Tag Archives: Chicago Red Stars

Thorns FC: Queen Anne Front, Mary Anne Back

queen anne


My mother had accumulated a trove of sayings from HER mother, born near the turn of the last century.

One of her gems was reserved for times when she’d catch me trying to get away with spiffing up the visible part of something while doing the bare minimum of scuffling to cover up everywhere else.

You know what I’m talking about; your girl/boyfriend is due over and there’s crap all over the place so you run out to the yard and cut some flowers, dunk them in a vase, clear everything off the couch and the coffee table and put the lovely flowers right there.

Then stuff all the junk in the oven and hope he/she wants to go out for Chinese.

The flowers on the coffee table were, in her terms, the “Queen Anne” – the visibly beautiful and inviting – part up front.

The “Mary Anne” part, the common trailer-trashy part, was the shoes, magazines, and pizza boxes hidden in the back.

That was the story of Sunday’s match against the visiting Chicago Red Stars.

Up front the Thorns Queen Anne attack, led by Christine Sinclair with a brace and Meleana Shim with a third, was a thing of beauty.

Yes, there were some wasted opportunities; yes, we should have had four, or even five.   Perfect example; early in the second half, up 1-nil, Christine Sinclair took a ball in alone through the 18, beat the Chicago keeper and with MacLeod sprawled on the turf squared up three yards from the left post with two Chicago defenders standing in front looking like those cut-out free-kick practice dummies.  2-nil?

No. Chris hit left side netting.

But call me a believer in the Heath Factor; after a bit of a slow first half the Heath-led midfield began reading the spaces between the tight-marking Red Stars and putting passes to those spaces.  The  Thorns attackers – Morgan, Sinclair, and Shim – looked dangerous all match, and Chicago’s goal was in constant danger from the thirtieth minute until the final whistle.

Thorns even scored on nifty execution of an obviously pre-rehearsed setpiece in the first half, Sinclair running through the Chicago defense onto a quickly taken free-kick to score the first goal of the match and put Portland up 1-nil at the half.

A lovely Shim strike off of a deflected Morgan cross put Thorns up 2-nil at 55 minutes and the match looked like a threepeat of the first two Chicago-Portland scorelines. Chicago was locked down, the Thorns midfield and backline looked comfortably in charge, and it was hard to see how Chicago could play themselves back into the match.

But.

Then things came apart in back.

The first crack in the wall was the right side of the backline failing to mark Alyssa Mautz.  At about the hour mark Mautz received the ball outside the top corner of the area and carried it inside, dancing along the top right-hand edge of the 18 without a PTFC defender closer than two yards.

From there she launched a golazo into the far upper A with Karina at full stretch.

2-1.

That was not good.  But, worse, after their first goal Red Stars – who had look incapable of scoring through much of the entire first hour – suddenly looked dangerous.  The match – which until this point had been a scrappy business replete with tight marking and some ugly fouls but of which Portland had largely been in control – began to open up and not in a good way.

First, though, Thorns had another piece of pretty attacking; a through ball from Heath found its way past Shim, whose run froze the central defenders, to Sinclair, who knocked it home for the brace, 3-1 Thorns.  If there was a queen of the Queen Anne attack Sunday it had to be #12; she looked more deadly in front of goal than she has all season.  That’s the Christine I’ve been wanting to see, and she was glorious.

But.

Then the Red Stars opened the oven door and all those damn defensive embarrassments came spilling out.

First was another Mautz goal, a simple knock-in off a cross from the Portland left wing.  Kat Williamson had to chose to mark one of two Red Stars in the box with her, tried to mark both and ended up marking neither.

I will say this; Mautz looked offside to me.

But she didn’t to the linesman, and that’s what counts.

Before the final sneaker dropped out of the broiling pan Thorns FC had one last piece of beauty up front; a lovely Tiffany Weimer shot at about 78 minutes curled into the upper right-hand corner of the Chicago net!  4-2?

No.  Weimer was offside when she received the pass.

Several minutes later – about 83 or 84′, I think – Chicago had a terrific opportunity when substitute Inka Grings lofted one high in the air with LeBlanc well off her line.  Karina either misread it, thought it was in the net, or safely over the bar, and froze.

