Thorns FC: Outraced

After picking up three points in Harrison (the next Hoboken!) New Jersey the Thorns came home hoping to push that to six before the entire league shuttered for some sort of damn FIFA window thing where all the internationals went away.

As luck would have it, the Women In Black got all the help they needed for that from the visitors, this season’s Orlando, Racing Louisville.

It’s reeeeeally hard to express how utterly dire Racing was, but I’ll try. Here’s the first page of my match review notes. The Thorns actions are on the left side of the page, Racing on the right.

Wow. Now that’s ugly.

See the big blank spot over on the right hand side? That’s a seventeen minute stretch – from the 4th to the 21st minutes – when Racing did nothing of soccer value. Nothing. Not an absolute, utter, goddamn thing.

InStat agrees;

So does OPTA:

Despite missing the services of Christine Sinclair (international call-up) and Sophia Smith (injury) the Thorns put a truly, madly, deeply brutal whipping on one of this season’s Wooden Spoon favorites. It started with stuff like this, in only the third minute:

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

I’ll be the first to admit that McCaskill is one of my least-favorite players. Not for any sort of personal reasons, but because she’s a wasteful, inefficient forward who is a poor finisher. But not even McCaskill deserves to be run like this…

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

…like a whipped dog to kennel, as someone in Shakespeare says. Between them Crystal Dunn and Lindsey Horan ran poor sorry McCaskill all the way back to her own penalty area…

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

…where she had to dump back to Michelle Betos to start the whole clear all over again.

That’s why this one is hard to generalize from. An oddball sort of XI – no Sinc, no Smith, Angela Salem and Raquel Rodriguez both in midfield, Weaver and Charley across the front with Dunn lying in the #10, Horan and Rodriguez both sorta-8s…only the backline was unchanged – and a truly wretched opponent makes for a difficult analysis.

But a hell of a lot of fun. Like Chicago, Racing provided a lot of wholesome entertainment for the home fans. Three goals beyond, indeed.

Image by Thorns FC: on Facebook in public domain

Other than that, the trouble with this match is that I’m still not sure if it tells us anything about how good this Thorns squad is. I’m not sure any of the first five matches tell us that.

For one thing, everybody in the league except Orlando (Orlando! Surely we must be in the End of Days, the wonder and the glory of it..!) has proved beatable. We have. The Damned Courage has, certainly. Nobody is untouchable when they have a jour sans, like we did against Orlando. So how good does good have to be, to make the playoffs? At this point, who knows?

And then while we’re 3-2-0 because we’ve laid a total of 8-nil beatdowns on two really, really poor opponents.

We’ve lost to Tacoma while playing well enough to win that game five times out of seven if we played again.

We’ve lost to Orlando on a horrific individual error and everyone’s shooting eyes going completely out, and

And we’ve won a well-played game on the road, but prospered because that opponent suddenly couldn’t score.

So…how good are we?

We’re gonna have to wait two damn weeks to learn more. Gah.


Passing the Passing Test: Either 82.6% (OPTA) or 83% (InStat); another excellent match in possession. Racing’s 77% is deceptive; that final pass wasn’t there, and they killed off a crap-ton of their own attacks with poor passing.

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.


Lots of the usual sorts of people who often have good passing days, including Dunn, Horan, Klingenberg. Last Saturday Sauerbrunn got into the party in a big way, though, with some nice long service, too. Well played, ‘Brunn.

Given the opponent, unsurprising, but still good to see. Well passed, Thorns.

Corner Kicks

Per OPTA the Thorns won 9 corners, but I have 10 in my notes; two short, eight standard long-into-the-box type

7′KlingenbergLongInitially cleared but recycled and led to goal
25′SalemLong…to Rodriguez head but headed shot wide
33′SalemLongCleared but only to Horan whose bike went off post!
44′KlingenbergShort…to Salem, blocked and cleared
57′KlingenbergLong…into scuffle inside box, fell to Rodriguez, shot went in but disallowed for offside
66′KlingenbergShort…to Dunn, drop to Sauerbrunn and recycle, no shots
67′SalemLong…fell to Horan, shot blocked, cleared

So keeping score: one of the short corners produced a not particularly dangerous shot, and the other went nowhere and had to be recycled. Eight conventional corners produced three definite defensive wins (clearances) but two more poor clearances that resulted in a dangerous chance (Horan’s 33rd minute bike) and a goal. The other three produced a sorta-goal that was called back, one dangerous header that was pulled wide, and another shot that was blocked and cleared.

