Thorns FC: Jeune École

“The Jeune École (“Young School”) was a strategic naval concept developed during the 19th century. It advocated the use of small, heavily armed vessels to combat larger battleships…”

Wikipedia (2021) (École)

After a dispiriting afternoon in Cary the Thorns waved farewell to five of their starters, off to Japan for the Olympic Games. The left-behinders, a ménage of veteran squad players and young hopefuls, went on to Louisville to play Racing, a team in the process of evolving from the primordial mess we saw – and whipped – here on Matchday 5.

I was worried.

The team that was comprehensively beaten by The Damned Courage had looked primed for implosion; futile, random, and uninspired. I had nightmare visions of the 2015 World Cup collapse; without the old heads, without Captain Sinclair and towering figures like Lindsey Horan and Becky Sauerbrunn, the attack that looked so helpless in Cary would turn hopeless and the defense that was so porous would be burst like a dam failing.

Instead, the reserves and not-internationals put in a solid performance to nick all the road points in beating Racing by two goals and a clean sheet.

Turns out that you can win with “small, young, heavily armed vessels” if you do it right. How ’bout that..?

What didn’t hurt, mind, is that Racing is still not a finished product. Their midfield is junked up with Savannah McCaskill, a place where attacks go to die. Racing’s coaching combine hasn’t figured out how to provide service to their new weapon, Ebony Salmon, who was effectively taken out of the match by a combination of sturdy Portland defending and inept Lousville passing – look at the tale of the tape:

Image by Licensed under Fair Use

That 70% passing from Racing? Grossly padded by the usual back- and lateral-dinks. More often than not a Louisville forward pass went directly to a white shirt, often because that shirt was pasted onto the back of Salmon or Lauren Milliet or Cece Kizer.

We’ll talk about this more in the comment section, but one massive difference was that Portland had Morgan Weaver and Louisville didn’t, at least not until Cheyna Matthews came on in the 74th minute. Weaver didn’t score but did everything else and was a monster in Racing’s backfield, harassing every attempt to play out of the back and breaking up their attacking rhythm.

Now. That said…this was not the sort of domination Portland laid on Louisville three games earlier. Racing was better than they’d been, and for the first half hour the issue was in doubt. But then the Thorns caught a break and a penalty, went up a goal, and forced Racing to chase while the expansion side was still learning to walk this season.

Result? Convincing road win and a hopeful lead into the next two home matches, including a critical one against the now-former league-leading Orlando that currently owns the head-to-head tiebreaker.

Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof; let’s talk about this one.


Passing the Passing Test: One the good side of 78%; excellent, and well played to take advantage of an opponent who couldn’t keep possession.

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.


The players doing the heavy lifting were Weaver, who we’ll go over in her comment, and Rodriguez, who was doing the Horan job and quite effectively, thanks.

Note the amount of white space in the “bad giveaway” column; the Thorns were careful with the ball and Racing was not pressing effectively which let them be careful with the ball. A big part of that was Portland’s team speed, which helped avoid the “getting caught standing around and forced into hasty passes” problem we had in Cary.

Corner Kicks

Eight total; seven long, one short:

4′KlingenbergLongCleared out to Rodriguez, who shanked the volley wide
14′SalemLongBetos boxed away to Boureille, passed wide to Klingenberg who injured her ankle and lost possession
23′SalemLongOn Boureille’s head but her header went wide
28′SalemLongBounced in the box, Rodriguez gained possession but was hacked down by Nagasato for the penalty; goal, Thorns
44′KlingenbergLongInitially cleared but repeatedly recycled, finally ended up on Charley’s head and from there right to Betos
51′KlingenbergShortTo Salem and from there to Menges, whose long cross went right onto Charley’s head and this time from there into goal, nil-2 Portland
76′SalemLongPart of a long spell of possession around Racing’s goal; cleared initially but only to Weaver whose shot was blocked to Rodriguez whose shot was also blocked out for another corner
77′SalemLongCleared out to Ryan, who looped a gorgeous little rainbow pass to Hubly; Hubs rushed the goal and was barely blocked by Betos and a pile of defenders, and the loose ball was cleared onto Weaver’s chest! The blast was too powerful to control, though, and Racing cleared their lines

So both Portland goals came from corner kicks; the first directly from a foul in the box, the second from a nice run of play and a seeing-eye bloop. Throw in the chaos in the 76th minute and the attempts off the last two corners of the first half and Portland was “dangerous on set-pieces” in Louisville.

Dangerous? As all Hell, yeah. Good work, Thorns

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook in public domain.


