1. If the enemy is in range, so are you.~ Murphy’s Laws of War
Given all the drama we’ve experienced over the past week it isn’t surprising that the 3-3 draw the Thorns surrendered on the final day of the regular season seems like it was a million years and a heartache ago.
But the Thorns are still here. The semifinal is less than two weeks away, and regardless of the fucktardry of the current owner and his former minions, the players still have a living to make and a title to play for, which means that if we are, indeed, supporters that we can and should support them.
Now…there’s all kinds of “support”, and I have neither the will nor the intention to lay down some sort of dictum about the “right” way to support the team. If you’re so sickened by the fucktardry that you can’t bring yourself to have any part of the team or the games anymore?
I completely understand.
But if you’re reading this my assumption is that you still want to be involved, still want to have the club and the sport in your life. I do. I’m not going to let those sonsofbitches steal the pride and the glory that should belong to those women who are out there playing hard for themselves and for this city.
So. We go on.
But, first…we look back.
Going into the final day the Thorns looked like a mortal lock for the Shield. Top of table and sitting on 38 points, only Seattle with 37 could nick them; San Diego had slumped into two draws in a row – the second against The Damned Courage the day before – to close the season with 36 and Portland had the Wooden Spoon for an opponent on the first day of October.
Even playing away it seemed overwhelmingly likely that the Thorns could do business at Red Bull and bag a second consecutive shield and third overall.
2. The important things are simple.~ Murphy’s Laws of War
3. The simple things are very hard.
And, sure enough, through the opening half hour or so the Thorns had chance after chance; Meghan Klingenberg in the 2nd minute. Sophia Smith in the 4th. Smith again in the 17th and 18th. Morgan Weaver in the 22nd. Christine Sinclair in the 28th.
You get the idea.
Just as they had in the first half in Kansas City. And as they had in the first half against Racing. And in the first half against Chicago.
The Thorns couldn’t convert.
There was a lot of this:
Gotham pressing hard in midfield, forcing the Thorns to go over or out wide, and then bang in a cross that typically went astray.
Worse, there was a lot of this:
Gotham running through the Portland backline.
Klingenberg was getting smoked by Midge Purce on the left, and Natalia Kuikka was struggling with Kristie Mewis and Ifeoma Onumonu on the right.
All three batwomen combined in the screenshot above; Purce feeding Onumonu who slipped a slide-rule pass to Mewis who split Kuikka and Kelli Hubly. Luckily the shot went wide and Mewis was wrongly called offside.
But you also get that idea. The Thorns were struggling in front of goal and in front of their own goal, and then in the 39th minute that bit them dead square in the ass.
Purce skinned Klingenberg again, and drove to the byline.
With Kling disposed of Becky Sauerbrunn had to push out wide to front up Purce, but couldn’t stop Purce’s cross.
Watch the Thorns defenders now.
Hubly slides out to deflect the cross, but it’s poked directly at the charging Onumonu, who’s goal-side of Taylor Porter, tracking back from midfield.
Worse, because Sauerbrunn is wide and Hubly has taken herself out of the play, now Kuikka has both McCall Zerboni and Nahomi Kawasumi to cover and so is stranded between the two of them when…
…Onumonu and Taylor arrive, and in the scuffle the ball loops out past Kuikka, but not past Kawasumi, who…
…runs onto it, turns neatly and finishes past an unsighted and unprepared Bella Bixby, 1-nil the Spoon.
4. If it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.~ Murphy’s Laws of War
I won’t kid you; I would have been tearing my hair if I still had any. This was exactly the issue we’d seen too many times before; problems scoring and then the backline disorganization ships a crap goal.
Against the worst team in the league.
Then the Thorns, being the Thorns, proceeded to pull a goal back on a Onumonu foul on Sugita in the box and a Smith PK.
And then another, on a pinpoint Hina-san cross and a ridiculously improbably Smith finish.
And that’s how it stood at the half; forty-odd minutes of crap and the Thorns still led 1-2. And the Thorns are a second half team, remember?
Sure enough, eight minutes after the restart Weaver dribbled down the left flank and hit a cross…
…that flew over Michelle Betos’ outstretched arm and into the goal and it was 1-3 Portland and the Shield was ours again.
5. When you have secured an area, don’t forget to tell the enemy.~ Murphy’s Laws of War
For the next three minutes.
That’s Midge Purce – again – beating Kelli Hubly (and Kuikka, who was caught upfield, raced back, and then fucking overran Purce, who cut the ball back neatly) and squaring up to cross.
