Blue Skies Return

Interesting weekend for Portland soccer, eh?

Saturday we had perhaps the oddest Timbers comeback yet, nicking a point in a wild, bizarrely-officiated 2-2 drawn match at Vancouver that our C.I. DeMann recounts here.  Suffice to say that my son is still bounding around shouting “Trencito!” at random moments as he did when we watched the wild finish from our couch.  There are draws, and draws that feel like losses, and draws that feel like wins.  That one felt like a win.

Sunday it was the women’s turn.  Trying to shake off their first ever loss – to a visiting Sky Blue FC that had clawed up next to them top of the league table  – Thorns FC ran out against the Washington Spirit.

I had a lovely recap of the match but, like a Christine Sinclair strike from distance, my friend Chris Singer zinged his terrific match report past me into the back of the net!  Arrrgh!  So rather than post my own I wanted to add some of my observations and comments about Sunday’s match.

1.  Thorns FC fielded the same side that had lost to SBFC Thursday but it appeared that Coach Parlow Cone had talked to the squad about the sterility of their attack in the earlier game.  The most visible result seemed to be that Christine Sinclair was released to do more direct attacking and less distributing, and it was her 41st minute goal that broke through a rather disjointed first half.  Still, there were real issues with movement off the ball that Chris’ report addresses well and you should read.

2.  The Thorns FC’s still has issues in midfield.  In particular, Nikki Washington’s play was unhelpful…and I am trying to be diplomatic about it.  I complained about her tendency to drift inside on Thursday and we saw that again Sunday.  She looked sharp in the early matches but has grown less effective recently, and I can’t help but wonder if she’s picked up a knock or is just out of synch with the rest of the Thorns midfield.  Whatever the cause her play had a lot to do with sucking the danger our of Thorns FC attack.

My wife was nearly sitting on my head to stop my roaring “Get her off!” at the Thorns bench by the 40th minute; I still believe that Parlow Cone gave her far too much time before subbing Wetzel on for her at 71′.  At the moment her form has not been particularly good, and perhaps it is worth Parlow Cone considering another option at right winger.

3.  One observation that came as an unpleasant surprise to me was how relatively slow Allie Long looked; she was beaten to the ball several times and generally looked less than effective though not quite as overwhelmed as Washington.

4.  Thorns FC had difficulty putting the Spirit away until after Washington went out for Wetzel and Kerr came on for Shim at 79′; suddenly the Thorns midfield began to click.  Spirit keeper Chantal Jones did well to save from Kerr within a minute of her entrance, and six minutes later it was Wetzel whose theft of a Spirit pass started the buildup to the second goal.  Wetzel slotted a lovely ball forward to a running Morgan, who in turn calmly carried the ball into the 18 and drove it past an onrushing Jones for the quietus.

5.  Sky Blue shellacked the hapless Seattle Reign 3-nil to pull back even with Thorns FC atop the table.  A measure of the parity at the top is that both teams stand at +7GD.  There is not a sliver of daylight between them outside head-to-head record; there SBFC holds a one-game advantage.

6.  One last thing I have to say here; we as Thorns supporters really need to consider which of the traditional Timbers songs we sing.

What I’m speaking directly about is the “what’s it like to see a crowd” song that rained down on Washington in the second half.

For the Timbers Army to sing that to another MLS side is a nifty little piece of snark; a crafty reminder of the rollicking atmosphere of Portland compared to the sterile bowls of FC Dallas or the empty seats in Kansas City.

But to do that to the women’s teams like Seattle and Washington, which play in tiny venues barely capable of holding the contents of Portland’s North End…well…it’s like singing “Would you walk if you could?” to some poor devil in a wheelchair.  It just seems mean to me, and cruel.  When the league is in it’s fifteenth year and the other clubs are playing in MLS stadiums and potentially drawing MLS-size crowds, then, hey; taunt them all you want.

But now?  Let’s taunt them for living in Jersey as we did with SBFC and leave the crowd-sizes out of it, K?

Do I sound carping?  I’m not, really.  Sunday was a delight.  Thorns FC was winning, the crowd was humming and the Rose City Riveters were roaring.  The Rose Girls awarded their tributes to the three Thorns who had earned a bouquet.  Even the afternoon cooperated; late in the second half the louring skies cleared and the pitch brightened as jackets and fleece came off and sunglasses and caps went on, as the happy supporters basked in the glow of a sunny Sunday and a Thorns FC win.

And when the Thorns win it’s always fair weather.

9 thoughts on “Blue Skies Return

  1. Have to agree with you on all points here – while it was an enjoyable game, things are still a bit sloppy and disjointed. Having just come off a Thursday game I can give them some slack and I can be patient and allow things to gel on pitch. Meanwhile I’m having a great time watching the games and introducing my boys to live professional soccer.

    To your last point, I couldn’t agree more. I really think it behooves us and the league to keep things positive. Root for the Thorns, Cheer for the Thorns…leave the taunts aside for a while. I’m really hoping other MLS teams see what is possible and more partnerships develop. The built in quality and synergy we get from MP and Jeld-Wen take us to an entirely different level. That isn’t something to boast about, but it is something to point to – “See! This is worth investing in. Leverage your already zealous fan base and build on what is already there.”

    I’m optimistic, however, seeing sold out crowds in the smaller venues. It points to potential and validates interest. I’d really like to see what would happen if SKC joined forces with FCKC or (dare I say those folks up North). I’d wager only good for NWSL could come of it.

