After a pleasantly surprising road win in Louisville the Thorns returned to the Left Coast to host the surprisingly annoying Gotham. The ungrateful visitors used a combination of sturdy defending, decent goalkeeping (from their backup, Didi Haracic), and piss-poor Portland finishing to grab a scoreless draw and road point and scamper away, probably still pissing and moaning about the officiating.
(In their defense, center referee Tori Penso really was dire, perhaps most shockingly so between the 72nd and 82nd minutes, when she 1) turned a painfully obvious Gotham corner into a Portland goal kick, and 2) turned an Olivia Moultrie takeout slide into Allie Long into a foul by Long, which resulted in tart dry Harry Whine that could be heard by dogs all over southwest Portland.)
Don’t get me wrong; I sip the draft of Long rage-tears like a vintage. But Gotham did have a point; Penso had an off day and the visitors largely came off the worse for it.
Portland was frsutrated, too, and certainly not the first Gotham opponent to come off the pitch frustrated. The really frustrating thing for Portland supporters, though, was that the Thorns created a ridiculous bucketful of chances – more than a goal-and-a-half’s-worth – and couldn’t finish a damn one of them.
Take this 28th minute attack, for example. Raquel Rodriguez pushes the ball up to Marissa Everett, who sends a gorgeous ball through to put a running Morgan Weaver in 1v0 on Haracic.
Weaver has Haracic dead to rights. She can do a Di Maria and flick a sweet little chip over the keeper…
…or Weaver can bluff the shot, force Haracic to go to ground, and then dribble around her.
Worst case? Haracic has to tackle her and draws the foul and the PK.
Instead, Weaver tries to five-hole Haracic, who gets down quickly and blocks the ball away.
How about you, Simone Charley, put through in the 53rd minute by another sleek Everett pass! You gonna chip that keeper?
Or are you going to put your head down and try and blast it through Haracic like the way the cannonball goes through Yosemite Sam in a Bugs Bunny cartoon?
Hint; real life isn’t like a fucking Bugs Bunny cartoon.
When the Thorns weren’t failing to show clever ball skills whilst playing direct, they showed that they don’t seem to do a lot of give-and-goes or short runs into the box off defenders’ shoulders, either. The Thorns’ deliberate attack seems to involve a lot of…standing around waiting for something to happen.
Here’s just one example, from the 34th minute. It starts with Rodriguez in possession at the top of the Gotham box.
Typical slow developing Portland “deliberate attack” situation, right? Gotham holding the offside trap line along the top edge of their box, Thorns attackers pushed up right against that line with a couple of distributors at the top of midfield.
How can Rodriguez make something out of this?
Well…she and Angela Salem could play a run-and-quick diagonal pass as Everett and Celeste Boureille break for the goal to take the through-ball in stride. Or…
…maybe Natalie Kuikka and Charley could make darting diagonal runs to draw defenders as Rodriguez loops a pass into a running Weaver’s head at the back post.
…maybe Salem and Rocky could just pass back and forth while everyone else stands around. Until Charley takes a wide pass and makes a run up the touchline, turns inside, manages to break through two defenders only to find that the Gotham defense has collapsed towards their goal as the Thorns advance slowly, so when Charley puts in a cross it’s cleared quickly away to safety.
This is a coaching issue.
You play the way you train. So if the Thorns non-Route-One attack consists of lots of people standing there dinking passes back and forth…
…which it often does – you’ll note the small number of people in black who aren’t jogging or even walking slowly in the screenshot above – instead of people running to space and other people pinging quick passes to those runners, it’s because that’s how those players trained.
When a player with an option to use a ball skill, like chipping or quick touches around an opponent, chooses instead to blast a direct shot? It’s because that’s how that player trained.
And, as often as not, how that player was coached in training, because that’s who sets the training standards. The coaches.
If the Thorns attack lacks rapid movement and passing? That’s because the Thorns haven’t trained on rapid movement and passing; that sort of coordination doesn’t just emerge on matchday. It’s the result of hours and hours of practicing those moves and passes on the training ground. If it’s not there on the matchday pitch it’s because it wasn’t there on the practice field, either.
The Thorns squad as it stands today has two forms of attack; long direct balls to running forwards – usually Charley and Weaver – and a slow, deliberate, static pass-progression that tries to work the ball around the top or side of the opponent’s box before lofting in a cross or trying to force a pass into traffic.