Instead it clanked off the crossbar and down for Mautz to take another shot on goal; only Kat Williamson’s body saved the three points.

Not for long.

Those points were gone three minutes later when the Portland defenders failed to clear their lines, sending a looping ball no further than Chicago’s Julianne Sitch standing just about 16 yards from goal.

Sitch hit a bullet, LeBlanc was completely unsighted, and the Red Stars had snatched a point at Jeld-Wen.

I’ve been hard on Coach Parlow Cone here in the past.  But I cannot in honesty place the failure to gain the full points from Chicago – a team we have beaten, a team we SHOULD have beaten again Sunday – on Parlow Cone.

I will say that I thought that some of her substitutions didn’t help.  Not Weimer for Morgan; Morgan had already earned a yellow, was looking angry and we need her for the four-games-in-ten-days we have coming up starting this week and couldn’t afford to get sent off.  But up a goal with ten minutes to play why not Wetzel for Shim?  You need to protect a lead, why not bring on a better defender?

And there was the usual troubles we get into because we don’t and, apparently, can’t hold possession; needing a goal with four minutes plus three minutes injury time to play Thorns FC managed little attack and only one shot, a Weimer effort that was not on frame.

Those were coaching issues, yes.  Not critical to this match, in my opinion.

The draw – and make no mistake; this was one of those draws that felt like a loss, having been up 2-nil and 3-1 – was largely on the team – and of the team, on the defenders.  Failure to mark.  Failure to clear.  This wasn’t doctoral-level soccer.  This was just what we talked about last time; the team that is hardest for the Portland Thorns to beat is the Portland Thorns themselves.

Here’s what I said back in June:

“Of the ten matches left five are to teams we should beat handily; three to the only moderately-awful Boston Breakers (which with any sort of decent play probably means at least four points and probably five), one more match with the woeful Chicago here and the final meeting with sad-sack Seattle at Tukwila for another six.”

We have taken four from Boston and with any decent luck should take at least another and possible three more.

But – only one from Chicago instead of three.

Sky Blue – our next opponent at Jeld-Wen this Wednesday – lost today to FCKC today, dropping them down to a second-place tie with Portland.  You can bet they’ll be fighting for the full points when we see them.

And then the league leaders, KC, come to visit next Sunday.

Then it’s Boston and Western New York away before the regular season wraps up in Tukwila against a Seattle Reign that is no longer a sort of frequent-flier-miles “points giveaway” operation.

There’s no slack left in the schedule.

We can no longer afford to let these kinds of matches slip away.  We can’t afford to be all Queen Anne up front if we’re going to be Mary Anne at the back.  We can’t stuff the dirty socks and old issues of Sports Illustrated into the backline and hope nothing falls out on the floor in front of the guests.

We have GOT to be the sharpest Thorns in soccer for the next month if we want home-field advantage and a straight shot at the final match.

Hang on.  It’s going to be a hell of a month of August.

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Reversal of Fortune

Thorns FC now sits squarely in second place in the NWSL after a 2-nil loss to the Chicago Red Stars at home and a Sky Blue win.

As I discussed earlier; Saturday’s game was full of questions.  Clearly, given the scoreline, the answers weren’t very favorable for the Thorns.  What were those answers and were they the reason for Thorns FC’s second loss of the season?

Was the third time the charm for Chicago?  I don’t believe so; I didn’t see anything particularly innovative about the way Chicago played today.  Both goals were the direct result of Portland errors; an unmarked Bywaters heading easily for the first goal, while the second was a dreadfully defended shot/cross that more or less bounced of Chicago’s Santacaterina into the net from pointblank range.

The changes all seemed to be on the PTFC end of the pitch.  The loss of Beuhler looked to be critical, as Portland’s backline looked disorganized and backfooted all afternoon.  I didn’t think that amateur keeper Cris Lewis was particularly at fault on either goal but her presence between the posts calls into question Parlow Cone’s assessment of her notional backup for LeBlanc; why didn’t Adelaide Gay get the start Saturday?  Why go with an amateur who last played for Portland State – not exactly the North Carolina of West Coast soccer – and who seems to have last played competitively in 2009?

