Thorns FC: Thirty-two Seconds

Since it’s Thorns tradition to struggle in the dog’s-mouth humid misery of Houston but come away with results last Saturday’s one-goal win fit right in.

The only sparkling new thing to come away from the slog was a quickest-goal record; Sophia Smith’s 1st minute strike that beat by one second a Jess McDonald 33rd-second goal that had held up for the previous six years.

Other than that?

Well, for about an hour the traffic was all Portland’s way; the Thorns pressed high, forced turnovers, kept the ball in Houston’s end or at least on the far side of midfield and looked the better team. Here’s the “xG race” chart:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

Houston had a single decent opportunity in the first half, a Veronica Latsko free header in the box that was put wide left. The Thorns didn’t do much, either, but they had the lead and were doing well keeping their boot on Houston’s neck.

Until the hour.

Here’s my notes for this match; Thorns significant actions on the left, Houston’s on the right.

Notice the left side after the Hubly yellow card in the 63rd minute..?

Lots of white space. Not much going on there, is there?

Every so often we comment about the contrast between Paul Riley’s obsession with fitness and Mark Parsons’…well, not so much obsession with fitness.

But sometimes the lack of fitness of his Thorns teams sort of jumps up and kicks us in the face. At the hour mark the Thorns just ran out of gas and hit the wall, the heat and humidity dropped them in their boots, and Houston kind of ran wild on the Thorns end of the pitch, culminating in this:

Image by Paramount +. Licensed under Fair Use.

That’s Jasmyne Spencer missing a sitter in the 95th minute that would have pulled Houston level and broken a lot of Thorns’ hearts.

What’s interesting about the match is that while Dror saw the Thorns as comfortably making more chances…

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

…the InStat tovarisches of Chris Henderson’s Twitter didn’t; in fact, the boys from Moscow thought that Houston created more than Portland did, they just didn’t finish anything.

But that’s the point; chances unfinished mean nothing. In real life Spencer missed, the Smith goal stood up, and Portland took home all the points and a comfy spot on top of the table. Yay, Thorns.


Passing the Passing Test: One thing the Thorns did much better was passing; 80%, and much better than Houston’s meager 73%, a factor that led directly to Houston’s failure in front of goal. Way too many Houston “attacks petered out in a poor final pass or cross.

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.


Everett with more good service, obviously including the assist. Rodriguez was in good form, as well, and Klingenberg, although not as prolific as she has been, was deadly when she was, including a sweet 46th minute service to Smith that Smith chested down into Rodriguez’ path for the crossbar-rattler that was a close as the Thorns came to a second.

We’ll discuss this in her comment, but Simone Charley needs to work on her connections to her teammates. She gets herself in terrific positions, but as or more often than not her team doesn’t profit from that.

Corner Kicks

The Thorns managed only four corner kicks in this match, another reflection of the way the attack was running after Smith’s goal. Contrast that to Houston, who worked nine of the sonsofbitches, damn near all of them in the second half

13′SalemLongCurled out to the top of the 18, where Kling lobbed it into the pack and it bounced onto Kuikka’s feet. Kuikka shoved it to Hubly who was in position for a pointblank shot, but Harris came out strong and snatched up the ball.
51′SalemLongWent over everyone to an unmarked Boureille, whose shot was blocked out wide. Kling gained possession and was fouled near the 22 yardline, but her subsequent free kick sailed over the byline.
55′SalemLongDropped to the near post, where Everett was waiting, but Harris got up over Everett’s head to box over the byline.
56′SalemLongCleared out to Smith, who took a touch and turned nicely but her shot was barely wide of the left post.

For all the paucity the Thorns actually got decent half-chances off three of the four corners; Kuikka-to-Hubly was thwarted only by Harris’ quick feet, Boureille had a nice crack, and the Smith shot was a good one.

So not a bad result from Salem’s service.

Image by Paramount+ Licensed under Fair Use, and largely for the “OMFG this is SO miserable how can you stand it?” towel-on-the-head look from Sophia Smith


Charley (71′ – +4/-4 : +5/-0 : +9/-4) As usual, Si-money worked her tail off. Unfortunately also as usual didn’t have much to show for it.

Here’s a perfect example; late in first half injury time Charley – who though lacking Weaver’s hemi-powered engine is still a hard worker – makes a run deep down Houston’s right flank. She’s well covered, though.

Image by Paramount+ Licensed under Fair Use.

