(Part 2 of 3 short match reports for this busy week)
A small-ish crowd of 13,752 showed up on Wednesday night to witness the Thorns lock up a playoff berth with a comprehensive 3-0 win over the Houston Dash.
Unexpectedly, the Dash had been Portland’s nemesis this season posting two shutouts against us: 2-0 in preseason and 3-0 in July in Houston. But this night saw the tables reversed, as the Thorns ran away with the match almost from the opening whistle.
A Quick Recap
Christine Sinclair nearly scored thirty seconds into the match, just missing an open header off a wonderful Kat Reynolds cross. That set the tone for the match. Portland had long spells of possession, completing twenty or more passes in a sequence many times. Houston had a couple moments: two Janine Beckie shots that were just over the crossbar and one ten-minute stretch to open the second half where they maintained consistent possession. Aside from that, this match was about as one-sided as a match between two decent teams could be.
In the 25th, Tobin Heath stepped up to a free kick outside Houston’s box, delivering a great ball that Allie Long chipped over Lydia Williams with a looping header. This was only the first time that the Australian WNT keeper misjudged a threat – she made four such errors and paid for two of them. In the 31st, Sinclair was in alone only to see Williams just get a touch on the attempted chip shot. The rebound came back to Christine who hit the post with her put-back attempt.
In the 65th, Sinclair was frustrated again as her sidefoot tap-in of a Heath cross was saved at the line by a Williams desperation lunge. A more aggressive shot by Christine would have made the score 2-0. No matter as five minutes later another Heath cross was beautifully controlled by Allie Long who then calmly picked out the far post. In the 79th, Hayley Raso had her chance, but didn’t take the open shot from the top of the 18 yard box. Finally, in the 90th Sinclair converted, poking in a loose ball after another Williams miscue on an aerial ball, this time delivered by Meghan Klingenberg.
The Thorns were dominant because every last player made the effort and brought her A game. I am unable to pick a WOTM because the contributions were so widespread and consistent. But if you forced me, I’d go with Allie Long yet again.
Starting from the back, Michelle Betos had a pretty good night, with a positive-to-negative touch ratio of 13:5. This night her distribution was mostly excellent and her long kicks were reaching their target. She had one rough moment in the 84th when she was unable to latch onto the loose ball, but Emily Sonnett was on the spot to sweep clear.
Sonnett was excellent with a 7:1 ratio. She seems to be healed from her Seattle injury, as she was not wearing the facemask. Her partner, Emily Menges, was her usual rock-steady self with a 10:3 ratio. Emily had one scary moment in the 23rd when she pushed forward at the wrong time letting Beckie in behind for the Dash’s best chance of the night. Kat Reynolds also had a 10:3 ratio and delivered several dangerous crosses. Meghan Klingenberg shook off her funk from Sunday posting a 10:5 ratio. She did not get an official assist on Sinclair’s goal, but her set piece kick started the play. She also took some time recently to make this very cool and funny video.
The Thorns midfield was an overabundance of quality all night. Houston could not cope with Amandine Henry (12:2), Allie Long (team-leading, again, 25:3), Tobin Heath (22:4), Nadia Nadim (12:8), or Lindsey Horan (21:3). Even their substitutes did well: Mana Shim (3:0 in 14 minutes), Dagny Brynjarsdottir (1:0 in 7 minutes) and Hayley Raso (8:2 in 26 minutes). Of the group, Horan deserves special notice. Her passing was excellent as she sprung the attack time and again. She has come so close to scoring, so many times, that I keep thinking that she is going to explode and get five goals all at once. Maybe Sunday.
And up front was Christine Sinclair, leading by example, scoring a goal and missing a hat trick by literally a couple inches.
I had a nagging fear of this being a “trap” game for the Thorns. The Thorns underestimated Houston twice previously, and were wearing the unlucky white kits. Perhaps coach Parsons had the same concern. He brought the team out ready to play, made timely and logical substitutions, and set the Thorns up defensively to ensure that league-leading scorer Kealia Ohai, the dangerous Beckie, talented Morgan Brian, and media personality Carly Lloyd had no impact on proceedings.
The other league results mostly went our way on Wednesday. Seattle’s loss to Washington gave us a playoff spot before halftime although a Washington loss would have been better for our aspirations to win the league outright. Chicago lost unexpectedly which removes them from consideration for a home semi-final game. Most surprising was the Boston Breakers drawing our upcoming opponent, the Western New York Flash. My thumbs down award goes to Lynn Williams of the Flash who scored the equalizer for the Flash in the 76th of that match. Had that not happened, the Thorns would have locked up a home playoff match on Wednesday. Now we need one point or better on Sunday to turn the trick.
The smaller than normal crowd did not diminish enthusiasm in the north end. Our new goal celebration chant really caught on in this match after debuting on Sunday. It’s set to the song One Step Beyond by Madness. Recall that Thorns Madness was the theme of our season opening tifo display. The Riveters version has us do short marches of funny-walking east, then west, then east, then west, then a pause to belt out “One Goal Beyond!” or “Two Goals Beyond!” or even, ecstatically, “Three Goals Beyond!”.
The Thorns domination was so complete that some Riveters took to chanting Betos’ name on even the most routine recoveries, since she never had to make a “real” save.
Here are some of the small banners displayed on the north end walls. Look for yet more on Sunday.
Our last regular-season home match is Sunday the 11th at 6:30 pm, broadcast on Fox Sports 1. Merritt has announced that the game is sold out, so make sure you get there early for your favorite seat and shorter lines for refreshments. If we secure a result, the Thorns will get one final home game, so lend your voice to help them win. That way we’ll get to do this yet again before the leaves turn.