There has to be a correlation between Thorns home games and beautiful weather because once again it was a gorgeous day at Providence Park. We already know there’s a correlation between the Thorns playing at home and winning, so hopes were high today, in the club’s 100th match.
Due to the Women’s Euro tournament, starting lineup mainstays Nadia Nadim (Denmark) and Amandine Henry (France) were out, as was Midfielder Dagny Brynjarsdottir (Iceland). That’s a whole lot of experience gone from the center of the pitch.
To add to the challenges, the NWSL’s top team, the North Carolina Courage, were in town. The two sides hadn’t met since the season opener (NC took that 1-0) on April 22nd. Eight points separated the sides when this one started, with the Thorns in fifth place (19-points). The stage was set perfectly, which was good, since Lifetime was in town for this one.
With a little finagling, Head Coach Mark Parsons debuted a formation he used in the preseason as a way to combat North Carolina’s high-tempo style. This formation, which has yet to be named according to Parsons, also depends on a high-pressure defense coming back the other way. It would pay off.
The first half was much more of a back and forth affair, with both sides not finding much in the way of opportunities. They seemed to get something going, but the other side would shut it down before a serious chance could be had. This didn’t stop both Keepers from making some saves.
The new faces in the starting lineup were making their opportunities count. Sykes, who’s seen some significant time already, was in constant motion on both sides of the ball. Her tenacity and energy complimented her teammates well. Lussi also looked sharp, with a few attempts on goal, and overall looked sharp.
However, the MVP of the Midfield, in my opinion, was Allie Long. Her footwork, and focus was incredible, and her passing was about on point as it gets (95.7% at HT; 92.5% at FT). It was much needed with the experience vacuum in the position right now.
This came in handy in the second half, as Parsons identified he wanted the team to slow down a bit in the attacking third to make the right decisions. The Thorns looked more composed, and on-target with their chances, as we got deeper into the final 45 minutes, which paid off.
As North Carolina was working to get the ball out of their end in the 70th minute, it was turned over. Meghan Klingenberg was still down the left side, and when she got the ball from Lindsey Horan, took her time, setup, and made an excellent cross into the box. Hayley Raso was in a perfect spot to head the ball in…yes, you read that correctly, a Raso header!
When asked in the postgame if she was intending to get the ball to Raso for a header, Klingenberg joked “I definitely picked out the smallest player on the field. This is the perfect opportunity to get it to another shorty for a little bit of glory on the field.” Planned or not, it was a great play all around, from Horan to Klingenberg to Raso’s finish.
That lone marker was the only one needed for this one. North Carolina came very close towards the end, but no luck for them on this day. Adrianna Franch recorded another cleansheet, and while it wasn’t her best performance, she was still very sharp. There was one very Randy Moss-esque grab she made on a cross that was incredible.
This win left the Thorns in fourth place, with 22 points, by the end of the day. The good news is they’re one point behind third place Sky Blue with a game in hand, and three points behind second place Chicago Red Stars.
So much going on in this one. Facing the top team in the league, missing three Midfielders, the NWSL on Lifetime game of the week, and it being the 100th game in Thorns history, it was nice to see the team come through in a big way.
This was the first of three straight home games for the Thorns, with the next coming Saturday, July 22nd against the Washington Spirit, and the third on Saturday, August 5th when the Houston Dash are here.