I won’t belabor the Thorns’ 2-0 win over Washington, having spent most of the game discussing it on Twitter with everyone who’s likely to read this post. But I should address the big question on everyone’s minds: Wouldn’t the Spirit be much better if they had some cloned hybrid of Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, Abby Wambach, Mia Hamm and early-90s Michelle Akers at forward?
Well, yeah. But let’s talk realistically here.
The Spirit had a pretty good road trip. That first win at Seattle was a good confidence boost for a young team. They showed that confidence today, going toe-to-toe with the best team in the NWSL. And they defended well, moved the ball well …
… and had a really hard time generating chances.
And so Twitter was once again agog at the obvious disparity in forward allocations between Washington and Portland. The Thorns got one goal each from the dynamic duo of Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan. Sinclair’s goal, a beautiful curling shot that left Chantel Jones no chance, left the Spirit chasing the game. While the Spirit pushed everyone forward, bringing in the usual late-game subs of Caroline Miller and Jasmyne Spencer, Morgan scored on the counter.
But here’s what people forget — the Thorns are good all the way up and down the roster. If you suddenly transposed Miller and Sinclair with the Spirit’s front-runners, would Washington win this game? Probably not.
Maybe Tiffany McCarty wasn’t as sharp as she was on Thursday, and maybe it wasn’t Stephanie Ochs’ best game. But the Thorns really don’t give up a lot of chances. They’ve only conceded four goals in seven games.
By the time Miller and Spencer came on, Portland was clinging to its lead. Miller had an instant impact as always, and Ochs forced Karina LeBlanc to make a tough save late, but the Thorns weren’t going to break easily.
So for the Spirit, this was another moral victory of sorts — more proof that they’re not the pushovers people thought they would be. At least after the road trip, they have an actual victory in addition to the moral victories.
What next? Should the Spirit do something to shore up the attack?
A couple of issues with that:
1. In many games so far, the Spirit hasn’t had enough possession to worry about the forwards. Against Portland, they had the ball for a while but didn’t find a way through. The problem wasn’t that the final touch or the final pass was lacking — it was the pass before that.
2. Who’s available? The Spirit has a free-agent spot remaining but has pretty much promised it to a defender we’re currently calling Unnamed Euro. Unless that deal unravels, the Spirit would likely have to make a trade to get a quality forward.
3. Do you disrupt the chemistry on a developing young team by trading? Or do you keep working to develop Miller, McCarty and Ochs, who’ve done the job at every other level and have shown glimpses of their potential here? (Related question: Even if Tasha Kai suddenly picks up the phone and says she wants to come to Washington, do you bring her in?)
My guess is that the Spirit would be better off waiting it out until the forwards pick up that extra bit of mental speed they’ll need to compete.
One idea that probably won’t fly: As much as another NWSL team might want goalkeeper Chantel Jones after her strong performance today, the Spirit would surely demand a lot in return, especially with Ashlyn Harris banged up and due for a national team call-up later in the season. A solid backup goalkeeper is not a disposable asset in this league.
Soccer is a sport that tests everyone’s patience, but I think that’s what Spirit fans will need. Eventually, we should see Miller or Ochs find the net. And as I’ve said a few times, you still haven’t seen Colleen Williams, who was injured in preseason.
Until then — fun team to watch, isn’t it? Glad to be writing a book about them.