(in which the Thorns are fortunate to earn a point, but unhappy not to have three)
The Houston Dash hosted the Thorns in a weather-delayed match and snatched a draw from the jaws of victory. A stoppage time golazo by Lindsey Horan saved the Thorns from an ignominious defeat. The final score of 1-1 reflects kindly on the Dash defense and unkindly on the Thorns. Portland remains in fifth place, one point out of the last playoff slot. Houston remains seventh, two points off the floor where they had been sleeping until recently.
So far this season, Portland has done most of its conceding early (average 27th minute to the first) and scoring late (average 46th minute to the first). This game was an extreme example, as the Thorns conceded in the 7th and scored in the 91st.
The game started at about the time it was originally scheduled to end. Thunderstorms passed over the stadium with lightning, rain, and hail. By the time it was safe to play, it was just after 9:00 pm local time. The original weather forecast was calling for 90+ degrees with humidity; instead it was ten degrees cooler which was a blessing to the women from the Northwest. The pitch drains very well at BBVA Compass Stadium – there was no standing water on the field by the opening whistle.
The match opened with sloppy play by both teams with many errant passes. In the seventh minute, Lindsey Horan was playing the ball in the Houston half but collided with the referee. The Dash picked up the ball and with a few quick passes were in Portland’s far side corner with Rachel Daly. The Thorns had four defenders back and seemed to have it covered. As Emily Menges stepped out to challenge, Daly passed the ball toward the Portland penalty spot. Bizarrely, this ball rolled right by Allie Long who appeared to step aside and let it through. Janine Beckie was waiting and blasted a hard, low shot past Celeste Boureille and into the corner of the goal. Adrianna Franch had no chance.
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This was a collective breakdown by nearly the entire Thorns defense. The turnover had caught both Mana Shim and Meghan Klingenberg upfield. Both only jogged slowly back and so were no help. The first midfield player to arrive at the Portland box was Horan, who had the farthest to run. Then there was Long’s strange maneuver to let the ball roll to the spot. Boureille was standing still rather than moving to cover Beckie, the only Houston player in the box. And Emily Sonnett was just standing there, marking nobody. The overall lack of defensive urgency allowed Houston a shot that should have never happened.
For the next twenty minutes, the Dash pressed hard for a second as Portland’s sloppy and lethargic play continued. From the 9th through 18th minute, the Dash had one attempt every minute. They were having good success with through balls up the middle, and with wide crosses. But they never turned any of these efforts into actual shots on goal.
After this flurry, the Dash seemed to change their strategy. They stopped pressing high, instead keeping nine or ten players back and looking to counterattack. Portland’s possession went up dramatically but the final pass was lacking every time.
In the 22nd minute, Klingenberg was again caught upfield and failed to hustle back but Menges covered for her. In the 24th, it was Menges’ turn to be caught upfield after a sloppy pass by Ashleigh Sykes turned into a Houston counter. In the 26th, Rachel Daly was played in but chose to try a shot from the edge of the box that Franch gobbled up.
Finally, in the 33rd minute, the Thorns put it all together. Emily Sonnett sent a free kick from just inside the Houston half into the middle of the box. Christine Sinclair picked up the second ball and hit a hard shot that was saved by Jane Campbell for the Dash.
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The second half opened with a substitution for the Thorns as Tyler Lussi made her debut replacing Mana Shim. Houston remained in their trench as Portland shells fell all around them. It was not until the 63rd minute that Houston had their first chance in the half – a header high over Franch’s crossbar.
In the 66th minute, Tyler Lussi had a shout for a penalty when she was tripped in the Houston box. After this event, Omar Morales began making his substitutions and the game opened up. When Horan fluffed an uncontested header in the center circle, Nichelle Prince was played in one-on-one. Franch dove and picked the ball off Prince’s foot for her best save of the match.
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Between 79:10 and 80:50 on the clock, Portland had three excellent scoring chances through Hayley Raso (blocked), Sinclair (missed narrowly), and Lussi (barely headed away).
