Thorns FC: Clink Clanger

Proving the the soccer gods are nothing if not capricious, the Portland Timbers – 7-10-3 (below the red line), 1-2-2 over their last five matches, outscored 13-8 over that time – went to Seattle last weekend and beat the Sounders 0-2 in the nightcap at whatever the hell they call C-Link now.

(“Lumen Field”? Really? I’ll be damned.)

In the first match of the evening, though, the Portland Thorns – 10-3-2 (top of table), 4-0-1 over the last five, 7GF/2GA through those five – dropped their fourth loss of the season 2-1 to the Tacoma Reign.

First of all let me say this; God, how I hate the Clink.

I hate the whole thing, from the tip of the lighting to the subfield drainage. I hate the ugly-ass football-y-ness of it, from the brutal skyline to the miserable rock-hard football turf.

Throw in that the Thorns have always struggled in Seattle and you have one nasty evening of soccer when you play there.

Oh, it started well enough.

Despite coming off a crowded schedule that had put a lot of minutes into their legs the Thorns came out attacking. A nifty Sophia Smith run set up Christine Sinclair to smack a shot that rattled the crossbar so hard it may still be vibrating like a tuning fork.

Salem shot over the bar two minutes later.

A minute after that Lindsey Horan put Smith in on Sarah Bouhaddi only for the Thorns forward to scuff a tame shot right into the keeper’s gloves.

And then, in the 16th minute, the wheels came off.

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Take a good look at the top and the bottom of the screenshot above. There’ll be a quiz later.

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Rose Lavelle cuts off Horan’s pass and turns it right around to Jessica Fishlock who has two terrific options; Megan Rapinoe to her left, and Eugénie Le Sommer to her right.

And remember the edges of the picture? Portland has been caught with both fullbacks pushing up. At the bottom at least Natalia Kuikka has spun around; Christen Westphal at the top was almost to the midfield stripe, and is now effectively out of the play.

Only Emily Menges and Becky Sauerbrunn remain in front of the Reign attack.

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Six seconds in and you’d be excused thinking that the Thorns had the breakaway contained. Kuikka has run down Le Sommer, while Menges is closing down Rapinoe.

But then Rapinoe cuts inside.

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Menges is steaming back towards her goal and just flat-out overruns Rapinoe. Sauerbrunn, wily veteran that she is, immediately turns to try and close Rapinoe down again.

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Too late. Rapinoe fires, Bixby’s dive is late and slow, and it’s 1-nil Tacoma.

Portland tried to regroup and chase the game, but between poor passing or shooting – including another Smith miss high – no dangerous chances emerged until the 32nd minute, when Quinn tackled Angela Salem for loss, pushed the ball up to Lavelle who fed Le Sommer; Le Sommer’s cross clanked off Kuikka’s arm, Rapinoe stood over the penalty spot, Bixby guessed right but too late, and it was game over.

Yeah, sure, Salem pulled on back in first half added time (and a lovely golazo it was!) but at this point the match was in Harvey’s wheelhouse; sit back, press hard in midfield and let your quality there show, have a go now and then on the counter, but otherwise lay in and let the Thorns dink the ball around pointlessly for the final three-quarters of an hour.

The Thorns were spread out all over the pitch…doing what, I’m not sure – not chasing the game; here’s Dror’s “xG race” chart:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

But giving Tacoma the whole damn Clink to themselves:

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While Tacoma packed in and dared the Thorns to try and pick them apart:

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There’s eight bodies behind that ball. Eight. Count ’em.

This was a comprehensive failure, but we’ll break it down in the comments. Suffice to say that the club has a whole lot of thinkin’ to do this coming week.


Passing the Passing Test: Per OPTA the Thorns were the better team with the ball at their feet; 79% completion compared to Tacoma’s 70%.

But…here’s the thing; of Portland’s 508 total passes more than 80% (88%, to be exact) were harmless little lateral dinks, drops, backpasses, and other filler. I counted a total of 63 “attacking” passes the served to advance – or should have advanced – the Thorns’ attack

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 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.


