Last Sunday the problem was that the Dash were missing their three best players; Rachel Daly, Nichelle Prince, and Sophie Schmidt.
Then Portland came to town off a frustrating 2-2 draw in San Diego looking for something to beat on.
And found it in Houston; a four-goal clean-sheet win for the visitors that made a home side that had gone undefeated since opening day – and had beaten Portland in Portland less than a month earlier – look very, very, very bad.
How bad? This bad:
Holy Impotence In Front of Goal, Batman! I suspect that the Dash couldn’t have scored had the entire Portland squad just lost interest and wandered away in the thirtieth minute.
So it’s hard to say, really, whether the 2022 Thorns are the team that looked so bad losing to this Houston team in May or the one that looked so badass throttled them last weekend.
I suspect it’s somewhere in-between.
One roster move that seems to have helped was the sudden replacement of Christine Sinclair with Olivia Moultrie at forward. Sinc pulled up lame in warmups and Moultrie was thrown into her first start of the season.
We’ll talk about her in the comments, but the result was a thoroughly pleasant…well, “surprise” might be a bit harsh on Moultrie, but happily better than we’ve seen from her to date.
The other was a change in formation, although if you asked me to nail down what the formation was I’d have to scratch my head a bit. At times it looked much like a conventional 4-4-2:
Madison Pogarch-Becky Sauerbrunn-Kelli Hubly-Natalia Kuikka across the back, Hina Sugita-Raquel Rodriguez-Samantha Coffey-Janine Beckie through midfield with Sophia Smith and Moultrie up top.
At times it looked more like a 4-2-3-1:
Same backline, Sugita and Coffey as DMs, Beckie-Rocky-Moultrie as AMs with Smith the lone forward.
In the excitement of seeing something other than the dreaded 3-5-2, though, it’s worth noting that none of this tactical experimentation was exactly releasing the hounds. Three of the Thorns goals came off 1) a freakish own-goal deflection off Katie Naughton, 2) a penalty, and 3) a horrific Naughton giveaway.
The Dash were crashing, so I don’t want to talk this one up too much. It was a much-needed win with the international absences coming soon. But whether it’s a change in fortune, or merely a combination of one team having a great day while the other has an awful one…I don’t know.
Sometimes it doesn’t have to be anything more than just a win.
Sometimes it’s just enough to enjoy the team having fun and winning, to enjoy Hannah Betfort’s goofing…
Careful, Betfort! Coffey really is the baddest one-chick hit-squad to ever hit town. She will bite that finger.
Fun to watch the skill; Smith bagging the brace, Moultrie scoring, Smith assisting…and, if we’re going with movie tropes, this Smith assist…
…is freaking Shaolin Soccer..!
(It’s really Smith back-heeling Sugita’s service to Moultrie for the goal, but it might as well have been the Five Finger Palm Exploding Heart Technique for what it did to Houston’s defense…)
…some nice possession and playing out the win comfortably.
It was good to see.
There were a few things, though.
It’s the 60th minute, Thorns leading comfortably, but a long Houston pass clanks off ‘Brunn’s head right to Brianna Visalli.
Visalli takes off upfield, Brunn – in the yellow circle – turns in to stop her run, but in so doing exposes the whole Thorns left to Michaela Abam and Maria Sanchez because Po has been caught way upfield.
The thing is, though…’Brunn doesn’t need to make this tackle; Hubly is keeping Visalli to her front and Kuikka is cutting off the Houston runner left. ‘Brunn should see that the danger is behind and to her right; she should be here:
…because if she’s not, Visalli is going to slot the pass to Abam…
…who’s going to drive 1v0 right at Bella Bixby!
(Or, since this was Houston without Daly & Co., not; instead she’s going to shank a sad effort wide of the near post. But you get the idea…)
C’mon, ‘Brunn. You’re supposed to be leading this backline.
