Thorns FC: Good News, Bad News


Let’s get to the good news first: the Drought is over, the Thorns are back on the scoresheet, and the revolting Western New York peasantry didn’t storm Jeld-Wen Field on Bastille Day, they only nicked a couple of spoons and dirtied up the carpets a bit.

A lovely Meleana Shim strike 38 minutes in equalized the early Wambach goal and Karina “The Wall” LeBlanc stonewalled a PK late in the second half to preserve the draw.  With FCKC and Sky Blue both settling for draws this past weekend Thorns FC still holds second on the league table, one point ahead of Kansas City and three over Sunday’s visitors.

OK.  Now the bad news.

I still can’t get the flavor of disappointment out of my nine-dollar Jeld-Wen hefeweitzen.  For every bit of good news there was some bad; in fact, the whole match kinda felt like one of those lame good-news-bad-news jokes.

The good news was that a Thorn finally scored.  And the attack in general looked healthier than it has in weeks.  Yes, there was still a fair amount of Route 1.  But, no, this time it looked less like “Forgawdssakedon’tthinkjustbootit!” and more like the long balls were meant for someone to do something with.  There still wasn’t a whole lot of possession, but there was more, and it looked more purposeful than the earlier attempts.

The bad news was that the Thorn that scored wasn’t the one who was supposed to have scored.   And our two supposedly world-class strikers looked very much classless, out of synch, and out of humor with each other.

Shim had two shots and one goal.  Morgan had ten shots – half the Portland total – and got nothing out of all that.  Worse; although she said afterwards that she “…got a lot of shots on goal…” of her ten shots only four were on frame.

I’ve hesitated to speculate on this before but yesterday it was so marked that I can’t help saying something; Morgan yesterday looked like a truly terrible strike partner for Sinclair.

Christine gets little if anything from her sister striker; perhaps the worst example was deep in the second half with the Thorns needing the goal for win, Morgan running at the right side of the Flash goal with a defender on her back and the New York keeper Franch covering the short side of the goal like a blanket.  To Morgan’s left Sinclair was completely unmarked at the penalty spot; an easy sidefoot pass puts Sinclair in alone on goal for what would probably have been the game-winner…and Morgan blasted a shot that Franch easily turned around the post.

You could see Sinclair’s frustration – she stopped dead with her fists at her temples – and I completely agreed with her.  I understand that you want your star striker to be selfish; she is supposed to be greedy and want to score goals.  But Sunday it was beyond selfish, it actively hurt the team.

And what’s odd is that Morgan often dishes off to other Thorns; it’s Sinclair that she seems to be completely out of touch with.

Which is really bad news.

Particularly because if it really is some sort of personal disconnect between the two strikers (instead of just generic team play issues) if you’re Coach Parlow Cone how the hell do you solve that?  How do you make Alex Morgan – Thorns FC marquee player, the woman hundreds, possibly thousands, of Portland fans pay to see – do anything she doesn’t want to do?  You go to Merritt Paulson and say “You know our star striker, the one in all the publicity releases?  Well, I’ve had to bench her for a game because she won’t listen to me.”  How do you think that one works out?

I hope that Sunday was just Christine and Alex having a terrible, awful, very bad day and they’ll figure things out.  It just seems to me that we’re a long way into the season for our two best players to still have problems playing off each other.

The good news is that the midfield looked much improved and managed at least a draw against the WNY midfield.  That’s not a small thing, given that until now the midfield was a sort of soccer Dark Matter; talked about and speculated on but impossible to see and often simply invisible.   I thought that Tobin Heath’s contribution was helpful if not polished, no surprise for a player who had been with the team less than a week.  Overall I was pleased with what I saw of the service provided the forwards.  Long – her appalling tackle that led to the penalty aside – had a solid match locking down the back.

The bad news is that the midfield managed no better than a draw, at home, against the WNY midfield.  We needed our midfield to lock down the WNY attack and generate our own.  That didn’t happen consistently, and contributed largely to the failure to get three points.  I’m hopeful that this was a sort of “first-match-jitters” with the New Girl getting used to her midfield pals.  But a fair bit of that was problems we’ve seen before; poor passing, failure to move to a pass to open space, or failure to move to space to make such a pass possible, and it’s damn late in the season to be seeing that.

The good news is that Karina IS The Wall.  She and Franch were both terrific, but anytime your keeper saves a penalty you have to simply accept that as a nonpareil, a unique statement of quality.  Not to knock the other good stops Karina made, but Wambach slots that PK and we lose.  Period.

