Thorns FC: Just Good Enough

So last Sunday the Kansas City Team – in the new Gotham/Tacoma tradition should we call them “Kansas City Utah Blues Royals KC Club”? The “Blues and Royals”? (problem with that is that’s already a thing…) Just generic “Kansas City”, like those black-and-white label cans of generic beer? – came back to town for the first time since the Red Card Wedding Reception.

It didn’t go well for them this time, either.

Image by Christ Henderson on Twitter

The critical metric is down here on the xG stat line, and it doesn’t reflect all that well on the Thorns, either.

Because while KC’s attack showed some signs of life for a change – couldn’t actually convert, but created some chances, which for a team that had been shut out in five of the previous six matches was better than nothing – Portland ravaged its defending (or perhaps “defending” might be a better term, scare quotes and all).

The Thorns could barely score, either, though; we’ll take a look at it in a bit, but the Thorns missed sitter after sitter before nicking a goal on a piece of epically awful goalkeeping.

Winning games because of the kindness of strangers is not really a positive approach to the game.

I’ll go ahead and blame the two-week FIFA layoff, the unpleasantly hot day, and KC doing just enough to throw the Thorns’ strikers’ eyes out. But I won’t pretend to be happy about it. One of the most critical pieces of the 2020-21 Rebuildening was getting production out of the forwards. That’s not happening.

Mind you…that’s not happening all across the league. Here’s a couple of interesting datasets to contemplate.

First, let’s look at who’s scoring goals for Portland in the Parsons Era. Hint: it’s not forwards.

Since 2015-16 Thorns goals typically come from 1) Sinclair, 2) Nadim, or 3) the midfielders, or they haven’t come from any one player at all. Here’s how they scored ’em:
2016: 38 goals – between them four players had 26 – Nadim (9), Long (6), Sinclair (6), Brynjarsdottir (5). Nobody else with more than 2.
2017: 42 goals – Sinclair (9), Raso (7), Nadim (6), Horan (5), Henry/Sonnett (4) for 31 of them, nobody else with more than 3.
2018: 42 goals – Horan (13), Sinclair (9), Heath (8), Crnogorcevic (5) for 33, nobody else with more than 3
2019: 40 goals – Sinclair (9), Purce (8), Raso (4), Foord/Heath (3) for 23, and a bunch of people with 1s and 2s…

You can call Raso a winger, I suppose, and Purce a forward (tho I’d call her more of a winger, too, at least in ‘19). But over the past four seasons Parsons just didn’t get a crap-ton of production out of his forwards, and of those the only one I’d say he developed – that is, who improved here compared to where she’d been – was Purce. So…yeah, I’m not sure the guy has a gift for strikers.

But here’s another thing to mull over. Here’s the aggregate goals scored in the league over those seasons:
2016: total league goals scored – (263). This was in a 10-team league over a 20-game season, so an average of 1.32 goals/game
2017: (344), 1.43 goals/game over a 24-game season
2018: (268) – this was the year we lost Boston, so it was a 9-team league over a 24-game season, and the average was 1.24 goals/game
2019: (282), still 9 teams, so 1.31 goals/game over 24-game season

Here’s where things get really interesting. At the current scoring pace, here’s the projection for the NWSL in 2021 (10 teams over 24 games: 224 goals), 0.93 goals/game

So it’s not just us and KC; everyone is not scoring. In fact, as frustrating as this early season’s goal-drought has been the Thorns are actually at the moist end of the scoring drought. Orlando is projected WAY ahead of everyone (48), we and The Damned are projected to finish with with 32, Washington and Houston with 24, and Chicago with 20. Four of ten teams are 12 goals or below for the season, with KC finishing with 8.

Worth noting that no NWSL team has ever finished the season in single-digits goals-for. The two worst are Boston in 2016 (14), and Washington in 2018 (12).

By the way…what’s kind of amazing about that Washington 2018 season is that they didn’t take the Spoon that season; their defense wasn’t good (GD -23) but Sky Blue was Peak Crap defending that year, 21 scored but 52 conceded for a -31GD and the lantern rouge.

Even that epic fail has been surmounted, though, in Boston’s 2016 season – 14GF 47GA -33GD, a year of offensive sterility and defensive incompetence so towering that it can only be termed “Homeric”.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook in public domain

What? Oh, sorry. Got lost for a moment there.

Anyway…the Good People won, the Generic People lost, the fans, all 15,000-odd of them, went home happy…so all’s right with the world, yeah?

Well. Sorta. And we’ll talk about that at the end of this piece.


Passing the Passing Test: Either 75.2% (OPTA) or 80% (InStat); another excellent match in possession. The two stats outfits disagreed strongly on how well KC did. OPTA thinks they completed barely more than 62%, which is dire. InStat credits them with 72%; not terrific, but tolerable. Either, though, reflects the problems KC had stringing passes together until late in the second half.

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.


