Yes, I know; Thorns FC was missing four important players. Yes, I know; Sky Blue was at home. Yes, I know; it was a nasty evening of wind and pouring rain.
Yes, yes, I know; the Thorns still got all three points.
But sweet mother of pearl, how ugly does winning ugly have to be to still count as winning ugly and not just plain ugly?
Thorns FC nabbed two goals in the first seven minutes. The first came off a brilliant Sinclair pass, and a Hayley Raso run and finish; the second was created by fierce Raso pressure that forced Sky Blue goalkeeper Caroline Casey to put her clearance directly to Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic for die Schweitzerin to finish.
Then Portland spent the next 83-plus minutes getting handed their collective heads.
SBFC pulled a goal back, outshot Portland 18 to 8, and put 6 shots on goal to Portland’s 3. The Jersey Girls outpassed Portland, too; 433 to 408, completing 320 passes to Portland’s 301.
What was even more appalling is how many great chances Sky Blue earned but couldn’t finish.
Imani Dorsey’s great 34th minute run ended in a 1 v 0, but her shot sailed off Britt Eckerstrom’s leg and out of play.
Shea Groom hit the post with Eckerstrom beaten in the 61st, and then Savannah McCaskill got in alone on Eckerstrom a minute later but shot directly at the keeper.
In the 81st minute Raquel Rodriguez’ free kick hit both the left post and the crossbar before deflecting over the byline.
In the four minutes of second half injury time Sky Blue went completely mad and threw everything they had at Portland. Eckerstrom saved an Amanda Frisbie shot in the 90th minute and a Janine Beckie shot in the 92nd. Elizabeth Ball cleared a dangerous free kick in the 93rd minute, and in the 94th minute, well, things got really nuts.
With Sky Blue throwing everyone forward, Sarah Killion found McCaskill open along the right channel. McCaskill’s low cross threaded across the front of the Thorns defense to Dorsey at the top of the penalty area.
Eckerstrom blocked Dorsey’s hard shot - but no further than the feet of Beckie directly in front of goal. Beckie’s shot was, in turn, blocked by Carpenter out for a corner kick,
which Eckerstrom tipped over the crossbar. The last corner of the game fell into the scrum in front of the goal.
After several Sky Blue attempts were cleared the final whistle blew and everybody collapsed in a heap.
Without Lindsey Horan and Tobin Heath in midfield, Portland was always going to have some issues gong forward. Without Emily Sonnett and AD Franch, Portland was always likely to have some issues locking down the back. But this was Sky Freaking Blue! Two early goals should have allowed a squad composed primarily of reserves and non-subsidized players, bolstered with internationals like Christine Sinclair and Andressinha, to comfortably hold off the freaking winners of 2018’s wooden freaking spoon.
Instead the Thorns barely managed to escape from New Jersey with their lives, and an undeserved three points. These images give you a pretty good idea of how ugly things got. Here’s InStat’s “key pass” diagram for Sky Blue.
And here’s Portland’s. Second half? Hello? Anybody home? Hello?
Jesus wept. If Portland plays like that in two weeks, North Carolina’s gonna fall on them like a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it. All’s I’m sayin’.
Player Ratings and Comments
Crnogorcevic (+2/-2 : +2/-1 : +4/-3) Crnogorcevic scored a gorgeously clinical goal in the 7th minute and then spent the rest of the match desperately trying to get service from her teammates and getting bupkis. She did run onto a gorgeous lead pass from Sinclair in the 46th minute, but unfortunately for AMC, Mandy Freeman chose that moment to make an equally terrific recovery run and cleaned AMC out. Worked hard, but just didn’t have the support she needed.
Raso (+8/-1 : +5/-4 : +13/-5) Woman of the Match was a tough call for me, but I pick Raso based on that brilliant first seven minutes as well as nearly bending her shot into the upper corner in the 44th minute. Tough on defense as always, and showing that busy, hard-nosed toughness that made her so devastating late last season. Curiously, Raso got no love from InStat; her Index of 197 comes behind Sinclair’s 215, AMC’s 213, and even Ball’s 202. Sorry, InStat, I’m going to have to disagree.
I’d hoped that coming close to scoring last week might dig Raso’s shooting boots out of the locker, and from this match it looks like she’s found them. Tired late in the match, but her minuses are largely in attack; mishit crosses and being tackled deep in Sky Blue territory, so not as harmful as they look.
Sinclair (+6/-0 : +8/-2 : +14/-2) My second of three WotM candidates, Captain Sinc had a terrific match providing what service the Thorns could find, including the AMC lead pass mentioned above and a similar slide rule pass to Raso on her 44th minute near-miss. Sinclair had to do a lot of extra work in midfield without her pals Horan and Heath, and with the rest of the gang not having great evenings.
Andressinha (69’ - +3/-2 : +2/-0 : +5/-2) Andressinha didn’t exactly have a bad game, but, instead, struggled to get involved in the game at all. Had to do a lot more defending than usual, which always hampers her attacking, probably accounting for her low (76%) pass completion rate.
Lussi (21’ - +0/-1) Coach Parsons sent on Tyler Lussi to help lock down a lead. She did that, so her shift has to be considered successful. But she also didn’t do much to settle down the ratscramble in the back, or to spark anything going forward, so it’s hard to give her much more credit than for just being there.
Boureille (+0/-1 : +3/-7 : +4/-8) I mentioned that Boureille had a bit of an off night but, well, it was more like a really off night. Lost 12 of her 22 challenges. In the second half Boureille became a turnover machine; 6 of her 7 minuses are for losses of possession, including three passes directly to a blue shirt, two heavy touches, and a tackle-for-loss. When Portland needed some tough defending in midfield Boureille wasn’t having that kind of game.