One other thing and I’ll quit carping; why did we pay to get Janine Beckie if 1) we already have a right fullback/wingback and 2) Beckie can’t use her left foot?
Here she is, in possession, attacking up the left touchline with teammates open for the forward/crossfield pass:
Take your pick; long up top to Smith, into the top of midfield to Moultrie, or the big switch to Sugita. What does Beckie do?
You know what she does because she does it all the time – she puts the ball on her right foot and turns it backwards:
This is getting to be kind of ridiculous. I get that she’s really right-footed. But that’s really right-footed. If she can’t play with her left at all, why is she here, and how is that helping?
So that’s all; pretty minor gripes – as it should be for a comprehensive win.
Passing the Passing Test: Per OPTA, almost 86% completion, which passes the eye test as well; generally the Thorns were tidy with the ball. Here’s Dror’s passing chart:
Pogarch was diming everyone in sight, and Moultrie and Sugita were feeding Smith, as well they should have. In midfield Sam Coffey and Rocky Rodriguez were making effective connections. The odd Thorns out were Beckie, who was strangely standed, and Kuikka, who kept trying to feed the ball into midfield rather than up to the forwards.
Interesting to see that despite being listed at forward, Moultrie played more like Sinc does when she’s in her withdrawn-forward/ACM mode, and was quite effective doing so.
Houston is just a fucking hot mess.
Oddly, for outshooting the Dash 20-8 the Thorns nicked only two corner kicks. Probably because the shots were either right on frame or well wide enough to be left alone rather than blocked or deflected. Both in the second half, both long directly into the box.
|64′||Smith||Long||All the way over the 18 to Sugita on the far side. Hina-san got possession but was tackled trying to fight inside and the ball was cleared.|
|81′||Smith||Long||Again to the far top corner of the box, again to Sugita, who forced the defense to clear out for a throw. That throw started the sequence that led to Smith’s second and Portland’s fourth goal.|
So nothing from the first, but the second sorta led to a goal, so, not bad.
Player Ratings and Comments
Smith (86′ – +9/-1 : +9/-4 : +18/-5) I’m not sure how Smith could be any better than she is when she’s on, but somehow she managed that in Houston. Unquestioned Woman of the Match. If she doesn’t get hurt, and she maintains this sort of production for another decade we may well be talking about her the way we now talk about players like Marta and Sinclair and Kerr.
Betfort (4′ – No rating)
Moultrie (+8/-0 : +9/-1 : +17/-1) I’ve been skeptical of hyping young Moultrie because she seemed merely decent. I hadn’t seen anything special, I hadn’t seen the sacred fire.
I saw it last Sunday.
On both sides of the ball Moultrie was clever, strong, fast, and decisive. She made good decisions, something of a revelation for a player this young. I’d like to see her repeat this against a better opponent, but even so; this was an outstanding performance.
Rodriguez (+5/-4 : +3/-3 : +8/-7) First, I thought that Rocky did well in Houston.
Second, though; you gotta finish this:
Other than that, some nice passing and tenacious defending. I’d still like to see Rocky look like more of a game-changer; she’s an international and was brought in to anchor the midfield. I think she can be better. Let’s see it.
Coffey (79′ – +4/-2 : +2/-1 : +6/-3) As always, much of the Thorns’ traffic goes up the wings. That leaves the midfield with less to do, and when you have an opponent as utterly hapless as Houston, the big plays aren’t there for the making. Good outing, though; nice passing and tough tackling when required.
Porter (11′ – no rating) With the Thorns in control, Porter had little to do. Still, fresh legs and saw out the sheet, so, fine.
Beckie (64′ – +3/-8 : +3/-2 : +6/-10) I’m not sure what you were thinking when Haley Hanson took you up the touchline…
…but I’m pretty sure “getting dumped on my ass” wasn’t it.
If you were a forward your horrific defending wouldn’t be nearly as much of an issue. But as a wingback/fullback? You gotta defend sometime, and holy Hell are you bad at it.
