Thorns FC: Finally

After years of trying the Portland Thorns broke the Curse of Cary, beating the Damned Courage 0-1.

It wasn’t easy, despite what the stat sheets suggest:

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Arielle Dror’s “xG race” plot tells the story more accurately:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

The two sides picked this match to swap identities.

Portland was the team spamming the Carolina goal with shots to finally get one past Casey Murphy on a pure Route One long-lob-and-run between Christine Sinclair and Sophia Smith, Portland’s only real weapon, a shotgun that blasted 8 shots and had to put 5 on goal to get her goal.

Instead of the familiar Carolina Death Blossom the Courage was the team struggling to find opportunities; Debinha utterly nerfed out on the wing, Lynn Williams had several chances but couldn’t finish, O’Sullivan and Merritt Mathias invisible (holy Hell does the Damned miss Sam Mewis in midfield..!), Alex Rodriguez inefficient as always.

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This match seemed in doubt from whistle to whistle, with Portland driving forward in between making horrifying mistakes in the back, while Carolina knocked the ball around trying to figure out where the hell its attack had gone. I’m really not sure that this match, and this result, says anything definitive about how the two sides will match up when they meet again here in Portland in October.

But it sure as hell says this: the Thorns finally walked out of Carolina’s house with all the points. That Thorns are top of table, and are within an ace of locking down the Shield.

And that’s juuuuust fine.


Passing the Passing Test: Per OPTA the Thorns were the better team with the ball at their feet, but not by much; 76% completion compared to the Damned 72%. There were a LOT of passes going astray in this one.

We’re going to do something a little different this time to look at the Thorns’ passing. Rather than the table, let’s look at a diagram of who was doing the passing and who was receiving. Completed passes in blue, significant passes in yellow, incomplete passes in red. Here’s the first half

Our eyes alone confirm what this shows; that Smith was the club Portland was swinging at Carolina. Everyone but Sinclair, curiously (don’t worry, she’ll make up for that later) was pitching up to her. Crystal Dunn was probably the most prolific, but also the least clinical – there’s a lot of red arrows going back and forth there.

Worth noting that the fullbacks were really muted in Cary. Parsons kept one at home full-time, which may have been part of it, but the other is that I think the plan was to take advantage of the Missing Mewis and stuff the passes up the gut. It might have worked better and sooner had Smith been able to finish…but that didn’t happen, not in the first half, anyway.

Here’s the second half:

Smith is still the focus point, and finally Sinclair gets into the Smith picture with the 57th minute assist. Notice that Horan has pretty much disappeared as Weaver shows up and picks up a big part of the attacking load.

Dunn is still distributing, and her accuracy has cleaned up a lot, which helped keep Carolina muted through until second half injury time – which we’ll discuss in the comments.

Overall? Decent enough; could be cleaner, but got the job done, so that’s perfectly fine.

Corner Kicks

The Thorns earned six corner kicks in this match, all but one in the first half

10′SalemLongMurphy went for the ball but couldn’t reach it and it fell to Horan, whose weak shot was blocked, cleared, recycled, and Horan fed Sinclair who headed straight at Murphy.
18′KuikkaLongWent right to Horan, whose poor header went well over.
22′KuikkaLongWent to Horan again, whose looping header was cleared but no further than Salem, who hammered a hard shot but right at Murphy.
35′SalemLongTo Horan again; she finally hit a decent header, but right at Murphy.
45+2′SalemLongTo Horan again, and, again, a weak header wide left.
83′KlingenbergShortTo Salem, back to Kling, whose lobbed cross was cleared, recycled, eventually lost into touch

Remember Horan the set-piece assassin? “Mark Lindsey Horan on set-pieces!” was supposedly the opponents’ warning cry. Well…she had one decent header, anyway, even if it went right to Murphy.

It just seems like nothing wants to go right for Horan right at the moment.

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use. Don’t get me wrong; I think we made a good trade. But there are times when I do really miss Emily Sonnett, and her epic photobombs during post-match interviews are one.


Smith (84′- +5/-2 : +3/-6 : +8/-8) Tons of hard work, as always. Got the matchwinner – so, great! – but had a ton of opportunities that went to waste that would have been nice to have finished in case Carolina figured out where the goal was.

