Thorns FC: Pieces Parts

I can’t think of an image that sums up the 1-1 draw that opened the Thorns’ Challenge Cup campaign better than these two:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

That’s left back Meghan Klingenberg deep in the OL Reign end, trying to find a teammate to throw in to. Note particularly the game clock time. Here’s screenshot of the actual throw:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Kling shuffled along the touchline, ball over her head, looking, looking, feinting now and then, as her teammates sort of wandered around trying to escape the Dandelions’ tight marking, for sixteen seconds until finally giving up and tossing the ball to the only outlet available, midfielder Hina Sugita. Sugita was immediately closed down and had to drop back to Meghan Nally, who cycled the ball around the Thorns backline for the umpteenth time that match.

Sixteen fucking seconds.

The Thorns have never been a particularly pacey team. Not for them the off-to-the-races style of Riley’s (spit!) Damned Courage. Deliberate passing, slow buildup…that’s the Thorns Way. The new coach has changed the formation but not the style.

That style relies on a midfield that can dime their way through tight pressing and forwards that can do a lot with very little space.

They used to have a Route One option with Simone Charley, but she’s gone and despite her pace I haven’t seen any real effort to try and pitch that sort of direct ball up to Morgan Weaver.

If those don’t or can’t happen? The Thorns have been known to struggle.

At Lumen Field last Friday we got a lot of this:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Hubly is already getting pressured, and everyone in front of her is bodied up by a white shirt. Klingenberg and Sophia Smith are open, but that would mean trying to knock a big switch across Lauren Barnes’ body.

Sugita is open, but the spacing is so tight that a forward pass to her doesn’t really gain the Thorns advantage, and there are two Seattlites poised to shut Sugita down if she is the target. Kuikka over by the right-hand touchline also has a couple of potential markers ready to close her down if Hubly goes that way.

As it happened, Hubly had no other option but Sugita, who was immediately pressured and had to drop to Emily Menges way back at the midfield stripe and the Thorns had to start all over again.

The Rhian Wilkinson Thorns are not by any means a finished product. A mix of old and new players are learning an entirely new formation and attacking system, and the rough fit shows; when I was a kid and was into building LEGOs my little sister had a name for the stage in the process where there were seemingly random bits of the structure lying around; “pieces parts”, she called it, and that’s what the Thorns looked like in Seattle Friday. Just pieces parts lacking an overall fit and direction.

The question before us is whether Coach Wilkinson can figure out a way to jigger these pieces parts to fit into a team that can generate attack.

The defending already looks decent, but the midfield was still in bits Friday and the attack…well, we’ll talk about that when we get to the player comments, but here’s Arielle Dror’s “xG race chart:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

Note there’s something off about this; the Thorns didn’t have a shot – let alone a shot on goal – in the second half until the Smith miss at 78′. So I think the red line should be horizontal at about 0.38xG from 45′ to 78′ when it takes a jump (and I’d think that the Smith miss should be more than about 0.15xG, but that’s just me…) and then flat to full time.

Point is that the Thorns kept the Dandelions’ looks at goal below 1xG – the Sophia Heurta strike was a screamer through traffic from distance; not something I’d expect to see duplicated often (and it wasn’t) – but the Thorns couldn’t generate anything going forward, either. Sinc’s goal was also a sort of flukey thing created by Smith’s hammerstrike, the Reign defense collapsing on Smith, Tullis-Joyce scrambling, and a fortunate rebound that went right into Sinc’s path.

I don’t want to pull the panic cord.

These silly Cup ties are really just elaborate preseason games. But…they’re starting to count. And so far the Thorns aren’t showing a hell of a lot of growth; they looked disconnected in midfield and barren in attack against Chicago and Seattle here, and again at Lumen Friday.

At some point something needs to change. Before the real season begins and these games do begin to count.

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.


Passing the Passing Test: Not terrible – about 75%. Worse than Seattle’s 80%, though, and more problematic was that the final or “critical” forward pass just wasn’t there. Here’s Arielle Dror’s passing matrix:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

Compare this to her diagram for OLR:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

That’s pretty ugly. The Reign is passing at will, and connecting through their wideouts – Barnes and Huerta – with their backline and up to all three of their forwards.

