Thorns FC: Singin’ in the Rain

There are times when life just gets in the way, and both Thorns FC and I got kind of slammed that way last week.

The club dropped a 1-2 home clanger to maybe-we-have-to-accept-they’re-now-genuine-rivals Tacoma on Sunday 5/23, then went to Orlando in midweek and lost again by the same score. The Thorns then had to travel to play in Gotham looking at the ugly possibility that they might end the first month of regular season play 1-3-0 and scrapping for the Spoon.

Meanwhile I got to enjoy (if that’s the right word) the Reign match in person and then spent the following week out of town doing this:

Yeah, it was kinda like that

I watched the Orlando match on the laptop at the table in my hotel room, which did not improve my mood much.

And so we both came to Red Bull Arena in a pretty surly, carping mood. The Thorns needed to arrest the two-game slide, and I wanted to see a complete game from a team that had played solidly but made just enough critical mistakes to get no points from six possible.

We both left the pitch (or the couch, as it were) pretty happy.

Dunn broke her duck at the best possible time and in the best possible way, and the defense hung on through some pretty nervy moments to nick all the points (helped by Gotham seeming to have run head-on into a “can’t create and can’t score” wall, but, hey…).

Here’s the InStat tovarisches’ assessment:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

And here’s OPTA’s version:

Image by

Not judging here, but an interesting look at “statistics” and soccer statistics in particular. Hmmm.

Regardless of which numbers you want to credit, Portland comprehensively outplayed the Batwomen. In particular, I want to look at three statistics; xG, xG per shot, and goals scored.

Here’s the stat line for the past three matches:

MatchThorns xGThorns xG/shotThorns Goals
Tacoma (H) (xGA – 1.22, xG/shot – 0.11)1.590.11
Orlando (A) (xGA – 1.11, xG/shot – 0.1)1.120.061
Gotham (A) (xGA – 0.51, xG/shot – 0.06)2.10.111

See the pattern?

Tacoma – damn near a wash; as my pals said, small mistakes, big costs (and Karen Bardsley standing on her head). The shots were there, but so was Bardsley, and letting Seattle Tacoma OL Reign go up early was deadly.

Orlando – another catastrophic individual derp plus piss-poor shot selection meant losing by one goal despite a relatively decent outing in absolute terms.

Gotham? – Finally the Thorns shots were there, and the opponent’s weren’t, and despite some derps – which we’ll discuss – the home side couldn’t take advantage of them so a by-one-goal win instead of by-one-goal losses. But we still left a goal on the table.

This was a needed win, not so much a “fun” win like Chicago, so it seems less something to celebrate and more like something at which to just huff a sigh of relief. Two losses in a row – especially hard-luck losses – are tolerable. Three? That would have been a bit troubling.

But the squad got the points, and now they’re home again this coming weekend to the troubled expansion side Racing Louisville. But, first, to this match.


Passing the Passing Test: Either 81% (OPTA) or 82% (InStat) but either way? Outstanding. The Thorns needed to be outstanding, too, because Gotham was stringing together passes – 80% or so – and the Thorns couldn’t count on the sort of unforced errors that had helped them against Chicago.

Okay, remember: only dangerous attacking and possession-gain (or -loss) passes count. A “1” is a pass to and from feet. “L” is a long pass, “H” a headed one, “C” a corner kick, “F” a free kick, “X” a cross. For goalkeepers “G” is a goal kick, “P” is a punt, and otherwise they are rated like the field players.

If a pass was exceptionally good – a “key pass”? – I’ve added bold and italic and underlined to the symbol in the “completed” column. The same iconography in the “missed” column means a very bad pass, one that leads directly to danger or a concession.

Got it? Let’s go.


Horan had an interesting match, as we’ll discuss, but her unadulterated positive was passing, including a perfect dime onto Smith’s head in the 2nd minute that Kailen Sheridan was fortunate to parry away. Klingenberg launched a similar beauty in the 15th minute to return the favor, but Horan headed right into Sheridan’s gut. Dunn had a couple of pretty feeds, in particular to Smith in the 21st minute.

