Thorns FC: Owned Goals

Portland Thorns.

Undefeated through the last five matches, winning four of them – three by clean sheets – while outscoring their opponents 7 to 1.

Yes, three of the four were cripples; plummeting Orlando and the two tusslers for the wooden spoon, Louisville and Kansas City. But, still…two points plus per game, five points clear at the top of the table?

Not much to complain about for a Thorns fan, is there?

Okay…well, we might quibble about the goals that won match number five in this run, the 2-nil defeat of the hapless Kroyals.

Because the first was tallied by that 2021 sensation, Own Goal, on loan from Chicago, with some assistance from Meghan Klingenberg and Sophia Smith.

Although the whole thing started – as it often has for Portland lately – with Natalia Kuikka in possession looking for a teammate downfield.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

For a change Kuikka has a plethora of teamates pushing up against the Kroyal backline; Simone Charley wide left, Raquel Rodriguez in the top of the penalty arc, Smith just in front (though largely screened by Darian Jenkins) and Celeste Boureille heading out wide right.

Kuikka picks out Rodriguez and dimes her.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

But Kiki Pickett closes down Rodriguez quickly; no chance for a turn and shot or pass.

Smith sees that Rocky needs help, though, and turns and makes a lateral run across the drop. Charley looks like a possible option, Everett is following the play and Boureille has given her a third pass, but Smith sees a fourth and better one:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

She picks out Klingenberg storming up the left corner of the box like a raging rhino:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Kling has all those same options, but chooses to drive the low, hard cross into the near post to feed Smith who’s crashing the goalmouth.

The ball doesn’t get there; Kristen Hamilton sticks a boot out and deflects the cross past Kate Rowland for the matchwinning goal.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

This is a Thorns goal, no error. Hamilton gets the blame, but it was Thorns pressure and Thorns buildup that made it happen.

The Thorns piled on the pressure in the first half, creating dangerous chances or half-chances in the 8th, 10th (the own-goal), 19th, 20th, 23rd, 42nd (the second goal, another hard cross from Smith that clanked off Everett and just inside the near post), and 45th minutes (a Charley headed goal that was disallowed for…something, possibly a foul).

First half stats were brutally one-sided, too; 14 shots (6 on goal) to 11 (2 on goal), 57% possession to 43%. The Thorns kept the Kroyals pinned all the way through the break.


Image by Portland Thorns FC. Licensed under Fair Use

Bella Bixby had to save from Hamilton at pointblank range in the 6th minute; the Kroyals came out of the opening whistle on fire, and until the tally from this season’s arguable MVP candidate Own Goal pushed the Thorns around a bit.

But after the goal, the Thorns pretty much had it their way. The only real threat that KC raised came from a Jenkins turnover off Angela Salem on the wrong side of midfield; Jenkins fed Hailey Mace who outran three Thorns defenders and hammered a shot that Bixby had to turn around the post. But the corner kick was tame, and the half ended with Portland comfortably in charge.

But then…

The Thorns came out in the second half playing and looking gassed. Here’s my notes, from the 63rd minute to second half injury time. Thorns significant actions on the left, Kroyals on the right.

That’s a whole lot of nothing. The Thorns didn’t generate a single dangerous attack, or even any threatening pressure, after the 47th minute. Smith provided Meaghan Nally with a gorgeous diagonal pass in the 89th minute that Nally did nothing with, and Kelli Hubly had a couple of pointblank misses in the 63rd and 74th minutes.

Which let Kansas City almost sneak a point. In the 94th minute Kiki Pickett found Hamilton running up the right touchline. Hamilton’s cross found it’s way to Michele Vasconcelos, who shot close but wide right. Then a minute later Mariana Laroquette returned the favor to Hamilton, whose shot was even closer but still barely wide of Bella Bixby’s right post.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

The Thorns have been playing well over the Olympic interval. I don’t want to make it sound dire. But the Kroyals are a genuinely bad team. They couldn’t finish or come close to finishing the opportunities they made that weren’t denied by Bixby.

The result of that casual approach to the second half? Look at the xG against numbers. First, InStat:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Next, Arielle Dror:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

KC got nothing out of 2 or better xG.

A better team would probably not make those mistakes.

“We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.”

