Thorns FC: Post-Pre

The next time we see our Portland Thorns on the pitch, the results will matter.

Photo Credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

That wasn’t the case the three times we saw them the previous week; the “Thorns Invitational” was only an opportunity for us, and the coaching and training staff, to see how well the players and team are shaping as they approach Opening Day.

In the past I’ve done separate match reports for the preseason games; this year I was just not far enough recovered from big surgery to sit and take notes for the full ninety. Instead, what I’d like to do is provide my observations, and then open the comment thread for yours. Let’s talk about what we saw, or didn’t see.

Matchday 1: Thorns vs Chicago

I missed this match, it being less than 48 hours post-op. The match report, however, provided me with several things to ponder. This would turn out to be the only match where the Thorns would field a team that included all their internationals – the US players would be gone by mid-week – and, unsurprisingly, that affected the shape of the match.
1. The report suggests that many – or most – of the Thorns’ opportunities came either from set-pieces or strikes from distance. Not surprising but not really illuminating, either.
2. Disturbingly, though, it also suggests that almost all Portland’s scoring chances came from or went through Heath. While it’s great that the Notorious TFH is in midseason form in March, it’s not so great when you realize that we’re going without her for a big chunk of midsummer.

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3. Dagny Brynjardottir came on late in place of Lindsey Horan. Could that be the early season plan, much the way Dagny was the “late-match Henry” towards the end of 2017? That could work. Wish we had some individual stats from this match to see how well it worked.
4. Sounds like Kelli Hubly may be on the bubble for this match; otherwise I’d have thought that Kat Reynolds would have replaced Ellie Carpenter at the half instead of Hubly getting half an hour; looks like Parsons wanted a good look at Hubly, instead.

Matchday 2: Thorns v U.S. U-23 WNT

I did manage to totter out to Merlo for this game, only to find that not only were the internationals gone from the Portland 18, but that Coach Parsons had decided to use the match to look at nearly all his trialists and invitees. The only regulars that saw the full match were Eckerstrom in goal, Hubly for the defense, and Weber up top. Ifeoma Onumonu went deep into the second half, though, and Liz Ball for an hour. Everyone else either got just a half or less, or were some variation of rookie or trialist.

The result was a match that ended up looking much even that it probably should have – less like a professional side against a group of gifted amateurs and more like a couple of college all-star teams.

Photo credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

I had a very difficult time sorting out all this confusion, and so instead of ratings ended up with some random jottings about players and the match.

  1. None of the trialists/NRIs really stood out. None were obviously over their heads, but none were clearly ready for a signed contract. Several did make impressions one way or the other. I’ve bolded the trialist’s names in the section below to make them more accessible:
    1. Simone Charley looked active and dangerous all evening. Smart player, good positioning, pacey. Mind you, I thought that when she tried out here last spring and she didn’t take, so we’ll see.
    2. Arden Holden, on the other hand, looked singularly unimpressive in midfield, passing into danger and being dispossessed far too often. That showed up particularly in contrast to Madison Pogarch, who played just behind her at left back; Pogarch was solid defensively and had a particularly deft touch passing. Apparently Parsons has seen enough, too, as he lifted Holden for Gabby Seiler at the hour mark.
    3. Much was made of the debut of middle-school-age trialist Olivia Moultrie, who played the second half. She looked fine, which in itself is a pretty impressive achievement for a player who was playing three or more tiers above her age level. Hopefully we’ll see Moultrie again in half a decade or so.
  2. None of the regulars particularly distinguished or embarrassed herself; most were solid (Weber, Ball, Hubly) without looking particularly forward in their preparation. Two regulars each had a “moment”, though, each of which had me scratching my head.
    1. Eckerstrom was fine in goal and guiltless on the concession. In the second half, however, she had collected the ball and was waiting for her team to push upfield when she rolled the ball several yards in front of her. U-23 forward Ashley Sanchez, who had been a caution all evening, immediately darted towards her. Eck had no outlet and, with Sanchez rushing on, had to boot the ball into touch. Since she’s not coming off a layoff it’s irking to see her make these little goofs.
    2. Onumonu had what might be the most Onumonuesque moment of the match in the 12th minute or so. Pogarch (I think) zipped a gorgeous ball up the left channel, but with SO much zip on it that it seemed impossible for any player to run it down. Onumonu ran it down. And then, with her marker beat and nothing but green between her than the WNT keeper’s near post, Onumonu shanked the ball over the byline with her first touch.
  3. As a team the Thorns were, unsurprisingly, all over the place. That wasn’t particularly troubling, but it wasn’t particularly heartening, either. The midweek match seemed like more a placeholder and a chance to look at the rookies than a genuine tune-up for the season.