Westphal had a tough match; lots of energy and she tried her usual long service, but the passes weren’t connecting; I’ll bet the pouring rain didn’t help, and neither did Gotham attacking her side with Lloyd, Monaghan, Dydasco, and Kawasumi.

Overall? Well passed, Thorns.

Corner Kicks

Per OPTA the Thorns won 6 corners. Rodriguez took one short and the other five were direct-into-the-box-type corners.

The 52nd minute short corner went to Smith and then around the Gotham penalty area until finding its way to Charley’s head, and from there directly to Sheridan’s hands; weak shot, no danger.

Two of the long corners were simply cleared, in the 2nd and 80th minutes.

In the 7th minute Kling dropped a nice arc onto Horan’s head, but the defenders were right there and stifled her so the play went nowhere.

Rodriguez’ 47 minute service went to an open Simone Charley, but Charley’s header was, again, poor – a high looper that Sheridan took easily.

The final long service went directly from Westphal’s boot to Sheridan’s hands.

So keeping score: Short corners (52′ minute), one headed shot on goal but a poor chance and easily saved. Conventional corners (2nd, 7th, 47th, 71st, and 80th minute): one shot on goal but also a weak header and four defensive wins (one take, two clearances, one coverage-win).

So none of the Thorns corners at Gotham produced a quality chance, short or long. I suspect the combination of weather, fatigue, and decent defending were largely the cause.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook in public domain


(What the heck is a PMR? Player ratings explained)

Smith (91′ – +7/-3 : +4/-3 : +11/-6) Sophia Smith had an…odd match.

She was doing everything, from…

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…forechecking the Batwomen in their own defensive end, to taking shots, making runs, and providing passes…

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Here she sends a seeing-eye pass through four defenders into the heart of the Gotham red zone…

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…only to find that Charley and Horan aren’t running onto the ball and Sheridan has an easy take.

That was kind of the way her night went, the perfect distillation of which was in the 62nd minute, when she tackled Sheridan in the Gotham keeper’s own penalty area…

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and was off to the open goal. Sheridan and Estelle Johnson were desperately beating cheeks to try and catch her but with her pace Smith wasn’t going to get caught.

All she had to do was sidefoot the ball home.

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That’s a tight angle, but not that tight an angle. And she’s got damn near six yards on Sheridan; time and space enough to even cut the ball back to her right foot and dink it in, if she wanted. Two-nil in the 62nd, with Gotham playing like they were? That sucker would have been over.

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Yeah, no.

That’s a rookie mistake, though, and she’ll figure it out. Smith’s got a ton of energy and soccer intelligence, and with experience she’ll but that biscuit in that basket 9 times out of 10. Overall a very fine outing.

Here’s a thing, though. Much as I like Smith, and much as I’m inclined to give her a pass because she really is just a rookie – 2020 doesn’t count – if I’m going to give Simone Charley stick for inefficiency I can’t spare Smith. She’s only on 13% and change.

The entire squad is struggling with converting; Sinc is only on 16% and her two goals lead the team tied with Smith. Dunn, Charley, and Lussi each have one.

Smith – all the forwards and attacking mids – needs to step up and start scoring. If the Thorns want to challenge for the title this season, it’s really just that simple.

Lussi (6′ – +0/-1) Timewasting.

Charley (61′ – +4/-2 : +2/-1 : +6/-3) Simone Charley also had a ton of energy and soccer intelligence and also couldn’t (stop me if you’ve heard this before) hit water if she fell out of a boat. Perhaps the worst was in the 35th minute when she was open in front of goal with Sheridan out of position and couldn’t stick her boot out and redirect Sinclair’s cross into the goal. Ugh.

I love Si-money, but she has one goal in 188 minutes and her conversion rate is 11%. Those aren’t a starter’s numbers, and she’s going to have to change them to stay on the pitch when the Nats come back.