Was it the Germans?  Not particularly. Grings was not a major factor; she was well marked and didn’t have a good chance until late in the second half.  Fuss did nothing more than the rest of the Chicago backline, who had most of the afternoon off as Thorns FC flailed about trying to get past midfield.

Was it the loss of the national team players?  I would say yes, to a large degree, but not entirely.

At this point in the season I would say that Parlow Cone has only faced two real tests; the Sky Blue match and this one, dealing with the loss of the Thorns national team players.

In neither has she shown us any Porteresque degree of insight into the game of soccer.

She was flat-out schooled by Jim Gabarra of Sky Blue.  And Saturday against Chicago she appeared just stymied.  Her team continued to try and lump the ball forward but without the speed of Morgan or the force of Sinclair that didn’t work. The backline, without the Bacon-saver, made fundamental errors at critical times and shipped two fairly (one brutally) soft goals.  That isn’t exactly the sort of game reputations for managerial cunning are built on.

We’ve all noticed that the midfield without Sinclair is sort of ordinary.   Saturday when the Sinclair-less midfield did get the ball forward what they provided was nothing special – and neither Foxhoven nor Shim were able to make something out of nothing special, the quality that Morgan provides.  Bringing on Washington and Guess in the second half merely restated the obvious; Thorns FC attack is a Cascadian fir with twin trunks made of Canadian and American national timber.

Without that lumber the poor vegetable looks more like a boxwood hedge.

And since we’re on the subject of things that haven’t worked so well, here’s my pet peeve – this Thorns team’s motto should be  “ea alis nunquam” which loosely translated from the Latin means “She ain’t got jack @!#! for wings”.

Because the one thing the Thorns have not yet shown against any opponent is effective wide play.  The gals in red really want to force the ball through the middle.  And when that didn’t work Saturday…they tried to force the ball through the middle again.  What little wide support the forwards get is typically random and usually not particularly effective; one indication of that is that Thorns FC has scored only 1 of their 12 goals from a PTFC head.  Crosses?  Typically in the single digits (and one of the three matches where Thorns FC attempted more than ten was Sky Blue, where the visitors’ central defense was so impenetrable that the only attack that PTFC had was crosses in from out wide…).

Why is this a problem?  Because if you pack the middle the Thorns have trouble scoring because we cannot or will not play the ball out wide.  I’m no Kevin Alexander but it seems to me that attacking the flanks should at least be an option for Thorns FC.

Well.

If all that sounds like I’m being grim, well. I don’t think this was more than a bad day and the national team players will return.

But.

I would suggest that Thorns coaching staff might want to think very hard about whether there are real problems in the things I’ve discussed here, and, if there are, whether something needs to be done about this.  If I knew for sure, hell, I’d be coaching the team.   But if there are…well…

KCFC is coming around this Thursday, is all I’m sayin’.

Just a couple of other random comments on the match;

–  It was great to see the turnout for a match that didn’t feature the big stars.  12,000-odd?  I’ve said this before but it bears repeating; Portland really is “Soccer City USA”.

–  My normal match tickets are for the General Admission section at the North End, but for single-match tickets I usually have to depend on whatever’s available.  The last several times these tickets have been in the far-southwest portions of the West Stand.  And I have to say; that is a whole different world over there.  I’m sure that there are lots of people who like sitting quietly watching soccer, but for me it feels like going to a memorial service with 10,000 strangers.  I just don’t feel…right…sitting quietly watching my team.  I want to stand and sing and chant and abuse the officials and slag off on the visiting team.  It’s spoiled section 216 for me.

– There was one extremely odd bit of business that marked the second half.  John Nyen at By Any Other Name does a good job describing it but the gist was that Bywaters from Chicago went down with an injury and was carried off the field by one of her own teammates.  What the heck was up with that?  Where was the Chicago trainer?  Where the heck were the medical attendants with a stretcher?  The whole thing had a real rec-league feel and left me, at least, confused and concerned.