Unsurprising given the match a bunch of Thorns sliced open the KC defense with key passes, Dunn with beauties to Simone Charley including the assist, Sinclair, Westphal with some pretty rainbows including the cross that should have put Portland up a goal in the 6th minute…lots of good going on there.

Rodriguez, in keeping with the sort of day she had, got gonged both directions; her lead pass in the 36th minute nearly put Sinclair in 1v0 but Smith came out strong to take. But her bizarre pass directly to LaBonta at the top of the Thorns’ penalty area was only rescued from being a goal-conceding derp by Salem’s tough block. So…c’mon, Rock. Let’s focus.

Overall, though, a pretty good outing.

Corner Kicks

Per OPTA the Thorns won 11 corners. My notes say that all but one went long into the box. Here they are:

10′KlingenbergLongCleared out to Sauerbrunn who shot way over
13′KlingenbergLongCleared out to Westphal who ALSO shot way over
17′KlingenbergLongReached Horan whose had two shots blocked, cleared
21′KlingenbergShortWent to Salem, whose cross was cleared
26′SalemLongCleared out to Klingenberg, whose put-back was cleared
29′SalemLongCleared to Klingenberg again, her put-pack was cleared again
35′KlingenbergLongCleared but recycled, knocked around the front to Rodriguez whose pass put Sinclair through, but Smith came out well and collected.
52′SalemLongWent to Rodriguez; her header down was blocked and cleared out to Menges, whose poorly-timed tackle sprung Silva to race down alone on Franch – yike!
67′SalemLongCleared but recycled, no shot, finally booted away
76′SalemLongWent to Boureille, whose rainbow was cleared

So nothing productive, really. One good chance off the effort in the 35th minute but not so much from the corner as from the resulting run of play. And one potentially disastrous turnover in the 52nd minute with everyone pushed up for the corner that was averted by a heroic recovery run from Kling.

So not really much of anything from all those set-pieces; KC’s defending wasn’t great in general, but on set-pieces? That had that shit locked down.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook in public domain


Charley (45′ – +10/-5) The Two Faces of Simone Charley: A Photoessay.

Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.

In the 7th minute Crystal Dunn does Crystal Dunn Things; sparking things off, in this case by gaining possession in front of her own goal. She threads a seeing-eye lead pass up to…

Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.

…Simone Charley, who takes off upfield.

Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.
Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.
Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.
Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.
Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.
Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.


Look. Charley isn’t a rookie anymore. Young, yes. But stuff like this, and shanking the free header in the 6th minute? That’s rookie stuff. It’s really time for her to settle into professional maturity and begin getting more rewards for her hard work.

She got the only goal the Thorns needed…this time. But as you could see from the stats page above; one goal from an xG over three? Leaving that kind of production on the table is okay against KC, but Orlando? Carolina? No. That’s not.

Charley is going to have to revisit the summer of 2019 and the glory of her Brief Reign as the Queen of Primetime, half of the boffo Midgey and Charley Show, in another couple of weeks.

Seriously. That needs to happen.

Smith (45′ – +5/-3) Underwhelming as Charley’s replacement, though, and fortunate that her club didn’t need more goals, because Smith’s half-shift produced nothing of any real danger. Lots of what we’ve seen from Smith; lots of action, lots of energy, little or nothing in the way of dangerous chances.

In two weeks she’s going to have to lead or help lead the Thorns attack, so that needs to change.

Sinclair (+5/-3 : +4/-2 : +9/-5) An uncharacteristically weak penalty attempt was the lowlight of her day. Worked hard otherwise, and had some nice half-chances, but had the same problem the rest of the team did; just couldn’t make things happen. Still a big drink-stirring straw, so it’ll be interesting to see what happens after she leaves for the Games. I’ve read some speculation that it might actually spark some energy in the left-behind squad; the rainmaker is gone, we have to make it rain ourselves.

Let’s hope so.

Dunn (68′ – +8/-0 : +4/-1 : +12/-1) The Mistress of the Dark Arts.

Watch, and learn.

Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.

Charley scored, but without Dunn this goal simply doesn’t happen.

Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.
Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.

It takes a big assist from the opposing goalkeeper, though. Smith has been horrific positionally lately and that doesn’t change here.

Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.
Image by CBS. Licensed under Fair Use.

I read a lot of nostalgia for Tobin Heath, the first Thorns Mistress of the Dark Arts. And she is, indeed, a wonderful, creative player.

Dunn has that same twisted genius but always uses it to the Greater Good. She plays with her teammates, not alongside them. Watching Heath break ankles is huge fun. But I’m perfectly happy to see this sort of magic, instead.

Weaver (22′- +3/-0) Same thing as with Smith; lots of effort, little reward. And, as with Smith, pretty soon that’s going to have to change if the Thorns aren’t going to arrive at the beginning of August in deep trouble.