So despite completing about 80% of their total passes, the Thorns only completed 29 out of 63 dangerous attacking passes; less than half, or 46%.

Nobody had a really good day at the Clink but Kuikka was dreadfully off, repeatedly trying long lobs that went into touch, over the byline, or simply to a blue shirt. It didn’t work, and nobody told her to knock it off.

So it’s not surprising – when you can’t connect passes you can’t create danger, and outside of bits here and there, we couldn’t.

Corner Kicks

The Thorns managed only six corner kicks in this match, all but one in the second half

44′WestphalLongCleared several times and recycled several times; finally went to Tacoma on a Portland foul.
50′KuikkaLongCleared, recycled, eventually Lavelle gained possession.
56′SalemLongCleared again, recycled again, finally Hubly shot directly at Bouhaddi.
69′PogarchLongCleared, recycled to Dunn, who looped a pass to Sinclair, whose effort to chip Bouhaddi went wide right.
76′SalemShortTo Kuikka; her cross was cleared to Salem; Salem and Dunn tried to maneuver in tight space but eventually were tackled and lost possession.
89′SalemLongCleared and recycled several times, eventually someone fouled in the box to give up a Tacoma free kick

So pretty much nothing there, either.

Image by Paramount+ Licensed under Fair Use. Apparently if you’re a Sounders fan you just need one of those Burger King crowns and you, too, can be a Queen of Cascadia for a Day.


Smith (+9/-4 : +2/-1 : +11/-5) Lots of hard work, with no decent shots on goal to show for it. The coordination Smith had with Weaver and Charley isn’t apparent between her and Sinclair, or Dunn. Drifted out of the match in the second half as her service dried up, but still should have done better in the 74th minute instead of shooting tamely at Bouhaddi.

Sinclair (+2/-1 : +2/-1 : +4/-2) Nearly invisible after the woodwork-rattler in the 5th minute; slow and hesitant, and badly outworked by the Tacoma midfielders.

Dunn (+3/-2 : +2/-4 : +5/-6) The problem with Crystal Dunn isn’t that she’s not a good player.

It’s that she’s a good-with-the-potential-to-be-great-player but, right now, she isn’t that for the Thorns.

She works her tail off; hawking loose balls, tackling, passing…but the connections aren’t there and haven’t been all season. As a great player – like other Thorns such as Sinclair and Horan and Sauerbrunn – Dunn’s job is to be a hero, a game-changer, a match-winner. Her responsibility, whether she wants to accept it or not – is to be a force in every match she plays.

I’m not sure why she isn’t. Is she just not effective as the #8? Should she be a #10? – if so, she and Sinc need to talk. Should she be one of the #9s? Then who sits for her to move up?

Somehow, between now and two weeks from now, she and Parsons and the team need to figure out how to make her that game-changer before the meeting in Cary.

It’s really just that simple.

Horan (+4/-3 : +3/-6 : +7/-9) Possibly the worst match I’ve ever seen her play, and worse than last week against Gotham, which seems hard to believe.

I’m not sure what her issues are; mental, physical, or both. But she needs to solve them, and quick.

Salem (+3/-4 : +5/-1 : +8/-5) Wonderstrike, and otherwise a solid, tough match in a losing cause. Not her fault she’s not Quinn, or Rapinoe, or Lavelle, or Fishlock or Le Sommer, or Marozsan.

Rodriguez (45′ – +2/-2) See the Salem comment, above. The goddamn Reign is just stacked in midfield, and the key is going to be figuring out what to do about that before we see them again in the playoffs.

Weaver (45′ – +3/-1) Came on after the break doing her usual high-intensity attacking and was almost completely nerfed by Tacoma’s rope-a-dope and lack of Portland service. One nice attack in the 80th minute, but otherwise not a factor.

Westphal (63′ – +5/-4 : +1/-0 : +6/-4) Worked hard on defense – all her minuses are for poor passes – but couldn’t work her way through the packed defense and lacked runners inside to drop crosses on.

