Budding Thorns

The reserve squad for the Portland Thorns FC played a preseason friendly last night at Merlo Field, the home pitch for the Portland Pilots.  The result – a 2-1 win for the visitors – was almost immaterial.  The internationals never even dressed out; there was obviously no intention to field the side we’re going to see in about three weeks.  The plan (and the successful result) was to provide a test for the college-product Thorns.

My bride and I took a pleasant walk through our North Portland neighborhood to join the crowd – and the match drew almost 5,000 people to the pretty green-and-purple stadium just west of Willamette Boulevard – that watched the teams test each other.  While the following are just snapshots of the state of the Thorns, I did get a sense of how the junior members of the team are shaping;

Downing UPO 3-29-131.  The overall level of play was not too disparate.  This wasn’t a college squad overmatched by a team of pros; it was a good college team against a team of college all stars.  While nobody in purple was of the quality of, say, Allie Long or Nikki Washington, nobody in the gray-and-red Thorns practice strip was that much better than Kaila Cameli or Nichole Downing.

2.  The Thorns reserves either had some early pre-season rust to buff off or weren’t used to playing without the internationals (and given that the latter had only reported several weeks ago it was probably the former).  The team came out looking pawky and out of synch, especially in back.  The Pilots had several good counters early that resulted in the early goal.  This was, in part, because the Thorns played an exceptionally high backline and were caught ballwatching several times.

3.  The Thorns still need to work on their defensive nous and communication among their defenders and between their midfield, defenders, and goalkeeper.  Even in the 88th minute giveaways in midfield and poor marking allowed a Pilot counter that had goalkeeper Roxanne Barker isolated on an charging Pilot forward who just couldn’t gain control in time to shoot on frame.  I’m sure Parlow-Cone will have some words with the defenders on Monday.

4.  Speaking of goalkeepers, the Thorns might want to keep an eye on Nichole Downing.  The Pilots keeper – only a sophomore, too! – was terrific, making several point-blank saves and keeping the scoreline close.  If she continues to improve she will be a great pick for some NWSL team in a year or two.

Kerr UP 3-29-135.  Allie Long is the real deal.  Her goal – a 22-yard rocket – was lovely, and she was a continuous menace to the Pilots defense that otherwise handled the Thorns attack fairly decently.

6.  Overall the Thorns look…well, something rather like this year’s Timbers.  Possession football with some intelligent movement off the ball and (after a bit of sorting-out) some precise passing.  A defense that consistently pushes up the pitch and, as a result, is vulnerable to the quick counter.  Solid but not brilliant keeping.

The crowd sounded evenly divided between Thorn and Pilot supporters, and both seemed well-pleased with the teams’ performance.  The Purple Passions (or whatever the University of Portland supporters group calls itself) provided a local counterpoint to the small Thorns Alliance contingent and some unintentional comedy – for all that they had the drums that the Thorns supporters didn’t they clearly haven’t worked up their own chants; Timbers Army veterans got a smile from hearing “Portland Boys We Are Hear” coming from the far end of the pitch for a change.

The Thorns seem to be absorbing the culture of their brother club; the team trotted down to the West End and applauded their supporters as Merlo emptied out.

Two weeks until the Thorns’ first match and the buds appear ready to open.

5 thoughts on “Budding Thorns

  1. The Thorns’ strip looked like their practice jerseys; I suspect we won’t ever see it in a league match. That said, I also liked the gray-and-red strip. Classy and clean-looking.

  2. Then let me also recommend Jonanna’s fine work at Stumptown Footy here: http://www.stumptownfooty.com/2013/3/31/4168256/thorns-fc-wins-battle-of-portland

    And should add that she notes what I should have highlighted about the Thorns’ backline troubles; that it wasn’t the defenders as a unit that were beaten in the first half but, rather, the left centerback (Williamson) and the left fullback (Avant). Almost all the success the Pilots found in the first 45′ came from the Thorns’ left; O’Neil and Dougherty had little trouble handling the Pilots attack.

    And I note (from the official match report) that the Thorns’ subbed off their keeper for the second half; the keeper that was left facing Micaela Capelle was Reis, not Barker. I can only plead that the Thorns goal was at the East End in the second half and I had very poor views of that end from my seat behind the West goal…

  3. I pretty much agree with your assessment of the game. I was there also on about the twenty yard line with the sun to my back. Angie Kerr and Danielle Foxhoven really looked good throughout the match also. Kerr has some incredible dribbling skills and her passing was on the mark for the most part. With the internationals gone, we were not able to see what our defense as a whole will look like. Rachel Buehler will make a big difference in the middle. For as high as Williamson was drafted she looked flat footed at times and looks suspect to through balls and fast forwards that seem to run by her with ease.
    I was really scratching my head watching the Thorn’s goalie Roxanne Barker. She played out of her goal and stood on the twenty yard line for too much for my comfort. I could see that Amanda Frisbee was going to eat her for lunch on that soft lob over her head that slowly dribbled into the net. I liked Reis as a goalkeeper in the second half. She is not really very tall, but she makes up for it in quickness off the line and her positioning is good.
    Of course Alex Morgan, and Christine Sinclair will be the forwards. When Tobin Heath comes back from France and teams up with Allie Long, Foxhoven and Kerr will only add to the quality. This is going to be a good squad watch.

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