Charley (71′ – +3/-2 : +3/-1 : +6/-1) Simone Charley always seems to work her tail off. I like that in a player; hard work often brings rewards. The thing with Carley’s work is that is seems as often as not to be the sort of work that resembles trying to knock down a door by hitting it with your head.

It can happen, but…damn. It sure looks painful.

She did score the matchwinner this time, so at least all that hard work was rewarded. I’ll let her and you decide whether that was a brilliantly weighted header or a case of being there when she got hit in the head by the ball. Hey, whatever works, right?

Couple of things to mention while I’m here.

First, for all that the young school seem to have learned their lessons well, there’s one they still haven’t; supporting each other in attack. Way too often Charley’s runs forward looked like this:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

This is a coaching issue. Parsons has got to emphasize attacking as a group. We’re apes, goddamn it, not tigers. We swarm our prey, not stalk it. Work together and succeed; work alone and fail. C’mon. It’s really that simple.

Second; during and after the match I read a lot of griping about referee Karen Callado letting rough stuff against Thorns go. Well…we should be kinda thankful she was tolerant of thumping play, because this…

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

…was a legitimate shout for Callado to whistle this play dead before the penalty. Emily Fox was going for the ball to clear it and Charley either “brushed up against her” (our version) or “fucking flat ran her over”, which is what Coach Holly was clearly bitching to the fourth official about to the point where he saw yellow.

That call could easily have gone against Charley. Sometimes lucky is as good as good, though, so…

Smith (19′ – +3/-2) Given her recent injury struggles it was good to see Sophia Smith active and on the pitch. It was a fairly minor-key performance, but hopefully it will lead to bigger and better minutes over the next month.

Weaver (+10/-5 : +15/-4 : +25/-9) Woman of the Match, in a “towered over everyone like Gojira over Tokyo Bay” kind of way. Did everything, and at twice the pace of everyone around her. Woman has an engine on her like a freaking F1 race car.

One thing that one of the older heads need to help her with, though – her decision-making. Here’s her 22nd minute attack.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

It begins in classic Weaver fashion; a steaming run up the touchline at Erin Simon and then a sudden turn inside and burst of acceleration that leaves Simon trudging behind.

The trouble comes when Weaver reaches the top corner of the Racing box. Having just complained about the Thorns not supporting their forwards, here I see that Weaver has a plethora of options:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

She’s got Marissa Everett to her immediate right with a sweet space of open green between the Racing centerbacks just aching to be sprinted onto a through ball in.

There’s Charley running back post for a lofted cross and a bloop header (we hope..!).

And if Weaver is feeling less ambitious there’s a square ball to Celeste Boureille or Raquel Rodriguez at the top of the penalty arch.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Weaver takes the shot instead, which Michelle Betos has covered like a blanket.

In this case, though, it almost paid off; Betos surprisingly mishandled and Everett was crashing the box (Yes! Crash the box! That’s the spirit!) and damn near put the rebound away but for Betos getting down strong.

I think Weaver has goals in her. And even without them, she tore it up in Louisville. But part of her growth as a player means learning to use her teammates to score and using them to feed her. Apes, remember? We’re stronger as a tribe than we are as individuals. As strong and fast as you are, Morgan Weaver, you’re stronger still when you combine with your team.

Everett (55′ – +7/-1 : +2/-0 : +9/-1) Damn near got the matchwinner as discussed above, and was good trouble all evening, especially forechecking. Between her and Weaver many Racing attack ships were sunk at their moorings. Damn well done, young padawan.

Ryan (35′ – +7/-4) Another good shift from the draftee, including the sweet little rainbow in the 77th minute that put Hubly in on goal. One thing I appreciate about Ryan is that – especially for a rook – she has a velvet touch on the ball. A lot of our young players tend to kind of beef the ball around (Weaver is one of the main culprits here) but Ryan is deft, surprisingly so for such a green shoot.

Rodriguez (+7/-2 : +6/-0 : +13/-2) Comfortably converted from the penalty spot (she might have a quiet word with Captain Sinc when the latter returns with her traditional bronze medal…) and was effective controlling the midfield all evening. One of the better outings I’ve seen from her and a calming presence when the team needed it.

Salem (83′ – +3/-3 : +5/-0 : +8/-3) Another piece of the solid midfield play that helped keep the boot on Racing’s neck. Salem has developed into half of a corner-kick partnership with Klingenberg that produced the outstanding results for this match, anyway, and hopefully will continue going forward.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Moultrie (7′ – +3/-2) Oh. My. Fucking. God. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen as much squeeeeeing over a single player since Amandine Henry arrived here. You’d think Olivia Moultrie was the second coming of Marta, Alex Morgan, and Pele all rolled into one teenage package.