The Thorns aren’t making any sort of penetrating passes (they did, twice, which we’ll talk about in the ratings, but that was all…); it’s all back-and-forth across the midfield and drops.

Christine Sinclair, the notional second forward, is nowhere near the opposing goal – the only target up high is Smith, and even that’s damn sparse.

The problem wasn’t the passing per se; it was where the passes went and what they accomplished…which 1) wasn’t far enough forward and 2) wasn’t enough, period.

Corner Kicks

The Thorns worked a single corner all match, a 1st minute Klingenberg in-swinger that Reign keeper Tullis-Joyce easily went up for and claimed.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook. Licensed under Fair Use.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (87′ – +4/-7 : +6/-3 : +10/-10) Smith seems to have gotten a lot of stick for this:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

And it’s a bad miss. With the match for the taking, with Tullis-Joyce finally making the sort of huge error that she’s been predicted by everyone and Chris Henderson to make, with the goalmouth beckoning, Smith just shanked her shot wide to the right.


I have a certain sympathy for her.

Yes, she should have taken a settling touch and converted, but she was rushed and didn’t because all match she’d been dealing with this:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

Where’s the black shirts? Hello? Anyone? Is this thing on? Hello?

Smith got absolutely zero fucking support all match. Go back and look at the passing chart. Smith. That was the Thorns attack, and she was probably thinking that she had to get that 78th minute shot off ASAP or she was going to get shut down just like she did in the 11th minute and damn near every other time she attacked the Seattle goal.

That’s got to be wearing her ass out, and picking on her for finishing – and she does need to finish, but – at this point is just rubbing salt in it.

Everett (3′ – no rating) Supposedly Marissa Everett played in this match. You could have fooled me; I never even saw her.

Sinclair (73′ – +6/-3 : +0/-4 : +6/-7) What’s frustrating is that because of the goal it’s kind of hard to slag off on Sinc for this one. But other than the goal and some decent passing in the first half? She did nothing much to put the ball in the back of the net. And she was toast by halftime and should have been yanked – she was visibly gassed and was passing poorly and being tackled for loss.

I don’t know what to say except this is something that the gaffer needs to deal with. Sinc is no longer 90-minutes-fit, and even with limited minutes isn’t doing the work as a 10 – assuming that’s what she’s doing out there – that the team needs her to be doing. And she needs to be dealt with sooner rather than later.

Weaver (17′ – +0/-1) Ineffective. Did all her usual running around, got nothing out of it because by the final quarter hour her teammates appeared to be sitting deep playing for the road point.

Ryan (65′ – +4/-5 : +0/-2 : +4/-7) At the time I watched this live I was unhappy with Sugita because I thought her hard work – and she was working hard and doing well was doing the team no good. But reviewing tape I realized the the real passenger in midfield was Ryan.

Here’s Sugita (versus Quinn just to show you what was happening on the other side of midfield:

Sugita is clean as hell on the ball! But sparse, damn sparse, whereas Quinn is running wild.

Now here’s Ryan versus Jessica Fishlock:

There’s the problem; Ryan is just not in the match. Unable to get onto the ball, unable to pass when she does.

Also, this:

Image by Paramount+. Licensed under Fair Use.

This 5th minute mess begins when Fishlock spins Ryan like a top, and then finds Veronica Latsko running at goal, and…

…Meghan Nally makes a horrific stab, misses, and Latsko is off to the races. Luckily for Portland Bella Bixby came out strong and big and Latsko’s chip went wide left.

Woof. That’s not just ugly but team-wide-ugly.

Moultrie (25′ – +3/-0) In her nearly-half-hour Olivia Moultrie did one really good thing – saw Smith breaking through the Dandelion backline and fed her a delicious through-ball.

Otherwise no real difference from the other Thorns midfielders; outplayed by Seattle’s midfield and just couldn’t and didn’t do enough to change the game shape.