She doesn’t have a lot of help – Smith is trailing near the arch, but nobody else is close – and so she tries a speculative cross that clanks off Haley Hanson and out for a throw (which ended harmlessly).

But what if Charley had been a bit more patient? What if she’d pulled the ball back and cut inside Hanson – in other words, done the sort of thing that Weaver or Smith do routinely?

By then Smith would have arrived, and…

Image by Paramount+ Licensed under Fair Use

…Charley could feed her and then loop around to provide a square or a drop, or draw the defense. At least, likely produced something more dangerous than a throw-in.

I like a lot of what Charley does. I love her energy – her 55th minute run was spectacular; damn near the length of the pitch, outsprinting every defender that had been up for the corner as well as almost all those who hadn’t to win a Thorns corner – but it’s time for her to add some craft and guile to her skillset. We’ve already got a wrecking ball in Morgan Weaver. Si-money needs to become the clever partner, not the strong one.

Ryan (10′ – +1/-0) Came on for Charley in the 71st minute, picked up a knock before she’d had a chance to do anything of note, and came off for Meaghan Nally in the 81st minute. Unfortunate, and hopefully she’s not badly dinged up; she’s looked very promising.

Nally (10′ – +2/-1) Not a bad little shift. Had some clever passes, including a sweet 87th minute feed that Christen Westphal really should have done better with.

Everett (81′ – +2/-3 : +3/-1 : +5/-4) After a promising start Everett faded fairly quickly; perhaps not enjoying the steambath that is a Houston July? Also picked up a bit of a knock, and hopefully not enough to keep her out of the XI this coming weekend. Everett is becoming a more-than-just-decent roleplayer.

Westphal (9′ – no rating) Her only noticeable action was missing high in the 87th minute, but was fresh legs to see out the win, so, fine, I guess…

Smith (+4/-4 : +6/-4 : +10/-8) Let’s talk about that goal for a moment.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

It all starts with Simone Charley picking Hanson’s pocket. Hanson is still on top of her so Charley can’t feed Smith, who’s breaking towards the goal. Instead, Charley kinda-passes, kinda-bumps the ball square to Everett, who slots it forward to Smith

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

The thing to notice here is how much space Smith has; nobody is within ten yards of her when she receives the ball and turns to run at goal. Both the Houston backs converge on her, but in what’s possibly the prettiest part of her attack Smith simply skins Katie Naughton with the vicious meg.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Megan Oyster sees that her teammate is toast, and drops to cover; Smith has the ball at her feet, and either bluffs the shot or is thinking of actually having a crack; either way, Oyster sets herself as Smith pulls her right leg back.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

This is the piece that’s been viewed and reviewed. Does Smith use her bluffing right foot to tap the ball to her left and step over? Or does she mishit the ball, it ticks off Oyster’s boot, but right back into Smith’s path? Incredible skillcraft, or pure dumb luck?

This looks to me like an intentional move…but even if not? If the ball taps Oyster and rebounds into Smith’s path? She still has to control it at full speed, evade Oyster, and slot home under an onrushing Harris. That’s an amazing collection of ball skills, and impressive even for a veteran, let alone a very young player.

Worth noting that as she tired – she was still going hard towards the final whistle but was visibly suffering – Smith’s touch began to desert her; All four of her second half minuses (and six of her eight total minuses) were for heavy touches that lost control of the ball. Possibly because it was her first trip to Houston, Smith may have been less prepared for the nasty humid heat than her more experienced teammates.

Rodriguez (+3/-3 : +5/-0 : +8/-3) Almost the Thorns second goal, and a good game on both sides of the ball.

Kind of interesting, though; my PMRs rate the following three players as the best Thorns in Houston in descending order: Boureille (+10/-3), Kuikka (+10/-6), and Smith (+10/-8). InStat’s Index has the following three players as the best on the pitch: Salem (+7/-2), Rodriguez (+8/-3), and Klingenberg (+8/-2). Kuikka is their fourth best player.


Salem (+5/-1 : +2/-1 : +7/-2) One reason I think I don’t rate Angela Salem as highly as the party boys call the Kremlin is that she is a very conservative player who seldom makes “big” plays but also seldom gets caught out of position or makes big errors. She also tends to work in a wolfpack with her midfield teammates rather than as a lone wolf the way Amandine Henry used to. So her PMRs tend to be less gaudy, but she gets the job done.

Boureille (+5/-2 : +5/-1 : +10/-3) As always, worked her pigtail off. Terrific match, and the best of the midfield in my estimation.

