Let’s start by being blunt; the Thorns came into last Friday’s match in a precarious way.
Winless in four, pointless over the previous two matches and in those beatings outscored 4-nil. Looking disorganized and adrift, outcoached and outplayed.
The club – and the fans – needed a tonic.
They got one in the form of a thunderous 3-nil beating of the visiting Angel City FC. The win shoved the Thorns above the red line and into third on goal difference while the Angels fell like Lucifer all the way down to seventh – level with the Thorns on nine points but eight goals to the bad against Portland’s +4GD.
Going into the match, though, the Thorns formation was a sort of good-news-bad-news message to the fans:
We’ll talk about the bad news in a bit.
But the Good news? Coach Wilkinson shifted Natalia Kuikka back to her natural right side and moved Janine Beckie to the left. This had an immediate effect on both sides.
If you look back at Kuikka’s outing in Chicago and compare it to Friday’s…
…both the density and success of the Finn’s actions were vastly increased.
Beckie had much less joy on her less-favored left foot but still did well enough:
You can’t really see it in the plot, but Beckie spent the night doing what Kuikka did in Chicago; cutting the ball back to put it on her right foot. Beckie’s a natural winger, though, and was able to do that much more successfully – going forward, anyway.
The move paid off defensively, as well; between them Kuikka, Kelli Hubly, and Meaghan Nally kept a boot on Christen Press (who ended up with only two off-target shots), while Nally, Beckie, and Becky Sauerbrunn caught the break that is Simone Charley’s finishing – sorry, Si-money, but one big reason you’re no longer here is that outside of June 2019 you had real trouble hitting water if you fell out of a boat.
Case in point? The 25th minute, when you ran on to a classic-Simone-Charley-long-direct-ball, beat Nally on pure speed…
…rounded Bella Bixby’s challenge, and…
…tumbled ass-over-tip, landing on top of the ball which trickled harmlessly over the byline.
I want to point out that while the Thorns were romping and Charley was falling down and getting unlucky that there was some bad news, too.
Portland kept the sheet because between them 1) Savannah McCaskill is still one of the least effective players in the game, 2) Jun Endo got outworked by Sam Coffey and the centerbacks, and 3) Charley and Lussi were what they were when they played here – hard-working, intelligent players who couldn’t finish if the defense laid down and took a nap.
This was a good win. I’m very pleased; it was fun to just have fun and not worry “what is going to go wrong this time?”.
The attack got two goals off the run of play, including a gorgeous Sugita- senshu lead pass and finish from Sinc in the 18th minute and a Kuikka cross, Beckie gain and turn that dimed Sinc for the brace.
The midfield was generally solid, and the defense – while ceding Angel City a pretty huge possession advantage – did enough to keep their good looks at the goal to a minimum.
(it’s still me – you knew there’d be a “but”…)
There’s still some bugs to work out.
Christine Sinclair had a great game and bagged a brace, but still has pace and durability issues; she tailed off significantly in the second half and the attack with her. Here’s Arielle Dror’s xG race:
Crazy aggressive in the first 25 minutes, then nothing much from there until the hour, then a flurry of attacks that paid off with the third goal, then nothing.
It’s notable that for all their gaudy record to that point the Angels were utterly toothless here last Friday. Look at the “risers” in the plot above; their individual “chances” were crap. A lot of that was the Thorns defending. But a lot was the Angels attackers reverting – as noted above – to their typical crap form.
Sophia Smith worked her tail off, got kicked around all match and got nothing for it. That had to be insanely frustrating, and I don’t think the club can just keep running her out there that way all season; someone’s gonna break her, or she’s gonna break her heart.
Beckie had a good match overall, but late in the match her off-sided position and lazy defending started producing defensive goofs:
– In the 53rd minute Beckie simply stopped marking Clarisse Le Bihan, whose run to the byline forced Beckie to tackle and concede a corner kick,
– In the 82nd minute Beckie and Gabby Provenzano failed to switch marks, leaving Tyler Lussi to put in a byline cross that Hina Sugita had to chest out for another ACFC corner, and
– In the 87th minute Beckie was ballwatching and let Lussi sneak past her to receive a long cross – fortunately for Bixby’s clean sheet Lussi volleyed the cross high in the air.
