Riding a six-match unbeaten run and four straight wins the Portland Thorns arrived at the Magic Kingdom looking to pile on an Orlando Pride that looked to be in the process of what in commercial aviation is referred to as “controlled flight into terrain”.
Orlando had other ideas, though, and turned a good opening quarter-hour and a Thorns defensive fuckup into a one-goal lead that stood up for over an hour. A late Simone Charley header nicked the road point, though, and both teams had to accept the draw.
Which, frankly, seems fair enough to me. For all that Portland seemed to put more shots on the Orlando goal a lot of those shots were pretty low-percentage efforts. Charley had another free header in the 36th minute that Ashlyn Harris had to get up strong to save (Harris was the other big part of Orlando’s result; she was a monster last Sunday…) and Marissa Everett rattled the crossbar six minutes earlier, but that was pretty much that…
…except one weird moment in the 81st minute, when yet another great Klingenberg service freed Charley to run at goal. This time instead of cranking a blast Si-money slipped what looked like a sweet through ball to Sophia Smith who slid the biscuit under Harris into the basket…
…to be called offside.
The Paramount+ feed is usually at least decent (although I wish someone in the C-suite would get their director(s) on the blower and tell them that they need to knock this “show random players or coaches in closeup while the ball is in play” thing the fuck off) but this time it was an utter fail. The midfield camera was tight on Charley at the end of her run, and there was no way to judge where Smith was when the pass was released.
It sure looked close – or better – to me. But that’s soccer.
The metrics tell pretty much the story we saw on the pitch. The two sides were evenly matched, and the result was fair.
Anything else to take away from this one?
First, I’d suggest that this was the first time we saw how much Morgan Weaver helps this squad’s attack. Here’s Smith in the 13th minute; Raquel Rodriguez has fed her a lead pass, but Smith has run into traffic.
This is where you’d typically see Weaver storming up the left touchline, scattering defenders like pigeons, to give Smith an overlap or, at least, pull one of the defenders off her. Smith isn’t that sort of forward (neither is Charley, really, for all that she can run at defenses…).
Weaver breaks up defensive lines and opens space for the “tika-taka” attackers like Smith and Everett. Without her her attacking teammates just have a lot less time and space to work with, and the low scores they’ve been putting up show it.
Well…the numbers don’t lie – our defending has been outstanding over the middle third of this season. Eight goals conceded? That’s as good as the league gets right now, tho both Gotham and The Damned Courage are tucked right in behind.
So it makes it more frustrating when we do stuff like this:
Forty-third minute, pushing up to try and equalize before halftime, the Thorns just forget about Jodie Taylor, so when she gets dimed there’s only Emily Menges to try and hold off both her and Sydney Leroux as the two of them arrow towards Bella Bixby.
Luckily for the Thorns Natalia Kuikka’s head was on a swivel – that’s her just forward of the midfield stripe in the screenshot above – and she immediately turned to run with Leroux, caught her on the doorstep of the goal just as Taylor’s pass arrived, and somehow manage to tangle up Leroux’s feet without fouling to allow the ball to run through to Bixby.
I love what Kelli Hubly has been doing as she fills in for Becky Sauerbrunn. But, that said, Hubs did NOT have a good game Sunday. Caught out of position, giving far too much space inside the box, getting outjumped on simple headers…you can be better than this, Hubly. Let’s do that.
These are all kind of First World Problems, though. The bottom line is that the Thorns got the road point, are 5-0-2 over the last seven and sit comfortable at the top of the table. If you really are as good as your record says you are, the Thorns are the best in the NWSL as of this moment.
That’s not a bad thing to be.
The OPTA gang and I disagree on this; they show the Thorns with three corner kicks for this match, while I have them as winning four. Either way, though, it shows how thin the pressure the Thorns put on Orlando’s goal
|Out to Smith, whose cross was easily cleared.
|Curled out to Everett near the top of the 18; Everett’s header was well wide, but Kling gained possession and was fouled just outside the box. The ensuing free kick was blown dead by a Portland foul in the box.
|Cleared out but no further than Klingenberg; her put-back went to Smith in crowd; Smith managed to turn and shoot, but Harris gathered the tame effort in easily.
|Cleared over the touchline. On the ensuing throw-in Kuikka got the ball to Olivia Moultrie, but she was caught in possession and tackled for loss.
Kind of thin gruel there; not much one way or the other which, again, speaks to the effectiveness of Orlando’s defending and the sparse nature of Portland’s attack.