Sugita (+8/-4 : +4/-1 : +12/-5) Frustrating because, as we saw above, Sugita was individually fine; clinical passing, tough tackling (four of her twelve pluses are tackles for gain), and overall active and intelligent.

The effects, though, were underwhelming. Go back up and look at the Dror passing diagram. There’s nothing threatening there; back and forth, little dink up to Sinc or out wide. Just more pieces parts not fitting into a dangerous whole.

If Wilkinson can figure out how to use her effectively Sugita as an individual player shows a lot of promise. This match, though, showed how you can have a great individual day and get nothing for your team out of it. As I keep saying; soccer is the team-y-est of team sports. If you can’t put the pieces parts together? All the good pieces in the world aren’t going to get you three points.

Coffey (+6/-2 : +7/-3 : +13/-5) Again, taken individually Sam Coffey had a decent match. As part of a midfield that had trouble finding space and time, though…not really effective.

At some point I hope all these good individual performances will result in a great team effort.

Klingenberg (+3/-3 : +2/-2 : +5/-5) Benefited from not having Tziarra King on her flank! Generally part of a backline that was sturdy enough barring the occasional mindboggling derp. Still not finding a midfielder or forward to work with in attack, so her service has been largely missing.

Nally (+3/-3 : +3/-0 : +6/-3) Outside the chest-clutching goof in the 5th minute was steady and effective – great defending on a dangerous Ally Watt run in the 64th minute. Weakest of the centerbacks passing forward, though.

Menges (+2/-1 : +1/-0 : +3/-1) The bulk of the Dandelions’ attack came down the touchlines so Menges. insulated in the center of the backline, had much less to do than her flanking teammates.

Hubly (+2/-3 : +6/-0 : +8/-3) Good work, particularly shutting down Lauren Barnes in the second half. Best passer of the centerbacks.

Kuikka (+11/-5 : +2/-3 : +13/-8) Homeric battle with King in the first half, and came off slightly the worst in it – Wilkinson swapped Kuikka and Klingenberg briefly to settle young King down a bit. All over the place in the first half; her pluses include two tackles-for-gain, a loose ball pickup, two duel wins, a smart tactical foul, a strong run and cross, and three passes, including the “critical” volley that put Smith through in the 28th minute.

Kuikka’s only ugly moment came on a Seattle free kick in the 25th minute when she and Nally got mixed up and neither marked Tziarra King at the back post. Luckily King banged the crossbar.

Bixby (+1/-2 : +0/-1 : +1/-3) Huge in the 5th minute, otherwise little tested. Beaten on both King’s 25th minute and Latsko’s 37th minute crossbars (those are her two first-half minuses – the third is a poor clearance in the second half…). Got a fingertip to Huerta’s goal, but not sure she could have done better; that shot was nasty.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Wilkinson: Another match where a group of individual solid/decent performances didn’t add up to a win.

You can, if you will, give credit for the road point, and argue that things like Smith’s 78th minute “aren’t the coach’s fault” and you’d be technically right.

The coach’s job, though, is to find tactics and formations to make her players effective as a team, and to find the right players for those tactics and formations, and I’ll argue that we have yet to see that anywhere outside the what-now-looks-like-an-outlier U-23 match.

Smith is working her tail off but is usually isolated and throttled. The midfield is not clicking, either with each other or with the forwards. We still miss Salem at the #6. Sinc is…a problem. The backline is generally solid – though I was fascinated to hear Wilkinson say after this match that she was satisfied with the attack but thought the defending needed work.


We have nearly a week before the Thorns travel to sunny, funny San Diego to see what the noobs have got.

What will the Thorns bring?

After this one, I’m still unsure.

We’ll just have to see.

Update 3/22: This has been percolating in my brain since last Friday, and I had to let it out or it was threatening to strangle me with unvoiced rage.

This is a Seattle Reign kit:

Dark blue. Foofy Zulily logo. Dark, stern Queen of the North glowering down from the badge.

THIS is fucking Olympique Lyon:

This should not be:

If I was a Reign fan – and thank the Lord I’m not, sir! – I’d be goddamn furious.