For all of that, still Woman of the Match. Faded in the second half so the substitution was well timed.

One thing that probably didn’t help is this sort of thing:

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use.

We saw a lot of this; Smith running at goal with a cloud of blue shirts in front of her. Teammates? Yeah, well…chugging along far behind the parade. Somewhere. C’mon, Thorns; she’s a terrific player but she needs help too. Stuff like this is just going to wear her out.

Lussi (6′ – +1/-0) Worked hard, saw off the Damned and sealed the win. So, fine.

Dunn (+5/-8: +8/-4 : +13/-12) Another what I’m starting to think of as a “typical Crystal Dunn” match. Lots of activity, excellent at intercepting passes and distributing while at the same time wasteful and scattershot, turning the ball over far more than a player of her pedigree should, and seeming to struggle putting things together with her teammates.

When she’s good, though? As she was in the 39th minute where her sweet through ball sliced Smith in on Murphy? Damn. She does that 95% of the time instead of 60%? That’d be scary good.

Dunn seems to have a lot of trouble finding openings to shoot. Had only one real chance, in the 10th minute, and shanked it way outside the left post. I’m not sure what her issue is; she says she wants to attack and shooting is central to attacking. Hmmm.

Sinclair (63′ – +1/-2 : +2/-0 : +3/-2) It’s always shocking when Sinc has games like this; not good, not bad, just invisible. Popped up to deliver the lovely service on the goal, but otherwise barely involved. Not sure what happened, but worth keeping an eye on after the international break.

Weaver (27′ – +7/-2) Almost a half hour of crazy wild Cougar fun – it’d have been awesome had she did a “Diego Valeri in the 2015 MLS Cup” in the 77th minute and banged Murphy’s clearance right into the goal. Well, okay then.

I’m really not sure how Smith-Dunn-Sinclair works better up front than Smith-Weaver-Dunn. I know she’s the GOAT and a legend, but…damn, Sinc. Maybe we should talk.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Horan (76′ – +8/-9 : +3/-2 : +11/-11) Another week’s entry in “The Horan Quandry”. Straight-up mix of decent positioning and passing with too many giveaways, weak headers, and poor passes. Barely in the “Sorta Decent Horan” range; luckily Smith was doing the heavy lifting.

Is this some sort of COVID long-haul issue? I wonder…

Moultrie (14′ – +2/-0) Fresh legs to seal the deal? Perfect. Extra credit for the pro wrestling yellow card for the Debinha body-slam.

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

Salem (+10/-2 : +3/-1 : +13/-3) An utter beast on both sides of the ball; my alternative pick for WotM. Angela Salem is quietly having a hell of a great season.

Rodriguez (+5/-3 : +4/-0 : +9/-3) Bossed the midfield with Salem, and did some pretty passing. Good shift.

Kuikka (+1/-0 : +3/-2 : +4/-2) As noted above; not nearly as involved in providing service, but also had to help lock down Debinha – which she did – so that might be part of it. Helped her unit keep the clean sheet – in Cary, no less! – so gets props for that.

Hubly (+4/-4 : +4/-1 : +8/-5) Kelli Hubly and Emily Menges took turns fucking with my blood pressure. Hubly’s turn came in the 30th minute. Hubly had an almost identical replay to her 1st minute recovery run (we’ll talk about that in a bit…) only this time she was caught woolgathering, let Jessica McDonald outrace her, and was lucky that McD did a McD and fired right at Bixby.

Other than than, solid. But the rap on Hubs was always that she’d be fine for 89 minutes and then make a big mistake. She’s largely put that behind her. Let’s not go back there.

Menges (85′ – +8/-2 : +2/-0 : +10/-2) Menges got the Derp Party started in the 1st minute:

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

I have no idea what the hell happened, but Menges simply faceplanted and fed Lynn Williams to race in 1v0.

Hubly made a heroic recovery run, but had Williams not had some sort of bizarre stumble and tripped herself up it might not have helped.

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

After that? Rock solid.

Don’t do this to me, centerbacks. It’s just mean.