Weaver (29′ – +6/-0) I dunno what Weaver had for lunch in New York, but whatever it is I want some of that shit. Jesus wept, she was an utter madwoman in her half hour; she damn near had one of those nick-the-ball-off-Sheridan’s-feet things (that seems to have been a sort of meme for this match, the way frying meat on a French cuirassier‘s breastplate was after the battle of Waterloo) in the 66th minute but the Gotham defense was on the qui vive after Sheridan’s carelessness four minutes earlier and shut Weaver down most quick smart. Still…terrific shift – look at her PMR extrapolated over 90 minutes; at +18/-0 she’d have been undisputed Woman of the Match.

That’s huge. I’d love to see if she can do that for 90 minutes. Ummm…Coach?

Sinclair (67′ – +6/-0 :+1/-0 : +7/-0) A muted performance from the Captain, who just doesn’t have the sort of durability in those legs for 270 minutes of play in seven days. Some terrific passing and several deft runs, but looked ready to come off at the hour.

Boureille (23′ – +3/-0) When you come on for Christine Sinclair to hold a one-goal lead, and you do? That’s a good shift, and so it was.

Dunn (+6/-3 : +9/-0 : +15/-3) Finally, a Woman of the Match performance from Crystal Dunn.

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How the hell she managed to thread that ball between Cudjoe and Kawasumi and then through the crowd, let along into the top corner? I have no freaking idea. But that’s why she’s Crystal Dunn and I’m not. I loved this performance so much; let’s see more, please.

Horan (+6/-4 : +5/-4 : +11/-8) As I mentioned above, Lindsey Horan had a very here-and-there sort of match. She worked hard, especially defending, And she passed well, including several “key” passes that should have unlocked Gotham’s defense had her teammates been in synch with her. But overall she just couldn’t seem to find her form, and her shooting boots were in the equipment bag somewhere; her shockingly poor five-yards-over-the-bar miss in the 63rd minute is proof of that.

Unfortunate, and probably fatigue played a big role. But the team needs her to be better, and she can be better. Let’s see if a week’s rest helps against Racing.

Salem (45′ – +2/-6)
Rodriguez (45′ – +4/-2) I know Rodriguez is supposed to be the better player; international and all that. But typically I don’t see it on the pitch.

Sunday, though? Yes. Salem’s passing eye was completely out – three of her six minuses are for poor passes and two others for a heavy touch and a lost ball. When Rodriguez came on in the second half she was tidier with the ball – 80% completion compared to 70% – and about even defensively. I haven’t seen this enough to be convinced, but last Sunday Rodriguez was what Trail33 says she is; the clearly better player.

Westphal (+3/-3 : +1/-6 : +4/-9) Not her night. Her passing looks better than my passing matrix shows – 85% completion – but she couldn’t make the “important” connections going forward. And oh, my, the defensive errors! Got torched to the byline several times as well as marking space on several Gotham crosses including the 51st minute play illustrated below. Has done better and, again, possibly a combination of rain, cold, fatigue, and just having an off day made this one so grim.

Here’s the thing; the Thorns defense played well generally, and certainly kept the clean sheet. But they also made some appalling gaffes, and I’m going to talk about them here but they apply to some degree or another to most of the defenders.

In the 51st minute Carly Lloyd juked Klingenberg down the Thorns’ left touchline and beat her inside with the whole box open in front of her. And guess who else was open?

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Ifeoma Onumonu, that’s who.

Whaaaaat? Nobody learned from the 94th minute of the Chaos Cup? Nobody in the Thorns backline remembered the second classic blunder after getting involved in a land war in Asia is leaving Iffy open within 6 yards of the goal?

However, as Richard said several podcasts ago, Onumonu’s effort reminded us why we let her go; instead of just sticking her left boot out and beating an out-of-position Franch Iffy tried to play the ball with her right and whiffed on it.

Gotham, not content with doing this once, did it again, twice. In the 79th minute Lloyd made the byline and fired another cross that sailed through the crowd. Six minutes later Purce beat Westphal to the other side byline and did the same thing.

How either or both of those didn’t clank off someone into the goal I don’t know. They didn’t, and that’s good. But we can’t depend on that sort of luck.