Bad enough that your corporate master Aulas shoved his little butch lion where the Queen should be. But now the 2022 kit drives home the reality that the sellout is complete; the shirt is a sorry little knock-off of the OL kit, reminding every Reign supporter that the formerly proudly independent club is now a wholly-owned subsidiary and bondslave of the Monster of Lyon.

That the league allows this, let alone stood idly by while Aulas shit all over the cap rules last season, is a travesty, a joke, and an insult to the Reign supporters.

Since it’s Seattle I’m not sure whether to laugh or weep.

John Lawes
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26 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Pieces Parts

  1. I saw your comments on Stumptown and was wondering what your second impression would be. I saw a lot I liked but two squads playing very poorly as a team.
    The first half seemed to be all Seattle, but the second half both teams were not very good.
    I hate the fact that Sophia is getting so much flack for that miss. I agree with your assessment of why she may have shanked it. But this young woman makes a lot of chances for herself and in the last two games, even though she didn’t score, she was the reason the Thorns scored. In the U23 game she could have had six goals, but she had a hat… no screaming at her then. She just creates and she will miss sometimes. I am still pleased with her.
    I agree completely with your reappraisal of Sugita. I have gone from not worried about he stature, to very worried after the first Seattle game, and then back to less worried. She is a little magician and a tougher than she looks.
    Individually a lot of people had good games, but as team it was a real mess. Looking at the rest of the scores in the league it looks like their will be a lot of parity in the league, but I think that is only temporary. The Spirit, Reign and the Thorns will get themselves together and then we will see if Gotham and Kansas City are for real and who else will ascend to mid-pack. Probably Louisville and the Courage.

    1. Agree with your comments about Sugita – I almost cheered when she got a yellow card. She was in good places with nice passing that… was mostly safe and didn’t do much for the attack. That may change as she gets more NWSL experience.
      It’s hard not to play the “what if” game when watching Weaver and Ryan. Parsons saw more in them than others did and gave up a lot to get them What if he hadn’t.. who could we have gotten instead..
      It was also clear our midfield was outclassed at times and your description about the parts not making up an well-oiled whole are on point.

      BUT… our midfield has had so much less experience playing together – and Sugita, Coffey, and Nally have had so much less experience in the NWSL – than the Reign midfield. The fact that we got a point at Lumen Field is maybe kinda impressive. We haven’t seen a ton of growth over the last few games, but we can hope that in a few more they’ll get some kinks worked out. And hopefully Rocky will be okay soon.

      Fingers crossed..

      1. We managed to nick a point, which is good. Had Smith bent that shot a trifle to the left we could have had three, had Latsko put her chip a trifle to her right we could have had nothing.

        That match was so rough, ragged, and poor it’s hard to generalize from it other than the squad needs to be less rough, less ragged, and better before it encounters, say, Washington. And that’s Wilkinson’s job. Is her midfield a collection of pieces parts? Yes! Is it he rjob to figure out a way to make them fit together to win game? Also yes!

        Let’s see how she does in San Diego and maybe we’ll get an idea of how good she is at this “coaching” thing…

    2. As I said at Stumptown; if I’d been a neutral that second half would have had be channel surfing before the hour mark. I may well have been among the worst halves of soccer I’ve ever seen and, remember, my EPL team is Newcastle so that’s a really, REALLY low bar.

      Smith has made the decision to work in a very high-profile job. The risk of getting public stick for not doing well at that job comes with it. I don’t enjoy that she’s taking shit for missing that shot, but I won’t pretend she’s some sort of gentle flower that should be sheltered from the storm. Comes with the job. Don’t like it? Don’t take the job.

      I’m not worried about Sugita (or Smith, or any individual player). They’re going to be what they are and what the coach uses them to be. Right now their job is to find some sort of synergy to help the team win games. That hasn’t happened other than once against a markedly inferior opponent, and so something has to change. If I knew what I’d be getting Wilkinson’s pay. But is she wants to keep getting paid that pay, she needs to figure things out.

      As for the rest of the league..? How about you Gotham finding your Inner Suck against the Damned? Go figure.

