After years of trying the Portland Thorns broke the Curse of Cary, beating the Damned Courage 0-1.
It wasn’t easy, despite what the stat sheets suggest:
Arielle Dror’s “xG race” plot tells the story more accurately:
The two sides picked this match to swap identities.
Portland was the team spamming the Carolina goal with shots to finally get one past Casey Murphy on a pure Route One long-lob-and-run between Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith, Portland’s only real weapon, a shotgun that blasted 8 shots and had to put 5 on goal to get her goal.
Instead of the familiar Carolina Death Blossom the Courage was the team struggling to find opportunities; Debinha utterly nerfed out on the wing, Lynn Williams had several chances but couldn’t finish, O’Sullivan and Merritt Mathias invisible (holy Hell does the Damned miss Sam Mewis in midfield..!), Alex Rodriguez inefficient as always.
This match seemed in doubt from whistle to whistle, with Portland driving forward in between making horrifying mistakes in the back, while Carolina knocked the ball around trying to figure out where the hell its attack had gone. I’m really not sure that this match, and this result, says anything definitive about how the two sides will match up when they meet again here in Portland in October.
But it sure as hell says this: the Thorns finally walked out of Carolina’s house with all the points. That Thorns are top of table, and are within an ace of locking down the Shield.
And that’s juuuuust fine.
Passing the Passing Test: Per OPTA the Thorns were the better team with the ball at their feet, but not by much; 76% completion compared to the Damned 72%. There were a LOT of passes going astray in this one.
We’re going to do something a little different this time to look at the Thorns’ passing. Rather than the table, let’s look at a diagram of who was doing the passing and who was receiving. Completed passes in blue, significant passes in yellow, incomplete passes in red. Here’s the first half
Our eyes alone confirm what this shows; that Smith was the club Portland was swinging at Carolina. Everyone but Sinclair, curiously (don’t worry, she’ll make up for that later) was pitching up to her. Crystal Dunn was probably the most prolific, but also the least clinical – there’s a lot of red arrows going back and forth there.
Worth noting that the fullbacks were really muted in Cary. Parsons kept one at home full-time, which may have been part of it, but the other is that I think the plan was to take advantage of the Missing Mewis and stuff the passes up the gut. It might have worked better and sooner had Smith been able to finish…but that didn’t happen, not in the first half, anyway.
Here’s the second half:
Smith is still the focus point, and finally Sinclair gets into the Smith picture with the 57th minute assist. Notice that Horan has pretty much disappeared as Weaver shows up and picks up a big part of the attacking load.
Dunn is still distributing, and her accuracy has cleaned up a lot, which helped keep Carolina muted through until second half injury time – which we’ll discuss in the comments.
Overall? Decent enough; could be cleaner, but got the job done, so that’s perfectly fine.
The Thorns earned six corner kicks in this match, all but one in the first half
|10′||Salem||Long||Murphy went for the ball but couldn’t reach it and it fell to Horan, whose weak shot was blocked, cleared, recycled, and Horan fed Sinclair who headed straight at Murphy.|
|18′||Kuikka||Long||Went right to Horan, whose poor header went well over.|
|22′||Kuikka||Long||Went to Horan again, whose looping header was cleared but no further than Salem, who hammered a hard shot but right at Murphy.|
|35′||Salem||Long||To Horan again; she finally hit a decent header, but right at Murphy.|
|45+2′||Salem||Long||To Horan again, and, again, a weak header wide left.|
|83′||Klingenberg||Short||To Salem, back to Kling, whose lobbed cross was cleared, recycled, eventually lost into touch|
Remember Horan the set-piece assassin? “Mark Lindsey Horan on set-pieces!” was supposedly the opponents’ warning cry. Well…she had one decent header, anyway, even if it went right to Murphy.
It just seems like nothing wants to go right for Horan right at the moment.
PLAYER RATINGS AND COMMENTS
Smith (84′- +5/-2 : +3/-6 : +8/-8) Tons of hard work, as always. Got the matchwinner – so, great! – but had a ton of opportunities that went to waste that would have been nice to have finished in case Carolina figured out where the goal was.
For all of that, still Woman of the Match. Faded in the second half so the substitution was well timed.
One thing that probably didn’t help is this sort of thing:
We saw a lot of this; Smith running at goal with a cloud of blue shirts in front of her. Teammates? Yeah, well…chugging along far behind the parade. Somewhere. C’mon, Thorns; she’s a terrific player but she needs help too. Stuff like this is just going to wear her out.
Lussi (6′ – +1/-0) Worked hard, saw off the Damned and sealed the win. So, fine.
Dunn (+5/-8: +8/-4 : +13/-12) Another what I’m starting to think of as a “typical Crystal Dunn” match. Lots of activity, excellent at intercepting passes and distributing while at the same time wasteful and scattershot, turning the ball over far more than a player of her pedigree should, and seeming to struggle putting things together with her teammates.
When she’s good, though? As she was in the 39th minute where her sweet through ball sliced Smith in on Murphy? Damn. She does that 95% of the time instead of 60%? That’d be scary good.