Raquel Rodriguez had yet another really ineffective match.
The backline had some spooky moments we’ll talk about in the comments.
But, a win? Against the Angels, who’d been riding so high?
Pinch me! I’m not used to feeling so good after a 2022 Thorns match! Well done, you! Let’s all do the Kelli Hubly Hands Up For The Goal Happy Dance!!
Passing the Passing Test: OPTA had the Thorns as 71% completed passes. That’s…not great. And several – we’ll talk about them in a bit – were dangerous turnovers.
I think Arielle Dror’s passing chart shows some interesting features:
- despite being listed at forward, look where Sinc spent much of the match. That’s an AM/withdrawn forward. She may have been listed there, but for a big part of this one she didn’t play up front. Mind you, she was tearing it up from there, so…
- Poor Smith. That’s a lonely place.
- The Thorns really owned the center of the pitch; Hina-san, Coffey, and Sinc were bossing the match from there.
- It’s intriguing that while she was on her “weak” side Beckie was doing just fine providing service. Make you wonder “…why bother shifting her and Kuikka around to “get her into the match”? Hmmm.
- Kuikka was connecting, but wasn’t connecting with Smith, and that’s not reassuring.
By contrast, here’s the Angels:
One thing I see there that bugs me and always has; McCaskill. Here’s her passing chart:
I mean…that’s nuts. McCaskill is putting in an insane amount of work, she’s passing and sucking up a ton of her teammates’ passing energy, she’s got two “critical passes” and…nothing.
Savannah McCaskill is one of the most frustrating players I’ve ever seen. She’s…good. At least, she’s good enough; she does a shitload of work, she does all the “right things”, but…
In the old times wooden-ship sailors had a term: a “jonah”. That was someone who was pure stone bad luck. As a person, or in this case as a player? Fine, good, nice, wonderful. Great people. Hard worker. Skilled player.
But for some reason they make planes around them crash and ships under them sink.
Six corners. Five long into the box, one short; three in each half.
|7′||Coffey||Long||Into the box and diming Nally, whose strong header forced a terrific save out of Haracic!|
|17′||Smith||Long||Out to the top of the box, where K-Hubs stroked the header equivalent of a fadeaway jumper that arced perfectly into the top far corner for the matchwinner, 1-nil!|
|39′||Smith||Short||This was a weird one. Smith hammered the ball low and bounced it off Ali Riley who was defending the short corner. Deliberate? Mishit? No idea, but it rebounded to Smith, who began a fairly long attacking sequence that included several clearances and recycles until finally Beckie shot well wide left.|
|56′||Smith||Long||Flicked on past the far post to Sugita, who, like Smith in the 39th, began a long sequence of attacks that included a dangerous cross from Kuikka that Haracic had to box away off Rodriguez’ head. Finally cleared out to Coffey who shot wide right.|
|79′||Smith||Long||This was another oddball; I call it “long” but it was a shoulder-high line drive that went into the six and was cleared out to Beckie, recycled back eventually to Hubly who mishit an awful pass that started a dangerous Press run and shot.|
|85′||Coffey||Long||Easy headed clearance, petered out to nothing|
The Thorns are on an utter roll off corner kicks; three goals from the past 12 corners, plus the terrific chance in the 7th minute; terrific work, and somewhere in Nimes Lindsey Horan shivered as if a goose had walked over her grave.
Player Ratings and Comments
Smith (+13/-2 : +5/-5 : +18/-7) As mentioned above; worked her ass off and was rewarded by 90 minutes of this:
I didn’t (and don’t) think that referee Elton Garcia called a bad match. But he let a fair bit of rough stuff go, and the Angels used that to bedevil Smith all night.
Four shots, two on frame, an assist, and a night of bumrushing the Angel backline? That’s pretty damn impressive (FWIW, the InStat comrades rated her as the third best player on the night, after Sinc and Beckie…)
That wasn’t the most impressive bit, though.
Bridgetown, 70th minute. Smith running at the left side of Naeher’s goal, the keeper covering the near post like a wall, Thorns open in the six for the simple sidefoot pass for the tap in.