  2. Jeez. We can’t be ready to give up on Weaver yet. I gotta say there seems a few that pile on Weaver, yet give Smith a pass for the same things. I’m a fan of both. Nothing would make me happier than to have to have both of them improve their scoring rate. Neither of them seem to be the kind of player that is going to have high rates.

    We want someone to help Smith? We have Morgan Freaking Weaver. Put her in and let her wreak havoc. Or trade her. Bring Ryan off the bench if you feel like Weaver or Smith need to, like we did with Charley. If we’re going to bring Weaver in to play 15 minutes at the end of the game then she, and Portland are destined to fail.

    1. I’m a Thorns fan. If Weaver is helping them win, I’m a Weaver fan, too. So far? Enh. Not a whole hell of a lot. Her conversion rate sucks, and the club hasn’t really found a way to make her consistently dangerous. I don’t see her in practice, though, so I don’t know how you’d do that. Wilkinson is supposed to, so let’s assume that she has her reasons for the way she played them Friday until the lack of results proves otherwise.

      Weaver and Smith have played on the same pitch before and I’ve seen no hard evidence that the riot Weaver brings benefits Smith. She’s not a fox in the box, not a poacher who would benefit from cleaning up Weaver’s trash. In fact, the Sinclair goal was precisely the sort of thing you’d have expected to have been set up by one of Weaver’s trademark kamikaze runs and thunderbolt shots instead of Smith…but then you stop and think, no, running at goal and uncorking a shot, that’s a Smith thing, too. So maybe that’s the issue; they’re too much like each other to benefit from working together – instead of the sum of their parts, they’re just too-similar parts that lack the glue – whatever and whoever that other player is – to put those pieces together.

    2. Ultimately, I think the system that is going to unlock both Weaver and Smith is going to be one based on pressure and speed.

      Weaver’s conversion rate at the pro level is terrible, but her work rate and expected goals created suggests a player who can be a massive plus with improvements.

      1. Ah, yes, the old “assume we have a can opener” trick.

        Y’know what you get with a player with a huge work rate and xG? Lucas Melano.

        I won’t kid you; I have no idea what it will take to turn Weaver into a dangerous piece of the attack. Pressure? Speed? Pixie Dust? I’m good with whatever it takes…but so far, as I said above, she seems to be what she is. We’ve seen her now for three seasons and she’s looked very much the same; lots of pace, lots of energy, lots of missed shots or shots not taken, not a lot of goals, either from her or caused by her…

        I’m hoping that Wilkinson has a better plan.

        1. I’m not sure disregarding her XG/XA rates is a smart strategy.

          XG is on her

          XA is driven more by poor finishing rates of the team.

          I’m trying to recall the last player you were positive about on the Thorns.

          1. “Positive” as in “unreservedly, wholeheartedly gushing with nothing but praise”? Amandine Henry. There was a player that was 99.9% positives. I picked on her when she wasn’t, but in general? I hardly ever had a bad word to say about her. She was (and probably still is…) the complete package. Lindsey Horan when she was in Great Horan mode. A.D. Franch in her GotY season of 2017.

            On this squad now? Smith is having a hell of a season and would have even more if she’d get any damn help. Sugita looks promising. Hubly is her usual solid self. Klingenberg is shockingly ageless. Bixby’s been excellent.

            But soccer players are a mix of strengths and weaknesses. The strengths are self-evident, so it’s the weaknesses that are critical, in the sense that finding ways to minimize them in context of the team as a whole is what leads to success.

            So I find it kinda pointless to rhapsodize about players’ strengths if that process isn’t happening. We know that Weaver’s not getting support (in the form of her xA being so low – we can all see that the team as a team isn’t crashing the box…) so her strengths – pace and aggression – aren’t producing goals. You aren’t the only person who seems to miss my point. This isn’t slagging off on individual players. This is about making those individuals – as they are, not by somehow changing them into something different – into a cohesive, winning unit on the pitch.

            That’s what I’m criticizing here; not Weaver’s strengths – which she has in abundance and which I enjoy – but that so far neither Parsons nor Wilkinson have managed to find a way to utilize them to make the team better.

