Thorns FC: Heavy Rotation

The midweek demolition of Angel City FC was only seventy-two hours before the Saturday meeting between pod leaders Seattle and Portland here at Providence Park and only three days after Portland’s road win in San Diego.

(I stand corrected; that’s what I get for trusting the league website; when I wrote this on Thursday morning they had the game April 1. April Fools! The game is 4/2, Saturday…)

The meant that Coach Wilkinson had to make some hard choices about who to rest and who to play. That’s why Natalie Beckman started over Meghan Klingenberg and Morgan Weaver over Christine Sinclair and Raquel Rodriguez over Hina Sugita.

That also means that I have very limited time and energy – even more limited than Wilkinson, since I assume she doesn’t have to drive to Eugene and back Thursday to look at somebody’s landslide – to pick this one over.

Like her, I had to prioritize, so this one ends up not getting the full TFC: treatment. Instead I’ll give you a quick rundown of what I thought about what I saw Wednesday night.

Image by Thorns FC on Twitter

Thought #1: ACFC is a really, really bad team right now.

Here’s the shot chart for the two clubs (ACFC attacking towards the top):

Image by NWSL.com

ACFC’s “attack” is Christen Press. Full stop. And Press was stone cold Wednesday night. She had one moment; in the 68th minute Press spun Kelli Hubly like a top along the east touchline and raced downfield with the whole Thorns backline in pursuit.

Emily Menges – who had a quietly solid match for the first time this season – caught up and stayed with Press, holding her ground to the goal-side and denying Press the chance to cut inside or shift the ball.

Finally Press was forced to shoot directly at goal where Bella Bixby calmly shagged the ball and turned the play back north again.

But other than that Press was her usual self, which means switched off 80% of the time.

The Angels were a bit more composed in the back, but not that composed – they shipped three goals! – and Didi Haracic coughed up a bad rebound off a nasty rasping Natalia Kuikka blast in the 53rd minute that Yazmeen Ryan pounced on for the second of the night. Keepers are one of the big differences between the two expansion clubs – try that shit against Kailen Sheridan and you get nothing.

Which leads to…

Thought #2: Kinda hard to extrapolate much from this one

The Thorns dominated. Smith scored (again), Ryan scored, Weaver scored (yay!!!), the Angels did nothing with their more-than-50%-possession, and Portland looked head-and-shoulders better than they did at the Clink a week-and-a-half-ago.

But the Angels were so bad. It’s not hard to look like Muhammad Ali beating up drunken bums in an alley. I’m honestly not sure if the Thorns are three-goals-a-game good or the Angels are just three-concessions-a-game bad.

Let’s see how Saturday’s match turn out before we celebrate the Rise of the Thorns.

Image by Thorns FC on Twitter

Thought #3: Sophia Smith is utterly lit right now

That’s about 96% of the Thorns attack, but, yeah. The Thorns attack largely IS Smith, which is kinda one of those good-news-bad-news things. We just better hope that the rest of the league can’t – as they haven’t yet – figure out how to stop her.

Mind you, it was great to see…

Image by Thorns FC on Twitter

Thought #4: Weaver breaking her duck

I just can’t help but think back to Hayley Raso five and six years ago.

In 2016 she broke out as a fast, exciting winger (hmmm…sounds familiar…) Ran hard at goal every match, shot and shot and shot and could. Not. Convert. Did a lot of other good things, brought a metric crap-ton (hey, she’s Australian..!) of good trouble.

But couldn’t find her shooting boots.

Until, in 2017. She did.

She scored and scored and didn’t stop, finishing that season with six goals.

Credit to Madison Pogarch for a clever gain and cross, but Weaver manufactured damn near all of that goal herownself and beat Haracic at full stretch. That’s gotta feel great, and I hope that helps take the weight off expectation her shoulders and free her to be the Happy Warrior she is. And brings more goals with it.

Thought #5: Can we talk about Beckman and Klingenberg?

