After the home blowout of Gotham Daniel Stratton wrote in the comments:
The one thing this team has yet to do is win a close game. All wins have been shut outs and have all been by at least 3 goals. We have managed not to lose many games, so that is something, but this team has yet to grind out 1-0, 2-0, or 2-1 win. (emphasis mine…)~ July 21, 2022
Well, Daniel…you got your exact wish; the Thorns went to Louisville and, after going up early, let Racing back into the match and looked like they might have to settle for another draw on the road.
Instead the squad kept on pushing up and found a 2-1 winner in the 74th minute to secure second on the table…
(briefly first until the Tsunami washed Chicago away and floated back up to top of table, damn it.)
…and extend both the undefeated streak and the club’s status as the only team in the league with less than three losses.
The match started out about as well as you could hope for if you were a Thorns fan; what a cliche British announcer would call a “mazy run” and Sophia Smith strike in the 7th minute.
Chris Rifer posted this on his Twitter as “NWSL defenders right now” that pretty much sums it up:
The early goal knocked Racing back; per my notes for the next 22 minutes the home side did, literally, nothing. Noodled the ball around without getting anything even close to the Thorns goal.
Then, in the 29th minute, this:
That’s Australian forward Alex Chidiac beating Natalia Kuikka like whatever they call a drum in Finnish and then Bella Bixby to her near post…
(…again, and while 1) Chidiac’s goal was a sweet piece of skill that had she been Smith or Morgan Weaver I’ll bet we’d be shouting for it as a Goal of the Year candidate, and 2) Bix couldn’t stick her post because as you can see Jess McDonald was on her six-line and Bixby had to be ready for a centering pass, it’s still a bit irking that Bixby does seem to get beat to her near post. That’s a keeper no-no, and I wish she’d cut down on it…)
…to level the match.
After that both sides had looks – Olivia Moultrie fired just wide in the 35th minute, Yazmeen Ryan was put in by a sweet little 1-2 with Hina Sugita in the 42nd minute (only to be shoved down by Emily Fox…
…in what sure looked to me like a valid penalty shout but wasn’t called.)
Jessica McDonald put a nasty header on frame than Bixby did well to save in the 52nd minute…
…and then seven minutes later Sam Coffey had to body Nadia Nadim down (cleanly, I should add – damn good shoulder-to-shoulder tackle) to stop her run at Bix.
Lauren Milliet had a go in the 65th that Bixby had to grab, and Fox took another crack at 69′ that Bix again stopped.
Then Hina-san brought the ball upfield in the 74th minute and dished to substitute Raquel Rodriguez in the top center of the pitch.
Rocky went wide to Ryan on the right, who found Smith near the top of the arc and fed her. Smith, in turn, saw Rodriguez pushing up near the left top of the 18. Keep your eye on Sugita along the 18-yard-line.
Smith lateraled the ball over, and at this point you’d have been excused for thinking “Meh, this is more of the same.” Portland had been walking the ball around the Racing penalty area for much of the second half without getting any real decent looks.
Then two things happened: Rocky cranked off a pretty nasty rasper of a shot…
…which Racing keeper Katie Lund couldn’t hold, and…
…Sugita-senshu gladdened my soccer-fan-and-former-coach-heart by living the thing that every coach ever has shouted as her players when a shot goes in: “Follow the shot! Follow it! Follow the goddamn shot, goddamn it!!!”
She did, and that was the match.
Well…Racing had one more shot as the Thorns defense took a brief nap – Lund dimed Nadim who flicked on to McDonald running flat through the Thorns backline (ummm…) but one again Ciao, Bella! was up to it, blocking McD’s shot out for a corner that Jaelin Howell headed safely into Bixby’s hands.
Now. Racing is an odd outfit. On paper they look stacked; Fox, Nadim, McDonald… this looks like a top-six team but, instead, they’re limping along in next-to-last, winless over their last six. This was a gritty win, but not quite a gritty win over the Tsunami, or the Damnedelions.
Thing is, we don’t get one of those tough opponents for a while. Over the next month or so we get shots at the cripples; Washington and the Damned Courage twice before we have to see San Diego at the end of August.
While we’re doing that the former-Ripples have to slog through the middle of the table; Houston, Orlando, and KC.
If ever there was a good time to pick up some points, it’s this month.
So let’s do that.
Passing the Passing Test: OPTA has the Thorns at about 76% and Racing at 74%. That fits my eye test; both were okay-ish distributing but neither club was really tidy, and a fair number of attacks were thrown away with a poor final pass, or were cut off by a neat piece of defending (Ryan and Sugita, for us, were doing a lot of hard graft forechecking).
Weaver is having another good match both giving and receiving, as are her two striker partners Ryan and Smith. Sugita-senshu is pulling strings from the center of the pitch like the midfield general she is, and Sauerbrunn and Hubly are working out of the back.
We’ll talk about this in the comments, but Kuikka is colder than a Otter Pop in a gas station freezer and so is Olivia Moultrie.
For Louisville it was Nadim and McDonald, back and forth, forward and back, and it’s a tribute to the Thorns backline that Doc Nadim had only two shots, none on goal, and to Bella Bixby that the three of McDonald’s six shots that were on goal weren’t in the goal.
Four corners. three in the first half, one in the second; three longs, one short.
|3′||Ryan||Long||Went past the far post to Sugita, whose soft header Lund took easily.|
|13′||Ryan||Long||Good service that Lund could only box away for Portland to recycle. The ball went to Kuikka, whose shot was blocked, the ball was recycled again but the attack petered out.|
|23′||Ryan||Short||In a bizarre fuckup Ryan passed directly to Fox, who was dispossessed in the corner but the ball ran over the byline for a goal kick.|
|60′||Ryan||Long||Went past the back post and was cleared.|
Meh. Pretty much nothing.
