Thorns FC: Not Good At All

Chris Henderson summed up last Wednesday on his Twitter feed perfectly:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

It wasn’t just power.

It was power propelled by speed.

Here’s just one example, beginning in the 27th minute, although keep in mind the Damned Courage are already up three goals to nil at this point.

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Crystal Dunn overruns Christine Sinclair, strips her of the ball, and it’s Carolina off to the races.

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Dunn feeds Denise O’Sullivan who feeds Sam Mewis who sees Jess McDonald tear-assing up the east touchline with Meghan Klingenberg caught way upfield and Emily Menges tucked too far inside.

Mewis hits a sweet diagonal pass that McDonald latches onto and swings in towards the top of the Portland 18.

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McDonald sees Debinha running into space and, in turn, fires the ball in to her. Notice that all this speed has Portland’s defense in pieces; Klingenberg is racing back but hasn’t caught the Brazilian, Menges is still adrift, Ellie Carpenter is sprinting for the byline ignoring Dunn wide open behind her.

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Menges finally gets position on Debinha, but it doesn’t matter because Dunn is opener than a cheap dive bar at 2am, and Debinha squares to her. There are seven Thorns in this screenshot and only one – Dagny Brynjarsdottir – is doing a lick of good, covering Lynn Williams.

But nobody is marking Sam Mewis, who is strolling up behind the play.

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Dunn dribbles out to the top of the 18 and squares to Mewis, who has a ton of time and space; again – look at where the Thorns are! Six defenders are packed into the penalty arch and are as useless to this play as a wooden pipe wrench.

Dagny has dropped off Dunn but hasn’t picked up Mewis, Heath is desperately behind the play, and Hayley Raso is ballwatching as Williams sneaks in behind her.

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Fortunately for the Thorns Mewis gets bored with waiting and fires a shot wide right and the attack is over.

Contrast this with a typical Thorns attack. This in the 31st minute, when an unusual Carolina mistake let Carpenter spring Raso up the west touchline:

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Notice what’s not there?

Yeah. Pretty much anyone else in a red shirt.

Raso is one of the few Thorns who has a ton of raw speed. Menges is fast but is stuck defending the goal. Carpenter is pacey, Simone Charley has some wheels…but that’s about it. And certainly there’s nobody on the left wing with either Raso’s or anyone on the Damned Courage’s pace…so there’s nobody for Raso to lead-pass as she gets fronted up and dispossessed.

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Same players, half an hour later. This time Raso is pinned to the touchline, and Carpenter’s pass is into a dead end; Jaelene Hinkle closes Raso down and turns her back.

The huge difference was speed and the way the Damned Courage exploits it on both sides of the ball.

They get possession and everyone is running, fast, and into space. They almost never pass crossfield or drop, and their front runners are almost always in position to take a diagonal pass. By the time the ball reaches the top of the Thorns penalty area the Portland defenders are a chaotic mess, and the Damned Courage has multiple good options to strike.

Contrast that with Portland, where the pass goes out to one flank or another where a Thorn is usually just standing waiting. Portland’s attack is just slow; slow because we have a lot of players who like to fiddle with the dribble (Heath!) or take time to make decisions (Horan and Purce and Dagny) or are just getting old and slowing down…sorry, Cap’n Sinc.

Given their speed advantages the Damned Courage immediately closes the player with the ball and either forces them back, forces them wide or to the byline, or dispossesses them.

They did that to Raso all night last Wednesday because she had no options forward of her, as the series above shows, or when she did turn had nobody to pass to, or when she could cross, the slow pace of Portland play allowed the Carolina defenders all the time in the world to track back and smother the Thorns loafing around their penalty area.

The problem is that I can’t see a way to beat this.

Not with the team we have. We’re too slow overall, and especially too many of our skill players don’t have the pace to match up with the Damned Courage.

Bunkering might not-lose, but there’s not enough speed up front to do anything but hoof-and-hope for a counterattack. Our deliberate, slow-moving attack doesn’t work against them, and in open play they just make it a footrace, and we can’t win that. We don’t always lose…but we need them to help beat themselves as they did back in August.

The Damned Courage have put together a style of play that requires either an equally pacey, precise-passing, well-drilled opponent.