Here’s the fullbacks – Kuikka and Beckman – against ACFC on the left (attacking towards the bottom) compared to Kuikka and Klingenberg against San Diego (attacking towards the top) on the right:

Beckman is more defensive than Klingenberg…but she also gets up into the 18 a lot more, and let’s face it; she’s the rawest of rookies! Pretty damn impressive for a rook to match the play of a veteran like Kling, even if it was against a tomato can.

Not saying that Kling should sit! But I was a bit concerned about our depth at fullback and now? Not so much.

Thought #6: Was it me, or did we not play thru midfield?

The 5-3-2 wingback system depends a lot on the fullbacks to get forward, as the charts above show. But I got the impression that, after a strong outing in San Diego Sugita looked muted against the Angels and, before she was lifted for Sugita Rodriguez seemed to struggle connecting passes forward.

Here’s their charts; Rodriguez, Sugita and Porter against ACFC, Sugita and Coffey against San Diego:

Maybe it was missing Samantha Coffey? Her chart is thick with completed passes, while against a largely ineffective midfield the green arrows attached to the number 11 are pretty sparse. I’m not sure – the relief might have been planned based on her rehab – but Sugita-for-Rodriguez also perked up the midfield more than a bit.

The flank attacks were working against ACFC, though, and as my drill sergeant used to say, if it’s stupid and it works it’s not stupid. We didn’t need the midfield as much, scored three times, so, fine.

Friday we see Quinn and Fishlock again, though. Let’s see what happens then.

Thought #7: Good teams beat up on bad opponents

One of the consistent troubles with Parsons teams was their tendency to play down to the level of their opponents. They’d match up well against good clubs (well, except for Riley’s (spit!) Damned Courage…) but then drop points against the tomato cans. The second half in San Diego worried me; with the Ripples on the deck Portland let them back up and into a one-goal match.

Last night was a perfect opportunity to do that again, the Angels being utter rubbish, and instead the Thorns put their boots on ACFC’s neck and didn’t let them up at all, much less back into the game.

That’s good. Good teams are ruthless, good teams are not fun to play. Fans of good teams get to chant “Can we play you, can we play you, can we play you every week?” to the cans as their club thumps them mercilessly.

Image by OL Reign on Twitter

Thought #8 and last: Hang on, here comes trouble.

The Dandelions will be here Saturday.

They will get the full meal from me, and – I hope – a bellyful from PTFC.

See you after that.

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9 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Heavy Rotation

  1. It was a bit nerve wracking in the beginning with so many new players on the field. The first 10 mins looked like a mess of bad passing between people who weren’t sure who their teammates were. Plus I didn’t see how I could possibly root against Simone Charley. Then things calmed down & it ended up being a very fun game to watch. Plus Charley never took the field. Why the heck isn’t Charley ever on the field??? Beckman does look promising- it’s hard to imagine Spencer nutmegging King like that, but Beckman will get better and better.

    P.s.Saturday- the game against the Seattle Stinkers is Saturday April 2nd. We made a lot of plans based on that info so yr repeated insistence that it’s on Friday definitely woke me up this morning!

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    1. When I wrote this up Thursday morning early the league site had all the games Friday 4/1. It was either the expected fuckup from the site admins or an April Fools joke, but I saw your comment and checked my Seatgeek and now, of course, the website has the correct date.

      I’d go even further and say that most of the first half hour was pretty dire from both sides. ACFC sucked, and the Thorns pickup-game XI was thrashing around trying to figure out who was supposed to go where and mostly failing. After that the Thorns got sorted out, ACFC still sucked, so it turned into a beatdown but I’m not sure I’d go so far as calling it “fun”. It was fine in that the Thorns whomped the shit out of the tomato can, which is what good teams are supposed to do.

      I think the Angels have been using Charley as a sub – she came on at the half for Endo against Seattle – but her game is really Route One and given the Thorns backline that’s probably not gonna work very well against us. Might have been intended to rest her for this weekend, as well.