Sauerbrunn (5′ – +0/-1) And speaking of centerbacks doing derpy things…

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

Here’s the Portland defense caught napping in the 92nd minute. Kling was caught upfield, Kuikka has to stay wide to track Debinha, so Sauerbrunn is the only defender available to cover ARod.

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

Instead, first she loafs about and gets toasted, and then…

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

…she turns away from ARod, giving the Carolina striker a clean shot which, luckily, she hits right at Bixby.

WTF? You’re supposed to be our “rock”, our super-experienced, steady, guiding hand at the defensive wheel. You’re not supposed to do stuff like this. C’mon. If ARod has scored the draw would have totally felt like a loss.

Westphal (64′ – +6/-4 : +1/-0 : +7/-4) Solid defending, surprisingly little going forward, but wasn’t needed for this one. Was fading by the hour, so good game management to get her off when she was pulled.

Klingenberg (26′ – +3/-0) Brought a much-needed defensive spark, helped seal the win. I keep waiting for age to strike Kling down, she keeps defying time itself. I’m tremendously pleased to say that, mind.

Bixby (+2/-0 : +1/-0 : +3/-0) Almost completely untroubled (but largely because when Carolina attackers got free they just fired straight at her). Did have to come up big in the 30th minute. Another clean sheet, another day at the office.

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

Coach Parsons: Got the long-elusive win, sitting on top of the league…what more can the guy do? Perhaps figure out the Horan Quandry, but that’s just speculation. Good tactical plan, good match management – the substitutions, in particular, were well timed – and a deserved beating of our rivals. Well done.


We’re off for a ten-day before traveling to Chicago, but not the Thorns; Parsons is off to his new gig in Holland, and the internationals to their respective national teams. The trick is going to be figuring out how to pull everything back together in Chicago, and we need to hope that can happen.

But right now?

I’m just ridiculously pleased at finally hanging an “L” on these critters.

Image by CBSSN. Licensed under Fair Use

And for now? That’s enough.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

12 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Finally

  1. I was looking forward to these comments because I had to follow the game from my Twitter feed, Stumptown Footy and NWSL running stats for the game. I don’t have CBS-SN. The stats page made me think the Thorns were slightly better and way more dangerous, my Twitter feed only had good news and made me wonder if Debinha was even playing, then there was Stumptown Footy, phew; which made me feel like the the Thorns were stinking it up and sure to lose. I was finally able to watch the game yesterday and my assessment was not too far from yours. Yeah, the Thorns should have been ahead, the Courage were unlucky and could have won it, Smith, Salem and Rocky were beasts out there. Dunn was really good sometimes and Horan was underwhelming for her, but not as bad as it sounded on Stumptown. Personally I think Horan is a major point of focus for every team that plays the Thorns or the National team. If Rocky and Salem continue playing the way they are that strategy can’t keep working.
    Somebody on Stumptown mentioned that particularly late Sophia’s strikes got weaker. Not surprising really as she was working so hard and had no support. I will say that the lack of support in this game was the worst I have seen it and that may be a tip of the hat to how dangerous the Courage are on the counter.
    But I agree with Parsons that this team is not all it can be yet.
    Also the way I saw that ARod attack was Becky saw that Bella had the near post, Kuika was coming up to cover the far post and she was positioning her self for a cross or deflection. I think she cut off ARods options to only kicking straight at Bella.

    1. The Menges derp was a horror start, and that had me on the edge of my seat until late into the first half. The Thorns grew into into the match, took advantage of the Smith strike kind of…not so much against the run of play but well outside the level of attacking quality the squad had been bringing.

      A draw would have been pretty fair, honestly, but I’m glad we didn’t give them one.

      I’m not nearly as okay with ‘Brunn as that. I think she just spaced and didn’t know what to do, but the “right” thing to do would have been to shoulder into ARod and force her wide of the post, if possible. The thing to NOT do was give ARod a free drive at goal, and that’s what ‘Brunn did. She just fucked up.

      1. Agree to disagree on Becky there. But another thing that made me happy looking at that last screen shot of the play was six Thorns and three Courage. ARod had to make that shot and she didn’t.

