Not Again!

(In which the Curse of Memorial Stadium continues)

This is a short match report for this last of three games in eight days.

The Thorns visited the Seattle Reign and once again came home with nothing, losing 2-0. All-time, Portland has taken one point from a possible fifteen there and been outscored 14-2 in the process. Yet this match was competitive from start to finish and it’s not hard to see how the Thorns might have won without a couple small mistakes.

The match started at a high tempo as both sides were up for the fight. For the first half hour, the Thorns were trying to play their patient, build-from-the back game. Seattle was doing the same. This made for a lot of midfield congestion. With quality players like Amandine Henry facing off against Jess Fishlock, this led to lots of turnovers and not many chances.

The match turned in Portland’s favor in the 33rd when Fishlock injured her knee on an awkward fall and had to leave the game. Almost immediately the Thorns began having more success, especially with long balls down the near side of the pitch. Carson Pickett for Seattle was no match for Hayley Raso. Without the covering help that Pickett had been getting from Fishlock, this mismatch was exposed. Raso took advantage, creating several opportunities.

Then came first half stoppage time and the play that was Portland’s undoing. With less than a minute to go into the locker room at nil-nil, the Thorns passed the ball backwards eventually reaching Emily Sonnett who made a very poor backpass toward goal. Megan Rapinoe swept in and poked the ball past the helpless Franch. The Thorns were devastated as Emily Sonnett put her head in her hands and the team trudged off for the break.

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The Thorns have recovered from first half concessions before, including the prior meeting of these two teams when Seattle scored in the first minute but ended up with a draw. But this evening the soccer gods were not smiling on Portland. There were multiple chances in the second half, but nothing would go in. Here’s an example where Sykes was wide open, but her touches weren’t what was needed and she ended up without even a shot. Something similar had happened to Sinclair in the 23rd minute.

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Rapinoe added a lovely late insurance goal and Portland’s goose was cooked.

The game was a lot closer than the final score credits. Without the silly concession, the Thorns go into the half tied and with the better of the play. Then in the second half Seattle would have been unable to squat on their lead. This would have improved the Thorns’ chance to open the scoring, which in turn would have put the pressure on the Reign to push forward. It’s not hard to imagine the 2-0 scoreline, but in Portland’s favor. By my count, the Thorns had four excellent scoring chances in the first half and six in the second.

In my match report for the FCKC game on Wednesday, I said, “But just because FCKC wasn’t able to punish the mistakes [in center defense] doesn’t mean there weren’t any.” Versus Seattle, one mistake was punished. This is not unusual when two evenly matched teams meet in any sport. On another night, the mistake doesn’t happen, or isn’t converted, or is made by the Reign instead and the result is different.

Why weren’t the Thorns able to bounce back in the second half? Fatigue had to be a factor. This was the Thorns’ third match in a week that included a cross-country flight. Seattle had also played three but all at home. Lack of depth was also clearly an issue. Without Nadia Nadim, there were no available offensive substitutes after Sykes entered in the 60th. This has been the case for several weeks now, which means Parsons can’t rest anyone. Laura Harvey for Seattle had her entire roster available for the first time in what seems like years. As a result, she could insert fresh midfielders to face off against our tired attackers. The poor pitch also came into play. We saw many uncharacteristically bad touches from quality players like Sinclair and Sykes. The rock-hard surface with short blades makes control difficult – it’s nearly impossible to get a long pass to check up and high balls lead to high bounces. While the Reign must also play on it, they have the advantage of familiarity. Tactics may have contributed. Raso was having the run of Pickett in the first half but the Thorns shifted the focus to their left side with Sykes in the second half and stopped attacking with the long ball until the dying moments. And finally, psychology had to have some influence. To give up one of the worst goals the team has ever conceded, and to do it while otherwise holding your own against the odds – no matter how tough you are that’s going to hurt.

What weren’t factors? The refereeing, which was very good. The weather, which was as perfect as it could possibly be. The travel, as I-5 was mostly smooth sailing. The ambience, as the Riveters did what we could to make the Thorns feel at home.

Next up is the Houston Dash Saturday at 5:30. The weather is projected at 94 degrees and humid (Oh, Texas!) although the match is in the evening so it may be somewhat cooler. Houston is bottom of the table, but are coming off two wins. Carli Lloyd is back but Kealia Ohai is out for the season. For the Thorns, Dagny, Nadia and Amandine are all gone at the Euros in France. It’s gut-check time for this team, same as last year during the Olympics.

Player ratings

My choice for WOTM is Amandine Henry. She is in France now, preparing to captain Les Bleues in the 2017 Euros. She probably won’t return until the second week in August, as France is favored as a finalist. But for the Thorns, she did her best to carry the team against Seattle. Her positive-to-negative meaningful touches were 12:0 in the first half, and 9:4 in the second. She had one wicked shot at goal and made numerous pinpoint passes to create opportunities.

