Thorns FC: Robbed

It is an offence if a player:
– deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm, for example moving the hand/arm towards the ball.
– touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger. A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation. By having their hand/arm in such a position, the player takes a risk of their hand/arm being hit by the ball and being penalized.

~ Law 12: Fouls and Misconduct (IFAB Laws of the Game 2021-22)
Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Remember the Houston match just a little over a week ago? The one where Becky Sauerbrunn got nailed with what was very obviously not a handball by center referee Natalie Simon?

Meet Tori Penso, who seems to have a similar problem with Law 12.

C’mon, Penso!! That’s even more fucking ridiculous than the Sauerbrunn call that Simon blew against Houston.

Touches the ball with hand/arm? Yes.

Made her body “unnaturally bigger”? No.

Position of her hand/arm not justifiable by the player’s body movement for that specific situation? No!

The PRO is really testing my “referees are like weather or the condition of the pitch and you have to just deal with them as they are.” philosophy.

Up to the 86th minute the Reign looked incapable of winning or even leveling that match.

Here’s the xG race chart:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

In the 86th minute Tacoma’s xG was barely 0.6.

Portland had snuffed out their French mercenaries; Eugénie Le Sommer left in the 62nd minute with two shots, none on frame, Dzsenifer Marozsán came off in the 78th minute with no shots at all.

Tacoma as a club was utterly nerfed; here’s the sum total of their dangerous attacks:
27th minute – Jessica Fishlock headed across the six to Le Sommer, who blasted a sitter over the crossbar,
52nd minute – Fishlock again to Le Sommer, but Emily Menges neatly picked her pocket – the ball rolled out to Bethan Balcer, who also fired three yards over the goal,
64th minute – Sofia Huerta made a strong right flank run and crossed to Megan Rapinoe, catching Natalia Kuikka ballwatching, but Rapinoe followed the trend and headed high and wide, and
66th minute – Rose Lavelle in possession at the top of the 18 was well defended by Meghan Klingenberg and shot…yep, you guessed it, way over the bar.

That was it.

That was all.

For a team that had thoroughly beaten the Thorns in both their previous meetings the Reign had nothing, nothing at all on last Wednesday night.

Until, four minutes from losing the third engagement, when Penso handed them a point they didn’t deserve.

We can come up with reasons that the Thorns could have sidestepped that injustice. Once again the forwards and AMs had trouble with their shot group; 23 shots, only five on goal? Twenty-six crosses without an chance created?

Yeah, the Thorns could have done better putting this one out of reach.

But…my point is, goddammit, they were putting it out of reach!

I was frantic when Christine Sinclair, Morgan Weaver, and Sophia Smith came off (in the 61st, 71st, and 70th minutes, respectively…) thinking that Coach Parsons was nuts to park the bus against the damn Dandilions, who always seem to have a nasty late game surprise hidden somewhere.

But…it was working.

Crystal Dunn, Tyler Lussi, Simone Charley, and Kelli Hubly were holding the line. Tacoma was stymied.

Until that damn call.

Bad calls are part of the game, I understand that. The NWSL doesn’t have deep enough pockets to afford VAR – I mean, we could have it here, but in places like KC and Tacoma it would be impossible, and there’s no way to have a system of video review only in some venues and not others. I get all that.


It’s just deeply…frustrating to such a hell of a good team game like the Thorns played Wednesday night wasted because of a brutally obvious officiating error.

There’s nothing anyone can do now other than take the point and win out the final two matches.





Passing the Passing Test: Per OPTA the Thorns completed only 72% of their passes. Tacoma was equally sloppy, completing 71.8%. It was not a night for slick ball work.

Here’s Arielle Dror’s passing network chart; you can see that outside of Sauerbrunn, Kuikka, and Raquel Rodriguez not too many Thorns were having terrific success. Both Dunn and Sinclair were having a tough time connecting with the forwards (you’ll note that Charley doesn’t even have a data point – that’s how stranded she was…).

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

The bottom line is that the passes were good enough to keep a boot on Tacoma’s neck, though, and that should have been good enough.

Corner Kicks

OPTA says the Thorns took only five corners against Tacoma. My notes agree.

31′KlingenbergLongCleared, recycled, pinged around and lost without a shot.
40′KlingenbergShortTo Salem; her cross went onto Sinclair’s head but Sinc’s header was tame and Bouhaddi collected easily.
43′SalemLongCleared but only as far as Klingenberg – she crossed in to Horan who hit a strong downward header but put it wide left.
55′SalemLongEasy Bouhaddi take.
58′KlingenbergLongCleared, recycled, cleared again, finally lost without a shot.