~ Heinrich Heine

Corner Kicks

The Thorns managed a ridiculous eleven corner kicks in this match

3′SalemLongBounced through the scrum, Smith got a touch but rolled wide, Jenkins gained possession.
9′SalemLongCleared out to Menges at the top of the 18, passed wide to Salem, but Rowland took the cross.
15′SalemLongFell into the crowd; Hubly took a couple of blasts that were blocked, the second for another corner.
15′KlingenbergLongRowland claimed easily.
30′ Klingenberg Long Went to Boureille’s head, but the header was high and wide.
36′ Salem Long Headed clear but fell to Kling, whose shot was waaaay off target.
42′ Klingenberg ShortTo Smith, cross into Everett, goal, 2-nil Thorns.
45+2′ Salem Long Cleared out to Hubly who got the ball to Salem; shot blocked and shanked over the byline for loss.
48′ Klingenberg Long Ran through to Boureille, she dropped and the Thorns recycled, eventually Menges looped in a cross that Rowland took cleanly.
62′ Klingenberg Long Knocked around in the crowd, finally cleared.
66′ Salem ShortWent to Kuikka who dropped a nice cross onto Charley, but the defenders closed her down and tackled the ball away.

Things aren’t looking good for the short-corner-haters; one goal off two short corners, while nine conventional corners produced, at best, a Hubly banger that was blocked away.

Sorry, haters. This short-corner thing is starting to look like a plan.

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


Charley (83′ – +5/-3 : +5/-4 : +10/-7) I hate having to write this what seems like every time the Thorns play her, but…Charley still needs to find her shooting boots and start making better decisions.

Here’s one example, from the 82nd minute:

Image by Paramount+ Licensed under Fair Use.

Charley had Olivia Moultrie trailing the play unmarked. She had Smith in front of goal, and Madison Pogarch wide left.

On the other hand, in front of her she has three white shirts.

So she shoots it into the crowd and right at Rowland.


Si-money has a hell of a lot of great qualities. But it’s getting to the point where her poor decision-making and shot selection are outweighing them. I want to believe she can do better.

Nally (7′ – +0/-1) Botched that lovely service discussed above, but was active and made some smart decisions to help keep the match under control (to the extent the Thorns did…) so a good shift, generally.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook.

Everett (75′ – +2/-3 : +0/-0 : +2/-3) Hard to know what to say about Everett’s match. She got herself in position to score, and did. But did little else of note and faded really badly in the second half. Probably should have come off earlier.

Moultrie (15′ – +1/-0) Did little of note.

Smith (90+3′ – +10/-2 : +3/-0 : +13/-2) My pick for Woman of the Match; tireless, energetic, creative, dangerous. We’re seeing the fulfillment of the promise we were told this player presented.

Strom-Okimoto (2′ – no rating) Timewasting.

Boureille (+6/-5 : +5/-1 : +10/-6) Her failure to stay with Kiki Pickett in the 7th minute would have cost the Thorns two points and possibly more had Bixby not been superhuman. Grew into the match, especially in the second half, though, so overall a good match…but needs to stay in the game for the full 90.

Salem (+6/-1 : +6/-0 : +12/-1) If Sophia Smith hadn’t been tearing up the pitch Salem would have been my WotM; in what was as often as not a defensive tussle Salem was a rock in midfield, shutting down Gaby Vincent and to some extent Mace. Well played.

Rodriguez (+4/-1 : +7/-1 : +11/-2) spent much of the first half pushing up and facilitating. Dropped deeper in the second to defend and did that well enough.

Klingenberg (76′ – +7/-1 : +1/-2 : +8/-2) In the first half all the usual Klingenberg pluses; solid defending, great vision and passing, and, of course, the assist to Own Goal. Faded in the second half, a bit, though, so the substitution was timely.

Pogarch (14′ – +2/-2) Neither exciting nor headless, Po put in a decent shift to see out the win. A trifle concerning that the 94th minute attack came through where she’d vacated pushing up; needs to keep game state and responsibilities in mind if she’s going to be more than a squad player.

Hubly (+6/-1 : +2/-1 : +8/-2) Solid all around.

Menges (+3/-5 : +3/-2 : +6/-7) I’m not sure what’s going on with Emily Menges. She’s not her usual wall-like self; had several truly appalling “clearances” in the first half, including twice in the first minute that went straight up and straight back down into a dangerous scrum.

I’m not sure why Menges seems less sturdy than usual. She’s help post four clean sheets, which is pretty impressive. The xG against for this one? Not so much; the Thorns backline was giving up some good looks to a bad team.

I wonder if she adjusted to being the “Sonnett” adventurous centerback when Sauerbrunn was here and is struggling to return to being the “Menges” stay-home centerback?

Kuikka (83′ – +8/-3 : +2/-0 : +10/-3) Another match, another very good, solid performance from the Flying Finn. Hakkaa Päälle!