Pogarch (27′ – +2/-3) Okay, so, remember this? “Ballwatching and mistimed her jump that let the cross run right to Dydasco! Lucky not to have conceded from that goof…”

That was Pogarch in the 65th minute of the match against Gotham here a week ago.

Here’s Pogarch in the 72nd of this one:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

This time it’s not Petersen doing the crossing, but Sofia Huerta, and not Dydasco waiting at the other end but Rapinoe, but since we tried “ballwatching and mistiming our jump” last time and got away with it, hey! Why not try again!?

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And guess what? It worked again! Maybe as Po and my old drill sergeant would both say, if it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid! Right?

Wrong. No. Sorry. It is stupid, and this is what drives me nuts about Pogarch.

She’s got great tools; tons of speed, a nose for the ball, and a willingness to go hard every moment she’s on the pitch.

But she reminds me of Emily Sonnett, and not in a good way, because years after her rookie season Sonnett would make rookie mistakes, and I really need to see signs that Pogarch is learning from those mistakes and not doing the exact same thing two games in a row.

C’mon, Po! Don’t be Sonnett!

Menges (45′ – +0/-1) Not a great shift.

But then, after getting knocked down over the course of fifteen-odd minutes, Menges, like all the Thorns defenders, just couldn’t DO anything more to rescue the match. That was on the attackers.

Nobody was spectacularly bad in the Portland backline last weekend. Nobody shone, either. Everyone was tired, everyone was frustrated…it was just a tough loss.

Hubly (45′ – +1/-2) Dropped an awful backpass that nearly got Bixby flattened in the 47th minute. Steadied down after that, but as with Menges, little to do seeing as how Tacoma was just loafing around.

Sauerbrunn (+5/-2 : +0/-1 : +6/-3) The best of the centerbacks, so there’s that.

Kuikka (+4/-1 : +2/-0 : +6/-1) Way too many poor passes, which we’ve discussed, and unlucky on the handball. Otherwise not a discreditable outing, given the result.

Bixby (+0/-1 : +2/-0 ++2/-1) Probably should have done better with both concessions. Saved an ugly concession by coming out strong to clear away Hubly’s 47th minute mess, and a good save in the 79th.

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Coach Parsons: So here’s the thing.

You know your team is tired from five matches in two weeks. You know Tacoma is rested and probably fizzing from playing in front of a freakishly huge crowd.

So why send your troops out to try the same-old “push-the-fullbacks-up-pass-into-the-final-third”? Why risk getting tired legs swamped in a mid press, dispossessed, and hammered on the counter?

Why not sit in yourselves, try and pull Tacoma out of shape, and sting with a counterattack now and then? Scoreless draw? Fine! You’re there for the points, not to entertain a bunch of goddamn fishwives and Gorilla FC pogues.

Why play into Harvey’s plan?

Well…that’s water over the bridge.

But the other, bigger, concern I’m seeing is that for all that you said that you wanted to try and return the Nats better than in 2019, so far it’s looking…fine for Sauerbrunn, slow but kind of okay with Sinc, not great (but no worse than it’s been all season…) for Dunn…but for Horan?

Horan is a damn dumpster fire.

You and her and whoever you need to call in – sports psychologist, personal trainer, midfield-whisperer – need to straighten that out most quick smart. She’s a huge engine for this team when she’s going right, and she either needs to go right or she needs to sit.

Because in two weeks we’re gonna be in Cary.

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John Lawes
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4 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Clink Clanger

  1. Wow! That made me feel worse about that game. I saw it as an obviously tired team taking on another team equally good, but with fresh legs and amped about the crowd. I thought I saw Dunn and Kuikka doing a lot of good things too, but I guess my rose colored glasses were two rosy. I see Dunn’s quality, but I am going to be a bit of an armchair psychologist and say she has lost her attacker aggression. After being left off the 2016 WC she came back with that attacker fire and was the Golden Boot winner. Soccer forwards need to be selfish. The only bad shot is the one not taken and pass only when there is no other option. Kind of like a shooting guard in basketball. But midfielders and fullbacks need to have an altruistic bent. Carly Lloyd has been a midfielder with strikers mentality and switching to an attacking role was natural. I am not worried about Crystal, she has been a midfielder and fullback for about five years. To me not scoring is no problem as long as she is winning the ball and creating havoc. Horan, at her best, is an example of a striker that has worked well as a midfielder, give her room she will burn you (think 2018) but most of the time she is absolutely conducting the midfield. As for Horan, I wonder if she has mentally checked out and the rumor of her going to Europe is true.

