise little troubled. Overall a decent return to duty, and should get stronger with more minutes.

Coach Parsons - Well managed match, including judicious substitutions and tactics that looked shiftily creative. It helped that Boureille lived up to his expectations in filling in for Horan, and a mediocre display from Houston, including Campbell’s off-night and the Dash missing several terrific chances that might have made this a more nerve-wracking affair.

The real test of Parsons’ mettle comes this coming week, with two matches in four days. Nobody looks likely to catch North Carolina, so the Thorns’ playoff hopes now rest on taking points off the no-hopers and scratching out results against the other hopefuls Utah, Seattle, Orlando, and Chicago.

Nothing less than three points off Sky Blue and at least a draw in Seattle should be Parsons’ target for next week.