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Thorns FC: Shadows

Mike Russell

I feel the pain of falling leaves, and stems that break in storms

and trouble and dissolution and distress

and then the softness of deep shadows folding,

folding around my soul and spirit, around my lips...

~ D.H. Lawrence

After the pain of dropping points at home to Sky Blue FC, the Portland Thorns traveled to Seattle last Saturday with one overriding mission; to take points, or at least a point, off the Seattle Reign.

They couldn’t accomplish that mission. The Thorns failed to score—despite creating several point-blank opportunities—and then conceded an 89th-minute goal.

What’s frustrating is that the team didn’t play all that badly. They didn’t play well, mind, but this wasn’t a collective breakdown like the second half against Sky Blue, or against North Carolina in Portland.

Most of the Thorns had at least a decent match against the Reign. The backline held up well over almost 90 minutes, the midfield fought Seattle to a draw. But neither the forwards, nor any other Thorn, could put so much as a single legitimate shot on frame.

Portland has been leaning heavily on Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair for goals. In Seattle neither Thorns midfielder came close to scoring; each was held to a single, off-target shot.

Largely because of this.

Image by InStat. Use by permission.

Portland’s goalscoring midfielders spent a large part of the match wrestling with Seattle’s midfielders and, in the case of Allie Long, mostly losing.

When Portland did get a good chance they managed to get something wrong, like managing to put three Thorns offside on a free kick that negated Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic’s strike,

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

or providing Hayley Raso perfect service five yards from goal, only for her to miss the easy header.

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

We’ll talk more about the hows and whys this specific match went sideways in the player comments. But the basic facts are brutally plain: Portland needed to beat Sky Blue and couldn’t, and then needed to grind out at least a draw in Seattle, and couldn’t.

This coming Friday’s match against the Utah Royals will mark the end of the middle third, and the beginning of the final third, of the season. Portland now lies sixth, two places out of the playoffs, one point behind Utah, two points behind Orlando and Chicago, and three points behind Seattle. These four clubs have to be Portland’s targets; at the top of the table North Carolina is uncatchable, barring a miracle.

The Thorns have two more matches against wooden spoon contender Sky Blue, and one against a dire Washington. Nothing less than nine points from those three games will do. They have one more match against Houston, and to have playoff hopes they will need those three points, as well.

That leaves five matches: this coming Friday against Utah; three matches in a row in August; against the Courage in Cary on the 5th, in Orlando on the 11th, and against Chicago here on the 18th; and the final match of the regular season against Seattle here on September 5th.

Fifteen points. Five games. To defend the championship the Thorns will need to win those games, or at least win many of them and draw the rest. The questions now are how badly do the Thorns want to do that, and can they play well enough to do that?

The afternoon of the season is upon us. The shadows at the bottom of the table will soon grow long, and dark. Because the shadowy emptiness of an autumn without the playoffs is growing visible, even under the still-bright skies of July.

Player Ratings and Comments

Crnogorcevic (+5/-0 : +6/-3 : +11/-3) Crnogorcevic’s numbers look like she’s doing a terrific job striking on goal - until you look closer at what she it was she was doing so well. Two tackles for gain. Three solid defensive plays. Two strong runs and three good passes. One good shot.

That doesn’t look much like a forward’s kind of match, does it?

That’s because Crnogorcevic was primarily a winger in Seattle, and for much of the match a defensive winger. Here’s where her average challenge took place; barely on the attacking side of the midfield stripe.

Image by InStat. Used by permission.

And here’s her on-field actions.

Image by InStat. Used by permission.

There’s a lot of the red dots denoting successful actions there, because Crnogorcevic was a hell of a good winger. Her usual success rate in challenges is in the low 20s; InStat tracks her success in Seattle as 42%, better than Raso, Klingenberg, and Sonnett. She did a lot to contain the Reign attack. Obviously her coach told her to help track back and contain Steph Catley and Rapinoe’s aggression, and she did it damn well.

But the price was that she could provide virtually none of her own. That hurt on a night when the Thorns desperately needed a goal. I don’t disagree with the coach’s choice, but it came with a cost.