    1. The xG chart suggests that you were right – or close to right – that the teams were fairly even; outside of the goals the slope of both datasets is pretty close.

      The “tired” excuse doesn’t explain why, then, a “tired” Portland club had something like 60% of the possession and twice the number of passes of an “amped” Tacoma…unless one coach misjudged the depth of his squad and sent them out to attack while the other correctly assessed the strength of her midfield and sat in a mid- to low-block and let her opponent wear itself down and get spiked on the counter.

      Tacoma really has improved with Marozsan and ELS, though, so whether the two clubs are “equally good” is questionable. Read the Salem comment and ponder that list; that’s a LOT of damn good players. With Horan misfiring, Dunn and Sinclair muted, Smith not finishing and Weaver not connecting the dots… They got lucky the first time we played them…but this one wasn’t luck. Right now they are better than the Thorns forward of midfield.

      Parsons’ challenge is to figure out how to change that.

      I dunno what’s going on with either Dunn or Horan. Dunn I tend to agree is misused as a #8, but I’m not sure who you move to get her further forward.

      Horan? REALLY no idea. She seems to be in there trying….just not doing very well at it. Same problem as 2019? New problem? No problem, just a hiccup? Whatever it is, she needs to figure it out most quick smart.

  2. I think Horan will figure it out. She has no reason to be unhappy she played well in the Olympics except against Sweden. She didn’t play bad, but she was just successfully marked out of that game. In the last two games she has played against very talented midfields and both Lyon and Tacoma found most of their opportunities down the flanks. I would love to see the numbers for Marozsan, LaVelle and Fishlock. To my eye Fishlock had her usually hyper-active terrier game and was impressive, LaVelle was active and clever, but not really significantly better than Dunn and Rodriquez, but she probably was more influential than Sinclair and Horan. If Marozsan and Horan are two of the best midfielders in the world, I will still take Horan. Marozsan and Pinoe both came off in the second half looking totally whacked. Marozsan is really good, but so is the Great Horan. And then Quinn versus Salem, Quinn is the best six they have had since Winters, she is good, but I am a homer and I think Salem is a rock star.

    1. Horan didn’t figure things out in 2019 after having an MVP year the season before. She’s been pretty “meh” so far this season, but the last two games she’s been a trash fire. Why? I have no idea, but the sheer randomness of her progress over the past three years makes me less than sure that she and Parsons and whoever else can solve whatever her issues are.

      And as for the rest…

      Compare the Reign front six with ours as they stand at the moment.
      Smith: Tons of upside, trouble finishing
      Weaver: Same problem
      Horan: Right now? A hot mess.
      Sinclair: Still quality but really starting to really show her age.
      Dunn: Something just not clicking there
      Rodriguez: Decent squad player just like she was with Sky Blue
      Salem: Decent squad player just like she was with Boston.

      Marozsan: One of the best in the world.
      Rapinoe: Tends to run hot and cold, but currently smoking hot.
      Quinn: Quietly brutally effective.
      Fishlock: Same only more brutal – lockdown in the back.
      Lavelle: Again, one of the best in the business.
      Le Sommer: Another one of the best in the world.

      I’m a Thorns fan, but…c’mon. You got the GOAT on the downside of her career, two promising rookies, a hot mess, Something-not-working-with-Dunn, and two solid squad players…compared to four of the best women internationals in their primes, one aging but currently red hot international, and an emerging star #6.

      Player-for-player they’re better at every position. That’s fine – good teams beat teams of great players all the time. The thing is to figure out HOW to do that.

      And a big part of that means that getting Horan’s head out of wherever it is right now is Job 1…


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