Notice Iffy Onumonu lurking near the penalty spot while Kling devotes herself to ballwatching Purce.
Klingenberg had a pretty rough outing in Red Bull, but this was probably the worst. Out of position, outjumped when she tried to recover, and then screening Bixby (who admittedly was beaten again to her near post)…
…and Gotham was within one.
6. Make it too tough for the enemy to get in, and you can’t get out~ Murphy’s Laws of War
Whilst all this was going on the Thorns reverted to the panic-ball they’ve failed with when under pressure before. Weaver in particular stopped looking for teammates and started hoofing the ball long right to Gotham. Take a look at the xG chart below; it pretty much flatlines after the Weaver goal. The Thorns largely stopped possessing and playing as a team.
And Gotham was perfectly happy to turn the ball back and pressure the Thorns goal.
Which led to a long spell of possession between the 71st and 74th minutes, and several Gotham corner kicks.
Which, in turn, led to McCall Zerboni’s head, unmarked in the six yard box.
And the equalizer.
The Thorns, love ’em, kept fighting. Janine Beckie had a strong run in the 86th minute but touched the ball a trifle heavily and it ran to Betos.
Then Smith did Smith Things less than a minute later; tackled the ball off Taylor Smith, ran at goal, and fired a brilliant bending shot that Betos, battered face and all…
…palmed around her post at full stretch.
There was a trifle more, but to no avail, and the sides split the points.
7. When both sides are convinced they are about to lose, they’re both right.~ Murphy’s Laws of War
Which left the Shield lying about for the Damndelions to slap Orlando around in Seattle and pip the Thorns later that night, taking all three and the Shield.
8. The enemy diversion you are ignoring is the main attack~ Murphy’s Laws of War
The issue of playing down to the opposition has been a Thorns problem as long as I’ve followed this team, across five managers and ten years. With everything to play for, with what (I, at least, consider) is the silverware most indicative of quality, with their own fate in their own hands, the Thorns overlooked Gotham and paid the price.
9. If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush~ Murphy’s Laws of War
When you create more than three goals but you ship three goals on less than 1 xG?
You’re doing something very wrong defensively.
Well, at least some people went home happy…
What’s done is done, and now the Thorns have to wrestle both with the fallout of the Yates report and a two-week layoff before the semifinal.
We’ll just have to wait and see how well they do with both.
Passing the Passing Test: Neither club as outstanding; the Thorns a little better at 76% completion than Gotham’s 73%. Both made some critical giveaways and had issues in the final third.
Sugita-senshu was a monster and Raquel Rodriguez was a beast, but everyone else?
Pretty meh. I’m looking at you in particular, Sinc and Yazmeen Ryan. What the hell did you do to earn your pay that day?
On the other side of the pitch Purce was lit – in case you hadn’t figured that out – but everyone else was struggling. How the hell we let these people bang in three goals and steal a draw I haven’t the damnedest idea.
An utterly ridiculous twelve – yes, that’s twelve – corners. four in the first half, eight in the second. one short and the other eleven (eleven? FML!) directly into the box
|Betos easy take
|Headed clear over the byline for…
|Into the scrum, cleared, recycled, cleared again, finally turned over off a Kuikka foul
|Another one dropped into the crowd, and cleared
|All the way over off a Gotham head for a throw, recycled but sort of petered out
|Cleared out but to Porter, whose shot Betos handled no problem
|To Rodriguez, whose touch was heavy and the ball ran to Gotham
|Into the crowd, pinged off heads until cleared, recycled, crossed in several times but cleared each time, finally turned over
|Knocked out to Ryan whose shot was blocked out for…
|Only to the near post where it was cleared
|This was after the terrific Smith-shot-Betos-save; it was headed over the byline for…
|Easily cleared away
So for all this promiscuous corner kicking? Not a damn thing.
Player Ratings and Comments
Smith (+13/-4 : +8/-1 : +21/-5) Hands down Woman of the Match. Just couldn’t rally her backline, too.
Weaver (81′ – +6/-1 : +3/-1 : +9/-2) I love a shoss and hers was epic. All the usual Chaos Muppet goodness…but she looked like she’d passed the redline late in the second half and was booting wildly, which is why I think she came off so late.
Beckie (9′ – +2/-1) I’m not sure why Beckie is so ineffective with the Thorns. Just not enough minutes? Trouble figuring out her role? But she’s the polar opposite of her utility to the CWNT when she’s here, and I’d love to see that change but have no idea how.