Salem (84’ - +1/-5 : +2/-0 : +3/-5) Neither was Salem. I wondered what Angela Salem might do if given some minutes, and if this was any indication I’m not sure I want to see much more. Salem lost 9 of 16 challenges, including 3 of 4 to Killion, although to give her credit she did win all 4 encounters with McCaskill. Was one of the better Thorns at picking up loose balls - she recovered 11 of the Thorns’ total of 70 - but had shockingly few tackles for a defensive midfielder; only three, and of those she lost two. Not an awful night for Salem, but couldn’t do much lock the door with her team up two goals.
Salem also began the awful defensive mess that culminated in the Groom shot-off-the-post in the 61st minute with this.
Salem blasts something - a pass? a clearance? - off Groom’s leg that ricochets back past Salem right into the open area in front of McCaskill. McCaskill thanks Groom - and, probably, Salem - nicely and turns to run at goal. Than Salem and Ball proceed to make an even bigger hash of this play.
Ball at least tries to tackle McCaskill. She fails, and somehow both the ball and McCaskill get around her, but she tries. Salem, however, apparently mesmerized by the sheer awfulness of the disaster she’s created, stands like a stump as Groom motors past her on the way towards goal.
McCaskill takes Emily Menges inside, Groom goes outside, McCaskill slides her a simple pass, and it’s all over except for the finish.
Which bangs off the post, luckily.
We don’t need Salem to be Horan. We’ve got a Horan. But we need her to be better than this.
Weber (6’ - no rating)
Carpenter (+6/-2 : +3/-6 : +9/-8) Rough, rough night for Ellie Carpenter. Lost 11 of 17 challenges, and completed only 68% of her passes. Credit for the great block in the 94th minute, but otherwise she and Reynolds competed for InStat’s Balon d’Nope; Carpenter’s Index of 146 beat Reynolds’ by only a single point.
Reynolds (45’ - +1/-4) Before she came off with a leg injury, Kat Reynolds didn’t cover herself with glory. Won only 1 of the 3 challenges she entered. Reynolds split the derp with Carpenter on Dorsey’s goal, since they both failed to pick up Dorsey’s run, but overall Reynolds just didn’t looked particularly convincing as a replacement for Emily Sonnett. Reynolds’ half looks worse in contrast to her replacement, Ball.
Ball (45’ - +8/-1) See above. I’ve been skeptical of Elizabeth Ball’s persistence on the roster without any significant on-field time to show for it, but this shift went a long way to convincing me that she might well deserve a move up the depth chart. Had a handful of errors such as the one illustrated above, but for every oops had a nifty press or a tackle such as the one that nipped the ball right off Groom’s feet in the 57th minute. I have to take back some of the hard words.
Menges (+4/-5 : +3/-3 : +7/-8) I think the Emilies are symbiotes; they never seem to do as well by themselves as they do together. The Menges half of the Great Wall was decent in Jersey, but she wasn’t her usual immovable self. Had a couple of clumsy failures to cover for Reynolds, and I have to think that was because she thought Sonnett would be there - before realizing that Reynolds wasn’t. For any other center back Saturday would have been a reasonably good performance. By Menges’ standards, this was not.
Klingenberg (+4/-6 : +1/-4 : +5/-10) Klingenberg’s passing was atrocious; 7 of her 10 minuses are for lost balls or poor passes. She didn’t do all that well defending, either, losing 8 out of 14 challenges. Kling did little to create anything going forward, and the bad passing had everything to do with that. I suspect that missing her partner Heath helped cramp Kling’s attacking style. Her defending was better than much of her backline, but that’s damning with faint praise.
Eckerstrom (+1/-1 :+4/-1 : +5/-2) I’m honestly not sure whether Eckerstrom could have done better on the Dorsey goal. She came out late, and hard, and was completely exposed by her backline. If she was guilty of a poor play it was six minutes later, when she was very late coming off her line for a similar Dorsey run. Huge, huge saves in the second half to save the win, and as such my third-alternate WotM candidate. Faced a tough job, stepping in unexpectedly on a nasty rainy night when her teammates weren’t at their best, and did it exceptionally well.
Coach Parsons - The complete evaporation of any sort of attack after the first ten minutes or so was 1) a deliberate decision to try and defend the two-goal lead, or 2) resignation that the heart of the Thorns’ offensive creativity had been body-snatched by the national team, or 3) the Thorns collectively getting bored with the match and phoning the last eighty minutes in.
I’d love to know which.
Whatever the reason, the concession should have sparked some sort of resurgence in the last hour.
Instead the Thorns gave up trying to build up from the back and started hitting a lot of long passes; I counted about 24.
Of that total 9 - 37% - went through on the ground. The Thorns tried 5 low passes in the last quarter hour of the first half; 4 of them connected, including the two by Sinclair I mentioned above. Of the four attempts in the second half only one found a Portland boot.
The remaining 63% of all passes were high lobs; 6 attempts from the 30th to the 45th minute, 9 attempts throughout the second half. Of these only a total of 4 found their target; the other 11 went to Sky Blue, either directly or after caroming off several players.
Sky Blue was pushing up during this time, trying to equalize, so it’s peculiar that Portland would think that the best way to find a third goal would be hoof-and-hope. Parsons has been willing to have his team play direct when there’s no good alternative, but I can’t see that as a useful tactic.
If not by direction, then why? Panic? I didn’t see that until the last frantic minutes. Was this a wet, tired, frustrated team just banging the ball upfield? The Thorns are usually better disciplined than that.
Whatever the reason, Route 1 didn’t work in Jersey, and I hope the coach and the team learned from that.
Because otherwise, ninety minutes in Cary are gonna feel like ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard.