Reversal of Fortune

Thorns FC now sits squarely in second place in the NWSL after a 2-nil loss to the Chicago Red Stars at home and a Sky Blue win.

As I discussed earlier; Saturday’s game was full of questions.  Clearly, given the scoreline, the answers weren’t very favorable for the Thorns.  What were those answers and were they the reason for Thorns FC’s second loss of the season?

Was the third time the charm for Chicago?  I don’t believe so; I didn’t see anything particularly innovative about the way Chicago played today.  Both goals were the direct result of Portland errors; an unmarked Bywaters heading easily for the first goal, while the second was a dreadfully defended shot/cross that more or less bounced of Chicago’s Santacaterina into the net from pointblank range.

The changes all seemed to be on the PTFC end of the pitch.  The loss of Beuhler looked to be critical, as Portland’s backline looked disorganized and backfooted all afternoon.  I didn’t think that amateur keeper Cris Lewis was particularly at fault on either goal but her presence between the posts calls into question Parlow Cone’s assessment of her notional backup for LeBlanc; why didn’t Adelaide Gay get the start Saturday?  Why go with an amateur who last played for Portland State – not exactly the North Carolina of West Coast soccer – and who seems to have last played competitively in 2009?

Was it the Germans?  Not particularly. Grings was not a major factor; she was well marked and didn’t have a good chance until late in the second half.  Fuss did nothing more than the rest of the Chicago backline, who had most of the afternoon off as Thorns FC flailed about trying to get past midfield.

Was it the loss of the national team players?  I would say yes, to a large degree, but not entirely.

At this point in the season I would say that Parlow Cone has only faced two real tests; the Sky Blue match and this one, dealing with the loss of the Thorns national team players.

In neither has she shown us any Porteresque degree of insight into the game of soccer.

She was flat-out schooled by Jim Gabarra of Sky Blue.  And Saturday against Chicago she appeared just stymied.  Her team continued to try and lump the ball forward but without the speed of Morgan or the force of Sinclair that didn’t work. The backline, without the Bacon-saver, made fundamental errors at critical times and shipped two fairly (one brutally) soft goals.  That isn’t exactly the sort of game reputations for managerial cunning are built on.

We’ve all noticed that the midfield without Sinclair is sort of ordinary.   Saturday when the Sinclair-less midfield did get the ball forward what they provided was nothing special – and neither Foxhoven nor Shim were able to make something out of nothing special, the quality that Morgan provides.  Bringing on Washington and Guess in the second half merely restated the obvious; Thorns FC attack is a Cascadian fir with twin trunks made of Canadian and American national timber.

Without that lumber the poor vegetable looks more like a boxwood hedge.

And since we’re on the subject of things that haven’t worked so well, here’s my pet peeve – this Thorns team’s motto should be  “ea alis nunquam” which loosely translated from the Latin means “She ain’t got jack @!#! for wings”.

Because the one thing the Thorns have not yet shown against any opponent is effective wide play.  The gals in red really want to force the ball through the middle.  And when that didn’t work Saturday…they tried to force the ball through the middle again.  What little wide support the forwards get is typically random and usually not particularly effective; one indication of that is that Thorns FC has scored only 1 of their 12 goals from a PTFC head.  Crosses?  Typically in the single digits (and one of the three matches where Thorns FC attempted more than ten was Sky Blue, where the visitors’ central defense was so impenetrable that the only attack that PTFC had was crosses in from out wide…).

Why is this a problem?  Because if you pack the middle the Thorns have trouble scoring because we cannot or will not play the ball out wide.  I’m no Kevin Alexander but it seems to me that attacking the flanks should at least be an option for Thorns FC.


If all that sounds like I’m being grim, well. I don’t think this was more than a bad day and the national team players will return.


I would suggest that Thorns coaching staff might want to think very hard about whether there are real problems in the things I’ve discussed here, and, if there are, whether something needs to be done about this.  If I knew for sure, hell, I’d be coaching the team.   But if there are…well…

KCFC is coming around this Thursday, is all I’m sayin’.