So “conventional” seems to have been the way to go against Racing. A goal, another called back, a damn-near goal, and dangerous header, and a blocked shot; 50% chances of corners? Hellyeah I’d call that good.

Image by Thorns FC: on Facebook in public domain


Dunn (+6/-2 : +5/-0 :+11/-2) I read a lot of love for Dunn in this match, and she was what she always is; fun, exciting, and all over the pitch. But Lindsey Horan was doing the heavy lifting, so all Dunn had to do was run wild and did. Did have a sweet looping shoss that came off the crossbar with Betos pulled up and out of position for the rebound, but we’ll talk about that in a bit.

Good match for Dunn, but against pretty shifty opposition and without anything concrete to show for it, it was kind of empty. She’s had a good start, but at some point if she’s going to play upfront she has to start either creating or finishing or, best of all, both.

Weaver (62′ – +5/-4 : +1/-0 : +6/-4) Morgan Weaver’s night in two screenshots:

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

As Dunn’s shoss comes off the bar Weaver – who has positioned herself perfectly – rushes the falling ball. She plays it off her leg, and the effort is soft enough for Betos to parry it across the face of her goal.

Weaver’s play is a rookie mistake. Period. Two years from now she’ll have the experience to time her attack so the ball falls to her foot instead of on her thigh, and…

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

…boom. Goal.

During the match thread one of the commentors said something like “God, I love to watch Weaver play!” to which I replied – since it was near halftime with Portland up only a goal and I was having scary memories of the damn Chaos Cup Final and what happens if you let cans hang around – “God, I’d like to watch Weaver score!

I like a lot of what Weaver brings; energy, soccer intelligence, aggression. But the bottom line is that she’s sitting on 234 minutes without a goal. And for a forward, goals are the bottom line.

Lussi (28′- +2/-0) Not a factor.

Charley (81′ – +4/-3 : +6/-0 : +10/-3) One thing I’m starting to really appreciate about Si-money is her smarts. Here she is in the 33rd minute running at the left side of Racing’s goal:

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

She’s right where she should be; ball-side of her defender…but Kling’s service is going long, so…

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

…she anticipates the ball’s trajectory and with the calculated aerospatial skills of a veteran fighter pilot slips around to the outside of her defender…

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

…where she rises to meet the cross and forces Betos into a one-handed reaction save. Nicely done, Si-money.

As with Weaver, though…at some point Charley needs to begin scoring. Her conversion rate has slipped below 10%, and that’s really not okay.

Everett (9′ – +1/-0) She’s fun to watch, but that really was all she got out of this match.

Rodriguez (80′ – +2/-3 : +3/-3 : +5/-6) Clinical finish on 48th minute Horan cross made Rodriguez’ night. Otherwise I’m not quite sure what she was doing. Technically she was the dual-8 with Horan that’s usually Dunn’s job, but she seemed to drop deep into a sort of 6/8 position a lot where she shared duties with Angela Salem.

Did better than her PMR suggests because four of her minuses were for poor passes, but those were typically lost deep in Racing territory, and the other two were badly off-target shots. And much of her defensive work was cooperative, so she didn’t get big pluses for dramatic stops; each midfielder was credited with three tackles.

Boureille (10′- +1/-1) Fresh legs to see out the win.

Salem (+4/-2 : +4/-2 : +8/-4) Seeing Salem get her second career goal was delicious – I enjoy her as a player and she seems like a fun, happy teammate – but hard luck on poor Betos because I think the ball came off Martin’s leg and so Betos was going the wrong way.

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

Yeah, Shelley. I know. We all have fucking days like that.

I was skeptical of how the whole Rodriguez-Salem duopoly would work out. It did, so that’s a good sign for the Olympics interruption. But it did against Racing, which is like trying to assess your skills as a professional boxer by beating up drunks in an alley.