One good chance – Horan’s header – but nothing much else unless you count Sinc’s effort, which was pretty weak. So 20%? That should probably have been better, but given how we’ve been on corners this season…I’m kind of okay with that

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,


Smith (70′ – +9/-5 : +2/-2 : +11/-7) Smith’s run set up Weaver’s goal (the ball actually banged off a defender in between, though, so Smith didn’t get the assist) and was busy much of the night.

The good? Smith was her usual energetic self, pressing and forechecking and menacing the Tacoma goal.

The bad? Shooting (again); five shots, only one on goal, including missing an opportunity to take advantage of the traditional once-per-match “Bouhaddi-makes-a-match-losing-quality-error” in the 31st minute when Bouhaddi inexplicably rolled a goal kick directly to Smith at the top of the 18.

Smith’s relatively tame shot was deflected wide.

Charley (20′ – +2/-3) Buzzed around busily, but Portland was dropping deep at that point so got virtually no support and this not an attacking factor. Did do some nice forechecking, tho.

Weaver (71′ – +7/-0 : +2/-0 : +9/-0)

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,

As we noted; Smith starts this with a powerful run into the top corner of the 18. But she draws two defenders, and is lucky that the ball spins off a Tacoma foot into Weaver’s path.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,

Weaver spins neatly and fires are the near post. Pretty turn and tidy finish. Note what Bouhaddi does, though:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,

What the hell is that goofy little sideways flop, mamzelle? Honestly, I have no idea why she’s so highly thought of. She’s really an awful keeper.

Lussi (19‘ – +1/-4) Not as bad as her PMR suggests. Tyler Lussi came on and helped keep the boot on Tacoma’s neck. Her minuses are largely for trying to thread crosses or passes in when her teammates weren’t running into the box. Not sure if Parsons didn’t get her with the program or whether it was just force of habit.

Sinclair (61′ – +5/-3 : +3/-1 : +8/-4) One thing that Sinc helped a lot with was forechecking – the high press…

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,

…like this meant that there weren’t a lot of options there for the Tacoma back, eh? Now that’s how you keep a good team down!

Had a lovely curling shot in the 60th minute that skimmed barely wide of the left post, but that was really all for her in attack. The usual good tackling and passing, and was fading at the hour so a good relief.

Dunn (29′ – +7/-4) I won’t kid you; I cringed when I saw her come on.

But y’know what? She did just fine, whether it was as…

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,


Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,

…which doesn’t really settle the Dunn Dilemma; what IS her best position for this team?

Did well keeping the match in hand, though, so a good shift.

Rodriguez (+8/-0 : +9/-5 : +17/-5) My pick for Woman of the Match; utterly delicious ball work, especially dribbling through tight quarters, real ball-on-a-string stuff. Should have been rewarded for…

…catching Bouhaddi off her line and chipping a sweet 35-yarder that barely missed ducking under the bar. Outstanding match on both sides of the ball.

Horan (+4/-2 : +4/-2 : +8/-4) Useful, great tackling, decent passing…close with the header off the 43rd minute corner…but…just not…Great, on a night when the Thorns could have used a little more greatness.

Salem (+2/-3 : +1/-3 : +3/-6) Kind of an off night for Salem, who turned over the ball quite a lot. Luckily her teammates Rodriguez, Sinclair, Dunn, and Salem were picking up the slack.

As discussed to death above; not culpable for the bad penalty call.

Kuikka (+5/-4 : +6/-4 : +11/-8) Another Thorn who was better than her PMR looks – four of her eight minuses are for passes that should have connected but either her teammates weren’t there or the Dandilions were first.

Was asleep when Rapinoe rose for the 64th minute cross; that could have been deadly, so lucky that ‘Pinoe was out of sorts…

Sauerbrunn (+4/-2 : +6/-1 : +10/-3) This was perhaps the first match where I sat up thinking “Wow! THIS is why we wanted her!”

Monster tackle off Le Sommer’s feet in the 32nd minute, and over the match ‘Brunn was an utter beast – both the CBs were – and I really want to see more of this Sauerbrunn.

A lot more.

Menges (+9/-2 : +3/-1 : +12/-3)

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,

In the 52nd minute it was Menges turn to boss Le Sommer around like that dog whisperer guy with a cringy little teacup poodle.

Ah. Le humiliation of les French mercenaires! Oo la la!

I love the sweet nectar of OL tears. I can only hope that somewhere outside Lyon Aulas was biting the couch cushions with impotent rage.