What’s frustrating is that you show flashes of creativity going forward. But unless your coach is willing to go to a 4-3-3 you’re stuck at wingback, and there you’re a defensive liability.
I like a lot about Beckie. She has some good attacking tools. But right now, she just doesn’t really seem to fit into this squad; she’s not bringing all that much to the attack and, as we discussed, she’s a minus defensively.
One of the things I read while the Thorns struggled through the Cup and into the regular season is “the Thorns managment – KK and RW – are over their heads, they don’t know what they’re doing.” I’m not sure I’ve seen enough this season to agree, but Beckie is the one roster move piece that does look like…when my kid was little he’d see a toy and want it. It didn’t matter whether it was a fun toy or he had one just like it or he really needed another toy like it. He just wanted it.
That’s the energy I get from Beckie; she’s someone that her Canadian pals wanted, and got, and now, like my kid, are staring at trying to figure out what to do with.
Weaver (26′ – +5/-2) Lots of her usual good Chaos Muppet energy, but also the usual issues; lack of finishing, sporadic connection with her teammates. It’s unfortunate that she can’t seem to break into the starting XI; I think with more time she could form a productive partnership with Smith or some of the AMs. She’s not getting that time, though, so that’s not happening.
Sugita (+6/-1 : +10/-2 : +16/-3) I could pretty much write my Sugita-senshu comment before the match; great field vision, neat on the ball, aggressive tackler and effective at pressuring. She’s just that good, and I enjoy watching her more every match.
Pogarch (+3/-4 : +6/-3 : +9/-7) I know I’ve given Po stick for exciting-headless-chicken stuff, but last Sunday she kept her head almost all match (that 67th minute, though? Ouch; bad backpass and a silly foul? Ummm…that’s not good.) and did well on both sides of the ball; solid defending and some nice distribution.
Maybe Po is one of these players that need minutes to be good. Let’s hope so, because she and the other reserves and bit-players are about to get them.
Sauerbrunn (64′ – +0/-0 : +2/-2 : +2/-2) Outside the goof in the screenshots above, the Dash did so little to trouble the Thorns backline that ‘Brunn and all the other defenders had little to do. Kept the clean sheet, so there’s that. But it’s difficult to tell whether a better opponent might not have taken advantage of some of those mistakes…
Beckman (26′ – no rating) Nothing much to do but ride out the lopsided win. That’s fine, but doesn’t tell us much about the individual player.
Hubly (+4/-2 : +1/-0 : +4/-2) See above. Did fine when called on, but seldom called on.
Kuikka (+2/-1 : +2/-1 : +4/-2) See above for defending. Surprisingly little service, though, which is somewhat odd. Decent match, but it’d be nice to see more impact.
Bixby (+1/-0 : +1/-0 : +2/-0) Utterly untroubled.
But that’s goalkeeping. You play a blinder, where shots are screaming at you like bullets, keep 49 of 51 out of the net, and lose 0-2. Then you stand around picking dandelions and watching the clouds pass by and get the clean sheet win.
Coach Wilkinson: Can’t really rip the gaffer for a four-nil road win.
The real question is whether Wilkinson will see the difference Moultrie made in the Sinc-spot, or the better movement and passing the 4-4-2/4-2-3-1 produced.
Whether she can produce this sort of performance against a better opponent.
And, soon, whether she has a plan for replacing the internationals when they’re called up in late June and July.
The fan sites – like this one – have been pretty hard on Wilkinson for her obsession with the3-5-2 and the seeming unsuitability of her roster to her preferred formation and tactics. It must be nice for her to cruise to an easy win and hear nothing but happy cries of joy and see blue skies and rainbows.
But the hard job of a manager is when the clouds are low and the storms come in. We’ll see how the coach does when the gray skies return.
Obligatory Post-TFC Rant: Paramount+, WTF?
Look at the two kits out there. Orange, yes. The other…does that look like red to you?
You’re supposed to be professional broadcasters.