Or a vastly cynical degree of dirty play.

We’re not the one

And I’d hate to see us become the other.

Short Passes

Passing the passing test: 74% (The Damned Courage was at 81%). But here’s the “significant” passes. Remember that an 1 is a boot, “H” is a header, “C” is a corner kick, “X” is a cross, “F” is a free kick, “G” is a goal kick, and “P” is a punt? Okay, then.


Sloppy passing killed Portland as much as the Damned Courage. Sinclair with only 38% of her “significant passes completed, Heath with none, Dagny barely 55%, Horan none, Carpenter 22%. Nobody else had an impact, and Emily Ogle had no significant passes recorded.

That’s brutal.

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Player Ratings and Comments

Purce (59′ – +3/-2 : +0/-0 : +3/-2) InStat’s Index ratings for this match had three Thorns on the bottom; from bottom up Simone Charley, A.D. Franch…and Midge Purce third-worst player on the night.

I think that’s desperately unfair simply because Purce never got a chance to be third- or any other-worst player. She had one – one – genuine opportunity; in the 16th minute she gained possession inside Carolina’s penalty area from Abby Dahlkemper but Purce dithered on top of the ball too long and the other Abby, Erceg, tackled it away.

Purce got zero service and was utterly stranded up top. Was she “good”? No. Was she horrible because she was inept? Absolutely not. Her team’s attack failed her, and it seems petty to punish her worse than she was that night. Sozhaleyu, parni.

Speaking of attacks, here’s all Portland created last Wednesday:

16′ – After Purce is dispossessed the ball rolls to Heath; Heath’s shot is blocked but Raso tackles for gain, shoots and is blocked out for a corner – which is harmless and easily cleared.
33′ – Purce crosses to Heath; Tobin shoots at close range but Steph Labbe’ parries – back to Heath, whose cross carries over the byline.
34′ – After a Raso run earns a corner the ball is cleared out to Menges; Labbe’ comes out strongly to gather in Menges’ looping shoss.
46′ – Kling crosses into the box and Horan rises by the back post but heads across instead of on frame – best opportunity of the evening, sadly.
64′ – Raso nicks up a loose ball outside Carolina’s 18, plays a 1-2 with Sinc but shoots wide left.
80′ – Heath puts a nice cross onto Raso’s feet but Ribbons can’t control and the ball runs over the byline.
83′ – Charley’s nice pass finds Heath out wide left, Heath shoots but is blocked and Carolina picks up the rebound.
93′ – Charley attacks Labbe’ and forces her to fumble a loose ball and wins a corner, but Heath’s attempt is too far and is easily cleared.

And that was it; one decent chance (Horan’s 46th minute header) out of eight half-chances spaced out over the full time with long, long stretches of nothing in between.

That’s how stifled Portland’s attack was.

Charley (31′ – +5/-1) See the Purce comment above. Did what she could, but was utterly stranded.

Raso (+9/-3 : +5/-6 : +14/-9) It’s almost a mockery to hand out a “Woman of the Match” recognition to a Thorn for this match, but of the Thorns on the pitch that night Raso stood out like a woman among girls. Tireless, fast as her opponents, creative, relentless…had she had better support she might have made a goal out of nothing.

But it is telling that many of her minuses are for tackles-for-loss as she would be stuck in a corner with no help and swarmed by white shirts. If Ribbons wasn’t angry about last Wednesday she should have been; she was the one player in red who deserved better.

Sinclair (+2/-6 : +3/-5 : +5/-11) Hopefully this was the worst game Sinc will play all season, because Carolina’s speed made her look very old and very slow. Terrible passing, constantly dispossessed, offensively sterile…this was a bad, bad match for our captain, and as she went so went the team.

Heath (+6/-5 : +4/-4 : +10/-9) While the Damned Courage was running over Sinclair in midfield Heath was doing a lot of running herself…to very little end.

Without support, without the ability to take opponents off the dribble (since the Carolina midfield and backline were too fast for her to profit from beating one defender – another would be on her before she could get a good shot off) Heath was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

She did get a shot on frame in the 33rd minute, though, which was more than her teammates could manage.

