Seems like only last week I sat down and fired up the Commodore 64 to ponder what best for our coach Cindy Parlow Cone to do to prepare for the final half of the season.
Oh. Wait. It was. As part of that external internal-monologue I had some thoughts about the upcoming matches, and here’s what I had to say about last Sunday’s match against FC Kansas City:
“Hard to suss these out just because our first meeting was a frightful mess with goals hard to come by and the second was a wild free-for-all with goals by the bucketful. Which teams will meet for the last two matches? I have to think that we’re better now than either Thorns team that played those first two matches; at least four points, then, with the dire possibility that KC might possibly sneak a home win next week and leave us with only the three.”
But in truth the match away to FCKC was worse than the loss – or as a Kansas City play-by-play announcer might have termed it, the first ever road loss for Thorns FC – it was another example of a coach whose team and whose “tactics” are starting to look very familiar to those of us who sat through the Timbers’ first two MLS seasons. And this Spencerian style, although Coach Parlow Cone says nothing about it, is going unnoticed by the fans. Here’s just a selection of some of their observations from the comments on the match report over at Stumptown Footy:
“The midfield still stinks and we’re playing longball or, as someone else noted, kick and chase. There appears to be no philosophy. This is Spencerball revisited. It’s ugly, tragic, embarrassing, and contrary to what we’ve been told to expect tactically. Heath isn’t going to be the savior, and she shouldn’t have to be. We have great players, but aren’t the team we should be.”
“All of this tells me that while CPC may be doing a fine job of helping the ladies be good friends and have fun together, she has yet to build a functioning professional team. With others in the league clearly improving, the clock is ticking loudly.”
“We’ve proven that we can take care of the Washingtons and Seattles just on talent, and even then only barely. Any team with a pulse can throw good markers/back line numbers at Sinc and Morgan and just wait for the midfield to turn it over. Then just wait for the defense to get in its own way one too many times.”
Yes. But, in my opinion, justified.
In my last post I identified certain on-field issues that I thought CPC could address to sharpen the Thorns, issues that we’d seen in all of the team’s poorer outings this season; Alex Morgan lacking bite, as well as lacking service and assistance from her strike partners.
The mess in midfield.
Lack of effective wing play and the ease with which smart and talented opponents can stifle the narrow Thorns attack. Lack of communication between the midfield and backline, and random moments of disorganization in the back leading to opposing attackers getting far too much open space and time.
Poor passing and poor coordination and team play in general.
All of that was on display in Kansas City along with one of those awful moments when a coach has burned all her substitutions and then one of her players goes down injured; with no way to replace Marian Dougherty, Parlow Cone could only watch helplessly as her team played the final 10 minutes a player and two goals down.
The part of all this that disturbs me most is how, of all John Spencer’s coaching ways Parlow Cone seems to mimic his most damaging; an unreflective approach to the game of soccer and the paleolithic “tactics” it produced.
Sure, Spencer had plans and tactics, mind; plans like the French Army had plans in 1940, and tactics like they were still written in the original cuneiform.
Spenny came to every match with an idea of what his team was going to look like, and do; boot the ball up to his big forward and let the big fella knock it in.
Substitute “Alex Morgan” for “Kenny Cooper” or “Kris Boyd” and this year’s Thorns FC starts to look a hell of a lot like the Timbers of 2011 and 2012; a team that can’t pass the ball well or control the tempo of the match and relies on antiquated hoof-and-hope long ball to get Alex Morgan to make something out of nothing. A team that suffers catastrophic breakdowns in back. A team that smarter coaches can beat because they know before the opening whistle where that team will go and what it will do when it gets there.
What’s so disturbing about this is that while what we’re seeing from Thorns FC is pretty much what we’ve seen from their first match – with bits of tweaking here and there – most of the rest of the league has been getting better.
Seattle’s USWNT veterans Rapinoe and Solo have earned the dire Reign two wins and a draw from their last three matches. Sydney Leroux is pulling Boston – a Boston that we play three times and I had counted on the Thorns thrashing repeatedly – out of a slough of mediocrity into…well, perhaps at least a much shallower slough of mediocrity. We’ll have to see.
Western New York remains as dangerous at random moments as lightning from a cloudless sky, and Sky Blue FC is still atop the table with us and a consistent and persistent threat.
Thank the soccer gods that Chicago still sucks, then.
Mind you, I suspect that even with a less successful second half the Thorns will be able to ride their fast start into the playoffs. But what then? FCKC showed they’d learned the lessons that Sky Blue wrote on the Jeld-Wen turf; mark the two star strikers out of the match, press high and force the poor passing and bad clears that will gift you the ball, and then take advantage of defensive errors that will follow. Even The Wall cant stop everything.
I believe that unless Parlow Cone can manage her way out of this the championship we’re expecting this season – and we ARE expecting it – will go a’glimmering.
Spencer seemed like a genuinely good man, the sort of quirky guy that a lot of the fans enjoyed for his personality, the kind of manager that in a sunny, happy world would have retired here full of years and honors, beloved of the supporters and the city alike.
The main reason he did not is that he was unable to analyze the game, to learn from his mistakes, and to adjust to his conditions; he tried to play “his kind of soccer” with a club that didn’t have what it took to play that kind of soccer, and a kind of soccer that didn’t have what it took to beat teams whose tactics had evolved past 1965.
Now Parlow Cone has a dilemma. She has a small number of great players and “tactics” that rely on those players being great enough to beat poorer, weaker teams. But now many of the poor are getting richer and the weak stronger, and it is appearing increasingly likely that those “tactics” will no longer work.
If she can figure out how to adjust those tactics she may well – if the league itself prospers – find herself at the end of her career the next Clive Charles, a beloved fixture of Portland soccer, a treasured reminder of glories past.
But if not…
Ask not for whom the smartyphone rings…