The Damned Courage flew in to PDX this past weekend with one thing to do and one thing only; harvest enough points to keep them above the red line and prevent going out of the playoffs for the first time since they were the Western New York Flash.
Well…they did that.
Not very convincingly and not very well; Carolina and Portland played to a scoreless draw on a raw, chilly Mischief Night. The mischief was on the spectators, who got to sit through about seventy minutes of pretty pointless soccer from both clubs.
Portland had a decent first 20 minutes and got at least about a quarter of their shots on frame, although save for a 48th minute post from Morgan Weaver the shots weren’t particularly dangerous.
Carolina was its usual wasteful self, putting barely 10% on target, although at least one – an 88th minute Jess McDonald header – was dangerously close, banging off the crossbar with Bella Bixby beaten and then dropping into the scrum in front of the goal before the scrambling Thorns defense cleared it out.
Oh, and then there was the thing in the 3rd minute…but we’ll get to that in a bit.
From my freezing-ass cold ADA seat up in 109 the entire match looked random and ugly; just lots of poor passes, missed shots, and goofy running.
About the 56th minute I was hugging my Dutch Bros and grousing that it looked like a scoreless draw.
I was too pessimistic. It was probably the cold; I hate the cold.
The xG numbers suggest that the clubs were trying to strike at goal. Just not successfully, and especially, not after the first half-hour or so.
With the help of the Twitch midfield camera I was able to get a little better look at the Thorns first half attack, and, as the xG chart suggests – it wasn’t entirely awful. In fact, there were some genuinely good moments in the early part of that half.
Meghan Klingenberg pushed a seeking pass up to Sophia Smith in the 4th minute; Smith made a near-post run that drew the Carolina defense, so she squared to Weaver who was open near the top of the six.
Weaver, unfortunately, drove her shot wide of the post.
The Thorns worked something like it again in the 18th minute; Angela Salem (nee’ Ryan – the Twitch announcers constantly got her name wrong. C’mon, guys, I could see her number, you couldn’t?) passed up to Smith, who scooted a sweet little backheel to an oncoming Christine Sinclair. Sinc crossed into Lindsey Horan who was well covered inside the 18 so Horan tapped out to Smith again.
Smith’s shot was (stop me if you’ve heard this one before…) wide right.
Four minutes later Sinc and Yazmeen Ryan had a couple of blasts off a corner kick; both were blocked.
In the 48th minute Weaver dribbled out of the inside right corner of the six, turned, and fired a low, hard shot that beat Casey Murphy but not the right post.
That, unfortunately for those of us freezing our asses off in the seats, was pretty much that. It actually got pretty dire in the final half hour or so. Here’s my notes for the last 19 minutes of the match.
That massive blank space on the left side?
That’s the Thorns doing nothing. I mean it; no-thing – running around and passing and not getting anywhere near the Carolina goal, let along threatening it. Carolina isn’t exactly crushing it, but they had a stab or three plus the 88th minute crossbar.
Portland? They weren’t even parking the bus. They were just sort of running aimlessly around like a preschool recess.
While the first half was better than I’d thought at the time, the second? Yeesh. Ug-lee.
So remember I mentioned the third minute?
Well…one team DID put the biscuit in the basket Saturday night. Here it is:
Debinha dropped her free kick into the top right corner of the six, where someone – I think it was Amy Rodriguez, but I couldn’t get a number off the tape and the worthless announcers didn’t say who it was – bashed a powerful header off the near post.
The ball fell to the feet of Kayleigh Kurtz, who slammed it past Bixby for what looked like the opening goal, but…the east side linesperson had her flag up.
Okay, now…look at the screenshot above. It’s the moment the header is taken. Who’s offside?
The NWSL website play-by-play says that “Debinha is caught offside” which is ridiculous; you can see Debinha back at the site of the free kick.
It’s gotta be Kurtz…but Becky Sauerbrunn is very close to keeping her on – it’s worth noting (if you go back and watch the stream) that ‘Brunn’s arm doesn’t go up immediately – Sinclair’s does – but ‘Brunn isn’t sure until she looks to the touchline.
That’s pretty damn close, too close for my liking.
