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.
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):
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.
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…
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.
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.