After the midweek match my biggest concern was that the loss of Heath and Horan took a lot of the fire out of the Thorns’ attack. The defending looked good enough to keep Macario & Co. at bay, but the chances were few and far between.

Matchday 3: Thorns v Reign FC

The rubber match was sort of a mashup of the first two. Like the Chicago match, both coaches brought what looked like their starting XI to the pitch. Like the U-23 match, however, missing players – in this case, Heath, Horan and Sonnett for Portland, Rapinoe and Long for Tacoma – had an outsized impact on the game.

Photo credit: Sam Ortega, Portland Thorns

Both teams created some very good chances, but either couldn’t finish or were beaten by good defending.

The Reign outshot PTFC 12-9 and put 7 of those dozen on target; Eckerstrom dealt with all seven, including a wild flurry in the 50th minute that included two pointblank reaction saves and a strong jump to turn a Beverly Yanez shot over the bar.

Late in the second half the Portland defense suddenly forgot how to deal with pressure on a loose ball near the goal. Liz Ball dropped an awful backpass that forced Eckerstrom into a panic clear that fell short. The ball dinged around the top corner of the 18 before dropping to Jasmyne Spencer, who shot hard but at a tough angle. Eckerstrom smothered Spencer’s shot at her near post.

At the other end the scoreless result wasn’t so much goalkeeping as shooting.

In the 8th minute Sinclair looped a cross into the six-yard box that Lydia Williams couldn’t hold and spilled forward onto the boot of an advancing Ana-maria Crnogocevic. With Williams stranded all AMC had to do was dink an easy chip into the goal, but she couldn’t control her shot and it went high.

About half an hour later it was Caitlin Foord’s turn. Carpenter picked out her far-post run and delivered a gorgeous cross, but Foord either couldn’t control the pass or shanked it over the byline – I was screened by other fans and couldn’t see the end of the play.

After the restart Dagny headed well over, and Foord had another chance at the hour mark but her on-target header was denied by good work from Michelle Betos.

If I had to characterize the midfield battle I’d have called it a draw. Without Rapinoe and Long Tacoma couldn’t really dominate the center of the pitch, and without Horan and Heath neither could Portland.

Portland generated a respectable attack – less the critical US midfielders, which is reassuring – but AMC and Foord continued last season’s finishing woes. The Thorns also looked less than steady in back without the Great Wall of Emily. At right back Carpenter was terrific, but on the right side Klingenberg was her now-usual mashup of clever passing and defensive errors. Eckerstrom has been solid.

Those were just my impressions from a somewhat random preseason invitational. To me the team looks about where I’d expect; still a work in progress, and with many of the same strengths and weaknesses we saw in 2018.

How about you? Any hot takes from the past week? Let’s discuss in the comments!

John Lawes
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6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Post-Pre

  1. The absences seemed to accurately foreshadow the year of absences we have ahead of us. Can Parsons put together a plan that yields points during all those absences enough to get into the playoffs? We’ll see.

    I was struck by how effective the Tacoma high press was, and how physical it was with very few call. I suppose I should be used to that, but it still stood out.