– Nyen also describes the furious altercation that broke out late in the second half between the officials and Thorns FC coaching staff that ended with assistant coach John Galas getting tossed.  That, too, was a bit disturbing.  Yes, the referee let some rough play go but was at least letting it go on both sides (not her fault that PTFC was shrinking from the tackling…) but the Thorns’ problems were not on the officiating in any sense.   Nyen draws some uncomfortable parallels between this incident, the PTFC coaching that this match showcased, and some of the worst features of the Spencer Era – and I have to say I agree with a lot of what he says.

– And can we STOP with the “What’s it like to see a crowd?” already?  Bad enough to taunt other teams playing in tiny venues that can’t seat more than a couple of thousand when we’re beating them.  When we’re losing 2-nil it had the nasty taste of sore-loserdom.  I don’t want to hammer on this any more, but, c’mon; we have lots of great songs and chants.  Let’s pack this one away until the next time Chivas USA comes to visit the Timbers, K?

Sorry.  Had to get that off my chest…

Anyway, Saturday the First of June was a bad day for Thorns FC.

We all have them; one of those days when nothing works, when you go to your Plan B and discover that it pretty much sucks and you got nothin’ in the “Plan C” file.  One loss is just one loss, even if it is to Chicago.

The thing to do now is learn from this and move on and up.   But Parlow Cone and the Thorns have to do that; they have to learn, and they have to do the work.

Because if you don’t do the work, the love dies.

And nobody wants to deal with that one.

Drang nach Portland! – Thorns FC v Chicago Red Stars

Today’s match between Thorns FC and the visiting Chicago Red Stars will be intriguing for the number of questions it raises.

There’s the “Third time’s the charm?” question.  The first two meetings between these clubs ended in 2-nil beatings for a Chicago side that never really learned the words to the Thorns’ opponents theme song, “How Do You Stop A Problem Like Alex Morgan?” Not their fault; only Sky Blue FC has managed to cover that number.  But Rory Dames now has SBFC’s example to learn from.  We’ll see if he can get the visitors to sing along to the tune that Jim Gabarra wrote here less than three weeks ago.

There’s also the “Where In The World Is Christine Sinclair (and Alex and Rachel and Karina…)?” question.  We know where – Toronto, preparing to play each other.  At Stumptown Footy the Always Indispensible Jonanna W discusses the potential options Cindy Parlow Cone has for reconfiguring a team that has leaned heavily on the currently-missing internationals.  She mentions all the usual suspects in attack; Foxhoven, Long, Shim…even Angie Kerr (who in my opinion has yet to show the form she promised in preseason) and Nikki Washington (who I thought looked adrift against Sky Blue, underperformed against a visiting Washington Spirit and was recently benched against Seattle).  But all of these players – though decent attackers all – have never yet played a minute against a NWSL opponent without the big names on the pitch.  My suspicion is that they will have serious difficulties today against a Chicago defense that has added a very solid German defender in Sonja Fuss.

Which brings up the third and most fraught question; “Deutschland über Portland?”

Chicago has added another GWNT player, and she is a serious load; Inka Grings

“…is third on Germany’s all-time career scoring list with 64 international goals…was the top scorer in Euro 2005 with four goals… Scored five goals and was the top scorer in Euro 2009…won German Footballer of the Year in 1999, 2009, and 2010…and top-scorer in the UEFA Women’s Champions League in the 2010–11 season.”  She’s also the Bundesliga’s all-time top scorer.

Whew.

I can’t see Grings as anything but a huge problem for a Beuhlerless Thorns FC backline.  And a real danger to a LeBlancless Portland goal.  Parlow Cone will HAVE to devise a tactic or combination tactics to neutralize Grings or today will be, as another German is supposed to have said;

“For the Thorns, it will be the longest day … the longest day.”

Thorns FC @ Chicago: That Thing is Operational!

As you probably know, PTFC was 5-nil on aggregate this past weekend.  The Timbers spanked the dire Goatboys of Chivas USA 3-nil and the Thorns FC handed the Chicago Red Stars their second consecutive 2-nil loss to a Portland that now sits comfortably on top of the NWSL table.