            If Weaver isn’t getting service from her teammates, and the way the manager is setting up the team isn’t making that happen, well…maybe she needs to change the way she’s using Weaver, or find ways to adjust Weaver’s game to maximize Weaver’s strengths and minimize her (in this case, converting) weaknesses.

            That has nothing to do with being “positive” (or negative, for that matter) about Weaver. It’s about her being effective as part of the team. Which – right now – she’s not.

            1. The question is whether there is a more effective player on the roster at creating XG and XA to put in her place. I see value in opportunities created, but less so than traditional teams because of the way we use our midfield.

              We frankly gave up on two players who had similar issues who are now killing it in Gotham.

              How much of her struggles are tied to development vs decisiveness vs skill vs system design vs dumb luck.

              She doesn’t need to become an excellent striker or passer to become a significant plus player. She’s not right now and that’s obvious. I like her better than our alternatives

              1. Now I’m not sure if we’re arguing about this, or whether you’re trolling me.

                You’ll note, please, that I didn’t say Weaver wasn’t “better than our alternatives” (given that the “alternatives” are Everett and Beckman it’s not unrealistic to say that there aren’t any real “alternatives”…), or that there is a “more effective player”.

                I’m saying, and have been saying, that in her present situation Weaver is not an effective player, either.

                It has nothing to do with her abilities, but with her team to use those abilities to make goals and from those, wins. And that continuing to throw Weaver against the wall in the same manner game after game in hopes that she’ll stick is not an actual plan.

                (I will add that there IS an issue with Weaver’s abilities, and that’s summed up in her G/xG ratio. If she was converting we wouldn’t be having this disagreement. But right now, she isn’t.)

                Assuming that’s not going to change anytime soon – and it frankly doesn’t really matter if the reasons are development, decisiveness, skills, or dumb luck – what can change is the system around her.

                And that’s my point; that’s a coaching thing. That’s on Wilkinson. That’s why she’s the boss. Her job is to find a way to make Weaver, pace and aggression and shitty G/xG ratio and all, a significant plus player. Weaver HAS all those things, positives and negatives. It’s on her coach to find way to make the positives count more and the negatives count less.

                And that’s all. Really.

                1. I’m not trolling you. Just putting out a simple statement that she creates opportunities with her pace and minor improvements could lead to a fairly large payout.

                  1. Yes, she could.

                    No, she hasn’t, and my reply is that supposed Einstein quip about the definition of insanity. Her low xA and her anemic G/xG are statistical proof that whatever chances she’s creating now aren’t leading to any payout whatsoever, large or small.

                    So the critical piece is the coaching that the phrase “minor improvements” is doing so much work here to describe…basically retooling the entire Thorns attack surrounding Weaver to make her opportunities into goals and wins.

                    So if Weaver is to be an effective part of an effective squad that has to happen. Just throwing Weaver’s pace against the opponents’ defensive wall again and again seems more likely to get her frustrated than to produce that payout. I keep saying that and you keep pointing to her pace and opportunities. I think we’re talking past each other here.

                    1. It’s because she has a low XA according to you, but her XA/90 is around the range of some of the better players in the league.

                      I’m fine criticizing her for her anemic success rates, but I think you are essentially making up other weaknesses to fit a narrative

  3. I think it’s important to remember that this is basically spring training – exhibition games. The league is formatting this time as a tournament so that the teams can get paid something for training, which is fine with me. It also means that when the regular season starts it should really start, not like the first few years when most teams took at least a half-dozen games to start playing as a team.
    Progress at this point isn’t linear; you may have to get worse to get better. I’m as concerned as anyone about the issues you point out, but I’m willing to (try to) be patient at this point. How long has Sugita been here? A month maybe, not much more. I’m very hopeful that we’ll soon see her anticipating and connecting with teammates in a way that *does* help the team.
    Weaver needs a strike partner even more than Smith does. The Thorns simply have to get someone into the box to benefit from rebounds and the general havoc that Weaver causes as well as the overloads that Smith creates. Unfortunately, that’s not Sinclair unless she just camps out in the middle as far upfield as the opposing defenders will let her. When she drops back she takes herself out of the attack altogether.
    My biggest concern at this point is Sinclair. I’m a huge fan, but I’m not sure she’s able to see how her shortfall in speed and stamina is affecting the team. It has crossed my mind that Wilkinson may be using this stretch of games to help Sinclair see that she needs a more limited role.
    All of this said, I try to remember that there’s so much that’s new about this team in spite of the relatively static roster. Of course I want another title, but I’ll be satisfied to watch a really attractive group of young players develop and coalesce – as long as that actually happens.