Raso (62’ - +4/-5 : +1/-2 : +5/-7) Hayley Raso had a very tough night at Memorial Stadium. Aside from getting beefed around by Andonovski’s gang she missed two sitters: a 46th-minute shot she shanked wide, and the 62nd-minute header pictured above that she biffed over the crossbar. This was only Raso’s fourth match back from injury and her first start. She has a history of starting slowly, so she retains the promise of a more productive late season. But Saturday, as the Thorns’ lone forward on a day when the Thorns desperately needed a goal, she had two terrific chances to secure at least a point, and couldn’t. If the Thorns are to do better, she must do better, and soon.

Weber (28’ - +2/-1) No impact.

Sinclair (+4/-1 : +1/-0 : +5/-1) As noted above, fought a lonely, thankless, gritty battle in midfield and just outside Seattle’s penalty area, and was largely neutralized there. Her plus total is the lowest of the season. InStat agrees; her Index of 147 is her lowest to date. As we’ve seen before, when you take Sinclair out of the match, a lot of the heart goes out of the Thorns, and Seattle managed to do just that.

Andressinha (73’ - +5/-1 : +4/-0 : +9/-1) Referee Christina Unkel let a lot of rough play go on both sides; both clubs were guilty. But the player that suffered the worst was Andressinha, who had a solid match until she was forced to limp off after being repeatedly fouled (and pushed and shoved around short of actual fouling, as well).

Andonovski’s Kansas City clubs were notorious for their poor disciplinary record, and it’s plain that he’s brought his philosophy to the Reign. Thorns FC plays a physical game, too, but Andonovski’s people take it up a notch too far, in my admittedly biased opinion. Last Saturday it was Andressinha that was punished for Unkel’s laxity.

Before the ambulance arrived, though, Andressinha did some clever passing and showed some promising creativity. This was the Brazilian’s third good match in a row, and Portland will need her to do the same against Utah this Friday.

Purce (17’ - +0/-1) No impact.

Boureille (+6/-4 : +2/-3 : +8/-7) Celeste Boureille was bitten by a ballwatching bug before the match, which was too bad because otherwise she didn’t play that poorly.

However, between that generally good defending Boureille screwed up a few times, such as when she was mesmerized by the ball in the 30th minute and failed to pick up a Beverly Yanez run. Luckily for her, and the Thorns, Yanez’s shot went wide. Boureille lost track of Yanez again in the 39th minute, but her powerful header fortunately landed right in A.D. Franch’s lap.

Boureille’s final episode cost the team a goal, though, when she forgot where Jodie Taylor was as she stared at Megan Rapinoe as she sliced the low cross into the six-yard box.

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

Everybody else is pretty much where they should be; Sonnet is ball-side, goal-side of Yanez, and Klingenberg is at least ball-side of Jasmyne Spencer. Horan and AMC are arriving late, Ellie Carpenter is facing up Rapinoe, and Kat Reynolds, well, she’s kind of screening Franch, but that’s not really the problem. It’s Taylor with an acre of space and an eon of time.

Boureille—who is the one player not marking anyone and who should be tracking Taylor—is too far forward to intercept the pass, and too far away from Taylor to tackle her once it gets to her.

In the screenshot I’ve moved her to where she should have been, but all it took was some great Rapinoe service and a moment’s inattention from Boureille, and three points went down the drain.

Horan (+3/-3 : +7/-0 : +10/-3) As with Sinclair, a muted night from Horan. I know I harp on the whole “forwards, score!” thing, but with the strikers not scoring a huge load falls on Horan, and in a game like this she’s just overloaded. Worked hard, did what she could, but had too much to handle in midfield to get anything from the run of play, and was well-marked on the setpieces.

Carpenter (+4/-3 : +3/-4 : +7/-7) In the Civil War, infantrymen referred to combat as “seeing the elephant.” I think that fullbacks should call having to defend against a viciously effective attacker “seeing the Rapinoe,” because the Seattle maestra only lacks heavy artillery to lend tone to the carnage she brings.

