As you probably know, PTFC was 5-nil on aggregate this past weekend. The Timbers spanked the dire Goatboys of Chivas USA 3-nil and the Thorns FC handed the Chicago Red Stars their second consecutive 2-nil loss to a Portland that now sits comfortably on top of the NWSL table.
Portland soccer fans were handed a nasty dilemma by the two leagues this past Sunday, with the Timbers kicking off at 2pm and the Thorns at 3pm. Given that I was single parenting and couldn’t get to Jeld-Wen, and the womens’ match wasn’t recordable – I chose to tape the Timbers and watch the women.
As always, Jonanna W has the details at her match report over at Stumptown, and does a good job of describing the hammering that the Thorns FC Death Star handed the plucky band of rebels led by Lori Chalupny. For all that Chicago looked better than they did in their first outing against Thorns FC the scoreline flatters them; the match could easily have been 3-nil or 4-1. Portland soccer fans are suddenly confronted with the sensation hitherto known only to supporters of outfits like ManU or Barca; rooting for the bully of the league, the Evil Empire. While not yet familiar enough with the sensation, it’s…surprisingly pleasant, isn’t it? Suddenly I have the awful suspicion of what it’s like to be a ManU supporter and revel in the one-sided beatdowns of loveable little teams and their pessimistic little fans.
Are we unstoppable? (Can you believe that we can even ASK that question?!?) How WOULD you stop Thorns FC? What can the rest of the NWSL do to handle Thorns FC, and were there any hints visible Sunday?
Here’s what I saw, coming through the laggy feed from Suburban Multiplex Stadium, Illinois;
1) They will have to body up on Alex Morgan. Before the season opened we thought we’d have two devastating smoking barrels up front; Sinclair and Morgan. But shortcomings in midfield have drawn Christine back into the trequartista role she’s fulfilled nicely. That leaves Alex Morgan, and as she showed in the third minute in Chicago, if you give her so much as a centimeter of space she’ll create something out of nothing. Any hope of beating Thorns FC will have to include a Morgan jour sans as well as a glove-like man-marker to stick a boot in every time she touches the ball. But that leaves the problem that
2) They will ALSO have to mark the hell out of Sinclair, Long, Foxhoven, and Washington. The bottom line is that Thorns FC is, like the Death Star, a nightmare when it attacks. There’s just too many weapons there, and if the Empire doesn’t shove a death ray down the middle it will work its legions around the flanks and bomb you to death with crosses. Or the Sinclair Particle Beam will strike from distance.
3) But…there are some undefended exhaust ports in midfield. One thing that Portland has still to cover up is poor passing and lack of connectivity in midfield. Far too many passes went astray in Chicago; it was an ugly giveaway in midfield that led to the Red Stars’ one real opportunity, a point-blank blaster-burst from Julianne Sitch that LeBlanc did well to save. Much as I wanted Angie Kerr to be the midfield engine Parlow-Cone has clearly dropped her in favor of playing Sinclair as a withdrawn forward and making Long the midfield pivot. It has worked, and that’s hard to argue with. But I still get the sense that a club with a very aggressive pressing midfield can disrupt this Thorns FC unit and force enough turnovers to counter effectively. Which brings up the other potential vulnerability, that
4) The Empire is strong in attack but not invulnerable in defense. Chicago never managed to maintain enough possession to mount a period of sustain pressure. But another team – Sky Blue, perhaps, or Kansas City whose midfield looked effective in Thorns FC road opener – might be capable of exploiting the occasional openings that Portland gives up in back. From what I could see the Portland midfield looks effective playing forward; the connection between the backline and midfield wasn’t nearly as tight. Much of Thorns FC attack Sunday started with Chicago giveaways in midfield (the rebels were affected with pretty severe Stormtrooper Effect themselves); out of the back I saw a lot of long balls that went to Red Stars as often as not. Again, a team with a midfield that tackles well, presses high, and plays together could, if nothing else, provide the Death Star with an uncomfortable moment or three.
And, pat as some George Lucas dialogue, here comes Sky Blue FC this Thursday, ready to try and take down our fortress. But as Darth MGoEcon observed; the ability to destroy a Red Star is insignificant next to the power of the Thorns.
I am confident. Sky Blue will feel the might of the Empire; with our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the NWSL.