Back in 2018 I used to add a tag to every Thorns FC: post that summed up the problems of that troubled season; “Defense, don’t derp! Forwards, score!”

Well, the skies and the players may change, but the game does not.

Against offensively-challenged Gotham making defensive errors is one thing. Against The Damned Courage, or Orlando, or Tacoma?

That’s a whole ‘nother thing.

Sauerbrunn (+3/-1 : +3/-2 : +5/-3) Same as discussed above; in general and as a unit? Fine. For individual, selectively terrifying moments? No. ‘Brunn is too old a hand to be doing this stuff; the whole point of buying her was to steady the defense and give us 90+ minutes of lockdown backline work. That isn’t happening, and it needs to before she and the other internationals leave for Japan. C’mon, ‘Brunn. You got one job

Menges (61′ – +4/-4 : +1/-1 : +5/-5) Somewhat better than her PMR; four of her five minuses are for speculative long passes that went wide. Had a horrifying two minutes in the first quarter hour where she 1) shanked what I think was supposed to be clearance of a Purce cross, then 2) passed directly to Lloyd at the 25-yard line, but otherwise a decent return from her injury.

Needs time to work into her backline, but worth noting that time’s running out and she’s going to have to take over again when the Nats leave. Hopefully she’ll be ready.

Hubly (29′ – +3/-0) Fine half hour, a nice, calm outing after Orlando. She’s still a rock-solid squad player.

Klingenberg (+5/-4 : +6/-3 : +11/-7) Kept a leash on Purce, and that’s a big ask, so well done, Kling. Assist on the goal as well as – according to OPTA – six other “key passes”, but had some trouble connecting other than that; five of her seven minuses are for poor passes. Not as involved in the attack as we’ve seen her in earlier outings, but, again, Purce.

Franch (+3/-0 : +1/-0 : +4/-0) Completely untroubled; could almost have taken the evening off, Gotham was that futile.

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Coach Parsons: The gaffer needed a win, and a good outing, to stop the rout, and he did. Managed the match well enough – especially giving Sinc’s legs a rest, tho I’m not sure if Horan might not have deserved some time off, too…but who’re you going to put in for her?

I suspect Parsons feels well enough about May. A big win, two unlucky losses (in at least one, the Tacoma match, the team really played well enough to win that meeting 7 out of 9 times…) and a road win, 6 points of 12 on offer, sitting a comfortable third (albeit with The Damned two points back with a game in hand…) and at least an expectation of three more this coming weekend before the Nats all leave…


I hate to be this way, but…this squad still needs to find a way to take care of business consistently, for the full 90, and hammer results out, especially of the strugglers. This squad is good, and needs to BE good, be ruthless, put teams like Gotham away early and often.

So, as it was written in the prophecy: Defense, don’t derp! Forwards, score!

John Lawes
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11 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Singin’ in the Rain

  1. This team is beginning to shoot like the Courage, lots of shots and lots of shots on goal. Their conversion rate needs to improve and will. But Charley and Smith and maybe Weaver too can be put down to inexperience, but Horan, Sinc and Dunn are taking a lot of shots and their conversion rate is not very good either. Maybe it is nothing to worry about because if you have as many opportunities to shoot as the Thorns are getting then some are going to go in eventually. So this problem is not going to bother me especially with the schedule this team has dealt with… And a little bad luck.
    Also I was so glad he brought on Hubly because she has been good and needed to get out there and not let the derp in Orlando get into her head.

    1. Any time your squad starts to have issues converting it’s something to be concerned about. “Worried”? Not quite yet.

      But the reason Black Autumn was so dire is that nobody could turn all those chances and shots into goals, and we saw what happened then. I’d just as soon not go there again.

  2. Another interesting thing about these first four matches was the quality of the goal keepers. Naeher is good but her team wasn’t: Bardsley was very good; Harris is usually good, but it looks like she has a better supporting cast this year because Orlando is not looking like a dumpster fire of the past few years. Sheridan was very good and when she was bad, well she was so so lucky!

