Thorns FC: Clif’s Notes

Given the insane pace of fixtures – four in twelve days – the Thorns aren’t the only ones having to make choices about rotation and squad composition.

I’ve got a real life; a job (although that’s a bit on hold at the moment as I work on getting better at wobbling around on the new knees…) and a family and other interests that, albeit interesting and entertaining, take up time.

So I had to make some choices about covering matches in this period, and the biggest was that one was going to get shorted. I just didn’t have enough life to review tape for all four games. One was going to have to get the Clif’s Notes version of Thorns FC:

I picked the Kansas City away match last Sunday, figuring that a visit to the Wooden Spoon would be a boring walkover that wouldn’t really help us learn anything about the Thorns.

Well…boyfuckinghowdy was that a wrong guess.

Stuffed into the miniature confines of the mean little baseball outfield that serves KC as a pitch the Thorns were unable to find anything. The stats tell the story:

Eighteen shots…two on frame? Two? Seriously?

All the possession in the world, heaps of crosses, damn near 100 more passes…and the league leaders got three things from the red lantern of “KC NWSL”: jack and shit and a scoreless draw.

We’ve got the Dandilions bearing down like a rogue freight engine, so I’m just going to try and sum up what I saw as the reasons Portland could do nothing with this hapless mob.

  1. KC came out to not-lose and didn’t. Portland wasn’t optimised to break them down, and didn’t.

The Kroyals set up in a low block, and pressed the Thorns every chance they had in midfield and up top. All four KC defenders had their heads on a swivel, and gave the Thorns forwards little or no space to operate.

The press was important; just like Houston, KC found that if you got stuck in quickly a Thorn would get tackled for loss or boot away a poor pass (you’ll note that for all that possession the Thorns’s passing barely broke 70%…)

To break that block down Portland needed pace to get behind quickly, but started with both Morgan Weaver and Simone Charley on the bench. It’s revealing that the only two shots on frame the Thorns managed were after Weaver and Charley came on in the 61st minute.

Instead we had Sophia Smith, Christine Sinclair, and Crystal Dunn.

2. In a match that needed pace up front the Thorns had Sinclair and Dunn, who, instead, are slow and tend to interfere with each other’s games and Smith was just off all night.

We’ve been over the Dunn Dilemma too many times to pound on it again here.

This match, though, particularly exposed the way the sum of Dunn and Sinc are less than their individual parts. Neither player had a particularly poor match (though Sinc, arrrgh…well, we’ll get to that…) but the thing is that they both tend to operate in the same space – central between the center circle and the top of the penalty arc – and in many the same ways – very deliberate, lots of forechecking, and passing – little lateral and drop passes (for Dunn) or forward passes and through-balls (for Sinc).

The problem is that instead of making space for each other and their teammates, the two internationals just sort of collide; they get in each other’s way and draw enemy attention because of their deliberate pace.

What didn’t make things any better was Smith, who had a singularly poor match.

Here it is in graphic form:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

Note the circle colors: “g+” is a metric that evaluates the quality of passes for both passer and receiver. The larger the circle the more frequent the passes, the “hotter” the color the higher the g+ so the better quality the passing.

So in KC the Thorns midfield and centerbacks were doing nicely, Natalia Kuikka was smokin’ like a Swisher Sweet (on the other wing Kling was stone cold, unfortunately…) and up front Morgan Weaver was working magic…with what little she got. But the emphasis is on “little”

Look at the tiny circles for all the forwards – Smith, Weaver, and Charley were getting nothing.

And in the top of midfield?

Dunn and Sinc were just damn passengers; making few passes and those fairly low quality.

That ain’t gonna get you a bite of that smoky Kansas City barbeque, and it didn’t Sunday.

3. Parsons substitutions emphasized his lack of (or poor, or both) preparation for this match.

So the omission of Weaver and Charley at the opening whistle has been noted. But when they finally came on they had barely twenty minutes on the pitch before Lindsey Horan came off for Yazmeen Ryan.

Horan, while not having the sort of Great Horan outing she had against Houston, was doing good work, and Ryan was just as invisible as she had been the match before. Once again, the matchday management was at best ineffective and (in the case of the two forwards) actively negative – the Thorns were worse with Dunn and Sinc on and Weaver, Charley, and Horan off.

Overall the squad looked flat and indecisive, certainly not inexplicable given the short rest, bunkered opponent, and wretched pitch. But not exactly a massive upvote for the gaffer’s preparation and pre-match windup.