That said, one thing I liked seeing from Carpenter in this match was that she learns, and learns quickly. Here’s what happened the first time Rapinoe ran directly at her.

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

Rapinoe cut back, turned inside, shifted the ball onto her strong right foot, and fired a dangerous shot that Franch had to rise strongly to save.

Here’s the next time Rapinoe came at Carpenter.

Image by InStat. Licensed under Fair Use.

See? Carpenter keeps Rapinoe outside, forces her to use her left foot, and the result was a weak shot well over the goal. That’s a smart young player.

Of course, nobody gets the better of Rapinoe all game, at least not most of the time. Carpenter did good work for most of the match until she tired. I tracked their challenges. In the first 70 minutes Carpenter and Rapinoe tangled seven times. Carpenter won—either outright won by tackling away, or forcing Rapinoe to pass out of trouble, or to track backwards—four of the seven.

After the 70th minute, though, Seattle started hammering on her. They tangled another seven times, and Rapinoe won six of seven, including the assist on the goal.

Still, a pretty good showing from Carpenter. Any eighteen-year-old who can adjust to Rapinoe that quickly has a bright future.

Reynolds (+2/-2 : +4/-1 : +6/-3) Solid, unspectacular match from Kat Reynolds. She had a couple of shaky moments but nothing appalling, and did a decent job patrolling her penalty area. Didn’t have much to do, since the Seattle attacks were largely coming down the flanks. Did have a horrific giveaway to Long in the ninth minute and was lucky that Long’s service ended up being headed by Yanez into Franch’s hands, but other than that did fine.

Sonnett (+1/-1 : +3/-2 : +4/-3) As with Reynolds, had a relatively quiet match, and for the same reasons. Sonnett provided a steady presence in the backline, and did what she needed to when she needed to, so by that metric had a good match.

Klingenberg (+7/-3 : +4/-2 : +11/-5) My pick for Woman of the Match; solid in defense and fruitful providing service going forward. Not her fault that her targets couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket. Huge clearance in the 61st minute when a bounding ball fell to Taylor with room to turn and Kling stuck a boot in to send the ball safely upfield.

Klingenberg wasn’t shy about getting stuck in to the Reign, and she had two occasions where she might have gone too far. The second, a collision with Elizabeth Addo in the 75th minute, was so poorly shown in the broadcast I’m not sure what happened. But the first was right in front of God and everybody.

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

Kling got a yellow on the field, but Long and the Reign were really chapped about that kick to the shin as well as Kling’s other aggressive play all evening. I have a suspicion that they might complain to the Disciplinary Committee about it. We’ll have to see.

Update 7/5: The DC seems to agree with the Vlatkoites - it handed Klingenberg a one game suspension to be served this Friday. In a season where the Thorns seem to find new ways to bite themselves in the backside this is just one more chomp, but, sheesh. Sometimes I think if it wasn’t for bad luck the 2018 Thorns would have no luck at all.

Franch (+2/-0 : +1/-0 : +3/-0) Simply put, Franch kept the Thorns in the match for 89 minutes. Brilliant saves in the 17th, 39th, and 87th minutes. Not at fault on the concession, a rocket off Taylor’s leg from pointblank range.

Coach Parsons - Once again, Parsons had to struggle with a depleted roster. Once again, he could field the best XI he could find but couldn’t run out on the field and help his forwards (or any of his other players) score. Seattle had a weapon—Rapinoe—he had no perfect defense for. He and the Thorns stymied her for damn near an hour and a half, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Close doesn’t get you three points. Hard to fault him for that, but that’s why soccer is a cruel game; you don’t get anything for trying hard and falling short.

Now Parsons and the Thorns have to shake this loss—hell, have to shake off the whole week that saw one point from two matches, one of those against the Doormat of the NWSL—and face the Utah Royals, a team that just stepped on that doormat and stomped all three points out of it.

The next several weeks, beginning with this coming Friday, may well determine whether the Thorns have a place in the playoff sun, or will be standing in the shadows come September.