The Thorns defense has been terrific this season. They set a new record for clean sheets with 13, and set what almost has to be a new GAA record (0.73g/G), though I need to check past seasons before I make that claim.
But even the best defenses have their moments. Given the low-scoring nature of this match giving up this goal could have been disastrous, and let’s not kid ourselves – if you live and die by an offside call in that situation, you’re living very dangerously.
So the Thorns went out with a bit of a whimper rather than a slam-bang beating of the Damned Courage.
Still, we get the bye next week before meeting the winner of Gotham versus Chicago, and by then hopefully we’ve got the sluggish memories of this rascal out of our systems.
We’d better; now it’s one-and-done.
Passing the Passing Test: Both teams were pretty awful, just a hair over 70%.
Here’s Arielle Dror’s passing network chart for Portland. Sinc, Salem, and Weaver were doing well, Klingenberg wasn’t quite as accurate but was a lot busier; Kelli Hubly was busy, too, but was even further astray. Smith was dropping dimes and making connections – not many, but high-quality when she did.
Meanwhile, here’s Carolina:
Yike.. Debinha was stone cold, Lynn Williams out of the frame, and the hardest work was coming all the way out of the back from Abby Erceg. ARod’s graphic makes you wonder what the club was thinking trading for her.
Maybe it was the cold; it was just a curl-up-on-the-couch-with-a-cozy-blanket-and-cocoa kind of night.
The Thorns took eight corners. Five in the first half – one short, the other four long – and three in the second, two of the three short.
|To Salem, whose cross dimed Horan, but her header was blocked, recycled twice, but eventually cleared.
|Well placed inside the box; Sinclair took a shot that was blocked, rolled to Ryan, and her shot was blocked, too, before the ball was cleared..
|Cleared several times until Murphy gathered in the cross.
|Cleared but only as far as Hubly, who fed Salem, but her cross was cleared out.
|Cleared, recycled, cleared again, recycled, Murphy take.
|To Salem, whose lob Murphy collected easily
|To Salem, whose cross was cleared out quickly.
|Dropped nicely to Smith, but her heavy touch ran over the byline.
A couple of half-chances; Horan’s 13th minute header, Sinc and Ryan’s shots, but, like the Thorns, nothing after the first half-hour or so. Like I said last time; that kind of seems to be the story of set-pieces this season. Just not a lot going on.
PLAYER RATINGS AND COMMENTS
Smith (90+1′ – +11/-6 : +3/-2 : +14/-8) Had a nasty hard shot that Murphy could only parry away in the 43rd minute…and that was really all. Her two other shots on goal had no pace and her other four shots were off target.
I might as well just copy and paste this for Smith in every match, because it seems to be her story this season. “She’s terrific up top; active, intelligent, creative, with a slick touch and an instinct for finding the hole in the defense. She also has a real issue with turning all that into goals. She can…but she should be scoring far more often than she has. Hopefully that will happen soon.”
Lussi (2′ – no rating) Timewasting.
Weaver (79′ – +2/-2 : +5/-0 : +7/-2) Again, much the same strengths as Smith (pace, craft, creativity…only with more pace…) and the same weakness (no goals). Came so close in the 48th minute, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.
Charley (11′ – +1/-0) Barely visible. I think the idea was to use her as a disruptive force, the way Parsons used her against Houston and Tacoma. But The Damned were disrupting themselves, so all Charley could do is kind of run around trying to find a wall to ram into and not finding it…
Horan (64′ – +6/-1 : +4/-2 : +10/-3) Solid hour, but if the IR was to be believed was nursing a knock and, frankly, looked it; good without the spark of greatness. Good enough for what was needed against The Damned, though, so, fine.
Kuikka (26′ – +4/-2) Brought what energy the Thorns had late…which wasn’t a crap-ton, unfortunately. But did some decent work on both sides of the ball to keep the clean sheet.
Sinclair (+7/-1 : +1/-2 : +8/-3) I suspect that this match, as much as any I’ve seen this season, was just 90 minutes too many for Captain Sinclair. She never quit – she wouldn’t – but she just faded further and further out of the match as the game wore on. I hope she’s getting a lot of rest over the bye week to be sharp for the semi.
