The Thorns finally returned to Providence Park on Saturday and what a return it was! The opponent was the Washington Spirit, tops in the league. We’d recently played them to a nil-nil draw in the wilds of Maryland. Given that the Thorns had scored only five goals in five games while the Sprit had conceded only one goal in total, many were expecting a closely fought defensive battle. Instead, we were treated to an explosion of attack as the Thorns delivered what our powerful roster has always promised on paper. The Death Star may be nearing completion.
From the opening whistle, both teams were in full attack mode. Washington relied largely on long balls to Dunn, their biggest threat all night, while the Thorns looked to through balls from the midfield. Tackles were flying everywhere. The Portland back line was stout, conceding no shots in the first half in spite of 18 Spirit attacks. The Thorns had 23 attacks in the first 45 minutes, scoring on three and forcing quality saves from Labbé on two others. The goals came from Horan off a Heath corner, an own goal by Washington under heavy pressure from Nadim, and Heath off a sweet through ball from Sinclair.
Heath finishes her shot to make it 3-0
In the second half, the Spirit were more effective. They had 21 attacks to Portland’s 19 and scored a goal on as nice a header as you’ll ever see by Lohman off a Crystal Dunn cross.
Lohman’s header kisses the far post
However, it was not nearly enough as they got only one other shot on target through the final whistle. The Thorns added another four shots on target, including a beauty from Long that was well saved and the final nail in the coffin from Meg Morris.
Meg Morris slams the door shut
In spite of a tidy halftime lead, the Thorns clearly were not satisfied. Coach Parsons made his substitutions in a timely fashion notably with Morris replacing Sinclair in the 56th. Morris’ energy seemed to revitalize what had been a slightly flagging attack. Washington countered by inserting Williams, but when she was stretchered off with an ankle injury barely ten minutes later the match was effectively over. The constant threat of counterattack with Morris’ quickness prevented any comeback by the Spirit. After a lengthy stoppage time, the final score was 4-1 Thorns and 15,000+ went home happy.
But, you ask, what’s that got to do with the Death Star?
This was the weekend for mixing space-movie metaphors, what with the Timbers Army’s Mars Attacks tifo on Sunday and a Star Trek reference below.
Some history – when the Thorns were first formed our roster was top-heavy with talent. We were expected to sweep all before us in the inaugural season and hence got the nickname “Death Star”. Each succeeding year our roster seemed to get stronger. Yet under Cindy Parlow Cone and then Paul Riley the team never dominated the league. Our Empire seemed to lack ruthlessness and aside from one shining moment in Kansas City in 2013, our talent never lived up to its potential.
Four years on, the Thorns are starting to put it together under Mark Parsons. We are now the only undefeated team in the league. We just gave the league leader a spanking. And we have yet more talent orbiting in the form of Amandine Henry. More importantly, we’re seeing our talent move from paper to the pitch.
The Thorns were dominant on Saturday. The passing was at times beautiful. Sinclair, Horan and Heath seemed to have a telepathic connection. The defense was prescient, with an Emily (or Kat) arriving at the ball ahead of the attacker nearly every time. Service from the wings was often excellent, holdup play in the midfield nearly always successful, pressure all over the pitch applied consistently from the first whistle to the last. And as good as the team was, Parsons afterward said they could yet improve, which must be a nightmarish thought for opposing coaches.
One great game does not a Death Star make. But we got a glimpse of what this team can be, and barring injuries the Thorns should only get better.
Nearly every Thorn had a fine game. Horan, Heath and Sinclair get the obvious plaudits with Heath in particular named by many as the best Thorn. Kat Reynolds turned in a great performance in the back along with the Emily’s. Nadim had her best game as a Thorn. But I am calling out two players for especially important breakouts: Meg Morris and Dagny Brynjarsdóttir. Not only because of this game’s performance, but because these are two players the Thorns absolutely must have in top form in the near future.
Morris scored her first professional goal on Saturday and looked fantastic doing it. This was her first attempt on goal as a Thorn and she finished it perfectly. Her speed is a terror for defenders. Her willingness to run all night means that her teammates know they can launch a ball and she’ll be there to take it. This coming weekend the Thorns face Seattle without Heath, Horan, Sonnett, Franch, Long, and Klingenberg. The Reign will have their #2 keeper between the pipes, but otherwise the same lineup we saw just recently. Meg Morris will have big shoes to fill and she seems to be willing and able to do so.
Dagny was my woman-of-the-match on Saturday. She had 48 opportunities for touches on aerial balls coming from our back line and on set piece defense. Of those, she controlled or redirected all but ten. To have 80% success on hold-up play and defense is simply outstanding. Plus she had two excellent shots, both on target.
Dagny will always be the tallest player on the pitch, but height alone is not enough. On Saturday she displayed the finesse to send the ball where it needs to go regardless of the pressure on her. It was her best outing as a Thorn and no team in NWSL will be able to handle her if she keeps this up and keeps improving like she’s been.
Poor Allie Long. She was everywhere on Saturday, bossing the midfield, snuffing out Spirit attacks and springing forays forward. She had a couple nice shots again. If anyone deserves a goal, it’s Allie. But they just won’t come. While we will miss her on USWNT duty, I really hope she gets some joy against Japan and comes home with the soccer goddesses finally on her side.
Home is where the heart is and the Riveters showed it Saturday. A good time was had on the terraces, but did you see the small banners on the wall? Here are some more detailed views:
The promised mixed space-movie metaphor. Yes, that’s Klingenberg in Klingon.
A take on the club logo of Heath and Horan’s former club PSG, regular opponent of Henry’s Lyon
Oh Sincy, you’re so fine!
By Richard Hamje