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Thorns FC: Like Pulling Teeth

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Unlike their last meeting, at least this time the Thorns got all three points off of Sky Blue FC, so that’s good.

The win clinched a playoff spot. That’s good, too.

On the other hand, getting three points off of the holder of the 2018 wooden spoon felt a lot like this.

Bennett Dewan

That’s not good. No wonder Sonnett’s tooth felt a little loose.

What else wasn’t so good?

The Thorns forwards were unable to score despite gaining a number of good opportunities. That’s not so good.

The Thorns defense had some issues, too. Sarah Killion ran free through the penalty area and scored during a scramble after an 85th minute setpiece. Had the crossbar not rejected Madison Tiernan’s shot ten minutes earlier Killion’s goal would have been the equalizer.

That’s not good, either.

And many of the Thorns’ mainstays - the back four, Lindsey Horan, and Christine Sinclair - went for their second full 90 in five days. Tobin Heath played all but 11 minutes of that time.

That’s really not good, because now Thorns FC has to travel across country, take three points from the Washington Spirit on two days rest and hope that Seattle drops points to North Carolina to have any hope of hosting the semifinal.

And that’s a hell of a tough ask.

Player Ratings and Comments

Foord (59’ - +4/-4 : +2/-1 : +6/-5) In her first Thorns start, Caitlin Foord had a very meh sort of evening. She provided energy up front, made some creative runs, but wasn’t able to create anything genuinely dangerous.

Part of the problem was that she was outfought by Sky Blue much of the time; Foord only won 3 of the 15 challenges she entered. But another was that she only had one great chance, and when she got it she did this.

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Huge credit to Foord for fighting her way clear ten yards from Sky Blue’s goal. But, having done that, you kinda have to do something other than...

Image byESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

...fall over the ball and dink the shot harmlessly to Kailen Sheridan’s feet.

Foord is still rounding back into form, but if she’s going to be the starting striker over the final run-in and the playoffs the Thorns need her to be more clinical. If you can’t get more than this -

Image by NWSL in public domain

- against Sky Blue, what are you going to hope for against Seattle or North Carolina?

Crnogorcevic (31’ - +5/-1) Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic had similar problems to the ones Foord had; lots of hard work and very little to show for it.

Raso (75’ - +10/-3 : +6/-1 : +16/-4) Hayley Raso fought a bitter battle with Tiernan all evening and lost; Tiernan won 7 of their 10 duels. What didn’t help is that Raso got nothing from center referee Mark Allatin, who let Tiernan beef Raso around all evening with only the single caution to show for it.

Despite that, Raso had several good chances, including the best opportunity Portland got from the run of play; taking a gorgeous lead pass from Christine Sinclair, Raso ran almost into the goalmouth before having her shot blocked wide. Unlucky; that should have broken the Thorns forwards’ duck, but that was the kind of night Portland had.

Purce (18’ - +4/-3) Against Chicago, Purce came on like an electric shock late in the game. Against Sky Blue, she was more like a little zip of static electricity. She was caught badly flatfooted by Tiernan’s run in the 75th minute, and then again on the Sky Blue goal; Killion was her mark, and Purce took far too long to track back to her.

Had some nice runs forward, but Purce was brought on to hold a two-goal lead and should have done more to help with that. InStat agrees; her 157 wins the Thorns’ Ballon d’Nope.

Heath (79’ - +4/-2 : +3/-0 : +7/-2) I think I underrated Heath for this match because I’m so used to her doing the spectacular, and against Sky Blue she was effective, but quietly effective. InStat loved her; her Index of 249 is the best on the evening. And she was effective; here’s her passing and shooting chart.

Image by NWSL in public domain

Compare that to the Sky Blue’s wide threat, Savannah McCaskill.

Image by NWSL in public domain

That looks to me like one midfielder/winger is just plain outworking the other. I’ll give you a hint who it was; Heath met McCaskill head-to-head twice, and won both times.

Sinclair (+8/-1 : +1/-2 : +9/-3) Another match, another evening in the midfield trenches for Portland’s one-woman Canadian Army. Another goal. Another three points. What more needs to be said? At this point, my biggest concern is that 270 minutes of soccer is a lot of soccer in a week, even for one tough-as-nails gal from southern British Columbia.