4. Sometimes if it isn’t for shit-luck you just have no luck at all.

With the dreary slog winding slowly towards full time and Portland throwing everything at KC but the physio’s water-bottle carrier, in the 84th minute this happened:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

That’s Hailie Mace throwing a pretty sweet hip-check on Morgan Weaver chasing a loose ball down near the byline. The center referee didn’t hesitate pointing to the spot, and Christine Sinclair (of course!) lined up behind the ball, and…

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

…you’ll notice that A.D. Franch is going the wrong way (A.D., you know Sinc always goes for the lower left corner, right..?) and it’s the match if the ball doesn’t clank off the post.

Well.

Along with every other goddamn thing that can bite this club in the ass this season, my recollection is that Sinclair has attempted three penalties. She converted against Chicago on Matchday 1 but since then has missed both the other two.

Thirty-three percent from the spot? Christine Sinclair? Unpossible!

And yet…there it is.

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

Pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?

5. So…now what?

Well, it’s pretty simple:

Beat the Dandilions Wednesday? Likely win the Shield.

Lose? Having led the league all fucking summer the Thorns will drop to second. If Houston wins at KC (hah!) they’ll be within four points and be looking to close to within a point when we travel there this coming weekend.

This is primarily a coaching issue. Parsons needs to figure out what his best XI is and run them out there against the Dandilions. He needs to scout them and find ways to stop what is now the hottest attack in the league. He needs to manage the match better than he has the last two.

I’m going to just say this flat out; I don’t want to see Sinclair or Dunn start against Tacoma. They need to sit, and the club needs to run out a fast frontline; Weaver-Smith-Charley ahead of a midfield of Horan-Rodriguez-Salem.

I’m going to suggest that we might want to consider Hubly in place of Sauerbrunn, but that ain’t a hill I’m gonna die on.

It’s time to quit fannying around. If this club wants a third star it needs to begin with a statement win Wednesday. As a famous soccer pundit once remarked, what is best in life is

“To crush Tacoma, to see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of Megan Rapinoe.”

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4 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Clif’s Notes

  1. Agree on the Dunn/Sinc bad field chemistry. I’ve been trying all season to figure out with whom Dunn plays well…and have landed on Nat and Salem. Its almost like an ego thing – the more prominent the player the worse Dunn seems to interact with them. It so often feels like Dunn is playing a different strategy than the rest of the team – knowing her, its probably brilliant, but her teammates seem to have failed to get the memo.

    Becky has been one of my favorite players for years…deserving of the FIFA POTY in my opinion. She is clearly still a great defender by any yardstick, but it feels like she came to Portland to retire. For what its worth, Sinc, who is almost exactly three years her senior, has never given me that impression. So I’m in agreement that Hubly should get the starting spot, if for no other reason than she will be more rested.

    To that point, I wonder if Weaver/Charley had limited minutes in anticipation of Wednesday’s game. If they start and come out strong, then kudos to Parsons for thinking ahead. These tight schedules make for chess-like strategy in choosing proper lineups.

    I’d also like to see Everett back on the pitch as a false nine, perhaps she and Smith come in as the 60′ super subs.

    Regardless, we have to stop isolating Smith in the attacking third with slow supporters. I’m loving the magic she employs in/near the box, but she needs a way out of trouble when she can’t push through.

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    1. The only problem w resting the fast forwards is that you still need a plan to take the points in KC. IF we can take all the points from Tacoma, tho? That will go a long way to buying off on the plan…

      Dunno where Everett fits in if you have Weaver-Smith-Charley-Horan-Rodriguez-Salem, false nine or otherwise.

      And, yes; Smith alone simply gets mugged.

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  2. I really like 4-4-2’s suggestions. I am not sure why Parsons is not playing Westphal, Hubly, Everett and Pogarch during this stretch. Kuikka is playing well but but this team has four games in 12 days!
    I didn’t think that Smith had a terrible game. The whole team seemed to have taken an hour to figure out the field and when they did I thought they totally dominated. Menges was even signalling in the first half for Kuikka to go wider and Horan and Smith were starting to figure out the way they could attack. Ryan for Horan had to have been a sub because Lindsey took a knock, but Ryan added very little. But hey I would liked Kuikka to move in to Horan position, because IMO she is a total Swiss Army Knife.

    If they had played the whole game like they did the last 20 minutes I am pretty sure there would have been a goal or two for PTFC. I would also like to see them get down the field faster. On that field speed isn’t the problem, even for Sinc (she can move pretty fast at times), I wish they would just move up faster.

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    1. The problem is that they didn’t have the team they had in the final half hour on the pitch in the first hour; that team wasn’t nearly as pacey. You get what you get with the players you put out there…

      Smith had two shots, none on frame. That’s a pretty terrible game.

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