The Portland Thorns - our new women's professional soccer team - played their first match last night. My colleague Chris has already done such a fine job with his match report of the 1-1 draw that the Portland Thorns FC scratched out against Kansas City FC that I just thought I’d add some of my impressions of the gamecast and the game itself.
I should say up front that I missed a sizeable portion of the second half from pure frustration; I was cooking with the live-feed on my wife’s tablet perched on the kitchen window and the buffering had become so slow that I shut the thing off to concentrate on preparing the miso butter for the asparagus. I turned it back on in the 60th minute in time to see the final half hour of the match. Chris says the Thorns improved in the second half, though, so I’ll take his word for it.
But I did want to add my takeways from the broadcast.
1. For all that I’ve heard Portlanders complain about the Timbers broadcast announcers I can’t say that I really pay much attention to them.
The KCFC announcer Sean Wheelock was impossible not to pay attention to.
Was it his constant reminders of the historical importance of the occasion – did you know that the match was the first ever in the NWSL? Sean reminded us of every first ever – first ever goal (by KC’s Cuellar) and first ever PK; Sean even informed us that Emilee O’Neill was the first ever substitution in the NWSL! For all I know Sean mentioned the first ever use of Magic Spray for the first ever injury. The live feed wasn’t so great that I couldn’t have missed it.
Wheelock had several more of these catchphrases. By the 80th minute my children were both using “but we play on…” as a description for not getting booked for quarreling with each other or leaving the top off the milk jug. And when Nitty the Cat batted her catnip mouse off the sofa she was said to have played “a long searching ball.”
Wheelock’s partner seemed to be some sort of KCFC player or coach but she said so little I couldn’t even learn her name; it was all Sean and his first evers. As much footy as I watch I don’t often think about announcers but after Sean & Co. I’ve revised my opinion; they need to be like officials – if they’re doing their jobs right you shouldn’t even notice that they’re there. Are you reading this, Thorns? I hope so.
2. As for the match itself, well; KC is a damn good team, and Renae Cuellar is a fucking load. I’d heard that they had been touted as potentially the best balanced and organized team in the NWSL and tonight they looked it. The good stuff I saw for the Thorns is that the gals earned a point on the road. And, well…that’s the bulk of the good news. The first half was just ugly for PTFC; lots of missed passes, little attack, and several scary moments on defense.
Well, as Chris said, the team tightened up a bit in the second half. But over the match KCFC imposed their pressing style on the Thorns, disrupted our attack thoroughly, were typically able to pass through the Thorns defense when they needed to, and were visibly the better team on the night.
KCFC completely dominated the Thorns midfield. Angie Kerr, who looked so composed and resourceful against University of Portland, was not effective. Far too many passes went astray, or directly to someone in a blue jersey. The Thorns midfield looked poorly organized, scattered and out of synch for much of the match.
KCFC marked the Thorns forwards relentlessly, too, and the result was next to no space for the frontrunners Sinclair and Morgan. Sinclair was reduced to retreating back past midfield in an attempt to gain possession. After Foxhoven came on for Kerr at 63′ the Thorns had better run of play but the Attack did not look especially dangerous at any time tonight.
The other difficulty the KCFC pressure caused was that the Thorns were unable to consistently possess the ball and thus play the game Parlow-Cone hoped to play. For long stretches the only attack Portland could generate came from booting the ball forward and trying to run under it – Sean’s “long searching” balls. One hopes that this was the collected impact of the awful pitch and first-match jitters. But it never looks good and tonight was no better; those long balls seldom searched out a Thorn or, when they did, the hard pitch made for heavy first touches that were usually immediately lost.
3. Did I sound dire in the paragraph above? I don’t want to; I’m not despairing. This side is loaded with good players, and with more time to gel, on a better pitch, against other opponents – for KCFC is one of the best sides in the NWSL – the Red and Black will get their first ever win. Parlow-Cone now has 90 minutes of experience to make adjustments from, and the women are coming home next week to their home opener against Seattle. I had to remind myself that this team has played together less than two months. And we snatched a point on the road after shipping a third minute goal; that’s nothing to get depressed about. We will see better from our Thorns.
4. Overall the match, the broadcast, and “Shawnee Mission District Stadium” reminded me more than a little of the Timbers’ days in the USL than it did a first ever anything.
The screen in my kitchen window tonight reminded me strongly of peering at dumpy little pitches through cheaply filmed video feeds (where the camera was just as likely to be showing the costumed mascot as the play on the pitch) while listening to announcers muttering through badly-adjusted mikes that also picked up every kettlecorn vendor’s cries and gradeschoolers’ chatter. Stone-hard turf pitches painted over with the local high school football team’s gridiron – I’d almost forgotten how bad that looks for soccer, with the faint yellow lines of the bigger pitch fading out on the screen.
We may have forgotten how lucky we are, here in the Rose City, to have the beautiful pitch we see every home match.
I know it’s early days yet, but if the NWSL management hopes to earn any sort of credibility it really needs to work harder to make its venues look more professional than Middlefield Cheese Stadium (remember the home pitch of Cleveland City Stars? I do now).
Final Thoughts: Was it a great match (for all that is was…wait for it…the first ever!) for the Thorns? No. Was it reason to despair? Also no. The gals will be home next week against Seattle, on our own beautiful Jeld-Wen field, with a full 90 against a good opponent to help tweak our play and make adjustments to our tactics. We will be ready for Cuellar & Co. when they show up out here on D-Day. We still have a talented side and a lot of time to work out the hitch in our stride.
And I feel confident that day will be a day that will live in infamy for KCFC.
Onward, Rose City!