Salem (79‘ – +4/-0 : +2/-1 : +6/-1) Just another day at the office, but with a prize at the end. Deserved holder of this season’s Player of the Year.
Moultrie (11′ –1/-2) No impact.
Ryan (+6/-4 : +3/-2 : +9/-6) Ryan had a weird match for her first start. When the Thorns were going well – in the first 20 minutes – she hadn’t found her feet and was virtually invisible. Then she began to grow into the match; a nice pass here, a strong tackle there…but just as the Thorns were starting to grow out of it.
So by the second half she didn’t really have anyone to play with! Unfortunate, because she had some nice individual and collective actions, but I think we’re going to have to wait to see more of her next season.
Klingenberg (64′ – +4/-1 : +1/-1 : +5/-2) Made some good connections in the first half hour and then, like the rest of the squad, kind of slid out of the match. Substitution was timely.
Pogarch (26′ – +1/-2) Pogarch is one of those players that evokes tremendous love from a subset of fans of which, if you’re not one (and I’m not) leaves you – the not-fan – kind of gaping and scratching your head. She’s fast, and runs around a lot, and has a hockey-defender’s skill for bumping into people.
A moment late in the match sums up my take on Po. Jess McDonald ran at her and Olivia Moultrie. The two Thorns rookies had her sandwiched, but canny old vet McD just shifted her hips and split the two of them, sliding through them like water running through a sieve.
Moultrie was toast, but Po scampered back and caught up to McDonald and drew a ridiculously bad foul call to stop McD’s run – the look on McDonald’s face was priceless. But Pogarch’s recovery speed and stuck-in attitude means that her defensive errors often don’t cost you other than emotionally. She’s still a very unfinished piece of business, and I hope to see more panache from her next season.
Sauerbrunn (+3/-2 : +1/-1 : +4/-3 and Menges (+2/-2 : +2/-1 : +4/-3) Even their PMRs were a matched set. Solid, efficient, effective, the cornerbacks continued their fine season all the way to the final clean sheet and – hopefully – into the playoffs.
Hubly (+5/-2 : +2/-1 : +7/-3) Solid outing for Hubly at right back. I won’t pretend to want her there more than Kuikka. But she’s proved that she can hold her own as a spot-starter, and that’s all she was asked to do.
Bixby (+3/-0 : +2/-2 : +5/-2) For a scoreless draw Bella Bixby had a busy night, with strong takes (including a saving palm to a dangerous 39th minute cross that pushed it to Horan) and a 40th minute save off Debinha in the first half.
Her second half was less sturdy, mixing good defensive work with some sketchy work on crosses, including a bad missed take in the 57th minute that could have been nasty had any Carolina player been closer. Not a bad night, but certainly not her best.
Coach Parsons: Well…it wasn’t a loss!
It’s kind of hard to judge this match one way of the other. It was literally meaningless for Portland, and aside from potentially making a difference who Portland would see in the semifinal seemed like a perfect opportunity for deep rotation. Parsons elected not to do that, however, going largely with his regulars until well into the game.
I suspect had The Damned been anything but the woeful mess they were the Thorns might have struggled. As it was, the squad played about a quarter of a decent match before drifting out of it and absolutely phoning in the final half-hour or so.
I suspect that casual attitude will be done with in a couple of weeks.
Update 11/3 – On the Issue of Defense.
Portland’s backline and keepers were the best in the league this season; 17 goals conceded in 23 games – the forfeit doesn’t count – so 0.739GA/game.
How does that stack up against the best in the league’s history? Let’s look:
|Average goals scored (league)
|W. New York
So the Damned Courage 2018 edition is still the best defense in league history.
And, it’s worth noting that this season goalscoring was down league-wide…way down; the league average over the previous seven seasons is 2.74 goals/game. 2021’s 2.32 is only 84% of the average. That, in turn, suggests that had their opponents been scoring at a historically average rate our defense might have let in closer to 0.8 goals a game.
But that’s purely spitballing.
As it is, this year’s backline and keepers are #2 in league history. Bixby, Franch, backline, Salem, Rodriguez..? Silver is a precious metal, too.
Damn fine work. Take the afternoon off and be at training in the morning.