Houston dodged a bullet in the 83rd when substitute Bruna Benites was shown a yellow, not red, card for a two-footed, studs-up challenge on Lussi. The Thorns had a scary moment in the 87th when Franch decided not to go pick up a long ball sent forward by Carli Lloyd. The Dash then had an open cross to the spot which the onrushing Lloyd smashed just wide.
The Thorns were increasingly desperate and thus frustrated by a poor piece of refereeing in the 89th. Houston had a corner kick which Portland controlled and turned into a three-on-one break, but referee Christina Unkel blew her whistle for a foul against Houston. This clearly should have been played as advantage.
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Unkel made up for this, in Portland eyes, a minute later when she called former Thorn Amber Brooks for a foul on Allie Long outside the Dash box. The resulting free kick by Lindsey Horan was simply splendid. The replay speaks for itself.
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After this, Houston began regretting their previous time-wasting ploys while the Thorns were pressing for a winner. Thirty seconds after the restart, Carli Lloyd sent her cleats into Mallory Weber’s knee as they contested a bouncing ball. Unkel showed the red card. Lloyd definitely caught Weber, which could be either a yellow or red card. My guess is that Unkel was tipped toward red by the aggressive pursuit of the ball by Lloyd – she looked like an angry, frustrated player going after it.
Regardless, her ejection had no impact on this match for Houston although it may on their next. Portland had one final chance but Horan kicked it too high and hard, and then the whistle blew.
Houston has been on a comeback tour of sorts, with two wins and now two draws in their last four. Clearly, they wanted the home win which would have been their only one since opening day. But their tactics of parking the bus and playing for counter attacks ultimately didn’t work. They had the pace and talent up front to hurt the Thorns, but chose to turtle instead.
For the Thorns, the draw was a relief. No matter the opponent, a road draw, especially in steamy conditions, is a good thing. But for the partisan, the result was disappointing. To have 21 shots, five on goal, 58% possession, 20 crosses, 8 corners, 11 free kicks, 150 more successful passes – to have all that domination and score only one goal? To give up a very preventable goal? That is not the stuff of champions.
No Thorn stood out as obviously excellent in this match. As always, I counted positive-to-negative meaningful touches for every player. According to those numbers, only three Thorns had consistently good 90-minute performances. Christine Sinclair was probably the best Thorn on the pitch, so my WOTM. She forced an excellent save out of Campbell in the first half and missed a goal by inches in the second. Her touch ratio was 11:0 in the first, 14:4 in the second. As always, she was a calm but determined leader.
Emily Menges was the rock in defense and the only field player doing her job properly on the Houston goal. Her touch ratio was 10:0 in the first, 4:3 in the second. As good as she was, Houston got attackers in behind her several times for scary chances. Adrianna Franch had one of her best performances. Since Houston was not pressing, she almost never made a long goal kick. As a result, her distribution was nearly flawless with only one turnover all match. She made an excellent save on Prince, timing her dive perfectly. Yet she was indecisive on a through ball and let Houston collect it for a very dangerous chance late. She could do nothing about the goal.
More Thorns had middling or inconsistent runouts. The best was Lindsey Horan with the fantastic equalizer. But it was her turnovers that led to the Houston goal and another near miss. Her passing was off, especially in the first half. Lindsey’s ratio was 7:6 in the first, 10:4 in the second. She also got a yellow card in this match, which is worrying. She now has four on the season – one more and she’s suspended for a match. We can hardly afford that! Allie Long had a terrible first half. Her touches were 4:3 and she made that strange “dummy” to let the ball roll through our box for the concession. She contributed more in the second half (11:8) including a shot on goal and a near-assist. I doubt if it was a factor but she had her ponytail tied up in a bun for the second half.