Speaking of “teenage”…here’s the Chosen One standing next to 33-year-old, 5 foot 6 inch, twenty year veteran Yuki Nagasato:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

This is not your basic high school sophomore. For all the coverage has been focused on her age, it’s her size that makes her fit in among the other pros. I still think she may have development issues – for every Ellie Carpenter there’s an Alex Nimo – but physically? She’s comfortably within the parameters of an NWSL player.

And so was her tiny shift at the end of the Louisville match. Nothing spectacularly good, nothing spectacularly bad, just decent squad-player-type play. Made a bad pass, picked out Smith nicely with a good one…welcome, Livy, to professional soccer, the cruelest of games. Good luck. You’ll need it.

Boureille (+4/-2 : +2/-2 : +6/-4) This is becoming a theme for this game; “good shift, well played, solid outing”. And that really was the story of this one; the Thorns weren’t beasts, Racing wasn’t overrun, but the left-behinders did the work they needed to get the result, and did.

Kuikka (71′ – +5/-5 : +7/-2 : +12/-7) Natalia Kuikka had a better night than her PMR suggests, largely because the bulk of Racing’s dangerous attack came through Fox and Kizer up her flank, and she had to spend a lot of time dealing with them.

Still tends to make big mistakes, though, mistakes that Westphal typically does not, like heading a “clearance” down off Menges to give up a point-blank shot in the 1st minute, or getting caught out of position in the 34th minute and letting Kizer through, or getting spun by Nagasato to give Racing an opportunity that damn near gave up the equalizer in the 46th minute. Needs to cut down on those to pass Westphal on the depth chart. She’s becoming the Sonnett of 2021; 89 minutes of quality and a brainfart. I have no idea why. Should be better than this.

Westphal (19′ – +1/-1) Quiet, effective, saw out the win, so good shift.

Menges (+4/-1 : +3/-1 : +7/-1) “Head the ball down off your teammate and give the opponent an opportunity” was kind of a Thorns defensive unit thing in this game. Menges’ turn to do this was in the 50th minute during a terrifying thirty seconds that included that boo-boo, a Hubly headed “clearance” that went straight up and straight down followed by Hubly booting the ball off Menges’ leg…fortunately into a frantic Bella Bixby’s arms.

Jesus, my blood pressure. C’mon, gang. Boring, okay? Boring is good.

But…she’s also Emily Menges, so she bags an assist on the Charley Bloop and makes this incredible run in the 45th minute to haul down Milliet like a cheetah taking down a gazelle. I love Menges because she does this stuff all the time like any old defender could do it. She’s a hell of a player. But.

Boring. Boring! Okay? Seriously.

Hubly (+4/-1 : +3/-1 : +7/-2) Other than the moment of panic described above Kelli Hubly did just fine. She’s not Sauerbrunn, but she’s been strong enough to fill in decently. She does need to not have another grotesque mistake like the one in Orlando; that was what held her back for so long and is still troubling. But unless she does…she’ll do.

Klingenberg (84′ – +6/-4 : +1/-0 : +7/-4) Kling’s importance to this team was driven home in the 14th minute when she came off the field with what looked like a match-ending ankle injury.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Immediately the Thorns defense looked less sturdy and the attack lost steam. These are my match notes from that period; the typed additions are comments for this post:

Luckily for the Thorns, Kling is tough as nails. Also luckily for the Thorns, she’s the force behind the team on the pitch, the animating spirit that drives the club forward.

Image by Portland Thorns FC

We’re going to need all of that for the next month or so, so I’m glad she’s here.

Pogarch (6′ – +4/-1) Good work in a short shift.

Bixby (+2/-1 : +1/-1 : +3/-2) Picked right up where she left off, generally untroubled and up to the challenge when she was. Controlled her penalty area well and came out aggressively to take Racing crosses and corners to cut down their chances.

Had two scary moments.

First in the 42nd minute when she dinked a lazy pass that Salmon nearly hawked, but Hubly picked up the loose ball and bailed Bixby out. Second in the 75th, when McCaskill and Matthews worked a pretty one-two up the Thorns left side that put McCaskill at the twenty-five yard line or so with the ball at her feet. Bixby must have thought her shot was going well wide, because although she went to her right she left it go – no question she could have taken it easily – and instead it clanked off the post. Out instead of in, luckily, but not a good idea to let that one go by.

Still. Good match and a promising reminder that Bixby has the right stuff.

Coach Parsons: Credit where it’s due; had a big challenge – replacing the internationals and recovering from the tough loss in Cary – and rose to it. Needed a solid performance from his left-behinders and got it. Needed a road win and got that, too.