Portland soccer fans were handed a nasty dilemma by the two leagues this past Sunday, with the Timbers kicking off at 2pm and the Thorns at 3pm.  Given that I was single parenting and couldn’t get to Jeld-Wen, and the womens’ match wasn’t recordable – I chose to tape the Timbers and watch the women.

As always, Jonanna W has the details at her match report over at Stumptown, and does a good job of describing the hammering that the Thorns FC Death Star handed the plucky band of rebels led by Lori Chalupny.  For all that Chicago looked better than they did in their first outing against Thorns FC the scoreline flatters them; the match could easily have been 3-nil or 4-1.  Portland soccer fans are suddenly confronted with the sensation hitherto known only to supporters of outfits like ManU or Barca; rooting for the bully of the league, the Evil Empire.  While not yet familiar enough with the sensation, it’s…surprisingly pleasant, isn’t it?  Suddenly I have the awful suspicion of what it’s like to be a ManU supporter and revel in the one-sided beatdowns of loveable little teams and their pessimistic little fans.

Are we unstoppable?  (Can you believe that we can even ASK that question?!?)  How WOULD you stop Thorns FC?  What can the rest of the NWSL do to handle Thorns FC, and were there any hints visible Sunday?

Here’s what I saw, coming through the laggy feed from Suburban Multiplex Stadium, Illinois;

1) They will have to body up on Alex Morgan.  Before the season opened we thought we’d have two devastating smoking barrels up front; Sinclair and Morgan.  But shortcomings in midfield have drawn Christine back into the trequartista role she’s fulfilled nicely.   That leaves Alex Morgan, and as she showed in the third minute in Chicago, if you give her so much as a centimeter of space she’ll create something out of nothing.  Any hope of beating Thorns FC will have to include a Morgan jour sans as well as a glove-like man-marker to stick a boot in every time she touches the ball.  But that leaves the problem that

2) They will ALSO have to mark the hell out of Sinclair, Long, Foxhoven, and Washington.  The bottom line is that Thorns FC is, like the Death Star, a nightmare when it attacks.  There’s just too many weapons there, and if the Empire doesn’t shove a death ray down the middle it will work its legions around the flanks and bomb you to death with crosses.   Or the Sinclair Particle Beam will strike from distance.

3) But…there are some undefended exhaust ports in midfield.  One thing that Portland has still to cover up is poor passing and lack of connectivity in midfield.  Far too many passes went astray in Chicago; it was an ugly giveaway in midfield that led to the Red Stars’ one real opportunity, a point-blank blaster-burst from Julianne Sitch that LeBlanc did well to save.  Much as I wanted Angie Kerr to be the midfield engine Parlow-Cone has clearly dropped her in favor of playing Sinclair as a withdrawn forward and making Long the midfield pivot.  It has worked, and that’s hard to argue with.  But I still get the sense that a club with a very aggressive pressing midfield can disrupt this Thorns FC unit and force enough turnovers to counter effectively.  Which brings up the other potential vulnerability, that

4) The Empire is strong in attack but not invulnerable in defense.  Chicago never managed to maintain enough possession to mount a period of sustain pressure.  But another team – Sky Blue, perhaps, or Kansas City whose midfield looked effective in Thorns FC road opener – might be capable of exploiting the occasional openings that Portland gives up in back.  From what I could see the Portland midfield looks effective playing forward; the connection between the backline and midfield wasn’t nearly as tight.  Much of Thorns FC attack Sunday started with Chicago giveaways in midfield (the rebels were affected with pretty severe Stormtrooper Effect themselves); out of the back I saw a lot of long balls that went to Red Stars as often as not.  Again, a team with a midfield that tackles well, presses high, and plays together could, if nothing else, provide the Death Star with an uncomfortable moment or three.

And, pat as some George Lucas dialogue, here comes Sky Blue FC this Thursday, ready to try and take down our fortress.  But as Darth MGoEcon observed; the ability to destroy a Red Star is insignificant next to the power of the Thorns. 

I am confident.  Sky Blue will feel the might of the Empire; with our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict and bring order to the NWSL.