Five things learned: Sinclair, Fishlock stand out

Richard Farley April 22, 2013 14
Jessica Fishlock, Seattle Reign FC

Welsh midfielder Jessica Fishlock of Seattle Reign FC stood out vs. Portland on Sunday. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

PORTLAND, Ore. – Two weeks into the season we only have a tenuous grasp on each team’s capabilities, especially considering half the league has yet to play a second game. But Sunday in Portland, we saw a performance that shouldn’t be uncharacteristic of either Portland or Seattle. The Thorns were explosive, especially with Christine Sinclair on her game, while Seattle’s midfield proved the great equalizer, able to make up for their lack of stars in defense and attack.

As a result, most of the things we learned from Sunday’s game were already part of the discussion – ideas that just needed some kind of grounding. After 90 minutes in Portland, it’s time for some of those thoughts to take hold.

[MORE: Portland defeats Seattle 2-1 in front of 16,479]

Here are five of the things we learned:

1. Yes, Jessica Fishlock is a force

Week one refrain: ‘That Jessica Fishlock was pretty good against Chicago!’

Week two refrain: ‘Jessica Fishlock is just good.’

Such is the impact the 5-foot-2-inch, 26-year-old has made on the National Women’s Soccer League. A Welsh international who’d previously played at Bristol Academy, Fishlock hadn’t had much stateside exposure despite her 68 national team appearances. One of only four European players to start the league’s first season, Fishlock’s arrival flew under the radar.

With a strong performance against Portland building on a standout debut in Chicago, Fishlock will no longer elude many’s attention. At JELD-WEN Field, the energetic midfielder proved a thorn in the side of Portland’s midfielders, her pressure on the ball constantly forcing negative balls and turnovers. In the 74th minute, her tenacity paid off on the scoresheet with her first NWSL goal.

In both Week 1 and Week 2, there may have been better individual performances, but combine the NWSL’s two rounds and Jessica Fishlock may be the league’s best player so far. On a team missing most of its stars, Fishlock’s outshining most of the league.

2. “Sinc” the brightest star

Christine Sinclair, Portland Thorns FC

Christine Sinclair of Portland Thorns FC is our NWSL Player of the Week. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

It says something for the quality of Christine Sinclair’s performance that she was able to outplay Fishlock, but in a battle of attacking (or, highest deployed) midfielders, Sinclair clearly won. Her move from forward into midfield allowed her to get the ball in front of Seattle’s defensive midfielders, insuring she’d be able to dictate the match.

As a result, Portland was constantly dangerous on the counter, with “Sinc” able to quickly find Alex Morgan when Keelin Winters wasn’t otherwise disrupting the Thorns’ attack. Portland’s transition play led to a number of first half set pieces, eventually resulting in the opening goal. In the second half, a turnover forced by Sinclair created the game-icing counter.

Against teams that don’t play with two holding midfielers (like Kansas City and Seattle did), Cindy Parlow Cone may not need to swap Sinclair and Angie Kerr in order to get her star the ball. That she can is a testament to Portland’s most important player, a player who is so much more than her 145 international goals.

[MORE: Christine Sinclair, The Equalizer’s Player of the Week]

3. Parlow Cone earning her coaching bonafides

Switching Sinclair and Kerr was not such an obvious move. With Sinclair’s scoring threat, some coaches may have been reluctant to move her farther from goal. It was certainly a mild surprise to those who’ve followed the Thorns to see Kerr, not Sinclair, playing closer to Alex Morgan.

Throughout preseason Parlow Cone’s emphasized interchangeability, and the relationship between Sinclair and Kerr was always going to be crucial. But in tweaking her team to face a midfield-heavy Reign, Parlow Cone showed she’s capable of making the small, game-to-game adjustments you see from successful head coaches. Not bad from a boss running her second professional match.

With that change, Portland’s coach answered some lingering, perhaps wishful questions. As onlookers spent the winter picking apart Thorns’ allocation-blessed roster, doubts arose about their defense, midfield, and coaching. They were mostly exaggerated, devil’s advocate arguments, but they were still relative concerns.

Through two games, Parlow Cone’s proved up to the task. She made the right call in Kansas City to bring on Danielle Foxhoven (who eventually drew the game-tying penalty), while her swap of Sinclair and Kerr allowed Portland to avoid a Sunday pitfall.

4. Perfect balance in Seattle’s midfield

Kaylyn Kyle, Seattle Reign FC

Kaylyn Kyle (left) helped control Seattle Reign FC's midfield on Sunday vs. Portland. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

Seattle became the first team to give up two goals in an NWSL game, but that number’s bottom line does a disservice to the Reign. On the road against the league’s most talented attack, Reign FC gave up goals on a set piece and a counter. While there were other chances that could have been converted (a first half header from Becky Edwards, a blast from Morgan that was cleared off the line), Seattle held up relatively well.

Goals count the same no matter how they hit the scoresheet, but thanks to the combination and balance in Seattle’s midfield, Portland could never build consistent success. With Fishlock disrupting play high, Winters’ second ball-winning job became easier in front of the defense. When Winters was caught out, Kaylyn Kyle was there to cover. Despite a Player of the Week-caliber performance from Christine Sinclair, Seattle’s midfield was able to hold their own, even chipping in a goal at the end.