Now the reward for good work is what it always is; more work. In this case, a pair of home matches against Gotham (without Lloyd) and Orlando (without Morgan and Marta et al) and another on the road to Houston (without Daly and Chapman and Mewis…).

But the first step is always the hardest, and the manager did what he needed to make sure that last Saturday it was his young team that made the stride and it was Racing that faceplanted.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Let’s keep that going forward.

John Lawes
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9 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Jeune École

  1. Great analysis John. I didn’t think Racing were better in this one watching it, but I will take your word for it and the data shows that they were. I think I may have been expecting more from Racing since they were playing against a diminished Thorns team, on their own field, without a trip from hell to Portland and with the addition of young Ebony Salmon. But given all they had going for them in this match; yes, great job by the Thorns.
    And yes, Weaver had a great game she is a beast. I was also thinking during the game that Everett is much more than a poacher she has some technical ability.
    The player that reminds me of Sonnett is Pogarch. Pogarch is not as technical as Sonnett, but she is faster. But like Sonnett, she is a riverboat gambler and a bit of a character. I like to watch her play.
    Smith looked a bit rusty and my worries about her durability are beginning to rear up again. Call me a worrier. Those worries were allayed for a while because she is solidly built. But maybe her aggressiveness gets her dinged up. Ryan continues to impress.
    Now that the Courage have lost Williams and Debinha, just maybe that will change the table a little, but the obvious question is who will beat them? They were the better team against Orlando, but not by much. I think Gotham will continue to be tough because of fewer losses of Nationals. I can’t figure what is going on with the Spirit. Houston is going to be hammered by the loss of so many Nats. As for the Thorns; Well to paraphrase you…. the kids are going to be just fine.

    1. I know it’s hard to remember, but the Racing we saw in Louisville was head-and-shoulders above the one was saw here. Here’s what I wrote about that game:

      “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. 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.”

      Yeah, they were that bad. They’re getting better, but they still have a LOT of issues.

      Point is…so did we, in Cary, and the Thorns we saw last weekend were a LOT better, too!

      I’d like to see Smith go for a while without getting hurt. She’s starting to give me a “Mal Pugh/Rose Lavelle” vibe. I hope I’m being paranoid.

      The thing to remember is that this was just one game. It was a pleasant surprise for me because I thought that Cary was a potential harbinger of bad times to come. But we just saw the first of four or five outings where this group will have to win. Can they? I’m more confident now than I was. But let’s see what happens over the next two weeks.

    2. Interesting.

      I wrote this before I looked at Henderson’s Twitter. He usually posts the InStat summaries he gets. He posted the one for the Louisville match and the results are interesting; the comrades agree with you – they think Racing was still pretty bad. Their collective Index for Louisville on Matchday 5 was 167. For this past match? 165.

      It was the THORNS they thought looked worse; the Index for Portland was 212 for the first game, only 197 for the second.

      Same thing with xG; they have Portland with 3 and Racing with 0.28 for the first game, Portland with 2.2, Racing with 0.93 for the second.


  2. I should probably check the history books before saying this, but I feel like the Thorns 2nd string always does well when the nats are away, particularly for the longer stretches associated with Olympic and World Cup years. Even against teams that are much less depleted (or not at all, as the announcers kept pointing out on Sunday). I couldn’t be prouder of how much they stepped up.
    A few rapid fire thoughts:
    1. Smith’s durability. I’d be curious as to her minutes played/possible ratio since joining the team.
    2. Couldn’t agree more regarding Simone – if there is a single player who embodies the frustrating way the Thorns are playing these days it would be she.
    3. Moultrie exceed expectations for me – granted, I expected her to play, at best, like a typical rookie getting her first minutes, and this didn’t happen. Instead I saw a fair amount of field awareness, calmness on the ball, and team oriented play. She had a few chances to make the wrong decision (one in particular where she could have gone for a shot that had little chance of success) and didn’t. So, I’m cautiously optimistic on her future with us.
    4. Weaver – while I’ve always liked her, I’ve been waiting for the game that demonstrates her quality as deserving of a #2 draft pick. Sunday was that game…and more.

    1. We have a total of three data points for this.
      In 2015 the World Cup was from 6/5/15 to 7/6/15, and IIRC the Nats left in May. The Thorns went 1-6-2 between mid-May and the end of July, the worst stretch of the season, and it cost Paul Riley his job.

      In 2016 the Olympic Games ran from 8/3/16 to 8/19/16, and, again, the Nats left in July even though they returned early, Sinc played in the bronze match. The Thorns went 2-3-0 from early July to the end of August; again, the worst stretch in the Shield season (in fact, the three losses were the only games PTFC lost all season).