Horan (45′- +5/-1) Much like Sinc, a muted effort. Much like Sinc, good work but not her usual high level of performance. Perhaps the effect of the long absence, perhaps the hangover of the international games, perhaps her mind is on Japan and is already looking ahead? I’m not sure why, but Horan didn’t impose herself on this match as she had against Racing.

She is still going to be a massive missing piece when she’s gone.

Boureille (45′- +4/-0) Stepped in for Horan in the second half and did perfectly fine. The increased effectiveness of the KC midfield showed the difference, though, as well as what we’re likely to see in July.

Salem (+4/-1 : +2/-0 : +6/-1) The quintessential Salem outing; solid, boring, professional. Good work.

Rodriguez (+4/-4 : +4/-1 : +8/-5) Rodriguez, on the other hand, is the anti-Salem. Very professional but not boring and not always solid, either. Her highs are higher – she’s more mobile, she’s more creative, her soccer brain seems bigger. But she can also make some pretty shocking bevues and give up the ball in bad places. Needs to be careful in the box; had several contacts that could have been whistled up for a spot kick; one on Pickett in the 54th minute, another on Edmonds in the 72nd. Got away clean, but…

She’s going to have to be Horan in just a bit, tho, so I hope she’s ready for that. Did just fine last Sunday, but there’s rougher seas ahead.

Sauerbrunn (60′- +0/-2 : +1/-1 : +1/-3) This PMR just feels wrong. I didn’t see Sauerbrunn doing anything appalling. She’s what she always is; solid, professional, well-positioned. One minus is for a poor shot, which really isn’t a defender thing, and another for a heavy touch; I had her with a defensive misplay in the 59th, but that’s all.

One thing with ‘Brunn is that she seldom gets caught 1-v-1; she’s crafty using her teammates and her positioning to avoid getting forced into those “make-a-saving-tackle-or-die” sorts of plays, like the keeper who positioning is so good that she never seems to have to dive and makes everything look boringly routine. So perhaps I’m just not seeing all that subtle goodness. Dunno, but she was good enough to keep the clean sheet, so…

Hubly (30′- +1/-0) Good shift, kept the sheet, just fine.

Menges (+7/-2 : +3/-2 : +10/-4) Looking more and more like her Great Wall self; excellent both in defense and distributing forward.

Klingenberg (+7/-1 : +4/-1 : +11/-2) Outstanding work from the Ageless Wonder. Brilliant service, solid defending including the rocket recovery run on the turnover in the 53rd minute. Despite the goal, I’d call her my Woman of the Match.

Westphal (93′- +9/-1 : +0/-2 : +9/-3) Active and effective in the first half, faded in the second, perhaps due to the heat but perhaps also Huw Williams pulled Laroquette and Scott, who were ineffective, for Silva and Logarzo, who weren’t. Westphal spent a lot of time in the second half fighting off those two, and that left little time for anything else. Fought them to a draw, though, so well done.

Pogarch (2′- no rating) Timewasting.

Franch (+1/-0 : +3/-1 : +4/-1) Had two moments; first in the 61st minute when Bowen looped a shoss that Franch had to get up to ensure clanked off the crossbar and then flop on, then in the 79th when Sinclair’s lazy square pass got hawked by Bowen, whose feed put their Rodriguez in 1v0 and Franch had to make a hockey kick save off the point-blank shot. So got the roses, and a big send-off to Japan.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook in public domain

Coach Parsons: Well, got the job done, coach, and took all the points. Needed a bit o’ luck, didn’t you, though? And your forwards don’t seem to have the Touch, eh? And the Olympic month is going to rapture away your best players, not so?

So…I assume you have a cunning plan all ready for that, right? More cunning than a cunning fox serving as Dean of Cunning at Cunning University, yes? And you also have a brilliant tactical map laid out to hammer the Damned Courage in Cary this weekend so we’re solidly atop the table going into that month, neh?

Well…we’ll see this coming weekend.


John Lawes
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3 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Just Good Enough

  1. In this game, I thought the team, and Parsons, had *bad* luck. They did well to create chances, just poor luck – poor skill? – finishing them. The xG of 3+ with only 1 scored pretty much says that.

    This has to change both in NC and after the internationals leave.

    1. Kinda yes and no. Yes, in that some of the bounces didn’t go their way; Smith did a good job on Sinc’s PK and Charley had a perfect opportunity to feed Sinc for the tap-in and didn’t. But a lot of the “bad luck” was poor coordination or poor finishing, and that’s on the players. Parsons’ plan got them the chances, and they didn’t put them away, and we’ve seen that on-and-off all spring. One match is bad luck; when we see it more often – which we have – that’s…not so much.

      Yes. The Thorns need to storm Cary and take no prisoners. Period.

    2. Well…it didn’t change in Cary. If anything, the coordination and finishing got worse, and the defensive derps were brutal. Christ, the Damned have one effective weapon right now, and you let her get under descending crosses, unmarked, TWICE??? What the fucking fuck?

      This team is in trouble, and I’ll go in depth in my writeup for the road loss.


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