But Smith blasts at Naeher, Naeher saves, end of attack.
Now. Here’s the 6th minute last Friday; Smith off to the races again with teammates in support.
Same scenario; Smith gets around her defender and bores in on Haracic covering the left post.
If she shoots? Probably the same outcome as at Bridgetown; save, attack over.
Not last Friday. This time Smith picks out Sinc and dishes.
Sinclair beats her defender and thumps a pointblank shot. Haracic throws out a leg and barely makes the kick-save, conceding the corner.
That’s terrific; that’s Smith growing literally as we watch. That’s Smith learning from her experience and becoming no longer a college striker whose first instinct is to lower her head and fire away but a professional with her head up, reading the defense, and her teammates.
That’s fucking awesome, and I hope to enjoy watching this fine young player keep growing here for a long, long time.
Sinclair (77′ – +9/-0 : +5/-1 : +14/-1) Okay, the part about the good-news-bad-news XI?
I won’t kid you; I looked at that, saw 12 | FOR | Christine Sinclair (C), and groaned.
The Captain obviously heard me and proceeded to served me a nice hot cup of STFU. Sinc had a terrific match and particularly a smoking-hot first half.
But here’s her final half-hour and change:
Sinc’s doing a lot less work in midfield after the break. She’s camping in the 18s; either ours, or the Angels’. I think that’s a 39-year-old player starting to run out of gas.
But that’s simply the rain in the background. Last Friday Cap’n Sinclair showed us that she can still bring the thunder. She was hands-down Woman of the Match.
That’s also both good and bad, and we’ll come back to that later.
Weaver (13′ – no rating) Now there’s a couple of words I never thought I’d write about this player.
But Weaver did nothing of value in her nearly-quarter-hour. Part of that is her team was up three goals and was sitting back. But part of that is that she doesn’t have Smith’s skillset, and given that they’re damn near brood-sisters? That’s a bit worrying.
Rodriguez (70′ – +6/-4 : +0/-0 : +6/-4) Another humdrum outing from a player that I understand has 1) an international pedigree and 2) has done well for her country. I’m not sure why she’s been struggling here. Doesn’t understand her coach’s system (that’s okay, Rocky – I don’t either a lot of the time…)? Not a good fit with her teammates?
Whatever the reason, Rodriguez is having a very muted season, and I have to wonder how she fits into the medium-term plan for this squad.
Ryan (20′ – +1/-1) Had much the same problems Weaver had, and produced much the same nearly-invisible results. Not a bad shift; came on three goals to the good and kept the game state that way, so, good. Just not much for a forward to do when your team has pretty much stopped going forward.
Coffey (+3/-0 : +4/-1 : +7/-1) Coffey had an excellent match, but her value came from her positioning and her pressuring, so she didn’t get the tackles-for-gain or defensive stops that get CDMs big numbers. All her usual positives; tidy passing, great positional defending, tackling, and ball-recovery. She did a hell of a lot of harassing Endo and McCaskill and that worked like a mechanical ass-kicker.
Sugita (88′ – +8/-3 : +2/-0 : +10/-3) Hina-san‘s tackle-for-gain, strong run, and lead pass set the table for Sinclair’s first goal; Sinc just had to sit down and scarf the meal.
The more I watch this player the more I love her. She’s the complete package; quick, canny, neat with the ball at her feet, intelligent, strong for her size and build.
Last Friday two of the Nadeshiko met on the Portland pitch and the kohei took the senpai to gakkō.
Porter (2′ – no rating) Timewasting.
Kuikka (+6/-2 : +4/-3 : +10/-5) As discussed above; good work; Natu was probably thrilled (or as thrilled as a dour Finn could be) to be back on the right. Lots of hard graft nerfing Press, and pretty much all that we’ve come to expect. Welcome back! We missed ya.
Hubly (+5/-2 : +2/-2 : +7/-4) Please don’t do that “pass the ball to Christen Press inside your own half” thing again. We good on that? K? Thanks.
But I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a happier face than Hub’s after she scored. She’s one of those players who seems like a happy, sunny person, so it was as shiny to see as a good deed in a weary world. That made everything else seem meaningless.
Thanks again, Hubly.
