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.
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.
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:
She picks out Klingenberg storming up the left corner of the box like a raging rhino:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Next, Arielle Dror:
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
The Thorns managed a ridiculous eleven corner kicks in this match
|3′||Salem||Long||Bounced through the scrum, Smith got a touch but rolled wide, Jenkins gained possession.|
|9′||Salem||Long||Cleared out to Menges at the top of the 18, passed wide to Salem, but Rowland took the cross.|
|15′||Salem||Long||Fell into the crowd; Hubly took a couple of blasts that were blocked, the second for another corner.|
|15′||Klingenberg||Long||Rowland 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||Short||To 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||Short||Went 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.
PLAYER RATINGS AND COMMENTS
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:
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.
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.
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.