PLAYER RATINGS AND COMMENTS
Charley (+3/-6 : +9/-2 : +12/-8) After giving her stick for not scoring and making poor decisions in possession, Charley came alive in the second half of this one, in particular, making dangerous runs and getting herself in good positions. As discussed above, Charley is perhaps the most “Weaver-esque” of the forwards outside Weaver herself, so I think she suffers less from Weaver’s absence than either Smith or Everett.
Regardless, a matchwinner and a fine second half.
Smith (+2/-3 : +7/-1 : +9/-4) Not a terrific outing for Smith; not bad, just not her usual sparky self. Still have to wonder about that 81st minute offside call…
Everett (+3/-2 : +4/-1 : +7/-4) Again…without Weaver to open the defense up, Everett was reduced much of the match to trying to force passes into heavy traffic and not surprisingly failing much of the time. A for effort, but just not the right game state.
Moultrie (82′ – +1/-2 : +1/-4 : +2/-6) Despite her PMR I won’t say that Moultrie had a poor match, but she was largely invisible at a time when her team needed all the help they could get. Did fade badly in the second half, losing a lot of balls she had been successfully holding earlier in the match.
Westphal (8′ – +0/-1) Fresh lags to see out the draw, so, fine.
Salem (90+3′ – +5/-2 : +7/-2 : +12/-4) Hell of a good match from Angela Salem, both in controlling the midfield defensively and providing service forward. In the process she took a pounding; commentor Beck&Bauer put it nicely over on the Stumptown match thread: “Salem looked when she came off the pitch like a suburban mom after a wine-fueled “hey, why not” turn on the mechanical bull.”
Porter (2′- no rating)
Rodriguez (+3/-1 : +1/-1 : +4/-2) Hard graft for Rodriguez, who was forced to struggle with Gunny Jonsdottir all match and looked it. Did a solid job on both sides of the ball – nothing flashy, just decent.
Kuikka (+5/-2 : +7/-2 : +12/-4) The now-expected performance from our Finnish lighthorseman; deft service, tough tackling, and generally solid play. Probably should have closed down Courtney Peterson sooner on the Taylor goal, but did pressure her – Peterson just played a brilliant cross. Several massive tackles, as discussed above.
Menges (+4/-3 : +1/-2 : +5/-5)
Hubly (+4/-3 : +3/-1 : +7/-3)
I’m lumping both centerbacks because I have identical comments for them; look…you spent 88-odd minutes playing excellent defense then marred it by making a tiny handful of derps, one of which cost a goal. So this is a solveable issue. You just need to solve it.
One thing that can’t be underestimated when assessing the Thorns defense this season is that everyone has had scoring issues. So the clean sheets may have something to do with our opponents inability to score as much as the sturdiness of our defending.
The defending HAS been sturdy, though. The challenge now is to keep that up while reducing or, better, eliminating these small errors.
Klingenberg (82′ – +4/-5 : +4/-0 : +8/-5) Another outstanding match from the rejuvenated left back, including obviously the service on Charley’s goal. At this rate we have the good trouble of figuring out how to protect Kling in the upcoming expansion draft.
Bixby (+0/-0 : +2/-1 : +2/-1) Huge save in the 70th minute to keep Portland in the match, and a good diving take off Erika Tymrak in the 87th minute. One nervy moment – came out slow and tentative in the 64th minute on a looping Peterson serve and was frankly bailed out by Kelli Hubly – Taylor was in better position to receive a ball Bixby should have claimed. Not at fault on the concession, which was entirely on her backline.
Coach Parsons: I could slag off on MarPar for not anticipating how hard the spacewomen would come at his squad in the opening quarter hour.
I think the real takeaway here was that having failed to anticipate that, Parsons’ team didn’t hang their heads. Parsons squads have had trouble with that in the past.
Worse, the chase took over an hour in the nasty humidity of the COVID Kingdom. It would have been understandable that the team might have wilted by the 70th minute and just conceded defeat.
Instead they kept kicking and eventually landed one of the kicks and walked off with the point and their heads high; this was one of those draws that feel like wins, and in their post-match pressers both coach and team mentioned that.
So. No slagging, just a backpat for hanging tough on the trot and getting a result. Well done, Thorns.
Now we have a week or so of meaningless friendlies, which seems ideal. The returning internationals will get a chance to slide back in at a time when results don’t count, the coach can fiddle with rosters and lineups and not have to stress about points.
That said. This is where the team fell apart in 2019. There’s both danger and opportunity here; the danger we’ve seen. The opportunity is that the left-behinders have put this team in terrific position for a late season run at the Shield.
Things could get reeeeeeal interesting from here on out.