Just a couple of other random comments on the match;

–  It was great to see the turnout for a match that didn’t feature the big stars.  12,000-odd?  I’ve said this before but it bears repeating; Portland really is “Soccer City USA”.

–  My normal match tickets are for the General Admission section at the North End, but for single-match tickets I usually have to depend on whatever’s available.  The last several times these tickets have been in the far-southwest portions of the West Stand.  And I have to say; that is a whole different world over there.  I’m sure that there are lots of people who like sitting quietly watching soccer, but for me it feels like going to a memorial service with 10,000 strangers.  I just don’t feel…right…sitting quietly watching my team.  I want to stand and sing and chant and abuse the officials and slag off on the visiting team.  It’s spoiled section 216 for me.

– There was one extremely odd bit of business that marked the second half.  John Nyen at By Any Other Name does a good job describing it but the gist was that Bywaters from Chicago went down with an injury and was carried off the field by one of her own teammates.  What the heck was up with that?  Where was the Chicago trainer?  Where the heck were the medical attendants with a stretcher?  The whole thing had a real rec-league feel and left me, at least, confused and concerned.

– Nyen also describes the furious altercation that broke out late in the second half between the officials and Thorns FC coaching staff that ended with assistant coach John Galas getting tossed.  That, too, was a bit disturbing.  Yes, the referee let some rough play go but was at least letting it go on both sides (not her fault that PTFC was shrinking from the tackling…) but the Thorns’ problems were not on the officiating in any sense.   Nyen draws some uncomfortable parallels between this incident, the PTFC coaching that this match showcased, and some of the worst features of the Spencer Era – and I have to say I agree with a lot of what he says.

– And can we STOP with the “What’s it like to see a crowd?” already?  Bad enough to taunt other teams playing in tiny venues that can’t seat more than a couple of thousand when we’re beating them.  When we’re losing 2-nil it had the nasty taste of sore-loserdom.  I don’t want to hammer on this any more, but, c’mon; we have lots of great songs and chants.  Let’s pack this one away until the next time Chivas USA comes to visit the Timbers, K?

Sorry.  Had to get that off my chest…

Anyway, Saturday the First of June was a bad day for Thorns FC.

We all have them; one of those days when nothing works, when you go to your Plan B and discover that it pretty much sucks and you got nothin’ in the “Plan C” file.  One loss is just one loss, even if it is to Chicago.

The thing to do now is learn from this and move on and up.   But Parlow Cone and the Thorns have to do that; they have to learn, and they have to do the work.

Because if you don’t do the work, the love dies.

And nobody wants to deal with that one.

7 thoughts on “Reversal of Fortune

  1. Really nice write-up.

    1) Our forwards, when they DID land the ball, had zero support. I watched a couple of times when they tried to hold up and look for support pass lanes, but zero midfielders stepped up. No outlet, lose possession. Very troubling.

    2) The ladies all looked like they were a step behind/slow, right from the first whistle.

    3) The lack of spacing made this team look not much more than a youth league side. How often did we see 2 (or 3) thorns in the same 10 foot area, or all 11 on one lateral half of the field. No spread whatsoever for a good part of the game. This one’s on the coach, and lesser to the captain. One needs to spot this and sort it out on field immediately.

    4) The carry-off was interesting and probably indicative of the level of $$ in the sport. I would venture to guess that chicago (or Portland) couldn’t afford a “staff” of medics to handle this? Remember, most of these players are not making enough to live on. The league is on shoestring.

    5) Right up till kick off, most seats weren’t filled. I sighed as I assumed that it was the Alex Morgan and Friends show, even here. I was incredibly happy to have been proven wrong by kickoff. Love these supporters.

    6) The team should have taken strength from the great show of support in lieu of the queen of NWSL’s attendance. Instead, I didn’t see them show up much at all, and it was incredibly disappointing as a fan.

    1. Pretty much spot-on.

      I think part of the issue with the lack of support from MF is a factor of the bizarre fear that Parlow Cone/PTFC seems to have of moving out wide. The forwards never had a square pass out to the wing available when they get fronted up; it’s either try and dribble through, pass forward or back. Without Sinclair doing the passing and Morgan doing the running that didn’t work.