The bad news is that she kinda HAD to be The Wall.  The backline was it’s usual self on Sunday.  Lots of good marking and team communication punctuated with moments of pure panicked horror as someone missed an assignment or failed to cover a runner or got caught ball-watching.  Not to mention that Wambach got pretty thoroughly knocked around – with the understanding that Mary Abigail is no delicate flower herself – and got little love from the man in yellow for it; we cannot count on that sort of benign neglect when we visit Western New York.

The overall effect of the lapses was to undo much of the hard work.  Kat Williamson has a decent match but lets Wambach get the better of her once and ships the goal.  Long playing DM has a solid game but panics once when WNY hits a diagonal pass into the 18, knocks down Perez  and we’re looking at a PK with seven minutes and changes to play.  That’s the kind of thing that kills our team, and the kind of thing out backs need to work on.

The good news is that the Thorns as a team looked more dangerous than they have for a month.  I don’t want to run that down; this match was a step in the right direction, and if we can build on this we should be able to enter the playoffs ready to cut like a razor.

The bad news is that really dangerous teams don’t settle for home draws.  The improvement is just that; a step in the right direction after a month that has seen two points from a possible twelve, including one of six at home.

We have a total of nine points possible at stake against WNY; the scoreline now stands at one apiece and the last two matches are in Rochester.

So the good news is that I still believe our Thorns are capable of entering the postseason as the team to beat.

The bad news?  We still look capable of beating ourselves.

7 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Good News, Bad News

  1. John I think you are being a bit hard on the Morgan/Sinclair pairing. Its not like they have been practicing this way all year, they have had 1 maybe two weeks to practice with the two of them up top. Alex has been used to being alone.

    While I agree that they did not work well together at all in the match, I think that its one of those things that will have to grow with time. That specific play that you mentioned I did the same thing Sinc did, I couldn’t believe Morgan took the shot rather than passing to a wide open teammate.

    The season is coming to a close though, so they need to get it together quick. That, I Think, in indisputable.

    1. Yes, I am; they’re two of the top strikers in the game and my expectations of them are brutally exacting. But in this case there’s also the question of “what has the coach been doing to make them work better as a team?” So I look to Parlow Cone to help them figure this out.

      These two should really be too much for almost any defense. Sinclair has a deadly shot from distance; anywhere within 20-25 yards of goal she should be forcing opponents to collapse to her, opening up space for Morgan, Shim, Foxhoven…pretty much whoever is up front alongside her. And Morgan has deadly speed; her runs should be drawing defenders from all over the back, opening up shooting space for her teammates. Right now we’re not seeing it, and I want Coach Parlow Cone to want to see that more than I do and take steps to make it happen.

  2. There was a second play when Morgan *really* should have passed to Sinclair for a fairly easy chance on goal, but didn’t. As I said to my father at the match, You want your strikers to be greedy, but not too greedy. In this match, Morgan was too greedy.

    Hopefully more time together as a strike partnership (in contrast to how Sinclair has lined up nearly all season) will forge a solid understanding of each other.

    Also, Sinclair had a fantastic chance on goal in the first half in the match that she flat-out blew and hit a soft shot right at Franch. A top striker really has to work the keeper on that chance, at the very least.

    1. I didn’t talk much about Sinclair’s play Sunday but, yes; she had several opportunities that she should have done better with. I picked on Morgan because her disconnect was so glaring Sunday, but it looks like Sinclair has issues with her, too; they’re just not really clicking as a partnership and they both have room for improvement.

      And I want to think that it’s just “more time”, too, but we don’t have much more time left in the season.

  3. Dunno if I’d make that trade. Morgan is a great striker but like any great young player she has a tendency to coast on her talent. Why not? Most of the time that works just fine. Not sure that means she “doesn’t care”, just that she hasn’t been forced to get down and grind out goals. Fishlock has to; she’s not that naturally gifted. Talented, yes, and a player I respect, but not in the same class right now. I hate to keep beating this drum but this comes back to a coaching issue; this is where the coach sits Morgan down and says, look, here’s what we need you to do and why, and gets her to do those things. We’ll see if CPC is that coach.

    1. “I thought that Tobin Heath’s contribution was helpful if not polished,
      no surprise for a player who had been with the team less than a week.”

      So, did I notice? Yes. So, huge difference? No. A “huge difference” means Heath, say, leads the midfield in dominating the WNY midfield while providing assists for a Morgan and a Sinclair goal and scores one herself in a 3-1 Thorns win. Instead Heath had no assists, three shots (two on goal) in a 1-1 home draw while the midfields effectively neutralized each other.

      I thought the Heath played a big part in the modest improvement of the midfield we saw Sunday. I thought she also looked like she had just met her teammates and would need quite a bit more time to make a huge difference. I still hope that with that time she DOES make a huge difference. But I certainly didn’t see that Sunday.

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