Nally (+7/-2 : +5/-0 : +12/-2) My Centerback of the Night award, though, goes to young Nally, who was an utter beast and who probably followed Press into the bogs at halftime, she was stuck so close to her all game. InStat rated her #5 on the night and I agree; outstanding work, especially from such a young player.
Sauerbrunn (77′ – +3/-3 : +1/-3 : +4/-6) Maybe it’s just me. But I guess I expected more from a player with an international rep like ‘Brunn. Not bad, exactly, but slow enough to be timed with a sundial, and ‘Brunn makes a surprising number of defensive errors, again, for a defender of her experience. I’m not a hater, but I’m used to the sort of Great Wall of Emily-grade defending, and I haven’t seen that from ‘Brunn. I really want to like her more, so maybe we’ll see more over the season. I hope.
Provenzano (13′ – +2/-3) Fair enough; like Ryan, came on to hold the scoresheet clean and did. So not sure what more I could ask.
Beckie (88′ – +5/-3 : +9/-3 : +14/-6) Terrific going forward all night, and decent enough defending until she was gassed late. Frankly, a defensive sub bringing Beckman in for Beckie would have been ideal at close to the 70 minute mark.
Pogarch (2′ – +1/-0 ) Saw out the match, so, fine.
Here’s an interesting bit of trivia. Who do you think gives the pre-match motivational rant when Klingenberg isn’t there? Sinc? Menges? ‘Brunn?
Guess again; it’s Po.
How about that?
Bixby (+3/-2 : +1/-0 : +4/-2) Big takes in the 20th and 24th minutes, good save in the 58th minute, and a powerful box to clear a dangerous Endo corner kick in the 29th minute.
Buuuutttt…then there’s the screenshot above.
That’s the 73rd minute. Endo has just lobbed in a speculative ball which McCaskill, being McCaskill, has completely missed her teammate’s cue and has failed to run onto.
Hubly and Sauerbrunn have walled off the rolling ball without touching it, but they’re obviously waiting for you to come and take it. You’re waiting…for a bus? Summer? A great American novel? I dunno, but part of goalkeeping is control of your penalty area, so you’re the boss here. Claim it, shout at your centerbacks to clear it away…but don’t just stand there.
It looks bad and frightens the children.
Coach Wilkinson: Nice win, coach.
No, seriously. You set up the team to win and they did. Like Smith, you learned from Chicago and in your case you swapped Kuikka and Beckie to where they could do better. Your squad continued their good work on corner kicks. The defense ceded a lot of possession but still kept the Angels off the scoresheet.
Your friend Sinclair had a hell of a match, and looked like the Sinclair of old.
For the first time in the season.
How confident are you that Sinc’s form in San Diego this coming Wednesday is going to be last Friday’s? Or in Houston the next week? Or in a semifinal?
Or is there a likelihood she’ll look more like she did in the first five matches?
Your defense shit the bed against Houston and Chicago and now club is going up against Alex Morgan, one-woman tsunami – four non-penalty goals in seven games – not McCaskill and Press and Endo and Charley, four goals between them in six games.
Your club has managed to stay in the tight race. They just played a good match. Their captain played like you’ve been trying to get her to play her for weeks.
If you and they can keep this up?
You could win the league if you can.
NON-Obligatory post-TFC Mini-rant: WTF, Paramount?
Twitch? Okay, Twitch I get. It’s a goddamn gaming channel.
But “Paramount” is supposed to be one of those “premium brands” like Oscar Meyer wieners and Dom Perignon.
Post-TFC Poetry Corner: Party at the Pond
And just past eight, right on cue, a Canada Goose
swoops on through
like he owns the place,
since his only state
is selfish indifference – His home is where he
makes it and lives in,
no regard for whose land it’s initially been. With
the ugly mister smugly whisks in, frisky
and fast passed the ducks’ graceless faces.
Busting in with his fucking grin, bucking his
wing, fancies himself king,
hissing and pissing off everything in his
thinks he can
prance about the floor and score a dance, what a
~ Emily Menges
(The former is just a selection from the epic poem A Party at the Pond. Find it in the June issue of Bel Esprit; at the fanladen, at the link, or wherever fine ‘zines are sold…)