  3. I see Rodriquez playing playing Horan’s role or Sinc’s and maybe Kuikka coming into the midfield. I am absolutely sure Kling would love to play in the midfield too. I think Yazmeen Ryan is in camp, maybe that is a bit of dream, but at least she is not 15. And at the elite college level she can deliver. So we will see.
    But wow! Horan, Dunn and Sinc all missing, those are three massive departures.
    As well as Smith has been playing, unless she scores several times in the coming friendlies, I don’t see her on the Olympic roster. Too much competition and Mal Pugh is beginning to look like someone Vlatco needs to look at again.

    1. The OG – assuming they happen, which is looking increasingly likely…over the furious objection of a vast majority of the Japanese public, which is really, really troubling – are going to be a potential problem for this squad. I’m not sure what Parsons will do. He did not handle the 2019 WC well; not so much the absence of the internationals as much as working them back in afterwards. His work during the 2016 OG was much better, but that was a very different squad.

      Not sure who fills in for the three midfielders. No one is a great match for Sinc’s skillset – Rodriguez? Maybe…but she seems a poor fit purely based on the difference in size and strength. Boureille has filled in for Sinc before and might again, but is not anywhere near the same player. Ryan would be entirely too green, even assuming she’s signed, which we don’t know.

      Kuikka is a pure defender, so she would make a questionable replacement for any of the three. Kling? Dunno if she has the pace and who’d fill in for her at LB?

      The take-home is that there’s a LOT of potential issues about the OG, and we won’t know how big those issues are until the internationals leave. And then…well, things might get interesting fast.

      1. I am thinking Kling’s pace is not a big problem in the midfield and she is great in possession. Her replacement at LB, I am ducking now to avoid stuff being thrown at me, but here goes; what about Pogarch. Yes, Marta made a meal of her and Kling came in and that problem went away, but maybe she learn some lessons there. I love her speed and don’t forget what Rapinoe did to Carpenter the first time they faced each other, it was brutal. I have always thought that Kuikka could be a good 6 and she has some offensive potential.

        1. Kling’s pace isn’t a big problem – it’s still a problem, because speedy wingers can feast on her, but the team has adjusted to that AND she’d learned to position herself and anticipate better, so she doesn’t get burned…much – so long as she can use the touchline to shove opponents against and has a centerback to catch anything that turns her inside.

          In midfield? She’d be utterly exposed. I’m not sure I’d do that to a player I’m fond of, and I’m fond of Kling.

          Kuikka WAS a midfielder – for FSU back in 2015 – and a decent one. She hasn’t played there since then, and I’d be wary of trying to re-convert her there unless we’re really desperate.

          So. Pogarch. I’m not sure why you’re intimidated; she’s Kling’s backup now, and if we moved Kling she’d be the natural replacement. So, she’s the first choice at LB if Kling send to MF. But…

          I’ve read a LOT of Pogarch-love over at Stumptown and I still don’t get it. She’s hella fast and is willing to get stuck in, which is fine. She’s also still brutally tactically naive and has been repeatedly schooled by opposing attackers. Will she get better? I hope so! Is she currently a like-for-like with Kling? Absolutely not. She’s a promising young player and that’s all she is at this point. We may have to throw her on the pitch come July. But I think we shouldn’t kid ourselves about the possible downsides of that.

          1. Actually I don’t think anyone is a like for like for Kling. Even Dunn who is her replacement on the national team is not a like for like. Yes she can be beaten with speed, but she is so clever and can deliver a dime and I will never forget her juking Marta and then dropping a perfect pass that only Amandine could get to and score in a semi-final with Orlando in 2017.

            1. True…but that was eons ago in soccer time. I can’t think of too many of the players on that 2017 team who are still playing like they did in 2017.

              Kling has surprised me with her liveliness; she had a rough season a couple years back that made me think she was done for…but she has rebounded nicely over the past couple of seasons.

              Still…she can’t outrun the clock, and it’s got to be ticking pretty loud for her by now. Like or not, we need to find a replacement sooner rather than later.


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