Horan (+13/-4 : +11/-4 : +24/-8) Holy shit.

Lindsey Horan was in utter Great Horan Beast Mode against Racing. Huge, everywhere, everything, attacking, defending, passing…you name it, Horan did at against and to Racing. Her best performance of the season. Stood out from everyone on the pitch like Babe Ruth in a Babe Ruth League.

Then there was this:

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

Give Salem the credit for seeing how much bloody room Racing had given Horan (Racing, note: important safety tip – don’t ever give Horan that kind of room) and fed her. Note that Charley is waving to signal her intent to make the far post run.

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

Poor Betos! She can’t come out to take the cross, it’s too far and too many Thorns are underneath it. She can’t set up for the direct ball, either, because Charley is way too likely to get to it and head it somewhere and Betos needs to defend that.

So, when both Charley and her defender completely whiff on the ball…

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

…she’s frozen until too late and the damn thing just bounces into the far side of the goal.

What the hell do you call Charley’s run, anyway? It’s kind of an assist, but…what kind? A magician’s assistant assist? The sort of thing where you are watching the pretty assistant in the spangled tights rather than the joker pulling the rabbit out of the hat?

Image by Twitch. Licensed under Fair Use.

I dunno, but it sure was a rough night for one former Thorn. Sorry, Shelley. You played really well and deserved better.

Westphal (62′ – +3/-4 : +3/-0 : +6/-4) All the defenders had a hell of an easy night. Between Racing’s incompetence and their own midfield and forward harassing and forechecking all night, the defenders could pretty much sit around picking artificial flowers off the fake grass. Westphal had a perfectly decent outing, and that’s all the club needed.

Menges (+0/-0 : +2/-1 : +2/-1) Could have taken the night off, traffic around her penalty area was just that slow.

Sauerbrunn (+7/-0 : +3/-0 : +10/-0) Instead, ‘Brunn decided to do all the work, both defensively and passing out of the back, and did a damn fine job. You go, ‘Brunn. That’s what you’re here for.

Klingenberg (87′ – +6/-0 : +7/-2 : +13/-2) Hell of a night for Meghan Klingenberg, too. Didn’t have much defensive work to do, but the attack? Terrific, including the quick-restart throw-in in the 48th minute that led directly to the Rodriguez goal. Damn, woman. When ARE you going to start to slow down? Never mind, keep going.

Franch (+2/-0 : +1/-0 : +3/-0) One critical take on a 63rd minute Racing corner, but otherwise a slow day at the office for A.D. Franch, which I’m sure suited her down to the ground.

Image by Thorns FC: on Facebook in public domain.

Coach Parsons: Had to come up with an XI and a bench to compensate for his captain and one of his primary attackers missing, and did, and managed the match well enough. Hard to see this as a critical test of anything by the coach’s clubbing-the-baby-seal skills, but the clubbing was relatively efficient (I’d have liked to seen more early scoring, but Betos really was terrific and the team did create those chances; it was more on Betos’ skill than their lack of effort that the Thorns were only one up at the turn).

Now the problem is a bit different; keep the team’s heads on and thinking about the season during a two-week layoff. The next match is the equally appalling Kansas City here on 6/20/21. I keep thinking that this one should be another rout, but as Richard reminded me during our podcast tonight, KC has only given up 6 goals in 5 games, so while they’re bad, they’re not “defensively prostrate” bad. So this one might come down, like Gotham, to getting the jump and scoring first.

See you in a couple of weeks, then.

John Lawes
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12 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Outraced

  1. What’s Pep Guardiola doing talking with Michelle Betos after the game? At least Betos looks appropriately surprised.

    1. Poor Shelley. She really did play a hell of a match. I’ll bet she picked the ball out of her goal for the third time thinking that it looked like a goddamn junior high school recess out in front of her.

  2. More seriously, it was really wonderful to see The Great Horan out there again. Long may she live. I’m quite surprised she had so few significant passes because it seemed like she was really driving the offense. Also, I liked the double pivot with Salem and Rodríguez and I suspect Parsons will try it again, particularly when the internationals are away. Both of them got into the attack while the other hung back, which AFAIK is exactly how a double pivot is supposed to work, and both of them scored goals, which is quite a bonus for how a double pivot is supposed to work. [You might quibble that Rocky was an 8, but she was doing defensive duty like a 6 so I’m counting her that way.]

