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Thorns FC: Turnabout

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Orlando has ten minutes of frenzy. Portland has three points.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

If you had turned off the broadcast eight minutes into the Thorns’ match in Orlando last weekend, you could be forgiven for thinking that the purple gang would win. For about ten minutes of the first half, Orlando was insane; all over Portland, winning five corner kicks in the first nine minutes or so, and putting the Thorns under the hammer. Here’s my notes for that part of the match:

2’ – Edmonds to Morgan; her cross goes in, but Kling clears out. Ubogagu settles; Carpenter blocks Ubogagu’s shot out for CK.

3’ – Franch great box clear off CK! Morgan heads back in; Heath settles and clears, but only as far as Krieger. Hard shot, but Franch good save.

4’ – Marta looping pass to Morgan; Sonnett shields her off with her butt; could easily be a foul and PK but no call.

5’ – Marta to Morgan; Boureille good tackle, ball runs free, and Sonnett clears away but towards Ubogagu; Raso tackles away from Ubogagu.

6’ – Marta with a dangerous run, but shot blocked wide right for CK. Scramble on CK inside six-yard box but cleared.

8’ – Long ball up for Morgan; dangerous run, but Menges good marking her, and clears away safely.

Here’s the diagram from the match stats page, showing the Pride’s crosses and passes against the Thorns’ clearances. Notice the difference between the first and second halves, because it’s really the difference between the first 10 and the last 80 minutes. Unable to score in the first quarter-hour or so, Orlando just seemed to collectively lose interest in the match and sort of wandered away.

Image by NWSL in public domain

And once Orlando stopped coming at them, Portland took over. The Pride has neither the team speed nor the fierce pack-hunting pressure that North Carolina shows you, and given more time and space, Portland was able to create two goals and some gorgeous soccer.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Tobin Heath starts this play off running free up the left touchline with nothing but green in front of her. You’ll note that Christine Sinclair is attacking to Heath’s right and is pretty loosely marked, if that’s the right term for what Shelina Zadorsky is doing.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Heath cuts inside and draws a huge Orlando fan club, all of whom except, perhaps, Chioma Ubogagu, appear to think that Sinclair is just there for a nice jog. You’ll note that, over on the left, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic has turned up, and she’s unmarked, too.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Heath slips a nice square pass into Sinclair’s path, leaving the whole Orlando mob behind except for Ubogagu, who reacts quickly to close down Sinclair.

Meanwhile, yet another unmarked Thorn has arrived, Hayley Raso, sneaking out wide to the right.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Ubogagu gets unlucky here. She tackles the ball but, instead of trying to turn or shield it, she just puts her boot through it. Her attempted clearance bounces right off Sinclair and back past Ubogagu and into the path of...

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

...Tobin Heath, who’s been continuing her run this whole time. You’ll notice what the purple shirts are doing: largely nothing. Nobody has reacted to pick up Raso; nobody has dropped off to mark Crnogorcevic. It’s all standing and ballwatching, except for two Orlando players chasing two Thorns.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

I know that Orlando was the bad guy here, but — sheesh — that defense was such a mess I actually felt sorry for them. Toni Pressley is the only player in a purple shirt doing anything remotely useful here. You’ll observe that Ubogagu has let Sinclair run into space, presumably because there’s no chance that Heath will drop her a cheeky little back-heel pass, right?

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

After she takes Heath’s backheel, as wide open as the cheap beer cold case in a street-corner 7-Eleven on a Friday night, Sinclair can buff her fingernails, whistle a couple of bars of the Anvil Chorus, look around to appreciate the fine evening, and then fire a shot at Ashlyn Harris’ far post.

Which, unfortunately, rolls wide. But you get the idea.

Unlike the first ten minutes (and the whole previous match), for the last 80 minutes the Pride were the Anti-Courage; slow, chaotic, out of synch, and seemingly disinterested in making Portland work for their road points. I have no idea why, or what happened to the Orlando that came here and beat the Thorns 2-1 back in May. This club looked like it would have a hard time beating a decent rec league team.

Orlando managed a handful of dangerous moments over the remainder of the match. Franch had to react brilliantly to push wide a close-range deflection off Weatherholt in the 62nd minute, and knocked Marta’s good effort wide in the 89th. But after the initial Ten Minutes of Terror Portland set the pace and the tempo and Orlando seemed unable to figure out what to do about that.

Not that I’m complaining, mind. A lovely beating was a tonic after that brutally rough afternoon in North Carolina. Three points was a well-deserved reward for weathering the Ten Minute Tempest.

Player Ratings and Comments

Crnogorcevic (56’ - +4/-2 : +3/-1 : +7/-3) AMC’s touch-on was an important piece of the Horan goal, but otherwise she had a muted afternoon, and I wasn’t surprised to see her come off fairly early. InStat shows her winning only 13 percent of her challenges and successful in only 46 percent of her attacks. To get a sense of how uninvolved AMC was, she managed to get involved in only 26 attacking moves in her 56 minutes — only three more than her replacement Caitlin Foord managed in her 35 minutes.

Not a bad shift, but definitely in a minor key.

Raso (87’ - +9/-1 : +11/-2 : +20/-3) My co-Woman-of-the-Match. Brutally exposed her Matildas teammate Alanna Kennedy twice: in the 17th minute when she pounced on a horribly lazy Kennedy backpass but banged the shot off the near post, and then again on the goal. Otherwise she provided all the usual Raso energy: terrific attacking runs and crosses, and hard-nosed forechecking. A great outing from Ribbons.

