Thorns FC: Quick Quick Slow

QUICK


If you’re a Thorns fan you already know that the Girls in Red came back from 2-nil down to take the match in overtime, 3-2.  I can’t add too much to Jonanna W’s fine match report over at Stumptown Footy.

However, if you were one of the many who doesn’t get FOX Sports 2 (Or  “The Ocho“, as we like to call it around here…) and didn’t get to watch the game you might not have had to pound out the flat spot in your forehead after the first half hour.  Actually watching the match was a bipolar swing between quick despair and slowly building hope.  Because, as Jonanna says, within 30 minutes the game seemed all over –

“It’s here that the gloom descended, over the several watching parties across Portland; over who knows how many PDX households; over the Rose City Riveters tent, where a handful of SG faithful cheered their team on halfway across the country; and, most importantly, if body language is to be believed, over the 11 Thorns who almost sleepwalked through the next 10 or so minutes at Verizon Wireless Field, shoulders slumped.”

The Thorns truly looked like a beaten team.  Kansas City’s goals weren’t just goals, they were shots right to the head; two in the skull, quick-quick, a sudden killer.  The very worst examples of the sort of defensive breakdowns that have killed Thorns FC all season.  Tymrak had eons of time and acres of space to place her shot, and Karina LeBlanc looked slow to dive to her right.  Then the defense simply stopped, ballwatching, as Melissa Henderson looped a header over LeBlanc for #2.

I was watching the game at Bazi Bierbrasserie – which was a terrific host and provided a great venue; thanks, Bazi! – and after I finished pounding my head on the table I looked around and saw I wasn’t the only one.  Too many other Thorns fans had seen this before; the defensive derp (TM), falling behind on soft goals…and too many of us have seen the team crash and burn in this situation.

Only Saturday it didn’t.  The two quick-quick Kansas City goals were their only goals that day.

Instead, slowly, the Thorns fought their way back into the match.

Perhaps it was Tobin Heath, refusing to just lie down and die, pulling back the first goal, roaring and driving on her teammates and lifting their heads back up.

Perhaps it was Christine Sinclair, wrathful as always, working tirelessly up front, making runs, moving skillfully and intelligently off the ball (her brilliant dummy at 65′ practically makes Weimer’s tying goal happen as the defense freezes long enough for Weimer to calmly claim the ball at the top of the six and drive it past Barnhart) and forcing FCKC to respond to her moves rather than start its own.

Perhaps it was Coach Parlow Cone, whose substitutions were timely and effective.

Perhaps it was Beuhler and Williamson, Marshall and Dougherty and Ellertson tightening up for the last 90 minutes; communicating with each other and with their midfield, marking Holiday out of the match, acting like a tough, composed band of well-drilled professionals instead of four strangers who just happened to wander onto a grassy field.

I’ve had some hard things to say about the Thorns backline this season.  I have some hard things to say about the first half hour they played Saturday.

But after that they did a woman’s job, all of you; well played.  That was the Thorns defense we all hoped we’d see this season.  That defense saw out the full time drawn 2-2.

And then the game went into overtime.

There’s no way to describe the tension of the last half hour of play.  Both teams looked gassed.  The hot day and the brutally hard pitch looked like misery.  It felt at that point like the next goal, whoever scored it, would be the winning goal.

So when Allie Long took a sweet pass from Weimer and slotted it into the FCKC goal to put Thorns FC up 3-2 I’ll bet that people emerging from the Fred Meyer all the way down on SE Hawthorne and 39th must have heard the roar from us down on 32nd.

Hell, when the long whistle blew people out in Corbett must have looked around and up at the cloudless sky, wondering what that strange distant bellowing noise was.

What is was, was pure wonderment.

The wonderful thing about this match was that slow, remorseless comeback; the Thorns’ refusal to concede.  For perhaps the first time all season this team, this entire team, showed ferocity and cohesion instead of fragility.  From the 33rd to the 120 minute, from Coach Parlow Cone’s substitutions to the play on the pitch, this team looked like the team the rest of the league started out afraid of.  The Death Star.  Mentally and physically tough, technically skilled, and tactically smart.

Now.

My father used to say that the reward for work well done was more work, and that is surely the case here.  The reward for this wonderful win is a hard hour and a half in Rochester, where Mary Abigail Wambach and Carli Lloyd and another dozen or so talented players will be waiting for Thorns FC this coming Saturday.

We’re there.  We’re in the Final, where “they” said we would be back in April.

I could thoroughly break down Western New York against PTFC here as I did FCKC last week, but why?  You know and I know and Coach Parlow Cone knows what we’re going to see in Rochester and what we have to do about it.

We’re going to see Abby Wambach and Carli Lloyd.  We will have to put a collar on them; defend in depth, with our keeper and our backs and our midfield communicating and working as we did over that last hour and a half in Kansas City.  We will have to watch especially for long balls over the backline, the Wambach specialty.

And then we have to score; our midfield has to protect the ball, move to space, and make accurate passes.  Our midfielders and attacking fullbacks will have to spread the Western New York defense wide and pass into our forwards.  Our forwards have to make the timely runs, take the passes in stride and turn them into goals, something we have yet to do in Rochester.

But the Thorns showed last Saturday that they can do things they haven’t done before.

If there is ever a time to do that again, if there is ever a time to show that last Saturday was the team as it is and can be, it will be next Saturday.

I learned one other important thing from Jonanna’s post; the NWSL Championship Trophy may well be the butt-ugliest piece of silverware ever offered up as a professional sports prize.  Seriously.  It’s fugly.  Reeeeeally f’n ugly.  I’ve seen kid soccer trophies that looked better.

There’s only one hope for it.

The damn ugly thing will look a whole lot prettier sitting in the trophy case at Jeld-Wen Field.

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