Klingenberg (66′ – +5/-1 : +3/-1 : +8/-2) Another Thorn who came off early with a dinged up leg. Klingenberg was solid both going forward and on defense as she has been all season. Gorgeous dimes in the 36th and 46th minutes.

Pogarch (24′ – +5/-4) The 74th minute sums up Pogarch perfectly.

From a Houston throw-in Po just lost track of Bri Visalli, who toasted her on the way to the byline.

But Pogarch kicked in the ‘burners and ran Visalli down and tackled the ball away (which went over the byline for a corner than turned into a moderately dangerous Latsko header that Bella Bixby did well to take, but, whatever…)

Pogarch has a truckload of speed. I’d like her to trade a tiny bit of that for a thimbleful more soccer smarts.

Menges (+2/-2 : +4/-1 : +6/-3) Terrific play in the 71st minute, when a long rainbow led Jasmyne Spencer to the Thorns’ goal and Menges had to run her down and clear the ball safely. She did, and the danger was averted. Nothing flashy, but a solid defensive shift.

Hubly (+2/-1 : +3/-1 : +5/-2) Can we talk about this for a moment?

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

You were having a perfectly decent match. Like your backline partner Emily Menges, nothing sparkly, just good, solid defending and some nice passing out of the back.

Then, in the 62nd minute, you just turn around and go off on Visalli.

As “going off” goes this was pretty mild; no hands to the face and no fists raised. You got yellow for it, as you should have, and carried on for the rest of the game.

The weird thing is – what the hell made you so mad?

Visalli had only been on the pitch about ten minutes. I watched the tape; she wasn’t being a major pain in the ass during that time. And while she was on your back being pretty handsy, I didn’t see anything terribly out of line. It wasn’t like she pinched you or poked you or punched you.

I defended you on the match thread on Stumptown, but after looking at this repeatedly?

That was just dumb. Visalli didn’t do anything worth that. She didn’t provoke you. You just snapped, and bought yourself a yellow.

It’s never good to give opponents a handle on you. Now every opponent who has seen this is going to try and goad you to draw this sort of response.

You need to chill.

Kuikka (+10/-4 : +6/-2 : +10/-6) All over the pitch for the third match in a row, and a legitimate shout – even with the gorgeous Smith goal – for Woman of the Match.

Bixby (+1/-0 : +2/-1 : +3/-1) Another clean sheet, just another day at the office for Ciao, Bella!

That said, Bixby had a bit of a second half; two big pluses, one scary minus.

In the 69th minute Spencer beat Kuikka to the byline and rifled a shot at Bixby that she boxed away nicely. Then in the 91st minute Visalli had an open shot from the top of the 18 that Bixby shoved over the bar.

But then, in the 94th minute, an Emily Ogle corner dropped into your hands and you fumbled the catch; luckily Nally bailed you out and cleared the loose ball.


Still…another clean sheet. Well played.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Coach Parsons: After a bit of a nervy spring, all the clouds that loured upon our house are in the deep bosom of the ocean buried; the summer has been glorious for this son of Surrey.

It’s a steep pinnacle at the top, though, and surely the other teams will be lining up to take a slap at the Thorns. Beginning with the return of the hapless Kroyals this coming Sunday.

If you come at the queens, though, you better not miss.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

7 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Thirty-two Seconds

  1. I agree with your comments on Smith, to me it looked crafty, but it is hard to prove. If her name had been Messi, no matter what we would call it brilliant. IMHO it was brilliant. She did tire and I am beginning to think her problems earlier had more to do with match fitness and not confidence. I hope Morgan is ready to go soon because as you say, she has a motor.
    One of the things about Hubly that is that she is calm and unflappable. Despite three or four huge derps in her time here, she has come back and shown real calm. I put that down to being tired in a hot humid environment. Thanks to Grant for not asking her about it in the presser. She wants to forget it. That is not her.
    Now I am looking ahead at another Olympics semi-final between the USWNT and Canada. I want Sinclair to play well and the US to win unambiguously, but this is even a better Canada team than 2012, so probably be another close one. Love to see a US Australia final but Sweden seems really good. I hope that Vlatco takes a close look at Dahlkemper’s performance, she has not been that good. Sam Mewis bounced back, so maybe Abby can.

    1. Shocked to see Sinc miss another PK. That’s NOT like her, and I hope it was just one of those things.

      I’ve never been a huge Dahlkemper fan. I think it’s time for he to sit and let Davidson have a go at it.