Foord (35’ - +5/-0) A useful replacement for AMC, Foord provided late-match pace and aggression that helped see out the win. She still hasn’t found her shooting eye, but she’s working her way into sync with her teammates; she should become more dangerous with more minutes.

Andressinha (2’ - no rating) Just time-wasting.

Heath (+3/-2 : +3/-1 : +6/-3) I don’t want to downplay Heath’s contribution to this match, which included some lovely service, including the Horan goal, and her usual creative energy.

But her relatively low PMR (and her InStat Index mirrors my assessment; her 183 is well below the team average of 197 and the 200-level highs of Horan, Raso, and Franch) suggests how much less of a critical factor she was in Orlando.

That’s actually a good thing. Heath didn’t have to break defenders’ ankles or single-handedly create something out of nothing — because her teammates were getting it done. Above, I emphasized how poor Orlando was, but I should also emphasize how good Portland was — and a hell of a lot of that was the integration of everyone into the Thorns’ game plan. Heath didn’t have to be a star. She was good, her teammates were good, and that’s just fine.

One caveat, though: I have no idea what Heath, more than the rest of her teammates, has against Kristen Edmonds. For some reason Heath was pushing and shoving Edmonds like they were squaring up to fight. I think Heath should thank referee Katarina Koroleva for the latter’s love of physical play, because otherwise I would have bet money Heath could have gotten yellow — or worse — for her foul on Edmonds in the 23rd minute.

The rest of the league is going to think Portland plays thugball anyway, so it’s useless to tiptoe around the pitch, hoping to be thought angels. But this was really needless and just risked getting Heath in disciplinary trouble for no reason; Portland was already gaining the upper hand at the point where Heath roughed up Edmonds.

Horan (+11/-2 : +8/-0 : +19/-2) As usual, Lindsey Horan was where she needed to be, when she needed to be, to knock the ball into the goal. Terrific match on both sides of the ball (InStat rates her the best player on the pitch, with an Index of 238) and a fine Great Horan performance.

Sinclair (+2/-2 : +2/-0 : +4/-2) As with Heath, Christine Sinclair had a good match, but not a great match — and that was alright, because the whole team was having a great match. She worked hard in midfield and, as shown in the screenshots above, she did some lovely attacking.

Boureille (+2/-3 : +6/-2 : +8/-5) Generally steady, and did what she needed to, albeit on a day when she didn’t face a ton of pressure. Her primary opponents, Weatherholt and Van Egmond, completed only 60 percent of their passes. She contributed to Portland’s control of midfield, so well played.

Carpenter (76’ - +10/-1 : +7/-2 : +17/-3) Ellie Carpenter is young and, like all young players, is going to have ups and downs. One of the things I love about her is that her ups are so high they give a hint of the possible heights this player may attain.

Here she is in the 57th minute: Boureille has just passed the assignment of defending an attacking Marta off to her.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Keep in mind this is Marta; yes, a twilight Marta, but still one of the true greats to play this game.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Carpenter keeps Marta in front of her, harasses her, slows her: You’ll notice that Orlando helps Carpenter out by providing Marta with absolutely no other options, and eventually turns her back.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Many young players would be content with that; not Carpenter. She sees Marta’s backwards touch is a trifle too heavy and turns on the after-burners.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

And she’s off to the races.

Image by Lifetime/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Marta. Carpenter has just turned back and then stripped Marta. Think about that for a moment, and just smile.

Purce (14’ - +3/-0) A fine shift from Midge Purce, solid defense and a brilliant run and cross in the 82nd minute.

Sonnett (+3/-2 : +2/-1 : +5/-3) Both Portland center backs look indifferent in the PMR system simply because the team defense was so solid they had little of extraordinary note to do. InStat’s Index gives you a better sense for their play: Sonnett’s 190 is just slightly below the team average, and Menges’ 208 slightly above. Good work from Sonnett, especially in weathering the Ten Minute Storm.

Menges (+2/-4 : +2/-2 : +4/-6) Menges’ PMR is even more deceptive, because of her 6 minuses 4 are either poor outlet passes, which weren’t dangerous defensively, or some heavy touches in midfield with likewise provided Orlando with little to work with. A very good game from Menges, especially coming after her unusually poor outing in Cary.

Klingenberg (+2/-2 : +3/-1 : +5/-3) Kling didn’t provide her usual service, but she didn’t really need to and was pressed into holding down the backline against two of the best attackers in the business. She did well; Morgan and Marta got very little joy of her. Did have a scary moment when she lost track of Morgan in the 58th minute, but fortunately Ubogagu’s long service was just a trifle too far for the former Thorn to get a head on.

Franch (+4/-1 : +2/-0 : +6/-1) For all that her teammates put Orlando back on their heels, the Thorns needed A.D. Franch to keep them there. Brilliant clearances in the 18th and 22nd minutes, critical saves in the 63rd and 89th as noted above. Co-Woman-of-the-Match.

Coach Parsons brought a team that had been completely stymied, swarmed over, and defeated the week before to the Orlando pitch confident and ready to win. Good choice replacing AMC with Foord, though his other substitutions were notional. That’s pretty much the definition of “good work, coach,” so, good work, coach.

With a critical three-pointer tucked away, now Portland has to return home to meet another playoff contender this coming weekend. Chicago’s form has been up and down lately, so it’s difficult to tell which Red Stars we’ll see here. Regardless, a Thorns FC that wants to avoid a semifinal meeting with North Carolina in Cary is going to need a result, and should run out this Saturday prepared to do whatever they need to get one.