Fall Series fits Thorns to a T
During the remote press conference on Saturday night, Oct. 10, as Portland Thorns coach Mark Parsons, with nary a smile, talked about the difficulties of 2020 and the uncertainty of 2021, a strange sound could be heard in the background.
A group of happy humans was playing music and celebrating.
The sound provided a sense of something normal happening. A team wins a championship, and said team celebrates.
The Portland Thorns deserved to have some fun after clinching the National Women's Soccer League Fall Series championship with a 2-1 win over their rivals, Tacoma-based OL Reign.
Christine Sinclair, who propelled the Thorns to the title by scoring six goals over the last three games, said the team had joked about putting a ghost or a mask above its crest to commemorate the accomplishment. Soccer teams put stars above their crest for championships (the Thorns have two).
As much fun as it surely was for the Thorns to win something unique, some congratulations should go to the entire NWSL. Lest we forget, it was the first North American sports league to return to competition with its Challenge Cup in June. Sure, some Orlando players made a mistake and that club was banned from the summer competition because of COVID-19 infections, but the league safely pulled off a summer tournament in Utah and regional competition in the fall.
Don't think that's a big deal? As the Thorns capped their abbreviated season on Saturday, no less than the mighty NFL was moving games around because of COVID-19. And MLS postponed two weekend games because of positive tests.
So, it's no small thing that the NWSL executed two events. I doubt doing so with limited, or no, fans is a sustainable business model, but who knows?
Let's hope there's a more normal 2021. Because the Thorns could be fun. We all want to see more of Sophia Smith, Morgan Weaver and Simone Charley stressing defenses. We want to see a full season of Becky Sauerbrunn playing between Emily Menges and the somewhat under-appreciated Meghan Klingenberg. We want to see more of Rocky Rodriguez and the development of other young Thorns.
And, of course, more of Sinclair. The legend continues to grow.
She'll turn 38 next June, but apparently isn't thinking about her next chapter.
"I'm not going to retire. Still having too much fun. Can still, obviously, play the game at a high level," Sinclair said. "I can't leave this team now. We're just getting started."
Let's hope so.
Depth, development lift Timbers
The Portland Timbers will be alone atop the conference, at least temporarily, with a win or a tie on Wednesday at Real Salt Lake (6:30 p.m., ROOT SPORTS TV). It's a significant opportunity, given that the next two matches are Sunday at home against Los Angeles FC and Oct. 22 at Seattle.
There are a lot of great examples of the different ways Timbers players have met the challenges of 2020, the collective result being the Timbers are tied on points atop the Western Conference with seven matches left in the 23-game MLS regular season.
Among the examples is Jeremy Ebobisse's ability to produce either as a two-way player on the wing or as the central striker. When Ebobisse entered the match in the 61st minute of Sunday's 3-0 win over San Jose, the 23-year-old entered the club record book by appearing in his 73rd consecutive match.
Coach Giovanni Savarese said after that game he'd forgotten about the milestone while focusing on keeping his players fresh and preparing for games that come fast and furious — including Wednesday at Real Salt Lake and Oct. 18 at home against Los Angeles FC. But the coach was clearly happy for the young forward — and glad he had not inadvertently ended that impressive run by giving Ebobisse a night off.
Another, perhaps less noticed, example of the way Savarese is getting the most out of his roster in 2020 is Centennial High graduate Marco Farfan.
Sunday's match against San Jose was just the sixth start this season for the 21-year-old, and only the second time he'd played right back in MLS. His performance at an unnatural position — his first time playing right back came on Sept. 19 in a 6-1 win at San Jose — was confident and, for the most part, clean.
In both cases, he had a couple of training days to prepare to play across the field from his primary left back spot.
"I'd say the biggest difference is defensively, the way you position your body feels weird, positioning your body looking the other way. I'm just so used to defending one-v-one in certain ways," Farfan said Sunday.
Playing on the right, he said, requires "shifting my body and pushing off a different foot. This time I felt a lot more confident. I'm just learning each time I play on that side."
Farfan's growth is just one example how the depth on the Timbers roster and the player development under Savarese and his staff have allowed the Timbers to thrive at a time when the compressed schedule and general weirdness of 2020 has proven to be a challenge for many other MLS teams.
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