Sinclair (45′ – +5/-5) This was Sinc at Red Bull:
Makes a clever turn and run at goal and…”crosses” right to a defender 12 yards away.
Given that Sinc was yanked at halftime it was obvious that Coach Wilkinson saw that she wasn’t doing anything useful out there and as she tired in the second half would go from being a nullity to an active boat anchor. Unfortunately…
Ryan (45′ – +1/-1) Yazmeen Ryan chose Gotham to have one of her worst matches of the season. Did little or nothing and none of it very useful. Again, a reminder that for all that I think we think that the Thorns roster is “deep” once you get past the starters the quality drops off anywhere from “noticeably” to “really sharply”.
Sugita (+8/-2 : +3/-3 : +11/-5) I didn’t pay attention during my tape review, but her PMR suggests that Sugita-senshu was moved either wide left or – more likely – wide right when Ryan came on. Picked up a pretty assist but was muted otherwise after the break, and that’s usually what happens when she gets pushed out wide right.
Rodriguez (+6/-4 : +5/-3 : +11/-7) Rocky bugs me sometimes because she’s a good player who seems to disappear for long stretches, and her good passing is punctuated with some ugly turnovers. This match was very much that; lots of good work, but somehow seldom using that to make the Thorns more dangerous. Hmmm.
Porter (69′ – +2/-1 : +1/-1 : +3/-2) Young Porter worked hard, but she’s depth and at Red Bull it showed. What didn’t help is that in the first half she had to cover the ground Sinc doesn’t anymore, and in the second she got no help from Ryan, either.
Dunn (21′ – +3/-2) Had several nice passes, but also some pretty brutal stuff (her 79th minute turnover resulted in a Purce run that shamed both Sauerbrunn and Rodriguez, leaving them sprawling – if I’d have been either or both I’d have booted C.D. square in the backside for that…) and no real uptick in the game state from Porter.
Klingenberg (+1/-6 : +0/-6 : +1/-12) She’s done so well re-inventing her game that it’s easy sometimes to forget that Kling is old for a field player.
Until someone with the pace of Midge Purce comes along, and suddenly Kling looks very old and very slow.
Not really her fault; her coach should have seen that Kling/Purce was a brutally unequal matchup…but who could she throw on instead? Frankly they way it went I’d have as soon given Tegan McGrady the chance.
Hubly (+5/-4 : +1/-4 : +6/-8) As noted above; when you concede three times on an xG of less than 1? As a unit the defenders aren’t doing well, and Hubly did no better than the rest. It’s hard to pin blame on any individual; the defense missed Sam Coffey badly and was disorganized and played poorly as a unit.
Sauerbrunn (+2/-3 : +1/-3 : +3/-6) See the Hubly comment.
Kuikka (+3/-8 : +7/-4 : +10/-12) Pretty much as above. Some good passing forward, but a rough day in back.
Bixby (+0/-0 : +0/-2 : +0/-2) Caught napping on the Zerboni goal, and probably should have come out to try and take the cross on Onumonu’s, but Kling was in the way, so…
Bix got a lot of stick for this one and, yes, she wasn’t great. And she is not a very muscular and dominating keeper in the Kailen Sheridan/A.D. Franch mold. But go back and look at the keeper xG-against/conceded table in the last TFC:. Bixby’s backline has not been terrific this season – not bad, mind, but not outstanding – but she’s 10-goals-plus her expected concessions, something like half a goal a game better than her metrics.
She’s a solid keeper. She may look gawky, but she’s doing the job.
Coach Wilkinson: Hard to give the gaffer big props for this one. Needed a win against the worst team in the league, couldn’t get it. Needed to hang on to a two-goal lead for over half an hour, couldn’t do it.
It’s hard to put the knock on Williamson for the season, though. Second in the league, and only three losses? That’s damn fine.
It’s these damnable draws, though – nine out of 22 games – that sting. Had the Thorns turned just one of those into a win – the late draw against San Diego, or the home draw to The Damned in August – the Thorns would have finished on 41 and nothing Seattle could have done would have mattered.
That’s got to hurt.
Now it’s knuckle-down time. Two games to win it all, two games to take Big Casino.
Can this team do that?
I’m frankly worried.
I’m afraid there’s a sort of mental flaw, a deeply-seated weakness, that might break under the pressure of a knockout match. I hope I’m wrong.
But now all we can do is wait, and hope.
And maybe sip some cocoa and eat some Red Vines.