Horan (+8/-7 : +3/-5 : +11/-12) Lindsey Horan had an unusually messy evening; 9 of her 12 minuses are for giveaways, either poor passes, heavy touches, or being tackled for loss. She had a huge assist on Heath’s goal - if Horan isn’t charging under the ball I think Sheridan reacts and at least gets a hand to it. And she worked her tail off - compare Horan’s pass/shot chart to both those above.

Image by NWSL in public domain

But we’re used to a more clinical Horan, a Great Horan, and the Horan who played on Wednesday was decidedly human.

Boureille (+1/-1 : +1/-1 : +2/-2) In this case the PMR system is definitely underrating Celeste Boureille. She won 67% of her challenges (6 of 9), completed 86% of her passes - including 21 of 26 going forward - and was successful in 87% of her attacking moves. She owned Carli Lloyd, winning 3 of their 4 encounters including a critical tackle for gain after Lloyd had picked Ellie Carpenter’s pocket in the 9th minute. Solid evening from C.B.

Andressinha (11’ - +2/-0) Did little of note other than giving Raso’s legs a bit of a rest.

Klingenberg (+7/-4 : +4/-1 : +11/-5) Lots of good attack and generally solid defense (although Raquel Rodriguez beat Kling like a drum in the 69th minute - ouch!) make Kling the defender InStat and I agree on; her Index of 225 is second only to Carpenter among the Thorns defenders.

Supposedly she was going to be overrun trying to stop McCaskill, but InStat doesn’t show Klingenberg with a single challenge against McCaskill.

Sonnett (+4/-1 : +2/-0 : +6/-1) A net PMR of +5 may seem unimpressive, but after her goofs against Chicago Emily Sonnett had a quiet but decent outing against Sky Blue. Had a huge tackle to take the ball off McCaskill’s feet in the 56th minute with the goalmouth looming. Plus she got punched in the face, for heaven’s sake! So here’s to you, Sonnett. You’re one tough player.

Menges (+2/-3 : +5/-0 : +7/-3) Remember that whole “defense, don’t screw up!” thing?

Image by ESPN/NWSL. Licensed under Fair Use.

Clearing the ball off one’s own face back towards your goal is a bit of a screw-up.

I hope Menges thanked Heath kindly for clearing that mess away before someone got hurt. Hurt worse, anyway. Did her and Sonnett compare loose teeth after the match? That’s gotta leave a mark.

In all seriousness, Menges did fine in back; won 80% of her challenges and completed 90% of her passes.

Carpenter (+3/-1 : +3/-1 : +6/-2) Hell on wheels going forward, solid defensively, Carpenter had a good match against Sky Blue. Her record in individual duels looks sketchy - only 71% - until you see that she won 10 of 14 and the whole backline won 25 out of 36; Carpenter had 40% of the entire unit’s challenge wins. Her 93% pass completion rate was the best of the evening.

Franch (+1/-1 : +2/-0 : +3/-1) Not at fault on the concession, a long-distance, perfectly-placed screamer. AD Franch came up huge in the 69th minute, saving off Rodriguez 1v0. She had another good take off a McCaskill header in the 21st minute, and generally bossed her backline well all evening.

Coach Parsons - It’s hard for me to evaluate Parsons’ work against Sky Blue because I think it’s just the middle book of a three-volume week-long series.

Part 1 (“The Fellowship of the Point”) was exciting but a bit of a letdown at the end. This one (let’s call it “The Two Goals”) was rewarding, but a bit of a “middle book lull” hung about it. We won’t know until tomorrow if Part 3, “The Return of Spirit”, will be a thumping three-away-point flourish to end the week and cap Parsons with kingship’s crown, or end up leaving the bad guys in possession of the home semifinal ring-of-power.

The minutes that the critical Thorns core have played concern me. I understand that failure was not an option Wednesday; after dropping two points to Chicago last weekend the Thorns had to take all three against Sky Blue, so long rest for players like Horan and Sinclair wasn’t possible.

But failure isn’t an option against Washington, either. The Spirit are a wreck, and have played three matches in eight days compared to three in seven for Portland. Parsons will have to balance the need for the road win against his squad rotation.

It’s not going to be an easy or a simple choice, but one that has to work for any hope to avoid meeting Seattle in Memorial Stadium in September.