Dunn seems to have a lot of trouble finding openings to shoot. Had only one real chance, in the 10th minute, and shanked it way outside the left post. I’m not sure what her issue is; she says she wants to attack and shooting is central to attacking. Hmmm.
Sinclair (63′ – +1/-2 : +2/-0 : +3/-2) It’s always shocking when Sinc has games like this; not good, not bad, just invisible. Popped up to deliver the lovely service on the goal, but otherwise barely involved. Not sure what happened, but worth keeping an eye on after the international break.
Weaver (27′ – +7/-2) Almost a half hour of crazy wild Cougar fun – it’d have been awesome had she did a “Diego Valeri in the 2015 MLS Cup” in the 77th minute and banged Murphy’s clearance right into the goal. Well, okay then.
I’m really not sure how Smith-Dunn-Sinclair works better up front than Smith-Weaver-Dunn. I know she’s the GOAT and a legend, but…damn, Sinc. Maybe we should talk.
Horan (76′ – +8/-9 : +3/-2 : +11/-11) Another week’s entry in “The Horan Quandry”. Straight-up mix of decent positioning and passing with too many giveaways, weak headers, and poor passes. Barely in the “Sorta Decent Horan” range; luckily Smith was doing the heavy lifting.
Is this some sort of COVID long-haul issue? I wonder…
Moultrie (14′ – +2/-0) Fresh legs to seal the deal? Perfect. Extra credit for the pro wrestling yellow card for the Debinha body-slam.
Salem (+10/-2 : +3/-1 : +13/-3) An utter beast on both sides of the ball; my alternative pick for WotM. Angela Salem is quietly having a hell of a great season.
Rodriguez (+5/-3 : +4/-0 : +9/-3) Bossed the midfield with Salem, and did some pretty passing. Good shift.
Kuikka (+1/-0 : +3/-2 : +4/-2) As noted above; not nearly as involved in providing service, but also had to help lock down Debinha – which she did – so that might be part of it. Helped her unit keep the clean sheet – in Cary, no less! – so gets props for that.
Hubly (+4/-4 : +4/-1 : +8/-5) Kelli Hubly and Emily Menges took turns fucking with my blood pressure. Hubly’s turn came in the 30th minute. Hubly had an almost identical replay to her 1st minute recovery run (we’ll talk about that in a bit…) only this time she was caught woolgathering, let Jessica McDonald outrace her, and was lucky that McD did a McD and fired right at Bixby.
Other than than, solid. But the rap on Hubs was always that she’d be fine for 89 minutes and then make a big mistake. She’s largely put that behind her. Let’s not go back there.
Menges (85′ – +8/-2 : +2/-0 : +10/-2) Menges got the Derp Party started in the 1st minute:
I have no idea what the hell happened, but Menges simply faceplanted and fed Lynn Williams to race in 1v0.
Hubly made a heroic recovery run, but had Williams not had some sort of bizarre stumble and tripped herself up it might not have helped.
After that? Rock solid.
Don’t do this to me, centerbacks. It’s just mean.
Sauerbrunn (5′ – +0/-1) And speaking of centerbacks doing derpy things…
Here’s the Portland defense caught napping in the 92nd minute. Kling was caught upfield, Kuikka has to stay wide to track Debinha, so Sauerbrunn is the only defender available to cover ARod.
Instead, first she loafs about and gets toasted, and then…
…she turns away from ARod, giving the Carolina striker a clean shot which, luckily, she hits right at Bixby.
WTF? You’re supposed to be our “rock”, our super-experienced, steady, guiding hand at the defensive wheel. You’re not supposed to do stuff like this. C’mon. If ARod has scored the draw would have totally felt like a loss.
Westphal (64′ – +6/-4 : +1/-0 : +7/-4) Solid defending, surprisingly little going forward, but wasn’t needed for this one. Was fading by the hour, so good game management to get her off when she was pulled.
Klingenberg (26′ – +3/-0) Brought a much-needed defensive spark, helped seal the win. I keep waiting for age to strike Kling down, she keeps defying time itself. I’m tremendously pleased to say that, mind.
Bixby (+2/-0 : +1/-0 : +3/-0) Almost completely untroubled (but largely because when Carolina attackers got free they just fired straight at her). Did have to come up big in the 30th minute. Another clean sheet, another day at the office.
Coach Parsons: Got the long-elusive win, sitting on top of the league…what more can the guy do? Perhaps figure out the Horan Quandry, but that’s just speculation. Good tactical plan, good match management – the substitutions, in particular, were well timed – and a deserved beating of our rivals. Well done.
We’re off for a ten-day before traveling to Chicago, but not the Thorns; Parsons is off to his new gig in Holland, and the internationals to their respective national teams. The trick is going to be figuring out how to pull everything back together in Chicago, and we need to hope that can happen.
But right now?
I’m just ridiculously pleased at finally hanging an “L” on these critters.
And for now? That’s enough.