In the wake of Sunday’s performance, Portland’s midfield continues to be criticized, but those may be the same devil’s advocate critiques that led to questions of Parlow Cone. At some point, FC Kansas City’s midfield deserves credit, as does Seattle’s, whose trio of Fishlock, Winters, and Kyle look to have formed one of the league’s better units.

5. Portland’s defense: Both shaky and untested

On the surface, two goals in two games seem to assuage concerns about Portland’s defense. Unfortunately, the details aren’t as positive, with two breakdowns in 180 minutes hinting Thorns FC’s backline may be mistake-prone.

Against Kansas City, it was a misread that let to third-minute goal from Renae Cuellar. In Portland, a long ball and a lost battle allowed Jess Fishlock to open her account. Both times, the goals stood out in a game of relatively few chances allow. Both times, you were left with the impression such mistakes could happen at any time.

In reality, Portland’s defense hasn’t been tested often. Kansas City let up after early pressure, allowing the Thorns a certain inept control. Seattle, for all their bite through the middle, couldn’t transition quickly enough to test Rachel Buehler and Kat Williamson.

At some point, the Thorns’ defense will be tested. Until then, “incomplete” stays in the grade book.

  • newsouth

    lets see how crafty portland is? this is a great opportunity in the rematch with seattle to put fishlock on signage, flipping off the crowd. she alone can pack the house in the rematch. this is the type of opportunity the wps was poor at. you develop personalities like her’s in leagues, find her sponsors, develop her, keep her and make her a brand name in seattle along with solo.

    portland will need home field in the playoffs and will probably get it, given i see them racking up 27 pts at least at home. if they have to go on the road to kc, dark blue or deli meat fc (wny), i can see them getting upset with buehler and leblanc in the back. and that’s even if they fix their mid-field problems, but that’s wholesale, not just one player, so sinclair will be supporting that group for most of the season

  • http://twitter.com/hercircumstance hercircumstance

    I don’t see moving Sinclair as being terribly crafty for a coach to do since that is the go to move for the CANWNT. Canada has to let her do that regularly too since they similarly have problems moving the ball. Only in their case Sinclair has no one to work with like she does with Morgan on the Thorns so she literally was doing it all for Canada. If Canada had Syd to work with… Glad they don’t. So Sinclair is in a very familiar role but has an outlet now.

    • Steglitz49

      Canada has better find a couple of decent attackers to work with Ms Sinclair. After all, they are hosting the WC and one would like the hosts to get to at least a semi-final and preferably to reach the final. About 35m people live in Canada and they have their own version of a NCAA.

      • TsovLoj

        >they have their own version of a NCAA.

        Not really. College sports are not the behemoth up north that they are in the US. They’re just…sports you do at college.

        • Steglitz49

          Whatever. Canada’s ladies have better get their skates on. They punched above their weight last year. The WC-15 will be a lot tougher.

        • Steglitz49

          Whatever. Canada’s ladies have better get their skates on. They punched above their weight last year. The WC-15 will be a lot tougher.

  • Steglitz49

    As far as I can make out, there have been no ACL tears yet in the NWSL, unless I missed one. This contrasts with 5 such injuries in the Swedish ladies’ league after two rounds. If it continues like this, Sweden won’t have a team in the Euros. Well played the NWSL.

    • http://twitter.com/hercircumstance hercircumstance

      Breakers lost Bianca D’Agostino to a partially torn ACL last week. Not that that takes away from Sweden’s losses. I’m pulling for them in the Euros, but things just got harder for them.

      • Lauren

        Boston also lost Casey Short to an ACL tear before the season started.

        • Steglitz49

          Maybe we should try to keep a collective eye and ear out for this. Not so that we worry needlessly, but if there are proportionally less injuries in the NWSL, what could we learn from that?

    • http://twitter.com/hercircumstance hercircumstance

      Breakers lost Bianca D’Agostino to a partially torn ACL last week. Not that that takes away from Sweden’s losses. I’m pulling for them in the Euros, but things just got harder for them.

  • notasdepressed

    #3….Mr. Farley…..giving Cone that much credit for something that is obvious to all outsiders is not a mild surprise.

    I think her downfall is her faith in her UNC girls like Washington and Long. That’s where she made bad management decisions.

    Also the only question Cone answered is that……can your midfield get the ball to Morgan or Sinc with the 4 current players? flat answer is no, and she HAD to get Sinc in midfield just so they could HOLD onto the ball and pass forward.

    #4 Not sure you can say Their Defense is Shaky and Untested? What the hell does that mean? If they aren’t tested, how can you say they are shaky? After their 1st half with KCFC they shut KCFC down, against Seattle, it was a scrappy goal that does happen against any good defense. Shaky would be if they are tested and have the other team get some good chances because of their shaky defense. Besides the 2 goals, i don’t see what other chances KCFC/SEATTLE had?

    The 4th point should have talked way more about the lack of midfield possession in BOTH games and the Shaky play of Long/Washington/Kerr. Hopefully you’ve read all these comments in other EqualizerArticles since soooo many people agree with me.

    • Steglitz49

      Maybe he meant that “Their Defense is Shaken, not Stirred”?

  • Keithustus

    No similar analysis for the Spirit-Flash game?