Lindsey Horan also played well, especially in the second half. This is a pattern we’ve seen from her – when the team is down her determination goes up. Her touches were 7:1 in the first half. But in the second they were 15:3, highest on the team. Christine Sinclair was announced as a recipient of the Order of Canada which recognizes citizens who have made special contributions nationally and globally. She’ll be off to Ottawa to collect it later this year, but in the meantime there was football to play. Christine had three excellent chances to score in the first half, narrowly missing what would have been the opener. Her touch ratio was 16:5 for the night. As is usual, Hayley Raso ran her socks off and terrorized the defense, especially Carson Pickett. Her touches were 12:3 including a fantastic cross in the 33rd that nobody was available to tap in. Hayley also contributed on defense. At one point, she dispossessed Rapinoe in the Thorns corner, having run all the way back from the Seattle touchline.

The rest of the midfield and offense had more pedestrian outings. Mana Shim was quiet all night as Seattle’s pressure was much quicker and more aggressive than FCKC’s had been on Wednesday. Her touch ratio was 6:8 for 60 minutes. This simply must improve as we will need Mana for the next several weeks. Similarly, Allie Long offered little and is going to have to step up her game with Henry gone. Her touches were 2:1 in the first and 7:3 in the second. Ashleigh Sykes came on for Shim and had two nice chances, both fluffed. Her touch ratio was 3:3. We should start seeing Sykes play for 90 minutes as she replaces Nadia Nadim who’s off to the Euros. Unrelated tidbit: Nadia Nadim just signed a contract as Denmark’s first Nike Athlete. Congratulations!

The defense had a big challenge, as you’d expect facing a healthy Reign squad. Adrianna Franch had a ton of touches and clearances (23:9) without any glaring errors. She had no chance on either goal and bobbled one shot which Menges cleared. Dagny Brynjarsdottir had a decent outing given her task of marking Megan Rapinoe whilst also supporting Hayley Raso in attack. Her first half touches were 11:5. She flagged some in the second (7:9) most notably not getting back in time to harass Rapinoe on the second goal. On the left, Meghan Klingenberg (11:4) spent the night keeping Merritt Mathias quiet while also helping Shim. Klingenberg had one good offensive moment, sending in a cross that resulted in a corner kick.

The “Great Wall of Emily” once again showed some cracks. We’ve already discussed Emily Sonnett’s unhappy mistake. She had a couple smaller errors but did seem more willing to play the ball into touch. Hopefully this is a lesson she has really learned after giving up game-losing goals to Sky Blue and now Seattle on failures to make easy clearances. Her meaningful touches were (7:7). Emily Menges was steadier (12:6) with a critical clearance in front of the empty net and a couple of nice forward balls.

Mark Parsons faced a difficult challenge. The Thorns’ roster can’t be called “depth” any longer and with Nadia Nadim injured the shallow end looked more like a puddle. The team signed draft pick Tyler Lussi this week and have Savannah Jordan coming. This was no help for Seattle though. Lussi may be pressed into service for Houston next week.

Conceivably Parsons could have started Sykes over Shim and Boureille over Brynjarsdottir. There’s no reason to think this would have changed much. With the actual starting lineup, the Thorns should have gone into halftime 0-0, which would have been a “win”. Aside from generally encouraging Sonnett to be more conservative on clearances, there’s nothing Parsons could do about the actual result. Since Boureille was not introduced even with Dagny tiring, I wonder if perhaps Celeste has a small knock.

Tactically, I am not clear why the Thorns attack shifted to the left after halftime. Hayley Raso was torching Pickett, so why not keep attacking there? At a minimum, this might have pushed Harvey to make a defensive sub or change her formation to give Pickett some help. This, in turn, would have opened opportunities elsewhere for Portland.

As it was, I cannot pin this result on the coaching. The Reign was just better, and luckier, on the day.

Hammered Rivets

The Riveters loaded into two busses to make the trip north. As seems to be the norm, the cider bus was the rowdier of the two.

Wristbands #SpaceNeedleAway style. Beer bus version is black and recognizes Lompoc.  Photo: Gwyneth Defriez
Special prize for riding the bus!  Photo: Alan Mutter

There was a kickaround at the rest stop and another small one on arrival at Memorial.

Kicking around under the Space Needle. Photo: Alan Mutter

The bus riders met up with the rest of the Thorns support and we entered as group – about 140 people in total. We filled two sections just behind the team bench.

That’s a lot of red!

The Reign staff had posted signs so that the tea-and-watercress crowd could stay far away.

Photo: Emily Braibish
#1 Fan! Photo: Gwyneth Defriez
“Tifo” by the Queen’s Court, recycled from 2016.  Photo: Matthew Smith

As has always been the case, we were prohibited from bringing drums or flags. This time, the Reign’s front office held out a carrot: our good behavior might lead to a policy change for future matches. Since we’ve always behaved reasonably well there, this promise is probably empty.