        1. She never should have been in position to make that shot. All Sauerbrunn was on there to do was kill time and see out the win, and I expected better from a player of her experience on a play like that.

      2. I think Sauerbrunn was stepping to Taylor (the ball carrier) because no one else was able to and it just HAD to be done. Stepping to Taylor was preferable to leaving her wide open on her run into the box; that way you force her to pass and hope the pass is slightly awry, enough to slow the ARod down before the shot. Which didn’t happen, but it was perhaps the right decision to try to make it happen.

        What I want to know is *where the %&^$^% was Hubly*?! Her absence is the reason why Sauerbrunn had to choose between Taylor and ARod. Hubly’s a centerback, dammit, and a centerback’s job is DEFENSE. Can’t be gallivanting upfield all the time like you’re out of a Sunday stroll in the park!

        1. Look at the first screenshot. Taylor has just released the lead pass, and Sauerbrunn is all tied up; she hadn’t stepped to Taylor soon enough and hadn’t realized that nobody had ARod, either (which, you’re right, was because Hubly – and Kling – got caught upfield…culpable, in the 92nd minute!).

          Our defense does that now and then – look back to the Orlando match in July and getting caught pushing up and conceding in injury time to kibosh Bella’s clean sheet.

          But that’s kind of on ‘Brunn, too. That was supposed to be one of the big pluses of bringing her here; that she would help by commanding the backline and helping steady the defending down. As we saw on this occasion, though, that didn’t happen.

    2. And the raw shot stats are ridiculously deceptive. Look at the xG race chart; xG 1.39 from all those shots? That produces a xG/shot of 0.05, which is shorthand for “crapton of crap shots”. Carolina’s was 0.1xG/shot, so twice as good as Portland.

      So, no; it was a decent win, a solid win (that did benefit from Carolina’s utter inability to find their finishing boots…) but not a “dominant win”. Like I said; I don’t think we can tell anything from this one about how these teams will look in October.

      1. Well I think the Courage have more problems than missing S. Mewis, that is a tall minus. But! there is a lack of speed on defense, they are good players I love Pickett’s game, but I think Smith and Weaver just had too much pace for them, even Mathias was frustrated and she is pretty fast. I also think there are some hurt feelings from the trade. Those problems will still be problems at the end of October.
        Lindsey Horan is sitting out these two friendlies with an injury picked up in Cary. I wish she hadn’t gone.

  2. Clearly Sinc is on the “back 9” of her career, and the questions remains: how, and when, best to use her?

    I like the move to sub her out after 60+ minutes.

    I like having her on the pitch to take PKs, take a crafty shot on goal that at this point only Horan is also capable taking, and – increasingly – her ability to find Smith (most recently) and Weaver (previously) in dangerous spots.

    Over the arc of his career Wayne Gretzky went from great to very good to good, but even in the good phase he could still show you very good and even the occasional great.

    With Sinc, I think we’re in the transition from very good to good, and we’ll still get treated to the occasional great.

    1. The concern I have is that when she has a jour sans, as she did in Cary, we tend to lose quite a bit if she’s on the pitch instead of Weaver or Everett. And the thing with age is that the ability to predict (and manage) those sorts of days become much less certain.

      So it actually becomes a tougher problem, not easier, to figure out what to do with Sinc. When she’s just “good” not “great” it’s not too big a deal. But what about when “good” becomes “not very good” or even “ineffective”?

  3. It looked to me like our fullbacks were instructed to stay deep instead of their usual venturing forward into the attack. I assume this tactical choice was made because of the danger presented by Williams, McDonald, and Debinha, and I think it was a good one. Kuikka in particular has been outstanding more for her attacking prowess than her defending, but in this game she did a great job locking down our right side. And what a luxury it is to be able to have Klingenberg off the bench (and to have Kuikka able to play both sides to make it work).

    1. It looked like Parsons had directed at least one fullback to stay home at all times, and in general to tend primarily to their defending and yes, I agree; that helped keep the match under control. I was fine with that.

      So far the fullbacks have been remarkably solid; Westphal, Kuikka, Klingenberg…even Pogarch so long as she keeps her head…we have a solid outside back corps. This match it was out centerbacks who gave us the jittery moments.


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