Klingenberg (84′ – +1/-1 : +6/-3 : +7/-4) Solid shift, if a bit disconnected in the first half.

Hubly (6′ – +3/-1) Unfortunate to have come on right before the center referee blew the doors off, but a decent shift in general.

Bixby (+0/-1 : +2/-1 : +2/-2) Unlucky on the PK. Critical box away in the 49th minute to clear out what was becoming dangerous pressure.

Distribution was a trifle sketchy at times…but also had some sweet dimes such as in the 74th minute when she hammered a long ball to Horan, who fed Dunn, who drove a long through ball for Charley to run onto at the byline – end to end in six seconds. Nice!

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use,

Coach Parsons: …must be livid. He gamed out a plan to stifle Tacoma. It was working like a mechanical ass-kicker and then suddenly…boom.

Well. As it says in the Book of Job: shit happens.

At least we still have a point on Tacoma.

Now the coach has to pick his team back up and drag six points out of Houston in Houston and Carolina here. I’d be using that damned penalty call to light a fire under this club to put such a hurting on those two opponents that every referee in PRO could line up to jog onto the pitch and make crap calls and it wouldn’t matter because the Thorns were just running wild.

Two games. Six points. One Shield.

It’s really just that simple.

Let’s do it.

John Lawes
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5 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Robbed

  1. I would have criticized that penalty if the Thorns would have gotten the penalty kick in a similar manner. That call was garbage.

    Sinclair has really become a good defensive player as she has aged. She’s a player that can only play so many minutes. To be honest, I’d rather have her come off the bench and have her at the end of Games

  2. Great summary John! There are so many positives for the Thorns in that game and you have covered them well. Normally I like to focus on the positives, but the great performance and terrible bottom line have me thinking what does PTFC need to do to win out.
    Start Weaver and Smith together and bring in Dunn and Charley as fresh legs at about 60 or 70.
    Smith needs to put more Welli into her shots, she is clever on the ball and great in traffic, but she needs to hit the ball harder.
    Weaver needs to do what she did on her goal more often; shoot where the goalie isn’t. Bouhaddi, as cat quick as she is, would have stopped that if she hadn’t been so twisted up. Your right, Bouhaddi is not a great keeper. I think Rapinoe is the one that said it first.
    The Thorns attack, and that includes the whole team, need to do what they did in this game. Get the ball up field quickly and Bixby needs to bung it up the field if the other team is trying to press.
    If Kuikka and Kling, our Special K’s can continue to rule the flanks it will make a big difference. The Reign have a great midfield and especially Huerta on the right flank have been effective, but but as you would say they were nerfed out in this game.
    Rocky was a beast and if that can continue success will follow.
    To summarize…. play like Wednesday night only better and PTFC takes the next two.

    1. Bouhaddi is a weird mix; typically she has solid fundamentals and controls her penalty area well. Then, every so often, she has a massive brain-fart and makes a devastating (as in “match-losing” level) mistake. The odd little flop on the Weaver shot is not that one – her goal kick to Smith? Yes – she should have paid for that…

      1. Yesterday was Bouhaddi birthday and Jess Fishlock gave her a terrific present, a save of the week sliding stop ala Kristen Westphal.
        I think there is one other thing to add to the weird mix that is Bouhaddi. She has played behind 10 very talented Lyon players and 10 very talented French National team players and now a very talented OL Reign team. People expect a lot from her, but the thing is even though she is known for these occasional mind blowing mistakes, she is full of confidence and from all appearances a great teammate and nice person. She is definitely a weird mix.
        Well OL Reign lost and the Spirit are looking really dangerous and Gotham have four games in hand so PTFC need to play well today and I am pretty certain they will play well against Carolina.

  3. WE WON THE SHIELD! I LOVE the Spirit right now! Instead of being a mess of anxiety and stress during the last regular game of the season (worring that the stupid Reign and the legacy of bad calls could mean we lose the shield ACK!) I can sit back and happily watch what will presumably be our D-team gently kick the ball around with the humbled Courage. Also it was an amazing bday present for my hubby.

    I am stunned that Dunn is now a bench player. On this site and elsewhere there have been discussions about how disappointing she is (an okay player when we were expecting a game-changing behemoth). But now Parsons is rating her as low as Lussi. Also she wasn’t called up for the USWNT. What’s going on with her???

    BTW- I forgot to make a prediction for the Dash game (husband’s bday, etc.). Really hope that doesn’t endanger my solid mediocrity.


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