In any case, our capos and unequipped drum-and-trumpet crew did their best to coordinate songs and keep us on beat. The support sounded pretty good on the go90 webcast and was the dominant noise in the stadium, but even one drum sure would help.

The chanting started with the team’s appearance for warmups. When Christine Sinclair came out, we sang O, Canada – it being Canada Day. While she did not join in, she did rather bashfully acknowledge the effort.

It takes a lot to silence the Riveters, but Megan Rapinoe managed the trick with her surprise goal to end the first half. We barely recovered in time to clap the players off for halftime. There was general muttering, attempts at positivity, and runs to the beer garden. By the time the second half began, things were back to normal.

The game ended at 90:86, according to the stadium clock.

What clock has 86 seconds?
Win or lose, we love the Thorns and they love us.  Photo: Matthew Smith

It was a quiet and uneventful bus ride home. Perhaps in August the Thorns will win at Memorial and then we’ll see if the ride back can match the trip up.

The webcast was one of their best efforts yet. The announcers were prepared and could properly pronounce the players’ names. The camera, replay and directorial work was better than many we’ve seen. There were no technical glitches. Of course, there were some headshakers (“Carson Pickett is quietly having a good game”. Really? She was getting smoked two out of three times!).

For the Houston match, will be providing alternative audio via Twitch. If you’d rather hear biased Thorns supporters announce the match, listen to us. I guarantee you will not hear about anyone “giving 110%”. Check social media or the website for details on Saturday.

Onward Rose City!

By Richard Hamje

Video and still editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje

Featured Image courtesy under Creative Commons License

Richard Hamje
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3 thoughts on “Not Again!

  1. I’m not so sure we played as well as we looked at Memorial. Most of our chances at goal were pretty iffy; Sykes had the best look and blasted over the crossbar at 78′. Horan’s 66′ sot was a very tight angle and Kopmeyer was well positioned. Much of our other attacking work was the usual long-ball-slow-developing sort of thing we’ve seen a lot of lately. Seattle’s backline didn’t have much trouble seeing that off.

    I thought that Parson’s better option, and one that might have worked to jumpstart the attack, would have been to put Dagny in Shim’s spot and keep Boureille at RB. Mind you…I’m not sure that would have contained Rapinoe. She was having that kind of game.

    And I’m also not sure that Seattle parked the bus in the second half. Rapinoe was a beast, and they had several truly dangerous crosses inside, especially after 50′ where Menges had to come up huge clearing away balls that were bouncing around the goalmouth twice.

    And one note re: Sonnett. There are errors and errors. Some errors are so awful – and the 46′ giveaway was one of those – that there’s no real way that any other amount of good work can rescue the culprit. And that wasn’t her only bad mistake; her 76th minute giveaway put Kawasumi in on goal and Henry had to pull her biscuits out of the fire.

    Regardless, the team needs to shake off this loss and the recent run of bad form and get mentally ready to kick ass in Houston.

    1. Every time they play a good match I think “they’ve turned the corner” and then it’s back to square one a week later. But I did think they played well for nearly all of the Seattle match, with the obvious few minutes of exceptions. Also, I’ve been thinking that Seattle is a better team than their place in the standings suggests. They got off to a slow start but Harvey’s got them playing as a team now. I may be too much of a glass-half-full guy, but I came away thinking the Thorns weren’t as much poor as unlucky.

      1. The xG chart (see the latest SRP post) suggests that we weren’t “unlucky in the goal-scoring sense” as Howard Cosell would have put it. Our best opportunities (minus the blocks, which weren’t really all that dangerous) come out to something like 0.6 goal. So on the “if you don’t score you can’t win” chart we’d have been lucky to have held onto the scoreless draw. And I’d have been fine with that; by the end of the first half (before the Death Derp) I was actually thinking that.

        But Seattle…yeah. This season their bottom line seems to be as goes Rapinoe so go the Reign. Right now Raps is blazing hot, so the Queens are on fire as well. I thought that they looked excellent against us up there, and I think they’ll continue climbing so long as Rapinoe stays in form. My only “hope” is that her history is one of extreme hot-and-cold, and perhaps she goes cold again before we see her (here’s hoping!) in the playoffs.

        I’d be more convinced of “unlucky” rather than “ungood” had our recent form looked stronger. But after the in-my-opinion-well-played-but-unlucky loss to Boston the team has looked awful in Washington and not particularly sharp in Seattle. I’m really looking forward – in the “desperately wanting to know the answer” kind of looking forward – to Houston because I want to see if the FCKC win was the outlier or whether it was Washington away. A well-played match, even a loss, in Houston with the depleted squad will reassure me that what we saw was just a mashup of fatigue and bad luck and good opposition rather than a systemic problem with the Thorns. Right now I really don’t have a good sense of which is which…


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