    1. Still, the Thorns got some good looks at Tacoma’s goal, so I’m not sure that Portland at full strength can’t beat the high press. Carpenter, in particular, brings pace out wide and effective service, which helps spread the defenses. Sinclair, interestingly, was doing a lot of that against Tacoma.

      The thing I’d hoped to see (and was probably too optimistic about seeing) and didn’t was some sort of consistent “WC XI” on the pitch to get a sense for how Parsons will manage losing the big midfield three plus the Aussies. I think we’re just going to have to wait and see on that.

  2. I only saw the first game and in the first half there was a lot of world class talent out there and it almost seemed like a rough league game. I was very impressed with Gabby Seiler. Of course Sinc, Tobin, Horan and looked fantastic. Celeste was playing well too. I thought Sonnett and Carpenter did a good job of neutralizing Sam Kerr.

    Second brought half lots of substitutions and Pograrch and Dagny were a standouts and I thought Mallory Weber looked pretty crisp too.

    In the highlights of the Reign game it looked to me like Foord was unlucky. She really needs to get that first Thorns goal, she may be rushing her shot a bit.
    I was sorry to miss the U23 game because Macario impressed me last year and Ashley Sanchez is a player that I have wanted to see. It sounds like they both provided a lot of danger.
    With Ball, Seiler, Pograrch, Ogle and Yes Hubly I think we have the defensive depth we have needed. On offense I hope AMC, Webber and Lussi can all step it up a bit. Possibly Charly may be ready and Onamanu????

    1. I missed Seiler against Chicago, but, as I’ve mentioned above, saw her against the Nats and her half against Tacoma. I thought she was…adequate. What I wanted to see from her and didn’t was a hint that she was a year further along than Ogle or Pogarch. I didn’t see that, though. So I’m going to have to reserve judgement; last season I thought that Ball was a washout and Charley a lock and on Opening Day Ball was here and Charley wasn’t.

      I thought Macario looked subdued compared to the year before when she just lit up the Thorns defenses. Not bad, just not quite as woman-among-girls better than her surroundings as she was a year ago. Sanchez, though…she’s a horse, and she’s gonna be hella good as a senior Nat/pro player. I want to draft her here in 2020, dammit!

      I didn’t see anything from Weber or Lussi (though it sounds like Lussi lit it up against Chicago) I haven’t seen; useful depth, no more. Onumonu…Iffy is the most insanely frustrating Thorns forward since Shade Pratt and shares a lot of the same characteristics; long, tall physique, terrific pace, horrific touch. If she could ever develop actual ball skills? She’d be a beast. I think the frontline will be fine when Raso and Foord and AMC are here. What happens when the Aussies are gone..? That’s kinda scary to think about.

      1. I did not see Onamanu play but based on last year I share your frustration. I want her to succeed so much and like you said she has some tools. I am also curious to see if Midge Purse solves what may be her biggest issue is only having one leg (futbol wise). Against players who have never seen her she is a wrecking ball, but that one sided game needs fixing.
        Looking forward to the Carpenter/Rapinoe battle tomorrow night and I hope Raso sees the field. If JE starts with Horan, Ertz and LaVelle or Mewis in the midfield the Matildas will have a long night. Both teams have questions in the back line and massive skill in the attack so I think the midfield is where the US will dominate.

        1. I’m going to be fascinated by the US/AUS match. I think we might get a real clue to whether one or the other (or both) has what it takes to make it to the Final game this year.

          That said, I’m not sure about Raso. She was in the 18 at Merlo last Sunday but didn’t play, and was running alone with a trainer before the match. Not sure if the club was worried about her fitness, or she’d picked up a little something in training? We’ll have to see if she’s on field tonight.

          I think Ali Krieger may turn out to be huge in midfield. I think the USWNT missed her steel badly, and Ellis finally figured that out and recalled her. She should be the spine the US needs.


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