(Part 1 of 3 short match reports for this busy week)
A crowd of 17,152 showed up on Sunday to see their first Thorns home match in more than a month and first with a full roster in more than two months. The opponent was the presumptive Wooden Spoon winner Boston Breakers and the result was as predictable as it seemed inevitable: a 5-1 drubbing. Conditions were perfect for soccer and, unlike last week in Seattle, the Thorns showed up ready to play.
The convincing win puts the Thorns in a very good position as the playoffs draw nigh: we’re in second place, with tiebreakers established over every potential contender. A win against Houston on Wednesday will see the Thorns guarantee a playoff berth. Should Chicago lose to Kansas City, and Western New York lose or draw at Boston, the Thorns can clinch a home playoff spot.
A Quick Recap
The match opened with Boston as the aggressor. They earned corner kicks in the second and 11th minutes. At 11:16, Natasha Dowie narrowly missed giving the visitors an early lead. That close call seemed to be a wakeup call for the Thorns. In the 14th minute, Christine Sinclair steered a Nadim corner kick home for a 1-0 lead. Two minutes later, Hayley Raso delivered a fine cross that no Thorn could quite touch. Four minutes later, Lindsey Horan scored a lovely goal only to see it waved off (correctly) as offside. Three more minutes saw Horan make a fabulous take, turn, and shoot play at the Boston penalty spot which was well-saved by Libby Stout playing for the first time in several months.
The scariest moment for Thorns fans came a minute later as Dowie managed to beat Emily Menges and unleash a fine shot from close in. Michelle Betos made an outstanding save and with that the Breakers seemed to lose heart. Sixty minutes of complete Portland domination followed. In the 40th minute Nadia Nadim converted a penalty kick earned by Horan’s good play and a Boston handball. Just before halftime, Horan again had an excellent chance right in front of goal that was saved.
The second half opened with an Allie Long goal off a pinpoint Sinclair cross. In the 64th, Boston was lucky to have not conceded their second handball PK, as the referee waved off the clear foul. Two minutes later, Amandine Henry crashed a shot off Stout’s crossbar. In the 78th, Nadim made a very cool play to round Stout and hit the empty net following a deceptive run and fine entry pass from Allie Long.
Boston finally got a break in the 83rd minute when Betos misjudged a corner kick and Julie King outjumped her to head home. But in the second of two minutes of stoppage time, Tobin Heath forced another big save out of Stout and Nadim leaped high to bury the rebound for her hat trick.
No Thorn had a particularly poor day. Facing an outmatched and unmotivated opponent, you could hardly expect less. But several players were great, starting with Nadim. Not only did she score three goals but Nadia also tracked back to play defense regularly. As is usual for her, she ran the longest distance of anyone. Her positive-to-negative touch ratio was 19:5, which is her best yet.
My WOTM was Allie Long who was simply outstanding. She scored a goal, assisted another, and had a 33:1 touch ratio – far and away the best on the team. Playing from her deep position in the midfield, she was often found in and around the Boston box. Her passing was crisp and her vision excellent. Horan’s two chances that were saved both came from seeing-eye passes off Long’s boot.
Horan started off slowly in this match as several of her early touches went astray. By the 15th minute, she had settled down and the shaky performance carrying over from the Seattle match ended. She very nearly had a brace. Her final touch ratio was 29:8.
When Tobin Heath came in with Mana Shim in the 64th minute the Thorns were ahead 3-0. But the level of aggression in Portland’s game increased with the new entrants. Two more goals were scored along with a boatload of chances. Heath had a 10:3 ratio in 25 minutes, Shim’s was 11:1.
Christine Sinclair scored a goal, assisted a second, and displayed her excellent holdup play many times. Her final ratio was 17:4 over 75 minutes. Amandine Henry was fearless and imposing in midfield. For her 64 minutes, her ratio was 21:4.
Players with “average” performances were Emily Sonnett (wearing a protective mask) at 12:4, Kat Reynolds again taking the long throw-ins and logging a 12:3 ratio, Raso earning her first start in a full-roster match with a 16:6 ratio over 65 minutes, and Celeste Boureille with a 1:1 ratio for her 15 minutes on the pitch.
Coach Parsons probably could have started any mix of 11 players and gotten a win against Boston. But he seemed to be making careful decisions to manage playing time for the key players in advance of the three-day cycle of matches against the Dash and Flash. I am withholding judgment on his genius until we see how the entire week pans out. But clearly a lot of the sloppiness we saw from the newly reunited Thorns in Seattle has been ironed out. So job #1 was done, and that’s a good thing.
The core of the Thorns defense had a shaky day. Meghan Klingenberg again was not up to her usual standard of play. While the 13:5 touch ratio looks respectable, her turnovers were of the sloppy variety and she rarely got forward until late in the match after Raso exited and Heath entered.
The normally rock-solid Emily Menges also was a bit off her game. She did make several timely interventions, so it’s not that she was terrible by any measure. But again, the mistakes she did make were poor or careless ones, including very nearly conceding an early goal. Her touch ratio was respectable at 15:6 but that was perhaps more reflective of Boston’s poverty of attack than Menges’ skill.
And finally, Michelle Betos had probably her worst match since she returned from injury. Of course she made a few saves including one quite spectacular one. But she misjudged the flight of the ball to lose her clean sheet and her distribution was not great. Once again she had trouble kicking the ball long from the ground while her punts were all boomers. Her final ratio was 19:7 including the concession.
The Riveters had been busy for the past several weeks preparing a display to kick off the final week of home matches. The theme was breakfast and there are several discreet elements that you may have had trouble seeing live or on the broadcast. At the left is a newspaper open to the sports section with the headline “NWSL Race Close”. Harder to see is the photo accompanying the “article”, which is an image of this tifo being displayed at Providence Park. In the center is a 2013 NWSL Champions coffee mug, with a rose in the foam. The “Crunch Time” cereal box features a cartoon of coach Parsons saying, “BOOM!”. And finally in the panel to the right, a faint Boston Breakers logo is visible in the toast.
The capo stand Riveters banner is in the style of Wheaties cereal and reads “The Supporters of Champions”.
There were also a dozen or more small banners hanging from the walls of the north end. Many of these are tributes to players. You can expect to see more of these small displays in the next two matches, so you may want to bring binoculars.
The next match is Houston on Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm. This is the Thorns’ first opportunity to ensure a playoff spot. All the other NWSL teams play earlier, so by kickoff we will know if it’s possible for the Thorns to also ensure a home playoff match with a win.
Our final home match of the regular season is on Sunday at 6:30 pm. This is also our first match of the season to be nationally televised, on Fox Sports 1. We’re facing our old coach Paul Riley and his Flash with playoff spots and possibly even the league title on the line.
I will produce a full recap of this crazy week after that final game. Hopefully, coach Parsons will receive his Newtonian genius award, the Thorns will win the league, and we will all look back on this week as a spectacular end to a great season!
by Richard Hamje