      My guess is that you’re right and the reason Bywaters had to be carried off like some wounded rifleman at the Somme was purely financial. But that in itself is worrisome. I understand the league working on the cheap; the examples of WUSA and WSL are frightening. But at the very least the league and the clubs owe these women adequate care if (when) they get hurt. To skimp on that very critical element, well…that doesn’t make me happy and I’ll bet that I’m not a fraction as affected by this as the players. All very well to be told “At least you have a job…”, but there’s got to be a decent limit somewhere..!

      And I have to say that I think that the players have confidence issues, and as professionals need to step up. But what we saw Saturday reminded me VERY, very strongly of what I watched the Timbers do the past two seasons and I think now what I thought then; about 95% of that isn’t players jaking it, its players getting tossed out on the pitch disorganized, without a play or with a crude plan that they can quickly see isn’t working. They try an do what the coach has told them to do but find that they are getting beat, that its not working. They look to the sideline and get nothing. And then their heads go down.

      Without an inspirational leader on the pitch there’s not a lot of other options there, really. So it looks like the players are laying down, but I think it’s more like they’re looking at each other and at the bench and pleading “Now what? What the #@!$! should we do? Help us!” It’s the helplessness of a team getting outthought and outcoached.

  2. Ooh….very negative but I think it needed to be said. I love my Thorns but damn. And I totally agree…North End or nothin. Love your words.

    1. I don’t like having to say this. I’d much rather be typing “Ho-hum, another boring one-sided Thorns win…” but I lived through the Spencer Era and remember defending him as my friends were ranting “He’s clueless…he’s getting us beat with his stone-age tactics…we’re not getting outplayed we’re getting outcoached!”. I don’t want to repeat that with the Thorns.

      And the thing is, we don’t have to. Foxhoven, Long, Edwards, Kerr, Shim, Washington…these are talented players. Certainly as good in the NWSL as any of this year’s Timbers side is in MLS. If CPC can get them doing all the things that she says she WANTS this team to do and actually play good possession soccer and use the full width of the field (and they can – we saw a hint in the second half in Seattle!) then we’ll be a long way towards working around the problems other teams can now give us by packing the back and marking Morgan out of the match…

  3. Great column, John.

    I found the single most frustrating element of Saturday to be the absence of effort on the part of the Thorns. Chicago played like professionals, despite missing three players. The Thorns looked like “well, our leaders aren’t here, so we can take it easy.” Way too often, it looked like Portland players gave up on a ball they could have gotten to if they had a sprint in them, or looked like they only kinda-sorta would close down a Red Star player, because actually getting up in her face was too much bother.

    I honestly hope that the film session embarrasses them into working significantly harder Thursday.

    On the coaching, earlier in the year, I gave credit to Cone for using her strengths and letting her players that can manufacture goals do just that. 12 & 13 are so talented, that lobbing them the ball, getting a couple of scores, and just not being terrible everywhere else was enough for three points. The role players seemed to readily accept their roles, and give what they had to give.

    That’s obviously Plan A. Call-ups let us see what else we had. It gave role players a chance to really shine and the coaching staff to show they can implement more than the single strategy. Everyone failed. There was no strategy, and talent-wise, we looked over matched. [I do like your optimistic assessment that those players are good enough in the NWSL context, but I’m unconvinced.]

    Again, thanks for the write-up. I’m embarrassed that it took me three days to get here and read it. The game was depressing. I barely managed to get my power rankings on STF done yesterday, and it’s about 1/3 as long as usual. ha!

    1. Again; not sure that this is a problem with “effort”

      The Timbers looked like this a lot in the Spencer years, and I think it had as much with the players realizing that they were being outcoached and outplayed. Yes, they should find a way to rise above that, but as we’ve seen, sometimes it really IS all about coaching. What I hope is that this was a nasty jarring wake-up for the whole team and staff, and that we’ll see an angry and well-coached team run out Thursday against KC…

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