Meghan Klingenberg was another Thorn with a slow first half (8:4) and better second (15:1). She took the corner kicks in the second half and delivered fine balls. As happens, she was often caught upfield on turnovers by her teammates. The most notable instance was the on the Houston goal. Hayley Raso similarly had a slow start (6:4 in the first) and a better finish (8:3 for 40 minutes in the second). She did earn several corner kicks but was less effective than normal. Celeste Boureille also started slow (6:3) but finished stronger (10:4). And she had this one moment that won’t go into her highlight reel. Where did that ball get off to?
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The substitutes showed well. Tyler Lussi was impressive in her debut (9:6 for a half). She was not over-awed by the experience and had this excellent moment.
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Mallory Weber (4:1 in 25 minutes) made some nice contributions including a fine cross. It was she who suffered the foul that saw Carli Lloyd sent off. Ashley Herndon got no touches during her five minutes but just the fact that the coaches were willing to put her in means something. She only signed with the team a few days before the match.
Three Thorns had poor outings. Emily Sonnett (8:5) was beaten too many times by through balls and was a spectator for the Houston goal. It wasn’t all dire, her free kick led to Sinclair’s barely-saved shot in the first half and Emily was leading the 3-on-1 break that was called back for a foul late in the match. Ashleigh Sykes has not yet adjusted to play in the NWSL. She has been ineffective in all her outings to date without showing us much speed, ball skill, or shooting prowess. For 65 minutes, her touch ratio was 6:9. The better Portland attacks came down the right, Raso’s side. Finally, Mana Shim’s effort was a disappointment (6:6 for one half). She was indecisive on the ball, her corner kicks were weak and poorly placed, and she seemed to be moving very sluggishly as if she was feeling ill. I do not recall seeing a single outright sprint from her.
It’s hard to find fault with the Portland coaching in this match. Given the roster, Mark Parsons sent out his strongest side and had them aligned well relative to Houston’s strengths. To his credit, he recognized that Shim was struggling and replaced her at the half. So while it’s hard to give out genius awards for just making do with what you have, he’s certainly no dumber than he was last week. Unlike in Seattle, there’s really nothing to second-guess about the team’s lineup or tactics in this match. They just needed more urgency on defense and the stars needed to shine a bit brighter – that is up to the players.
There were 3,869 folks at the match. From social media, we know at least four of them were Riveters who braved the rain delay and thus had a very long night with wet butts.
There was a light moment in the match as this ball kid, possibly an aspiring WNBA player, decided to attempt a free throw. Let’s give her credit, she got nothing but net!
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After the match, the webcast showed Klingenberg and Long in a heated discussion about something. Social media had some fun trying to decode the conversation from the hand gestures. Were they arguing about why paper beats rock? Was Meghan illustrating how to properly form a sausage roll?
Three Dashes made provocative statements about the refereeing afterwards. Amber Brooks ranted on Twitter, presumably about her foul on Allie Long which led to the Horan golazo. To my eye this looked like a routine foul. Meanwhile Carli Lloyd claimed she’d done nothing red-card worthy when she spiked Weber.
Then acting coach Omar Morales chipped in claiming that Horan had committed eight more fouls after getting her yellow card before halftime. Of course, none of the Dashes considered decisions that favored them, such as the non-red-card on Benites or the missed advantage call on the late Thorns breakaway.
To Morales’ claim, the box score shows zero fouls were called on Horan in the second half. In my review, I saw one incident that was uncalled which might have been a foul by Horan and two uncalled that she may have suffered. None of the them were remotely card-worthy. No objective viewer can give much credence to these complaints but the league may well impose extra discipline.
The Thorns now have three home games in a row. The next one is a major test as the league leaders, and our old friends, the Western New York Flash North Carolina Courage come to town. The match is Saturday at 12:30 pm and will be the Lifetime Match of the Week.
After that, we host the Washington Spirit and then the Houston Dash in the return fixture. By the time we go on the road again it will be August 12th at Chicago and we could have all our Euro players back. Who knows, maybe Tobin Heath will be healthy by then also?
By Richard Hamje
Video editing by Jeanette “Bitmangler” Hamje