Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Flying with their own wings

Once again my compa Chris Singer is there “fustest with the mostest,” so I won’t add anything other than a recommendation to read his match report from Portland Thorns FC’s first ever victory, the 2-1 win over the visiting Seattle Reign this past Sunday. And I would be remiss if I didn’t also direct you to the by-now-indispensable JonannaW’s report over at Stumptown Footy.

Having been in the North End for the match I thought I’d just add some of my own observations from Section 109.

In the stands:

The numbers. The last time I recall seeing the old Civic Stadium this full for a women’s match was the last time the U.S. women’s national team played here. in 2012, and that crowd was less raucous and less partisan than Sunday’s. I can understand how the Thorns FC players and coaches were impressed. While I don’t expect the stands to continue to be quite that packed, I think we showed our colors as Soccer City, USA, and those colors were bright red and white.

The overall sensibility inside the Shed was very different from a Timbers match. I think the effect of the large general admission seating section (the entire lower bowl all the way around to Section 110) and the smaller size of the Rose City Riveters supporters group had the effect of diluting the fervor of the North End. I think that this will sort itself out over the season, as louder and more vertical will gravitate towards 107 while the quiet sitters will move away.

One effect of “early days yet” seems to be that there was some confusion on where exactly “general admission” was located. The event staff was quite definite; all the 100 sections ending at 110. But the couple behind us at the west end of 109 had reserved seats for that section, and so did another group of five sitting where we first sat. We had no trouble finding other seats, but hopefully Thorns FC and Jeld-Wen work this out quickly; having supporters dueling over places to sit or stand won’t help anyone focus on the match.

The other issue that club, supporters, and venue will need to work on figuring out is “who stands”? On Sunday pretty much everyone across the North End over to 108 was standing. But in our section the confusion began; several whole areas were sitting, some behind supporters who were standing. This didn’t seem to be a big issue when the ball was 20 yards or more from the end line, but when a player worked the ball down into the near corner it forced the sitters to stand to see the play. This jack-in-the-box jumping up noticeably increased in the second half as Portland repeatedly attacked Seattle’s goal, and I can see this becoming an issue in the future as some solid citizen objects to those yobs standing in his way. The Timbers’ North End match supporters have worked this out pretty well; you know going in that everyone is going to stand so you either stand or move.

The Riveters did fine work Sunday, keeping the energy high and mixing in enough familiar TA (but non-Timbers specific) songs and chants with new Thorns FC material to keep the noise level up. The Thorns FC songs were a trifle sotto voce; this, too, will strengthen with time and familiarity. Special kudos to Sunday for her awesome Rosie the Riveter outfit; we already knew she was brilliant for her work as a Timbers capo; she was a rock on the main capo stand Sunday and she’s already bringing the heat to the visiting teams.

The title of this post, by the way, comes from the Thorns FC unofficial slogan, She Flies With Her Own Wings, which is one English version of the State motto Alis volat propriis. The Thorns' season ticket holders were all about sporting a handsome scarf with that motto knitted into it; it’s impressive the diversity of scarves this club and its supporters have created in just a few months…

On the pitch:

After a shaky start against Kansas City away, Thorns FC looked an order of magnitude better against Seattle Sunday. I thought that some of this had to do with the relative strength of the KCFC midfield compared to the less-active, looser-pressing Seattle unit. But I think a lot of it had to do with better composure and better organization in the Thorns midfield and backline.

For all that, Portland still needed almost 45 minutes to work out how to consistently push the ball up to the forwards. From what I could see a huge part of this was Seattle’s Jessica Fishlock, who was a complete beast both offensively and defensively. She went in hard on every tackle, had a nasty instinct for closing down passing lanes and in attack was a pest and a caution all match. Rachel Buehler and Kathryn Williamson, the Thorns FC centerbacks, had trouble with her all match and her persistence paid off with a 74th minute goal.

Buehler seems to help settle the Thorns FC backline, but Williamson (who seems like a decent CB but nomination for “player of the week” last week was…confusing, to say the least, given the defensive breakdown that led to the Cuellar goal) was nowhere in sight when Fishlock’s mucker Keelin Winters knocked Buehler down to free her pal up for the easy strike. Over the course of the match the back four looked solid, but the confusion as the ball bounded about in front of goal was a nasty reminder that this unit has very Timberesque moments when soccer just flies out of the room. Parlow-Cone is surely talking to them about that this week…

Karina LeBlanc’s bicolor mohawk was ridiculously awesome; so was her steady keeping, though she was relatively untroubled most of the match she was blameless on the Fishlock goal.

It is interesting to watch Christine Sinclair’s evolution from a Abby Wambach-style frontrunning striker into a trequartista. I understand why Parlow-Cone has moved her back; her tackling behind the ball and her service to Morgan and Washington up front make all the difference in midfield. Allie Long is working hard, but without Sinclair in the #10 position the midfield was overrun at KCFC. Sinclair adds there what she did upfront; a combination of skill and muscle that stymies the opponent and frees the Thorns FC strikers. More than ever I am awed by this woman’s gifts; she is truly a great player and it is a gift to watch her play.

In the end:

Portland has shown Thorns FC some love, and at 1-0-1, Thorns FC have returned that affection with a great start to their season. Their next opponent is Chicago; the Red Stars drew the Reign 1-1 the opening weekend, bombing Seattle keeper Betos with 14 shots, 9 on goal. This should be a real test for the Thorns FC organization in back. The defenders will have to have a solid 90 minutes than we’ve had up ’til now. But I’m confident – Onward, Rose City!

I should add this odd little tale before I go, though.

I picked up our tickets on the Saturday before the match; parked off 17th and walked down Morrison to the box office at the north face of the field. The woman in the ticket booth glanced up over her cat-eye glasses at me when I asked what was open for Sunday and informed me in a smoker’s voice that the only reserved seats open were at the far southwest end near the visitor’s section.

“That’s terrific…” I replied, “I had no idea that the tickets had sold so well.”

“Well, yeah, that’s Portland…” she rasped, pulling off my tickets and shoving them through the hole in the window. “…but Portland ain’t the whole league, y’know.”

We looked at each other for a moment; both of us, I think, remembering all those other professional women’s soccer leagues come and gone.

And I pocketed the tickets and walked back down the street.

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