      1. Agreed. The question is whether VA WILL put Davidson in rather than Dahlkemper. Not a soccer-stats geek myself (interested, not obsessed) I believe I’m correct that almost every goal the US let in was due to a Dahlkemper error (there was one from VM that I’m not sure anything could have stopped). I was not an Abby fan originally & my true respect for her was hard won, but I’ve come to count on her dependability in the back parties her gorgeous distribution. Now- I want her off the field. Why is VA keeping her on? Hopes she’ll get her mojo back? Worried about a destructive message to the team (couple bad games and your out!). I imagine coaches always have to balance these kinds of decisions & if that’s the same kind of thinking Parsons is doing – he’s working on team bonding and confidence and not fitness

        1. Well you got one wish – Davidson started instead of Dahlkemper – but not the other, oh-so-slightly-more-important one – a W for the USWNT.

          Go USA! Go Canada!

  2. Fitness? Or heat? Over time the body adapts to heat, and I suspect that players in hot, humid environments like Houston have a slight edge because of it, particularly late in games. Most visiting teams are coming from cooler climes and will suffer later in games no matter what. In most games I don’t see our fitness as being a major issue, and I don’t think it would crop up in just a single game. (Sure we’re not Riley’s Courage in the fitness department, but no one else is; he chose to run with a young, fast team that can generate lots of chances because they’re fast but finish relatively few of them because they’re young and maybe slightly less skilled. That’s a long-term tactical choice, one we didn’t take.) I think this Thorns slowdown was mainly heat, and I don’t see us slowing down substantially more than other teams in most games.

    Salem: Yes she’s unexciting most of the time, but unexciting has been a good choice for her. She plays within her ability, which is crucial for someone who plays pretty close to our goal. To me, she’s like Ertz on the USWNT – not very good at passing and ball-control, but worth having on the pitch anyway because of her defense. Also, she’s gotten a bit more comfortable as this season has worn on, and she’s made a few attacking forays where before she made none at all. I used to get mad at her for ALWAYS passing the ball sideways and backwards, and she has changed that a bit. Plus her corners are generally pretty good and sometimes very good, which is always good to have. (And she got a goal!)

    xG: That xG graphic illustrates a problem with xG, in that it gives Smith’s shot in the first minute a high xG – nearly 0.5. When she came into the box with the ball and two defenders right in front of her, the xG was probably around 0.02; it was only because of her skill dancing around and through the defenders that she got an open look at goal. The xG chart, because xG is evaluated only for the shot, makes it look like that goal was a sitter, when in fact it was a tremendously difficult play to pull off. (Also, IMHO that was all Smith, with no rebound off Oyster.)

    Also, the xG chart shows a huge chance for the Thorns around the 63rd minute, one worth about 0.4 xG. I don’t remember that play – what was it? Was it where their keeper kicked the ball into Smith, knocking the wind out of her? That happened around 58′, which might translate to 63′ on the chart because there were 5 minutes of first-half stoppage time. I wouldn’t call that a chance, much less a shot, but technically there was no one between Smith and the goal, so maybe that was it.

    Speaking of Smith, I just luuuuuuuve her scoring instincts. On the goal play you illustrate above, notice that as soon as Rodríguez picks the Houston player’s pocket, Smith anticipates a forward pass coming soon and runs toward the box. This cuts down her space and so a lot of players wouldn’t do it – but Smith immediately sees the play, correctly as it turns out, as a scoring opportunity. She also has the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that good scorers have.

    And speaking of Rodríguez, I think her PMRs suffer because she takes risks in the attack. Yes, she loses the ball more than our other midfielders, but it’s because she’s trying to create something, not just making a safe pass to retain possession. She’s also adapted her game compared to when she first started here in that she’s more willing to take risks high up the field, where loss of possession isn’t as dangerous, than near the defensive line.

    Passing: That’s the best completed/missed table of passes I’ve seen since you started doing them. Very few uncompleted passes, lots of successful attacking passes, *no* “very bad passes”. Good work, Thorns!

    As always, thanks for your analysis, John.

    1. This is a late reply so I’m not sure anyone will see it, but I really appreciate your analysis, thanks. I’m going to watch Rocky and Salem extra closely today & watch for those things (Rocky creating, Salem going forward). I hope fitness is not an issue with the Thorns. They do seem to fall apart a bit the last 20 mins of games, but maybe that’s b/c they are on their front foot til then.


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