    1. As I said in the piece; I’m nowhere NEAR grabbing for the emergency cord. There’s a lot of time to go – I could really care less about these silly Cup things; you wanna make me care? Make it a genuine Open Cup and let the lower tiers play in! – but there’s obviously a LOT of work to do.

      I said before the season even opened; if we don’t finish in the silverware this season I’ll be fine with that…IF we see progress and a team coming together. My concern at this point is that the issues we saw against Chicago two weeks ago are the same issues we saw Friday night. I’d like to see progress, even if it’s just baby steps.

      I don’t see anyone on the existing roster who is a McKaskill-variety poacher who might work off Weaver. In fact, I don’t see Weaver being consistently effective enough to make that poacher worth acquiring. I think Wilkinson is stymied, too; her use of Weaver has been really scattershot, and I think it’s because she’s a hard player to build around unless you have a very specific sort of attack – which we don’t.

      And Sinc…sigh. I don’t know what to say except I hope she has the self-awareness to see where she’s going. I don’t want to see her go out like Wambach, too old, too slow, and one-dimensional yet forcing her team to warp themselves to fit her failings.

  4. “Of course I want another title, but I’ll be satisfied to watch a really attractive group of young players develop and coalesce – as long as that actually happens.”
    Yes, exactly how I feel! These are great group of young women with a lot of talent and you just want them to succeed and have the joy they seem to exude.
    The thesis of John’s blog seems to be a lot of good individual play and promise but the team thing isn’t working yet and that is what these preseason games need to iron out.
    Chicago mashed Houston tonight so I guess the Red Stars are not nearly as dire as I thought they would be. If Mallory Pugh stays healthy Chicago may be in that top echelon of the Spirit, Reign, Portland and Gotham. Yeah Gotham, didn’t look good in the first game, but I am sure they will get better.

    1. I mean…the goal of sport is success, and “success” means, ultimately, championships. So the eventual goal is another star. But if that doesn’t happen this season – if this is a rebuilding season and the eyes are on the prize in 2023? I’m okay with that.

      My point was and continues to be that a lot of the commentary I read about the Thorns (and soccer in general) seems to focus on individual players. Especially the newcomers – there always seems to be lots of buzz about the noobs. But that soccer in particular is a reeeeally team sport – that success is often more about how well the players work together than the players’ skills, and that’s why the manager/coach is one of the most important parts of the game, and why Wilkinson’s role is so critical. I’m happy we have skilled players…but I’m hoped we have a skilled coach that can meld them into a winning team. THAT’s what I’m looking at, more than individual players.

  5. From Bill Cornett via e-mail:

    Hey, John—

    Didn’t watch the game (I’m a Luddite about streaming) but I thought your analysis of the passing maps was spot on (and even if only coincidentally, Ryan’s chart looked like I thought I remembered her play from that previous match). The Thorns team map looks more like a bent thumbtack than an illustration of a soccer match.

    Disappointing as Smith’s miss was, I agree with your breakdown of it. She’s playing in a system where she’s generating many of her own chances, and half chances, and she was likely exhausted at that stage of the game. She had time for another touch (and if it was a good touch she might have had time to simply dribble the ball into the goal, though that’s probably just an optical illusion…)

    Rewatching that sequence multiple times what finally struck me was Weaver’s action. She initially, instinctively, breaks for the ball, but when Smith gets to it first and rounds the keeper she drops into a trot in her wake. What she ought have done—and I hope the coaching staff points this out to her and drills it into her—was make the wide open diagonal run into the box behind the lone Reign defender with a slim prayer of inhibiting Smith’s attack.