Brynjarsdottir (+7/-6 : +2/-4 : +9/-10) A mix of decent defense and decent passing with the same lack of pace that troubled her team, Dagny had a decent match at a time when just “decent” wasn’t enough. She was also at fault on the first concession, since Debinha should have been her mark.

Dagny is a sort of Iceland-shield-maiden-poster-child for the problems of the Thorns midfield.

Against teams like Houston and Sky Blue the Thorns midfield is fine. Against Utah and Chicago and Tacoma the Thorns midfielders have to have good games to be effective. Against the Damned Courage…the Thorns midfield three are overrun and outpassed by Carolina’s diamond, and for some bizarre reason Coach Parsons either doesn’t see that or can’t come up with an alternative.

Dagny is a classic 2019 Thorn; a solid all-rounder but a player that lacks that special…something. That moment of genius. That burst of blazing speed. That canny little touch.

Against the rest of the league “solid all-rounder” does fine, most of the time.

Against the Damned Courage…

Horan (79′ – +2/-7 : +3/-7 : +5/-14) Lindsey Horan cannot be this poor again if she wants her team to go to the playoffs. She cannot be within the same grid square of this bad if she want to go anywhere in the playoffs.

Pick one. Poor passing. Loose in possession. Poor decision-making. Picking up a careless yellow card (only her second, fortunately for her).

Horan had the only respectable chance of the night, but that hardly makes up for the rest of the evening. Since the World Cup we have seen little of the Great Horan, and Horan needs to look within herself and find her soon, because in two weeks we have the Devil in Tacoma to pay and right now no pitch hot.

Ogle (11′ – +1/-0) Not a factor.

Carpenter (+7/-11 : +4/-7 : +11/-18) Ellie Carpenter hustled hard trying to create attack all evening, but the result was usually getting caught upfield and torched by some bastard out of Carolina. Perhaps the worst was on Lynn Williams’ third goal, where Carpenter was literally not even in the picture:

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But Carpenter’s failings were also part of a breakdown of the whole backline. Perfect example? The second goal; Carpenter had been marking Lynn Williams when the shot came off the post to Debinha. Nobody was on her, so Carpenter left Williams to close down the Brazilian.

Problem? Neither Reynolds nor Menges moved to pick up Williams, who was able to calmly poke home Debinha’s deflected shot. Mistakes by three Thorns equal one damned Courage goal.

At least Carpenter’s side produced what little attack the Thorns had; Klingenberg and Heath had nothing going on the left, a product of their glacial pace compared to their opponents.

Carpenter is young and will learn. But this was a hell of a hard lesson.

Reynolds (+2/-5 : +2/-3 : +4/-8) I should probably mention Emily Sonnett here, since it was Sonnett’s bonehead play in Utah that forced Kat Reynolds onto the pitch against Carolina, and the Damned Courage ate her lunch, including the bag of chips, the soda pop, and the brownie she brought for dessert.

Reynolds was utterly at fault on the third and fifth concessions, having been pulled out of position both times, and didn’t do well closing down Hamilton on the final Carolina goal.

Obviously not a good outing, but I fault Sonnett more than Reynolds, who did what she could. Reynold is depth, she knows that, and against the best team in the league, and possibly one of the best WoSo teams in the world, depth was never going to cut it.

Menges (+4/-7 : +3/-2 : +7/-9) It’s hard to say you had a decent match when you’re a defender and your team ships six goals.

I’m not sure if it was missing Sonnett or just bad luck or having an off night, but Menges had several uncharacteristically poor moments in the first half, and was out of position on the Dunn goal in the 61st minute. Menges was the best Portland defender on the night, but that’s damning with faint praise.

Klingenberg (68′ – +6/-2 : +0/-4 : +6/-6) On the worst defeat of the season Good Kling/Bad Kling re-appeared. Good Kling did some fine work in the first half on both sides of the ball including a couple of promising passes and some good defensive work even though her side gave up three goals.

In the second half, however, Bad Kling failed to close down Dunn on her goal along with giving away some awful passes and just generally not doing well. My guess is that this isn’t actually a recurrence of Good Kling/Bad Kling but the effect of running a race against the Damned Courage for an hour. I know I’d have been damn well gassed, and I think Kling was, too.