    Louisville was indeed dire, but that’s partly credit to the Thorns. “The sign of a good defense is that the opposing offense ‘has a bad day’ “, and this game followed that saying to perfection. Also Racing hasn’t always been that bad; it’s true they had gotten walloped by NCC, but they also won 2-0 against a quality team — the third-place Spirit, 1 point behind Portland — and drew their remaining game. We all know how good teams can come out flat against poor opposition and play down to their level, and the Thorns didn’t do that in the least. So credit to the Girls in Red and Parsons for that.

    P.S. Great photo at the top!

    1. So with Horan, OPTA has her with SEVEN “key passes”, so she did a lot of critical unlocking of the Racing defense. The difference is that I only count passes that lead directly to a direct attacking advantage, so several of her passes that are part of a passing sequence don’t get counted in my tally.

      Here’s the thing with the Rocky/Salem duopoly; it was hugely skewed in this game by 1) the monster night Horan was having and 2) how wretched Racing was playing. I tend to agree that some of the latter was the Thorns playing well…but a lot was Racing just having no visible ideas of how to go about attacking Portland’s goal.

      I think we might have seen a preview of how Parsons is going to get this midfield through the OG. But I don’t think we know if it’ll work as it did last weekend because we need to see it without Great Horan. I hope it does! But right now it’s like trying to see the stars in the daytime.

      Isn’t that an awesome team picture? My immediate thought was on of those nature snaps with all the meerkats standing on their mound and all but one are distracted by a passing wildebeest or something. Kling had her gameface totally on and wasn’t going to be distracted by a damn thing.

  3. There is one other thing to consider is the trip from hell that Racing had, yeah they were not good, but hey right from the start I was cutting them some slack for a rough trip. As a team, I was really impressed with Fox and Ekic; for rookies they are good. Of course, Betos and Nagasato are very good, but then add Nadim and you have a little nucleus of talent.
    But Horan in that game…My God, she was amazing and I am so glad that fluke goal went in because she had some other SOG that but for great goal keeping would have been on the scoreboard.
    Even when McCaskill works hard like she did in this game, there is almost always a period when she turns off or gets frustrated. She has gifts, but everybody that makes it to NWSL has gifts and a physically gifted person isn’t unusual. I would call her a good player, but only sometimes.

    1. I don’t know how much to credit this, but in the post-match presser Coach Holly and the team leaders denied that the travel problems played any real role. Again, YMMV.

      My problem with McCaskill is that she has always, consistently, everywhere underperformed against decent opposition since she left USC. She had a gaudy reputation based on her college career that she has never lived up to. She’s a waste of a roster spot, and yet she has never gone unemployed since she graduated, while better forwards have struggled to hold down a steady job. I have no idea what she’s got that so many coaches want to keep her around for. I sure don’t see it. But there she is. Perhaps now they have Nadim Racing will bench her. We’ll see when we go visit them in a month or so…

    2. Sitting 117-F we had a great view on the Fox-McCaskill-Nagasato collaboration in the first half – found myself repeatedly thinking the following:
      1. Nagasato: always liked her precision, on the ground intelligence, and grit and saw good evidence that it is still there, but sadly seems to be fading.
      2. McCaskill: needs to study-up on the “work smart, not hard” philosophy. She’s got some great skills and works her butt off…but nothing substantial ever seems to come out of it.
      3. Fox: really, really impressive…I had no idea she was that agile/fast/tall/field-aware/tough/etc. In my opinion the most promising player on the team – in spite of the team. I haven’t looked at the stats – this is all gut feel – but I’d have her on my (USWNT) defensive line over Davidson…or (dare I say it) Sonnett.

      1. Nagasato has always been a sort of favorite of mine because, yes, she’s a very deft, hard-working player. At 33 she’s just coming out of her prime years, and she still seems very fit, so I wonder if she’s really dropping off that much or whether the incompetence of her frontline makes her look worse than she’s doing.