    Weaver’s speed, more than any other player on the pitch, gives her the ability to cover that ground. The defender would see her and feel miserable. Smith might see her and take that extra touch, and, relieved, think for the first time all night: Options?

    I know those two conjectures amount to “ifs”, but regardless, Weaver has to accelerate into the play rather than follow it. Imagine, say, Caroline Graham Hansen in that moment. She makes that run, as does most any other of FCB’s attacking players. Hell, 2018 Tobin Heath makes that run, even knowing she cannot possibly cover the ground Weaver can.

    We all feel puzzled Weaver’s creative deconstruction accomplishes so little. After pondering that moment, I wonder whether her locker koan should read: Less cleaver, more cutlass.


    1. Neither coach, from what I’ve seen, seems to know what to do with Weaver. She has amazing pace and an engine that runs in overdrive all match. She also has a fairly iffy first touch, and her shooting is come-and-go but mostly “go”, so when she plays like she’s the only player on the pitch – which is usually – she doesn’t get nearly as much as she should out of all that pace.

      I’d like to see Wilkinson try and get her to work WITH her teammates on give-and-gos and overlaps and simple crosses…remember perhaps her most famous moment – the dagger against The Damned Courage in the 2020 Cup – was the result of a boatload of Rodriguez’ hard work to feed her for the simple finish.

      But we’re into Year Three of the Weaver Era, and she seems to be what she is, so perhaps there’s no changing her, and the trick will be, as I keep suggesting, finding a strike partner who can work with what that is. I dunno, but the “play Smith and weaver!” I keep hearing doesn’t seem likely to succeed. For one, it’s been tried an hasn’t produced much of anything, and for another, their skillsets seem too similar to produce a sum more than the pieces parts.

  6. Here’s the difference I see between Smith and Weaver. Smith has amazing ability to keep possession in tight spaces among multiple defenders. Weaver has amazing ability to semi-control difficult balls at high speed. She’s not so good in tight spaces, but her speed often enables her to avoid being double-teamed.

    Here’s the big similarity I see in the way they have been played – they both need some help, someone crashing the box to either provide an option or at least distract the defense. And/or the whole team needs to transition more quickly into the attack.

    1. But both typically attack by running at the defense in possession, tho Smith is better (as both her 28th and 78th minute attacks on this one showed) at running onto though balls. That’s why I don’t see them as the productive pairing so many commentors I’m reading suggest.

      I agree with you; they need someone who 1) has the pace to keep up with them and provide options/distractions in the box, 2) can give and receive passes in tight space at speed.

      Thing with Weaver is that most defenses don’t NEED to double up on her. She lacks subtlety. When she runs at you you know what’s coming, so you just need someone to keep her in her lane so she has nothing but her usual “shoot hard at the keeper” option. She doesn’t pass often and doesn’t pass all that well when she does. And she doesn’t have the sort of touch on her shot that enable her to chip or bend it around the keeper.

      I just hope Wilkinson is working on all this with them. We need to have something more creative than we have now when we run up against someone better than OLR has been or Chicago was in preseason…

  7. Weaver seems like she could be a good player for a fast counter-attacking team (assuming her finishing can improve). The Timbers seem to be able to make their bread and butter out of the counter attack. Unfortunately, we don’t seem to ever want to be (or cant be) a defend & counter attack team. Why not?

    1. Effective countering teams depend on lightning-quick transition play; the moment the defense (or midfield, or forwards..!) turn the ball over multiple players are moving forward. It often requires an almost instinctive level of interplay with players passing and immediately moving to space to receive the return pass.

      The Thorns have never played like that, even during the Riley (spit!) years, who introduced and developed that sort of fast attack to WNY/NCC. I think a lot of it has to do with having a big part of the roster as older players who worked a more deliberate style.

      So for Weaver to become the primary striker for a defend-and-counter team she’d need a whole new supporting cast who could play that sort of game. That’s not the Thorns current style, although it’s hard to say with the younger players whether a different coach couldn’t make them into that sort of team…


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