Westphal (7′ – +1/-1) Good work.

Bixby (+2/0 : +1/-1 : +3/-1) Amazing saves as noted above, as well as a strong take off a Mallory Weber corner kick in the 84th minute. Well-deserved rose.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons: What can you say, other than, well done, coach?

Here’ the thing, though. As we noted up top, three of the five opponents against which the Thorns nicked all the points off were bad (Louisville, KC) or on their way to becoming bad (Orlando). Gotham kept the Thorns scoreless, so Houston was the only real pelt worth taking.

The next five matches, though, include the Washington Spirit (currently fourth) twice, Gotham (second), and Tacoma (eighth, but having taken 9 points from the last four games). Only Orlando looks like a tomato can.

So let’s see what happens next before we crown Coach Parsons Coach of the Year.

John Lawes
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9 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Owned Goals

  1. The next five matches will presumably include the return of the Olympians, and bringing them back into the team smoothly will be a big challenge for Parsons. How tired will they all be? How focused? When Sinc wins the gold medal (hah!), will she still have the motivation to play hard for the Thorns?

    Parsons’s next job includes integrating players in very little time; consider how different the jobs of club manager and national team manager are. This could be a good warmup for his next step.

    1. Well, and that was the huge problem in 2019 that effectively killed off the title run that season. The Nats and Sinc were gassed or had some sort of headcase thing going on and Parsons either didn’t see that or didn’t know what to do with it.

      The other thing to consider is that he’s had issues this season with his defense closing out games; not huge, game-losing issues, but definitely small letdowns late in games where the Thorns give opponents better looks than they should be getting. The Dutch got knocked out because they couldn’t stop giving up goals that negated the work that Miedema & Co. were doing upfront. He’s going to need to figure out how to change that. Let’s see how his current team looks down this year’s stretch run to see if he’s got that in him.

    2. One other thing w Parsons. We tend to give Riley stick because of his obsession with “fitness”. But the Thorns have seemed to have trouble closing out matches – we give up good looks in the second half and especially late in the second half. So I wonder…maybe Parsons should be getting his people to run a couple more gassers in practice..?

      1. I’ve always wondered about Riley’s fitness regimen over the course of a season. For years now I’ve been expecting the Courage to peter out at the end of the season because the players are just too worn out from all that running – both in games and, more importantly, in practice day after day. But they don’t seem to; does Riley specifically select his players for their endurance? I mean, all coaches and GMs presumably pay attention to stamina. But maybe Riley gives it greater weight, or has some way of measuring season-long endurance better than others, or something that means his players don’t run out of steam come the end of the season.

  2. Except for Horan and Dunn, I think the other Nats should be brought in gradually. I think Dunn and Horan should be on somewhat limited minutes. That is a lot of jet lag. I am pretty sure all of them are going to be hungry for wins.
    The fitness thing, umm based on a limited sample of two former NC field players Mace and Hamilton I would say that Mace looked every bit as gassed as Thorns players, but Hamilton, gosh she has a motor like Morgan Weaver. It was hot and perhaps Parson’s should have subbed players earlier.
    The table is still up in the air but the Thorn’s are in a good position. Chicago and Gotham are looking like threats. Washington if they win this weekend are back in it. I think the Courage could lose again this weekend and when the Nats get back I am not sure they will provide an instant boost. The Reign look like I expected them to at the beginning of the season, but are now in a significant hole.
    I am really hoping Morgan Weaver is recovered.

    1. We’ll have to wait for the IR Friday to see if Weaver is back. I’m not expecting anything at this point.

      To be fair, both teams didn’t do much in the second half. The problem was that what little they DID do, KC did more than the Thorns did. That seems…troubling.

      1. Part of KC possibly doing a little better than the Thorns were the subs KC sent in LaBonta and Vasconcelos, just to mention two were vast improvements over the players replaced.

      2. I really wish the Thorns were at all forthcoming about Weaver’s progress. I’d dearly love to see her back on the pitch. I think it was Menges in the post-game presser who said they’ve been closing out games a little too desperately lately, but saw the game against KC as a 180 degree difference. I’m not sure I agree. If KC were a better team I don’t think we’d have a clean sheet.

  3. I just want to revel in that save from Bixby. It was AMAZING! From our seats it looked like the ball was going straight in that net. My brain saw it, accepted the goal and was analyzing what that meant for the rest of the game… when.. wait..what?! At the risk of being hyperbolic, it was like magic. Somehow that ball just magically stuck to Bella’s hand.. and then the other one came down on it and…. wow. Franch is incredible but/and Bixby is something special too.


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