The absurd thing is that the player-quality that Portland has allows this stuff to work as often as not! We’re top of the league for goals-scored alongside the Damned Courage. We can still score goals when things go absolutely right, as we often do against poorer opponents.
But when those attacks come up against an opponent that can deal with them, as Gotham did last Sunday or as Carolina did two weeks ago, they go nowhere, and so they didn’t in Cary and so they didn’t last Sunday.
I realize that these are First World Problems. The Thorns are a comfortable third, level on points with the teams above them, and with a game in hand on Orlando. The defending has been mostly, and we’ll talk about that in the centerbacks’ comments, excellent, and the club has been, mostly, winning the winnable matches.
It just chips at me that there seems to be another level right there, waiting to be unlocked, with the right combination of hard work, guile, and skills. And it’s games like this one, where that shiny loot crate is right there for the taking and isn’t taken, that chips out another damn piece of my expectations.
Passing the Passing Test: About 75%; decent, and better than Gotham’s very marginal 73%.
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.
Four players were excellent with the ball against Gotham: Weaver, who continued her excellent run of form in passing along with everything else (outside of scoring…); Everett, who had three insanely good “key passes”, the two we’ve already talked about plus a second lead pass that put Charley on goal in the 36th minute; Celeste Boureille, who had a quietly effective afternoon, and Rodriguez, with several dangerous passes including a 67th minute feed to Smith that should have resulted in a better shot.
Kuikka had a very good match overall but was a trifle sloppy in passing forward. Klingenberg continued her run of very muted passing; the Kling of “diming people left and right” seems to have taken a vacation.
Weird; just like Louisville – eight total; seven long, one short:
|1′||Salem||Long||Drifted far outside the box, Klingenberg looped back in, but dinked around and eventually cleared out|
|13′||Klingenberg||Long||To Rodriguez whose weak header was cleared out for another corner|
|14′||Salem||Long||Fell into a crowd in front of goal and eventually to Hubly, who hit a good shot that Haracic dove hard to her left and saved and then was cleared out to Charley who won a free kick; that was cleared out to Kuikka, whose looping cross Haracic took|
|28′||Klingenberg||Short||Out to Menges, whose pass reached Weaver only to be tackled away|
|30′||Klingenberg||Long||Again to Rodriguez’ head, but the short header was easily cleared|
|35′||Salem||Long||Immediately cleared and hit Boureille in the hand, free kick Gotham.|
|54′||Klingenberg||Long||Quickly cleared away|
|70′||Klingenberg||Long||To Rodriguez, whose strong header was well over the bar; should have done better with the free header|
Several half-chances and one very good one, the 14th minute shot that Haracic did really well to save. Rodriguez was in her Lindsey Horan get-into-the-box-on-setpieces mode but not in her Lindsey Horan scoring mode; had three headers, two were poor and the third, while powerful, was way off target.
Just like the rest of Portland’s attack, the corners couldn’t produce a result.
PLAYER RATINGS AND COMMENTS
Charley (57′ – +4/-5 : +1/-1 : +5/-4) What does your opponent have to do, Si-money? Invite you to sit down and have some nice kombucha and score a goal? Christ, Gotham almost did. In the fourth minute you bored in and created what is, apparently, a Gotham fan meme; “Haracic-makes-her-once-a-game-massively-ridiculous-error”.
The ball ran a bit long, but this is where you needed the skill to turn on it and snap a shot past Haracic:
She’s beat, and you have an open goal at your mercy if you can just turn on the ball right now!
But you couldn’t. By the time you had the ball underfoot Haracic was back in position. You had no help (hmmm…familiar theme there…) so all you could do was try and chip her, round her, or blast it through her.
The chip was pretty tight – Haracic had that covered – so at least you tried to round her, but Haracic had gotten past her oopsie moment and dove strong to take the ball off your feet.
Follow this with all the other futility, and…
The problem is that there’s no obvious “better option” than Charley right now. Weaver has similar strengths and, as of now, similar weaknesses. Smith seems to be struggling with both fitness and form. Everett looks increasingly like a provider instead of a scorer. Lussi is injured and wasn’t effective when she was healthy.
