It says something fairly damning about the current form of our Thorns FC that the nil-nil draw at Western New York they scratched out Saturday seems like a huge relief.
It’s when you are satisfied with the Death Star as a sort of big clumsy black interstellar bug-zapper that you realize that your expectations have been lowered substantially from the euphoria of preseason.
And the NWSL table reminds us of the implacable fact that a win in Rochester was a must-have for home field advantage in the playoffs. With the season series at 0-0-2 WNY still owns the tie-breaker that will prevent Thorns FC from hosting the semifinal match if the current positions are unchanged after this coming weekend’s match at Tukwila.
I can’t really say much about the match itself other than at least Thorns’ defense didn’t ship a soft goal. In fact, the play in back looked improved from the two preceding matches and the double man-marking kept Wambach under control, or as much as you can control Abby Wambach without actually hiring Shane Stant to club her on the knee. Still, Karina still had to make 10 saves to preserve the clean sheet.
And no Thorns match in the last could of months would be complete without the patented Thorns Defensive Derp ™ – this game’s was on Marianne Dougherty, who was in the process of shepherding a bounding long ball back into her own penalty area when with her goalkeeper no more than 3 or 4 yards away and little or no pressure on her back inexplicably tapped it to LeBlanc with her boot, setting up a dangerous opportunity inside the Thorns 18.
Luckily for Thorns FC Carli Lloyd skied the subsequent free kick and the Thorns managed to see out the rest of the game without any more defensive breakdowns.
The less said about the attack in the first half the better; there was little to speak of. The midfield was a disorganized mess as WNY ran the playbook on Thorns FC and pressed every Thorns midfielder as soon as they touched the ball and were rewarded with the expected errant pass. Thorns defenders were, if anything, worst, booting every ball randomly upfield. Any Thorns attempts on goal (and the percentage was, as usual, less than half, 3 of 7) were tame and easily saved.
Somehow Thorns midfield managed to gain more composure in the second half and actually strung together some decent passes. About ten minutes into the half Angie Kerr provided an excellent cross but neither of the Thorns inside the 6-yard box could get to the ball or, in Allie Long’s case, control it well enough to shoot on goal. But that was pretty much it.
The match pointed up to me how this is really Alex Morgan’s team. Without Morgan the attack seemed almost random, as various players tried one thing or another without any really looking dangerous. Christine Sinclair – whose two shots were the most attempts of any Thorn and pretty much makes the point of how scattered the attack was Saturday – is still far off her international form. If Coach Parlow Cone has a Plan B I couldn’t see evidence of it.
With Kansas City falling to the suddenly-dangerous Boston Breakers Thorns FC could have pulled within a point of the league lead with a win, but, frankly, I have a hard time seeing how this team, at this point, playing as they are, could have managed to put a goal past WNY’s goalkeeper Franch (who had her usual solid outing) or defend a one-goal lead if they had. My expectations were so low coming in that a clean sheet and only one Thorns Defensive DerpTM seems like a decent result.
Fortunately for Thorns FC Sky Blue couldn’t manage a win, either; all three second-place clubs remain in the same order they were on Friday.
Seattle suffered a gutting loss at Washington Saturday, losing 1-nil on an almost Thorn-like defensive breakdown late in the second half. The Reign have nothing to play for other than spoiling Portland’s post-season.
A win in Seattle seems more like a need than a want at this point. It could still secure a home semifinal. But more to the point, this team needs confidence; confidence that they can play 90 minutes of solid football, confidence that they can score, confidence in themselves.
Saturday in Rochester Thorns almost managed the first. Next Saturday in Tukwila they will need to solidify the defending and score. That seems like a very low expectation.
But it’s what we have right now.