The cunning rebels of Sky Blue FC snuck into Portland tonight and managed to blow up the Death Star on a deadly 80th minute strike from substitute Taylor Lytle; the imperial legions, stunned by the blow and already exhausted from battering themselves against the tough rebel defense, couldn’t find the equalizer.
As the Empire reels, the question remains; how could this have happened?
1. Both Morgan and Sinclair had a jour sans. And SBFC did a great job both handling the Thorns midfield and marking Morgan out of the match. Other than a lovely speculative ball in the second minute Christine Sinclair looked out of sorts and off-pace all night. Being Sinclair, that meant that she was merely an outstanding soccer player. But she wasn’t the game-breaker we’ve come to expect. Alex Morgan had several nice half-chances and ran at the SBFC defense all night. But when she was there the service wasn’t, and when the service was there she was half a step off, or a SBFC defender was there first. And the Thorns FC midfield had a collective off night; no shame there, we all have those days when nothing works right – what the cycling pros call a “day without”, a jour sans. Unfortunately almost ALL the midfield had one tonight. In particular Nikki Washington either chose to or was directed to move inside, where she was ineffective, but SBFC made a meal of the entire Thorns midfield all evening. I talked about the Thorns’ midfield issues as they appeared in the last away match; those issues reappeared Thursday and SBFC exploited them to a fare-thee-well.
2. Jim Gabarra outcoached Cindy Parlow Cone. SBFC came into Portland with a plan and executed it perfectly. Jam up the center of the pitch. Mark tight and play a ruthless trap. Use Thorns FC giveaways and possession losses to counter quickly. Take every opportunity to nick a goal and then make it stand up.
It was clear by the end of the first half that SBFC was packing the center, clogging the passing lanes, and taking away Portland’s attack through the center of the pitch. For long stretches the sidelines – especially on Portland’s right flank – were as empty as the sands of Tatooine as both teams bunched up in the center of the pitch. Thorns FC tried lobbing long balls over the SBFC backline only to find that the rebel scum were fiercely disciplined and were either first to the ball or had played the Thorns attackers offside. Rampone’s troops played a tenacious and effective match, and the Thorns’ usual attack couldn’t solve it.
Grand Moff Parlow Cone’s only hope was to attack the rebel flanks and spread the defense. But the home side continued to bunch up and try to go over rather than around the visitors. It didn’t work. Finally Parlow Cone brought Foxhoven on late in an attempt to spread the field but without effect. Instead Gabarra brought on Lytle for Kendall Johnson at 78 minutes and two minutes later Lytle put that damn missile down the ventilator shaft. We all know what happens then.
Boom: Thorns FC has taken its first loss.
We knew it would come eventually, and to lose to Sky Blue is no shame; they’re a good team and came in well-prepared.
The Empire’s resources are great and Parlow Cone will have what she should need to rebuild the Death Star and handle the next attack, the Washington Spirit arriving Sunday.
But the crucial thing is that she will need to learn the lessons of this match and be prepared to outflank and outwork the Spirit if they try to repeat Sky Blue’s tactics. SBFC got a lot of help from an off night felling our two stars, but the failure to recognize their bunched defense and counter with attacks down the flanks was entirely on Parlow Cone. Continually lobbing the ball for Morgan to run onto is a one-pony trick and a difficult one to execute; Sky Blue were ready for it and we should assume Washington will be, too. The rest of the league has now seen how to destroy the Death Star. The question now is can Thorns FC figure out a way to destroy the rebel shield generator and make themselves dangerous again?
To lose one Death Star is an accident.
To lose two in a row? That would seem like carelessness.