So Charley is going to have to lead the line until the internationals return. Which means, simply put, that she needs to be better than this.
Smith (33′ – +7/-3) As noted above; still struggling. Lots of energy, had some good ideas, but clearly missed being on the field with her teammates, because her timing was just that much off theirs. Hopefully is rounding back to fitness, because she needs more minutes to see if she’s the answer to the Scoring Problem.
Weaver (+6/-1 : +8/-4 : +14/-5) My pick for Woman of the Match for the second match in a row. We’ve already discussed her strengths and weaknesses to death, so as with Smith, the real question is whether she can make a big jump up in form, and how soon.
Everett (68′ – +2/-1 : +3/-1 : +5/-2) Both Everett’s shots were off target, and other than those her threat to the Gotham goal was all but invisible. But, as discussed in the passing segment, she was a monster in distribution. Is that her role? If so, she needs help from her teammates to turn those lovely passes into goals.
Moultrie (22′ – +2/-2) My pal Richard will talk about this more in this week’s podcast, but, given the long discursion we had about training, he was really disappointed to see Moultrie stand around uselessly rather than make a crashing near-post run towards Smith’s 76th minute cross. As Richard pointed out; Moultrie is the rookiest of rooks. Her actions on the field are – must be – more strongly directed by her coach’s training than any of her teammates.
That she didn’t automatically follow the ball into the goalmouth? That’s not a good sign.
Boureille (56′ – +3/-1 : +5/-0 : +8/-1) Another solid match from CelBee.
Ryan (34′ – +3/-3) Did a decent job in relief of Boureille.
Rodriguez (+3/-1 : +4/-2 : +7/-3) Probably should have done better given the opportunities she had with headers, especially in the 70th minute. Fine passing and good tackling and marking.
Salem (83′ – +5/-2 : +2/-2 : +7/4) Generally a good match; should have been tighter on Soo-Dam Lee in the 59th minute when the Gotham midfielder had an open crack at goal and fortunately for Portland fired over the bar, but other than that, did well enough at her job of keeping Gotham off the scoreboard.
Westphal (7′ – +0/-1) Not a factor.
Klingenberg (83′ – +5/-3 : +2/-1 : +7/-4) Good shot in the 13th minute that forced yet another good save from Haracic, and kept Purce largely in check all match, not always an easy task. Probably that was why she was less involved in the attack than usual.
Pogarch (7′ – +2/-0) Presumably to inject some fresh legs, but had little or no impact.
Hubly (+5/-1 : +2/-2 : +7/-3) Okay, so, you and Menges need to have a discussion about this little problem that Mr. Vizzini will explain to you:
Because we did this in the Chaos Cup Final and damn near paid for it, so what did you and your partner Emily Menges do in the 81st minute of this one?
Without the help of Ms. Left Post and Onumonu’s utter inability to put a header on frame this would have been a very ugly end to a very sad tale. C’mon, centerbacks; 90 plus minutes of vigilance. That’s not a big ask.
Menges (+2/-6 : +3/-0 : +5/-6) Menges’ PMR is deceptive, because defensively she had a good match (other than the Iffy header thing…). Her minuses are nearly all – five of six – for poor passing, including some dangerous near-goal giveaways. Tightened up in the second half.
Kuikka (+6/-3 : +6/-2 : +12/-5) Best of the defenders against Gotham on both sides of the ball. Terrific tackle off Onumonu’s feet in the 44th minute to prevent a pointblank shot. Beginning to look like the player we worked so hard to get.
Bixby (+1/-1 : +3/-0 : +4/-1) Not nearly as troubled as Haracic, but came up big in the 73rd minute on a nasty low shot to her right, and came out strong to cover the Onumonu rebound off the post in the 81st minute.
Coach Parsons: If the coach gets the credit for figuring out what it took to win in Louisville he has to take at least part of the blame for failing to find a key to Gotham here. Things like give-and-goes, overlaps, movement to space, quick pace and passing…those are all coaching things, and the coach gets credit if they work and blame if not.
The home draw was disappointing, but coming up is a match that is more than just a want-to. If the Thorns want to avoid a first-round playoff match they need to beat Orlando to wipe out the tiebreaker that the Pride now hold. That means coming up with plans to 1) score, and 2) keep the boot on Leroux and Korneick.
Let’s see if he and his club can do that.