The Weather Delay Didn’t Dampen Spirits
Last Saturday all of us Courage fans poured forth to watch a lovely evening game of soccer. I was especially happy with the timing of the game because those 4pm games are brutally hot, but it was a blustery mid-70s as I stood in line and waited. Typically the gates open an hour before kickoff, so I got to the game at 6:30 hoping to stroll right in. Instead I waited in line, watching the Sky Blue vs FCKC game, as the game time got pushed back further and further. At 8pm they told us to go wait in our cars and about half of the fans left. It hearkened back to the Wednesday night game against Sky Blue where the stands were mostly empty because of the thunderstorms in the area, but to my great surprise about 2/3rds of the fans returned after heading off to their respective homes, so we kicked off a little after 9.
The Courage, to their credit, made the wait well worth our while. The defense played a nearly flawless game with special accolades going to Abby Dahlkemper and Taylor Smith who kept Rapinoe in check for almost the entire game. If you remember my preview I didn’t think we would be able to stifle her so completely, but those two ladies showed up ready to play. On the other side of the field, Jae Hinkle showed how much of an improvement she was over Margaret Speck, who played admirably last week but lacks some of the talent and flair that Hinkle possesses. Also returning to the lineup was Lynn Williams, and I must say that she looked great even if her accuracy was a touch off. She had the same explosion that helped break down defenses before the FIFA break when she was injured. Likewise, the midfielders of Debinha, Mewis and Zerboni all fought for the ball and controlled possession successfully.
If there were any dark patches on an otherwise stellar game it was the speed of Mak Doniak and the finishing of Ashley Hatch. While Hatch did earn her 4th goal of the season, she probably could have score her 5th and 6th as well. The focus was just lacking for some reason: It may have been the wet field or the unfamiliarity of playing with Williams, but something just wasn’t quite clicking. It was a lot like the previous game against Sky Blue in that respect. As for Doniak, I think it’s time for her to take a game or two off. She doesn’t look comfortable on the ball and she has slowed down considerably from the beginning of the season. Ever since we came back from the FIFA break her deficiencies have been magnified, and she just doesn’t seem like she is confident in herself. Too often she is passing the ball right when it touches her feet even when she has space, and the passes are usually errant. That said, with the injury to Kawamura still forcing the 4-back defense it might be hard to find someone who is comfortable enough to play Mak’s position.
On LifeTime in Portland
Today at 3:50 pm the Courage will have their first away game on LifeTime when they match up against the flailing Thorns. The Courage are 1-1 in their prime time games so far this season, beating FCKC 2-0 but losing to Sky Blue 1-0. The Thorns entered the season as odds-on favorites to win the Shield and the Championship, with 6 allocated players (Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan, Allie Long, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnet, and Christine Sinclair) as well as 4 international superstars in Amandine Henry (FRA), Dagny Brynjarsdottir (ICE), Hayley Raso (NZ), and Nadia Nadim (DEN). Unfortunately for the Thorns, injuries plagued the team during the first half of the season, and now the three European players are gone to play in the Women’s Euro, which starts tomorrow. American superstar midfielder Tobin Heath has been struggling with a back injury and is out indefinitely. The last word was that the Thorns hope she will be back in time for the playoffs…if they make the playoffs.
The last time these two teams met was the second week of the season in Cary, NC where the Courage came away with a 1-0 victory thanks to an amazing header from Debinha. The Thorns have struggled all season in the scoring department with 16 goals scored on the season, but the are allowing just 1 goal per game, just like the Courage. In that respect, the Courage probably have a slight advantage, but the Thorns are an impossible team to predict. Some weeks they come out of the locker room and absolutely smash the competition, looking like a team that could beat most of the international teams in the world, but most weeks they come out looking flat and uninspired. Last weekend, after earning a draw thanks to an amazing free kick from Lindsey Horan in extra time, a few of the Thorns players got into a heated discussion, showing that there might be more than just a lack of chemistry to their stretch of poor gameplay.
The only thing the Courage can do is come out and play their game. If the defense can play solid soccer by preventing Sinclair and Horan from having open shots, if they can control the incredible speed but errant play of Hayley Raso, if they can dominate a midfield that was just decimated by international duties, and if Williams, Hatch and McDonald can finish their ample scoring chances then the Courage should be able to win. The crowd will be hostile, with the Thorns being the most followed women’s team in the world – their average crowd is over 16,000 fans – but the Courage have just as much skill and far more cohesion and trust between players than the Thorns do. The biggest threat for the Courage would be to give up an early goal and lose focus, but if they can keep the pressure on and get the first goal they should come away with at least a tie in this one. It should be noted that the Thorns are absolutely desperate for a win after falling out of the playoff standings last weekend. Losing this game would significantly hinder their long-term chances.