The Thorns’ first match of the Challenge Cup seems to be a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty sort of result.
Many of us saw it as a promising beginning. The Damned Courage didn’t run us off the pitch, several individual players – particularly young Bella Bixby and Morgan Weaver – had impressive debuts, and overall the play seemed fairly even.
Others of us saw some defensive breakdowns that were troubling for a unit that was a specific target of Front Office attention over the offseason, and yet another case of the Damned seeming to have the Thorns in their pocket one way or another.
Whatever our views, tomorrow the second match of the tournament pits the Chicago Red Stars, who lost their first match as well (to a sparky Washington Spirit led by a healthy – and lively – Rose Lavelle) and who will be looking for points with the same intensity as Portland.
Whether we look at the loss to Carolina as promising or disappointing, it revealed several issues that Coach Parsons and the squad will have to address if they want a result against the Red Stars.
Defensively the Thorns conceded acres of space along both the touchlines. The 4-3-3 – or whatever the hell the Thorns were playing; at times it looked more like a 4-4-2 diamond and at times more like Parsons’ beloved 4-2-3-1 – requires fullbacks with blazing recovery speed. Both Klingenberg and Hubly, lovely people that they are, will never be confused with Dunn and Williams; the pace just isn’t there. On the second concession it was Madison Pogarch that was caught upfield, forcing Sauerbrunn to try and stop Mewis’ wide run and exposing ‘Brunn’s even more painful lack of pace.
Although Kelli Hubly did well enough at RB in the first half the backline seemed to stabilize when she went out for Westphal in the second, so perhaps we’ll see either Westphal or Gabby Seiler starting there tomorrow. What we do about Kling…I don’t know. Perhaps just hope that Rachel Hill doesn’t have the motor Mace or Mewis do.
With more pace and better coverage wide we will also have ninety minutes of match play between the Thorns centerbacks. Hopefully this will help them coordinate and organize the center of the backline better.
It seems clear that one big difference between the 2019 and 2020 Thorns defense is that the centerbacks roles are reversed. Until this season Menges was the “stay-home” centerback while Sonnett was the “roams-forward” one. With Sauerbrunn next to her Menges is now Sonnett and Sauerbrunn is Menges, and they will need to figure out how that works most quick smart.
Despite being notionally the Thorns’ center forward against The Damned Courage here’s what Christine Sinclair spent the morning doing:
That’s…I’m not sure what that is. Center mid? Whatever that heat map represents, it’s not a center forward.
Part of the issue is that all the Thorns forwards were starved for service. Rodriguez and Salem, who at one time or another were the defensive midfielders, had trouble pushing passes up to their front line. If you think Sinclair’s heat map looks troubling, here’s Marissa Everett’s:
That’s a picture of a player who barely got a sniff at the ball; OPTA credits Everett with eight actions over 54 minutes; no shots, four successful passes – all backpasses – two incomplete passes, one tackle for loss, and a ball recovery.
Her replacement, Weaver, had as many recorded actions in barely more than half the time, including two shots, one on goal.
If Portland wants the points they’re going to have to generate more attack than this against Chicago. Again, the experience against Carolina should help, along with what I hope is a different starting XI; replacing Everett and Lussi…
…with Weaver and Charley…
…made a significant and positive difference against The Damned.
So we go into Matchday Two; still, hopefully, safe and healthy, still looking for the first points of 2020.
We’ll meet in the comments in three…two…