Ball (22- +3/-4) A trifle hard to understand the swap out – Ball wasn’t more effective than Klingenberg – except that Kling had picked up a yellow, and at a time when tempers were fraying could easily have picked up another (I think that’s why Horan got yanked, too, although Horan was doing so poorly it might have been a sort of mercy-killing in her case…).

Liz Ball had some nice tackles, but also gave the ball away far too easily. Not the reason for the loss, but not really an impact sub, which is a point that will be discussed in the Parsons comments.

Franch (+2/-1 : +2/-1 : +4/-2) Ok, so, here goes;

Concession #1 (Debinha) – I don’t think Franch is mostly at fault here. Looks bad, because she’s planted and doesn’t move with the shot. But it’s a rasper, at close range, and I think Franch was worried about her far post, since she had defenders in front of her. Let’s call this one 50% on Franch, 50% on her defenders.

Concession #2 (Williams) – Not at fault; this was just a golazo, and a hell of a strike.

Concession #3 (Williams) – This one is completely on Franch, I think. She’s just utterly immobile. I think she’s watching McDonald; why, I have no idea, since McDonald is nowhere near the cross. But she doesn’t even move on Williams’ shot. At this point I think the goals are getting into her head. 100% Franch.

Concession #4 (Dunn) – Nope. This one’s on her defenders. By the time the ball comes off Dunn’s foot it’s unsaveable.

Concession #5 (Williams) – We’ve discussed Williams’ hat-trick goal; it was largely on her backline. I think Franch could have come out sooner, and harder, but that would have meant committing to a Williams shot and leaving the goal open for a cross to McDonald, so, no. Maybe 10% to Franch.

Concession #6 (Hamilton) – This was just a great chip and a terrific team goal. Franch had Reynolds in front of her, so she couldn’t come out and get big enough, and the chip was perfectly lofted so Franch couldn’t dive back and get a hand on it. Call it 20% on Franch for general positioning and the rest on her backline.

So completely culpable for #3, call it 50% on #1, and some fractional responsibility for #5 and #6. That’s not good. But not as horrific as it looks from the scoreline.

Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons – C’mere, coach. Let’s siddown for a minute. I need to talk to you for a minute.

You and I both know what a Paul Riley team is gonna bring.

Speed. Tons of speed. Speed over speed layered on top of speed. Quick play. Quick passing. Little triangles. Crap-tons of shots; good shots, bad shots, ridiculous shots, shots all over the pitch. Organization. Discipline. Fitness – crazy high level fitness.

His Western New York Flash brought those in 2016. You beat him in Rochester in June, but in September they came here and damn near got a point – you had him down 3-nil and he ran your gang ragged in the second half and McDonald and Williams nicked two goals in the final 13 minutes. Every time we played them they seemed to look more and more dangerous against us.

Then in October Riley and his team got help from that rat bastard Marco Vega and thugged us out of the season on the way to the championship.

His Damned Courage brought those again in 2017. But you had a team that was stacked from touchline to touchline that season; Henry, Horan, Franch having a Goalkeeper of the Year season, Menges having a career year, Sinclair having a monster year, Nadim. You used them to play Carolina really, really tough that season – lots of physical play, keeping the score low – and got four 1-nil meetings and three wins out of it.

In October we thrashed our way to a second star.

His Damned Courage brought those again in 2018. They beat us four times straight. The 2018 Thorns were without Henry, without Nadim, even with Horan’s MVP season, the Damned Courage outscored us 10-2 and ran us off the pitch.

In October they worked their run-and-gun to run over us to their first star.

His Damned Courage is bringing those again in 2019. We’ve had a bizarre season. Our World Cup-depleted sides drew in Cary in June. They beat themselves here in August. But now they’re running and gunning like they never have before; 12 goals in 180 minutes? They just handed us our worst defeat in our club history.

Over the past seven games they’ve gone 5-1-1 against us and the only loss was that freakish three-own-goal game. They’re beating the hell out of us.

I’ve already admitted; I don’t see a way to beat the Damned Courage now. Not with the team and players we have…but that’s why you’re the head coach and I’m not.

You have one job left this season; beat the Damned Courage.

Because if you can beat them you can beat everyone else and from there the only road that leads to the third star is going to run…




John Lawes
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