    Thanks for your thoughts – I appreciate all you bloggers giving your time, thoughts and words for Soccer City, USA

    1. Welcome.

      Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy a good taunting chant if it’s appropriate. I used to love singing the “You’re bald, you’re shit…” song to Conor Casey, or the “Please don’t burn our town down if you lose…” song to Vancouver. I don’t see anything wrong with supporters of one team taking the piss out of another team or another team’s supporters. Not that being nasty is nice, just that’s my soccer background; I don’t find that sort of thing upsetting.

      The specific reason I dislike the “crowd” song is that it picks on something that the other teams can’t really do anything about and that exposes a weakness in the NWSL at a time when the league needs support and not criticism on that score. It’d be great if Washington could play in a soccer-only stadium that seated 10,000 and they could fill it. But right now they can’t, and to pick on them for that is, like I said, like taunting someone who can’t walk because they can’t walk.

      For what it’s worth, I feel the same way about singing “Timbers/Thorns Wonderland” to teams from the East Coast. Over there it’s so quiet? No shit – who the hell can afford to fly 3,000 miles to attend a soccer match? Sing it when the Seattle Reign visits, or the Los Angeles Galaxy; those supporters are only a bus/train ride away and SHOULD follow their team, and if they don’t, yeah, mock ’em. But mocking the dozen D.C. expats in the away-fans section for not being heard amid 10,000 Thorns fans – even if they’re singing their heads off? That just seems mean, to me…

  2. Completely, 100% agree on the crowd chant. I really hope that that’s not a capo-started chant, because it showed very little taste AND very little forward thinking as far as the health of the league.

    We are incredibly blessed to have an owner who’s thrown the weight of a “veteran” organization behind our team. The field that isn’t hash marked all to hell for pointyball and lacrosse. Cameras & operators that actually capture the action– not a $200 camcorder on a tripod streaming on a 24 baud modem (it seemed in chicago). A central city location. A pre-cooked fanbase. A forward thinking, feminist-leaning, metro population.

    All of these things, the gratefulness that we should feel, the grace with which we should acknowledge it in the presence of other teams less fortunate, were tossed out the window with that chant. I hope for our sakes that it didn’t dissuade fans of other women’s teams from showing support in any way at all, because this league is FAR from stable.

    1. I think it was just a reflex celebrating the good turnout here in Portland, but your comment is spot-on about the league. Pointing out that Seattle is drawing 1,000 at Tukwila isn’t savvy. If we want to keep this league we need to – not gloss over the shortcomings, but – at least not pick on things the league is still working on.

      On the plus side, I doubt that anyone outside Jeld-Wen that afternoon even knew about it; I don’t see the Riveters or the Thorns supporters troubling the women’s soccer fans in D.C. or Seattle.

      But I DO see the trouble there; one of the posters at “Sounder At Heart” had a good essay last week on the problems at the Reign, and nearly all of them come back to the disconnect between the Reign, the Sounders Women, and the Sounders. The NWSL really should have worked with the Sounders ownership to bring the Sounders Women into the NWSL and with them the support of the MLS club. With clubs like Sky Blue and Western New York there was a pre-existing fan base there; with the Thorns we had, well, Portland, and as you point out the full backing of Merrit and the Timbers organization. But teams like DC, Chicago, and the Reign have a very difficult task ahead of them and nothing like the support we have here to help them.

  3. Since it was brought up, I’d like to both second and further emphasize the need for the league to get games off (American) football fields. I find it distracting to the point of not wanting to watch. If other teams are only going to get 3-5,000 in turnout, I have a hard time believing there isn’t a proper environment available. How many soccer fields are in greater Chicago, for instance?

    1. I’m not sure what the logistics of the various venues are. My guess is that the league looked for pitches that were 1) not to spendy to book, 2) close to the metropolitan center of the city the teams are notionally playing for (tho my understanding is that at least the Chicago site pretty far out of the city center…) and 3) not likely to present conflicts with other events. That may have precluded other “soccer-only” sites, where previous commitments to local teams, the W-league, NASL, whatever.

      I agree, though, that one of the priorities (after making the league visible and functional as an entity) should be to find places where the damn ugly football hashmarks. Chicago and Washington are, as you say, damn near unwatchable because of the confusion between the soccer touchlines and the football sidelines…

  4. Just wanted to comment that Allie Long was playing while sick, according to the Thorns beat reporter on Stumptown Footy. I thought she looked off, I guess she’s fighting a bug.

    1. When I wrote this Jonanna hadn’t posted her match report; I heard something about “several” players fighting off some sort of grippe but didn’t have any names to attach to that. But it woud make sense that Long was one. Her movement is usually much crisper and quicker than I saw on Sunday. I thought she had picked up a knock or something, but the feeling-crappy-with-a-cold thing would explain that. Hope she feels better soon.

    2. yes. that would explain a lot. But Long has seemed to be a bit slow to respond in several situations throughout the season, as if her reflexes were only twice as good as mine. . . it looks to me that some of her foul trouble has been due to being that split-second too late.

      Perhaps that is a structural problem? Do the problems in Portland’s mid-field result from personnel, or is it a matter of weaknesses of both front and back getting magnified in the middle?

      I am not perceptive enough to make a strong case, but it does seem interesting that the coach’s ploy of bringing Sinclair into a CAM position helped the midfield and hurt the forwards. Surely we are not that reliant on this one wonderful player!

      And what do you think will be the effect on our midfield of bringing in our Class-A defender mid-season? Will that go a ways to fixing the middle problems, or will it likely not have a significant effect?

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