      In 2019 the World Cup ran from 6/7/19 to 7/7/19, with the Nats leaving in May again. During the period from the end of May to the end of July the Thorns went 5-1-3, the best they’ve ever done during an international tournament. That was the Brief Reign of Queen Midge, the run of the Midgey and Charley Show. But…when the Nats returned they were gassed, and the team collapsed in Black Autumn, going 4-5-2 after August 3rd, including the semifinal.

      In 2021 we’re 1-0-0. So…that’s good. We’ll have to see if we can maintain this altitude.

      The team has played 8 matches. Smith missed two completely, the first Louisville game and Carolina away. She was dressed for the remaining 6, playing 337 of the possible 720 minutes, so about 47% of possible. The closest she’s come to a full match as at Gotham where she played 89 minutes. She played just over an hour against Chicago on Matchday 1, and that’s the best she’s done for the other six; she didn’t see the field against OLR in May or Orlando. Yeah…that’s troubling.

      2. Yep.

      3. I don’t know why she seems to have been either hyped or downrated. She’s been practicing with the team off-and-on for two years, she’s big and strong, she seems to be well above where a U-16 player would typically be…so, yeah. She’s a promising rook. Where she goes from here? It’s now in her and the club’s, and the Soccer Gods hands. We’ll see.

      Here’s Weaver’s PMRs over the six matches I’ve rated her (I missed OLR here and Orlando away):

      So a couple of things stand out from that:
      1) Weaver has been playing very well this season, and
      2) This past match was a massive positive outlier, something like 150% of her typical pluses. The net (plus18) was close to her mean, and it’ll be interesting to see if this is her new mean, or she regresses to her high – but nowhere near THAT high – mean going forward.

      Regardless, she had a monster of a match. Well done.

      1. Appreciate the follow-up with hard data…to that end, I’d love to see a post, or discussion, on the subject of getting good raw data on NWSL (with International Women’s soccer as a bonus) programmatically…ideally at a consumer appropriate rate. I went down this rabbit hole last year after my wife (academic researcher & SPSS guru) and one of the Equalizer guys got into a discussion about her contributing some content. I setup a few R connections to various published datasets, but never found anything even close to complete and reliable. I then tried (via free trial) In-Stat Scout and (I think) Data Bomb…and realized that unless I was willing to shell out some $ consistently I wouldn’t be able to build any sort of reliable dataset. And thus the idea withered…but I find myself constantly envious of the great stats you’re able to produce each week (and in response to posts).

        What would obviously be super useful is a comprehensive set of raw data published in an open service like AWS Data Exchange or Data World, but I’d guess that doing this would violate all kinds of use agreements with the providers.

        1. I’ve been wrestling with that problem for years. In 2018, the year I wrote for Stumptown, I approached OPTA to discuss getting a couple of datasets just for the Thorns. I don’t recall but I think they included heat maps, pass and shot diagrams (some of the things that OPTA provides at the league site, although I note with irritation that the heat maps which you used to get are now gone…) and was quoted five figures – well out of reach for a hobbyist.

          I then got in touch with InStat and got comped data for that year and ONLY that year; when I still thought there was a chance I’d get picked up the following year I asked SB Nation to front up the $500 that InStat asked for and was told that I was welcome to start a fucking GoFundMe if that’s what I wanted but that SB Nation – the home of the Monetized Soccer Site, mind you – couldn’t come up with a sorry five hundred bucks for the best available data.

          So I’m back to scrounging what I can find off the league site and various other places on the ‘Net. It’s deeply frustrating when I let it frustrate me. But the other options are simply too expensive for a non-professional.

        2. One way to do this on the downlow would be to crowdsource it; get together groups of fans for each team to watch the replays and track things like player positions, actions on the field…it’d take a ton of people – you can realistically only track one or two, maybe three players over the course of a match, or you’d have to view the same match multiple times to track more than that – and a lot of coordination. I’m not sure if there’s enough interest to make that happen.

          Otherwise it’s always going to be expensive, because the outfits like OPTA and InStat have to pay people to do that and need to cover their costs…

  3. First off, let me say think you again John for all the work you do here. It’s great to read your pieces and see the stats.

    Second, I’m surprised about Everett. Watching the game I thought she was pretty ineffective with the ball, epitomized by her miss in front of goal, but I wasn’t paying much attention to her high-press defense. Guess she’s pretty good at it!

    Third, didn’t we also play some games in the Challenge Cup this year without the nats? IIRC, we did pretty well in those games.

    Go Thorns!


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