        I think I’ve made my feelings about McCaskill plain enough. One thing I will say for her; for someone built like a fireplug she has surprisingly decent pace. But you could fit her soccer intelligence into a demitasse and have room for the spoon. She’s not a good value.

        Ekic looked very solid, as solid as Racing had to offer. I’ve read a lot of love for Fox, but I don’t recall her drawing my eye the way Ekic did. I’ll take everyone’s word that Fox played well, and Henderson’s pals at InStat have her as Racing’s MVP over the first five games, so I must be the one woolgathering.

        What’s interesting about Sonnett with the Nats is that Vlatko seems to have realized that she’s gonna brainfart once a game or so, and if she does out at fullback that’s less likely to concede than if she’s right in front of goal.

        IS Fox better? Well, small sample size. But so far she’s certainly looked impressive to all observers (except me, duh…) so perhaps she’s the WNT LB of the future…

        1. Agree fully with all points. Would also say that watching Emily Fox on TV fails to represent her quality as well as seeing her in person, particularly within stone’s throw distance where you can see the off-the-ball planning and movements that are almost akin to a chess grandmaster setting up a queen-pin five moves in advance. Always in the right place…always aware of the players around her – not quite at the spooky level that Horan so often exhibits when threading the ball through four opponents to lay it perfectly at a teammate’s feet while looking in a completely different direction, but close.

          I’ve been a Sonnett fan, despite the omnipresent detractors who seem to think anyone would be a better choice, since her rookie season. Her antics on and off the field may be what I miss the most (the look of innocence on her face after that professional foul on A-Rod still cracks me up). All players make mistakes, but for some reason when Sonnett screws up, she does so in the most devastating and obvious manner possible such that this is all most viewers remember. Nonetheless, I think you are correct in that Vlatko recognizes and accepts this, putting a higher value on the other 98% of her game. Seems like she hasn’t had a major gaff in a while now…hopefully not saving them up for the Olympics…

          1. So here’s my take on Sonnett from back in March of last year (

            “Emily Sonnett might well be one of the most beloved players that every pulled on Thorns red. She’s a wild woman, a sort of goofy and loveable maenad (can that even be a thing, “loveable maenad”..?), a day-in-day-out Happy Warrior who always seems to find a smile or a joke lying around and picks it up to crack up her teammates.

            Her photobombs during her teammates’ interviews were fucking epic.

            That said…as I discussed in the defenders’ piece last fall; “(Her) PMRs show the immediate effects of the continuing random brainfarts (those minuses that are still running 4 to 5 a game) as well as the big drop in scoring from the championship season that lost a lot of pluses. All of this suggests that we’re sort of stuck in the same place we were three years ago.”

            I think the coaching staff saw that, too. I think they were looking for a harder, tougher, more focused centerback. I think they got one, too – as we’ll discuss – but that meant that it was time for Sonnett to move on.

            I’ll miss Sonnett as a person and a character. She’s just fun, and in the often-cruel business of sport fun can be hard to come by.

            But here’s my secret thought; Sonnett the player might well have been hampered by that same loveable goofy sense of fun. She never took herself too seriously, and that’s wonderful. But she might just not have taken her craft as seriously as she could. And that’s not. Perhaps what’s holding her back is that at critical moments her game is as silly and goofy and lighthearted as she is.”

            I’m willing to stand by that. When we were in the highstand of the Great Wall of Emily Menges held the whiphand over the backline and could make good those goofs. As Menges fell to injuries, the backline did, too, to the point where we needed a Sauerbrunn to put steel back into the crew.

            For that we had to deal Sonnett. I regret that because I miss her adorableness for personal reasons. But as a fan who wants wins? I’m glad we did.

            1. Sonnett had another very Sonnett-like game today in the USA kit. She played an excellent 89.9 minutes of soccer against Jamaica, unfortunately marred by a classic Sonnett brain fart in which she hung on to the ball too long, got pickpocketed, and gifted Jamaica one of their best chances of the game. Aaaaaargh! I love to watch her play (and see her antics postgame too), but these kinds of errors are what limit her.


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