      And if I ran into Si-money at the Civic Taproom I’d surely stand her a round, both for the good memories and her social justice work. But in the uniform of a visiting team? I have no problem rooting against her, and I hope as a professional she’d be doing her best to frustrate and disappoint me! That’s the way the game works.

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  2. This Thorns team looked a lot faster, but until Smith got the goal, well they were a mess. They were more disjointed and even seemed at times frustrated with each other. A lot of bad passes. Speed is great but composure and connection is important too. The second half was much better. Even though Kling, Sinc and Sauerbrunn have lost a step they always seem a couple of steps ahead in terms of anticipation and being in the right place. Horan gets a lot criticism on Equalizers comments about being slow, but if she is she makes up for it in getting to where she needs to be.
    It was cool to see Endo and Sugita on the field at the same time and to have a little chat at the end of the game. Endo is really good, but I think in their one on ones Hina had the advantage, albeit on fresher legs.
    I was super worried when Kuikka came off and shortly after Press got by Hubly, but Menges rightly recognized that Press was going to shoot no matter what, so she closed her down. Press and Alex Morgan both are taking a lot more long shots from beyond 18, any desperation there?
    Yes and Morgan Weaver got a goal and we were rewarded with seeing that great smile.
    Bella Bixby was imperious in goal. She was the Queen!

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    1. See my comment above; yes, the passing wasn’t great (a hair under 76% but of course that means that the forward passing was significantly worse…) and the possession was pretty poor. Given the heavy rotation and early season form, I’m not shocked.

      I thought Bixby was just fine, but she didn’t really have to be too rampant; the Angels barely shot and put only a couple on frame.

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  3. And now Janine Beckie is coming to Portland so the depth at forward looks pretty good. and then the Damned Courage have added Everton’s Gauvin. They have been playing with two fullbacks (Jaelene Daniels and Taylor Smith) as forwards. Both are fast and skilled, but really FB’s or wing backs. Whatever the Courage are doing seems to be working and I guess it is time to stop thinking they are a mid table team. Well I was anyway and that is clearly not the case.
    Beckie is an international so she will be gone a lot. I am not sure Weaver will be called in soon and I hope she doesn’t this year so she can get a lot of playing time. She has the potential to be a good international. Sophia Smith appears to be a lock.

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    1. I’ve never been terrifically impressed with Beckie. She was a monster on college – 43 goals in 67 games for Texas Tech, and she’s feasted on the weak sauce that CONCACAF serves up to Canada (34 goals in 85 games) but as a club player?

      She’s never lived up to that level; over 102 games with Houston, Sky Blue, and Man City she’s scored only 11 goals, 0.1G/game. That’s Tyler Lussi. We had a Tyler Lussi and gave her away. Do we want an expensive Tyler Lussi? I’ll bet ACFC might sell us the original back.

      I mean, if she’s cheap and depth? Fine. But if she’s looking for six figures, as an international might expect to get from here? Ummm…

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      1. Interestingly she is a good friend of Horan and Pugh as she grew up in Colorado. She interviewed Lindsey for her podcast and they seemed to have stayed friends from their days with Colorado club teams. She mentioned to Lindsey how lucky she was to play for an organization like the Thorns. Like you, I agree she is not a high volume scorer and was a eighth pick in the Sonnett, Rodriquez draft. But she will add depth.

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        1. If she’s cheap? Yes, she’s depth.

          But she’s a CWNT international and is coming from ManC, where the oil sheiks and the antelope play.

          The chances she’s going to be Lussi-cheap are slim and none.

          I don’t see paying international prices for 0.1G/game. If we want that we have Everett.

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  4. So Mr. Lawes- who would you get for the Thorns? With Horan & Dunn elsewhere it seems there should be some $ in the Thorns coffers & room on the roster. If we could pluck someone from elsewhere, who would it be & why?

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