The Empire Strikes Back

Let me say this first; what a wild, wonderful, frightening, crazy, frustrating, exhilarating match!

Thorns FC celebrated the return of their national team players Thursday night by hanging a frantic 4-3 defeat on the visiting Kansas City FC.  Although far from being a “perfect” soccer match the encounter was loads of fun to watch and possibly the most entertaining game I’ve seen from the Thorns and the NWSL to date.

I’m sure my colleagues here will do what the gang over at Stumptown Footy has already done and give you a thorough rundown of the match.  I just wanted to comment on what happened relative to the carping I did after the loss to Chicago the previous weekend.  Specifically;

Having whined about the lack of wing play, Thursday night the Thorns played MUCH wider and used the width of the pitch to spread a scrambling KCFC defense and pour on the attack.  What didn’t hurt Thorns FC was that the KCFC defense lacked their organizer Sesselmann; I’d say that had she been there I doubt if Morgan would have had the time to bury her second.  Both Dougherty on the Thorns right and Marshall on the left had clearly been given orders to push up the touchlines when they could, and did.  The results rewarded the efforts and I hope we’ll continue to see this from Thorns FC going forward.

Although the play proved that the Morgan-Sinclair Axis is still the heart of the Thorns’ attack Thursday night the midfield looked an order of magnitude better than they have all season, stringing together crisp passes, moving well to space and looking to keep possession.  Allie Long had perhaps the best game she’s had to date, the Shim-Foxhoven combination (Shim in the first half, Foxhoven in the second) worked well, and Becky Edwards was her usual beast of a DCM, Chara-izing everything in a white jersey all night.  I won’t way that the midfield is “solved” but the Thorns midfield play was much improved and the team was the beneficiary of that.

As always, Alex Morgan was herself, using her amazing pace to trouble KCFC even without the ball at her feet.  I thought the defining moment for her Thursday night was early in the first half with Thorns FC up 2-nil and a lazy backpass forced KCFC keeper Barnhart to dribble the ball out of the back.  Most forwards might have loafed over to remind the keeper they were there.  Instead Morgan rushed onto her at full tilt, forced her to boot away a hurried clearance to avoid getting caught in a ter-Stegen.  Morgan clearly had no interest in letting her national teammate play her game; this game was Morgan’s, by Pele, and Morgan was letting her know it.

Even more entertaining were her struggles with KCFC’s Becky Sauerbrunn (whose awful slip had gifted PTFC Morgan’s first goal early on and was clearly angry about that).  They tussled and shoved and battled all evening and finally late in the second half the two raced down into the west corner at the North End.  Both were shoving shoulder-to-shoulder when Morgan reached under and ju-jitsu-flipped Sauerbrunn to the ground, rolled over…and sat up and appealed for the card against her victim.

Her own yellow for this was well deserved; nice piece of trickery only if you get away with it, you cunning thing, you.  But it revealed what a fierce competitor this woman is, and how lucky we are to have her.

Of course when you’re rebuilding a Death Star you’re still likely to end up with a defense that has an vulnerable exhaust port or two.  With the attack battering furiously away the Thorns’ defense didn’t have much to do…until the second half when, up 3-1, Parlow Cone pulled the team back into a 4-5-1, left Morgan running about up top, and seemed to want to park the bus.

As we’ve seen; when teams named “PTFC” try that it doesn’t usually end well.  In this case it allowed KCFC to work its way back into the match.

Much as I like what Marshall and Dougherty did going forward, I was hating what was happening in the back.  Marshall was repeatedly skinned to the outside; she spend so much time chasing down wingers who had burned her that I started looking to see if the back of her shirt didn’t read “Kimura”.  Over on the right Dougherty was caught upfield several times as well.  If CPC is going to push her fullbacks upfield to get width – which I like! – the midfield and backline will need to work on shifting to cover the space opened by the fullbacks.

And to add to that the defense continued its curious ways of going into sudden brainlock at random moments.

KCFC pulled back a third goal on what might have been the oddest looping curl of a shot by Erika Tymrak in the 81st minute.  She hit a medium-pace shot from near the right top corner of the 18 at what seemed like a half-dozen Thorns strung across the penalty area like a Washington County road crew and they, like the shovel-proppers, did absolutely nothing useful to the ball.  It whiffed past LeBlanc who looked to be screened by her ostensible defenders.  Ouch.

And speaking of “ouch” and speaking of defenders I have to add this; Thorns FC was very, very lucky not to be a player down after 33 minutes.

Rachel Beuhler did a lot of good work Thursday night.  But that didn’t include a very bad challenge from behind that took down (and injured) Renae Cuellar.  It had all the elements of a sending-off; clumsy tackle, from behind, by the last defender on an attacker that was otherwise in alone on the keeper.

Luckily for Thorns FC while it drew the PK that Cheney buried it didn’t draw the card.  Not that I think for a moment that there was intent on Beuhler’s part; just that on a night that Thorns FC was seemingly inspired by the great Brazilian teams of the Garrincha years – (“Score seven on us? Defending? Não faz mal! We’ll just forget that “defending” stuff and score eight on you..!) the last thing you need is to go down a player AND lose your most crucial defender.

Just sayin’.

After all the hurley was done, after the battle was won the Death Star has downed another plucky band of rebels.

Thursday night was a wild rumpus of an evening, a cascade, a starry night full of goals, and a lovely evening of soccer brought to us by the Ladies in Red; luminous beings were they, not this crude matter.  A delightful evening after the sour mumpish day we shared last Saturday.  Now.

Onward, Rose City!

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