Once again Portland Thorns FC played a visiting team without several of their biggest stars. Once again the U.S. Women’s National Team called up Alex Morgan and Rachel Beuhler, and the CWNT required the services of Christine Sinclair. Once again an opponent came to Jeld-Wen Field looking for their first win against the Thorns and hoping to take advantage of the depleted Portland side.
That’s where the similarities ended.
The last time Chicago’s Red Stars cruelly exposed the failings of a PTFC that had used its national team players like a club to beat less-gifted opponents and a crutch to prop up weaknesses on their roster. Without the stars Thorns FC looked badly adrift, underprepared, and lost badly 2-nil.
Sunday the scoreline was the same but the numbers were reversed, and it was the hapless Seattle Reign that walked off victims of two splendid Portland goals.
1. Portland’s midfield continued to show the vastly improved organization and individual creativity that enabled Thorns FC to defeat KCFC last week. What was more impressive about this win is that it came without Becky Edwards as defensive organizer and all-around chara* and Allie Long forced back into a more defensive midfield role.
Obviously we will miss Edwards; she’s a terrific player and has been a rock as DM. But, in my biased opinion, Long’s shift back was a nifty piece of organizing by Parlow Cone and Long rewarded her by playing one of the best games I’ve seen her play all season. Until we get Tobin Heath (from my keyboard to the Gods of Soccer’s ears…) I think she will manage quite well there.
Another standout from Sunday was Angie Kerr. Angie has had some problems this season and has drifted in and out of the starting XI. But Sunday personnel needs pushed her “in” and she was rock solid. Her assist on the Shim goal alone was poetry in a size 7 soccer boot, and she controlled her portion of the pitch well all match, tackling neatly and distributing accurately.
Danielle Foxhoven, too, lived up to her “super-sub” reputation with a solid second-half shift as well as the clinical looping shot that produced Portland’s first goal. Wetzel and Guess were useful; in fact, this was perhaps the first Thorns match I’ve watched where I didn’t swear more than once at one of our midfielders.
Well played, middies!
2. Mana Shim finally had the game we’ve been waiting for her to have. She was a pest in the Seattle backline all match, made several nice runs, and her goal was a thing of soccer dreams. She should probably spend some time this week with Diego Chara going over 1 v 0 scoring because her run was perfect and her outside-of-the-foot chip shot couldn’t have been sweeter. Well played, Mana!
3. Karina LeBlanc owns Christine Nairn, or something. I’m still not sure if she guessed right, read Nairn’s approach, and/or cheated off her line just enough to save the PK, but save it she did and kept the clean sheet. Other than that she was her usual reliable self. Well played, Karina!
So it was all sunshine and rainbow sparkle ponies Sunday, right? Another boring ho-hum Thorns FC win, right?
The one place that Thorns FC really showed the hurting in the absence of their national team players was in back. Seattle had several dangerous opportunities when Portland Thorns defenders clumped around the ball and failed to clear their lines or gain control and pass out of danger. And let’s not forget; this was a Seattle without Fishlock. Had she not been off getting in touch with her Welsh roots away the scoreline might not have looked so pretty.
Jazmine Avant played a reliable game and Marian Dougherty provided quality wing play as well as steady defense, but as a unit the backline had the same problems they showed against KCFC; without Beuhler there to take them in hand they have a tendency to lunge and stab, miss their marks, fail to clear cleanly, and generally look like a group of players who are missing leadership. LeBlanc does what she can but she’s no Schmeichel.
If we’re going to win the league this defensive unit needs to find a workaround needing the Bacon-saver to save their bacon.
So for all that I kid about the Thorns FC “Death Star” crushing all enemies we still have work to do and a long season ahead. We are not destined to stroll to the championship because we have two of the greatest strikers in women’s soccer.
Destiny is something we’ve invented because we can’t stand the fact that everything that happens is accidental.
Or the result of damn hard work.
Sunday the Thorns proved convincingly that – without the bag stars – they can do the hard work to make themselves a team that can be dangerous from front to back, from the top of the roster to the tail. The question before us now is; will they, and can we continue that effort through the remainder of the season?
And for that we will have to wait and see. Or at least until next Saturday when we travel to meet the team that first best us so convincingly; Sky Blue FC.
Onward, Rose City!
When you think about it, shouldn’t we accept that the man’s name is worthy of adjectivization for “someone or something that causes fearsome disruption and bog-hammers anything around it”? When you ‘chara’ someone or something you just put the boot in and keep kicking;
“Well, it started out to be a pretty boring staff meeting until Jennifer from HR just got up and chara-ed the #!$#! out of that guy from accounting…” ⏎