Player Ratings and Comments
Smith (85′ – +15/-2 : +4/-0 : +19/-2) What more can you say?
A monster in the first half. And all the while dealing with stuff like this:
It’s not surprising that Smith was pretty winded by the second half.
(The screenshot above was after the Murray body block in the screenshot above that that wasn’t even whistled up for a foul, so you can see that Smith kinda has a point with the “WTAF?” expression.)
If Smith isn’t a serious MVP contender this season? The damn award is meaningless.
Everett (5′ – +1/-0) Fresh legs. Saw out the win. So, fine.
Weaver (92′ – +10/-3 : +5/-2 : +15/-5) Yet another entry in the “Morgan Weaver, WTF?” X-Files.
(Let me note that while technically, yeah, Weaver “assisted” on the Smith goal as being the last Thorn to touch the ball before Smith, but that was as much of an “assist” as Klingenberg assisted by cheering from the bench. Smith made that 100% her ownself.)
Weaver does so much good. Dangerous runs, forechecking, intelligent positioning, receiving, and passing. But there’s just…something…missing.
Somehow she never seems to find herself in that perfect final spot. Put that shot right where it needs to be. Make that sweet final pass.
She’s still struggling with her touch, and tends to put her head down and not see open teammates near the goal.
I really want her to break through. But at this point…
Vasconcelos (~2‘ – no rating) Pure timewasting.
Ryan (+4/-0 : +10/-2 : +14/-2) I thought Ryan had her best match to date in Louisville, and that includes the equalizer-at-the-death-in-LA. Active, intelligent…as mentioned above, outstanding forechecking – Ryan was breaking up Racing attacks deep in thieir own end – and passing. Keep this up and, though I kind of hate to say this, I think Ryan passes Weaver on the F depth chart.
Sugita (+8/-0 : +11/-0 : +19/-0) Woman of the Match.
Moultrie (69′ – +5/-4 : +0/-0 : +5/-4) Not quite up to her recent form. Not bad (tho her shooting eye was completely out last Friday…) but not the force she’s been recently. Possibly needs a break? We forget she’s still in some sense a kid, and a professional match every week is a pretty hard pounding for a young mind and body. We’ll see.
Rodriguez (21′ – +5/-0) Damn good shift, including a hell of a lot of defensive steel in midfield. Plus the sorta-assist on the matchwinner, so, you go.
Porter (45′ – +3/-4) I’ve been pretty hard on Rhian Wilkinson for losing the substitution battle, but in Louisville she ran the table. Two players in white were struggling, Porter was one of them, and replacing her with Coffey was absolutely the right move and paid off in the second half.
Coffey (45′ – +7/-1) See above. Boss on both sides of the ball, as she is.
Nally (+2/-3 : +5/-0 : +7/-3) Meaghan Nally was helped out in that both Nadim and McDonald largely attacked either down the gut or up the Thorns’ right side…but she grew into the match and was truly solid in the second half. I won’t kid you; I really want to see Emily Menges, Becky Sauerbrunn, and Meghan Klingenberg back in the XI. But Nally didn’t have a discreditable game, so, well done.
Hubly (+3/-4 : +6/-1 : +9/-1) Kelli Hubly had a decent match with one horrific exception; the bizarre, insane 27th minute backpass that nearly own-goaled her own keeper.
I recall I used to give Hubs stick for stuff like this more often. She, like Emily Sonnett, was my “one-massive-brainfart-a-match” players whose awful match-changing derps used to drive me nuts. She shook those off for some time but they seem to be back, and, as I wondered last match, perhaps because of the stress of having to be the Backline Boss? Let’s hope she gets this stuff in hand soon.
Sauerbrunn (+4/-3 : +1/-0 : +5/-3) Solid, professional, that’s pretty much what you’d want and expect from a solid veteran professional.
Kuikka (45′ – +3/-4) Natu was the other Thorn having a bad first half, and I’m not sure why, but her work (or lack of same) on the Chidiac goal was atrocious. Needed to be sat, and was, and hopefully this was just a weird one-off because last Friday was very, very unlike her.
McGrady (45′ – +6-0) Well done, and a reminder that, as fun and perky as she was there’s something to be said for having a more steady head in the backline than Madison Pogarch.
Not that I don’t love you, Po, but as a fullback? You’re a winger and we already have one of those. As with ‘Brunn; Tegan McGrady is a solid veteran and played the second half like it.
Bixby (+0/-0 : +4/-1 : +4/-1) After a pretty quiet first half Bix had to run wild in the second; massive saves in the 52nd and 83rd minutes, another good save in the 59th, and a strong take in the 79th. Much as Smith and Hina-san were doing the work up top, Bix was holding things down in back, and so all three were critical to this one.
Coach Wilkinson: Nothing but roses for RW for this one. Came in needing to grind out a road win? Did. Needed to figure out player issues in the first half? Did. Needed a cohesive and solid team effort with a somewhat-makeshift roster? Did.
I also want to give credit where it’s due; a lot of us were tearing our hair over what seemed like Wilkinson’s utter fealty to the 3-5-2 despite the obvious issues with it on the pitch.
Well, she’s proved that she’s more flexible than we thought she was, so, that”s great.
Now we’re entering the dog days of summer, and a string of very gettable points, and the task is simple; get them, and then host San Diego ready to flatten out the tidal wave.