Thorns FC: Pride and Prejudice

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a soccer team in possession of good form, must be in want of a win.”

~ Jordyn Austin (Jane’s little-known “sporty” sister…)

And, no question, the Thorns have been in good form over the past 180 minutes.

That said…

In the five years that the Orlando Pride have existed and contested a NWSL title (2020 doesn’t count…) only once – in 2017 – have they ever finished higher than seventh.

That one and only Pride playoff season they met the Portland Thorns in the semifinal here and got thumped 4-1. That was the last time that the poor Shame had even so much as pretensions of adequacy.

I’m pretty prejudiced against this sad act. They’ve had a slew of good-to-great players over their bleak history; Marta – Marta, FFS! – Alex Morgan, Sydney Leroux, Kaylyn Kyle, Ashlyn Harris, along with folks like Taylor Korneick and Ali Krieger…and utterly wasted all those people’s skills and hard work.

The Shame is a clown show, and it’s long since time someone bought out the goddamn Wilfs and replaced them with someone who can run a pro club.

And as opponents they’re not even fun to play as little purple points dispensers because under Mark Skinner (and continuing under Amanda Cromwell) they’ve become the filthiest club in the league.

Back in the Teens Vlatko’s FCKC Blues were a nightmare to play because if they couldn’t beat you they’d beat on you. But the usually could beat you; they were a good club. It’s just that to play them you’d have to play That Groom Woman.

Orlando doesn’t even have that to excuse their dirty play.

If you can stand the fouling and losing and get past the dreadful waste of Orlando talent, though…

They’ll give you points, and so they did last weekend, is a spectacular fashion, going down 6-nil in the biggest fiery crash since the Hindenburg‘s arrival in Lakehurst was a trifle troubled.

So were the Shame really that bad? Or were the Thorns just really good?

Porque no los dos?

It could be both. It’s possible that two separate things were happening simultaneously here in Providence Park last Sunday:

The Shame utterly, comprehensively, thoroughly crapped the bedlinens.

And…

The Thorns played an excellent, composed, aggressive, intelligent, and effective match.

How?

Well, Sophia Smith is still running wild. She, along with Mal Pugh, is perhaps the best striker in the league right now.

And without the drag-weight of the 3-5-2 the club has been connecting more coherently and more dangerously.

Here’s just one example, from the 42nd minute, that begins with Bella Bixby playing out to Backy Sauerbrunn who, in turn, plays out to Madison Pogarch pushing up along the east touchline.

Pogarch plays a 1-2 with Hina Sugita and then takes off in what if I were a pretentious Brit-pretending soccer journo I might call a “mazy run” through midfield.

From there Po spots Kuikka torching up the right channel and hits her with a tidy diagonal pass…

Then Kuikka plays another 1-2, this time with Olivia Moultrie.

Here’s where the “Orlando is a sad act” thing comes in – these poor slobs were trying to keep Portland under control with a high press. It was like watching a kindergarten recess; nobody could actually figure out how to do the thing they wanted, and Portland, like fifth graders taking the tots to school, simply passed around and through them, like this.

Finally Kuikka spots Sugita – remember her back at the beginning of this sequence? Yep, she’s been following the play and has positioned herself to run off Toni Pressley’s shoulder – and fires off a lead pass…

…that, unfortunately is just a trifle too far, and Erin McLeod gathers the ball in.

But the Thorns were doing this all game. Here’s another nice sequence, from the 79th minute, that begins with Sugita-senshu picking out Kuikka making a left-channel run and feeds her to get to the byline.

Kuikka finds Smith appallingly unmarked in the top corner of the 18 and passes. Smith, as the defenders wake up, sees Moultrie open and sends the square pass across the top of the box. Meanwhile, the Shame defense has forgotten Kuikka, who tucks inside.

Moultrie sees that Darian Jenkins is holding Kuikka onside, and feeds her.

Kuikka, as untroubled by her enemies as a Finnish ski battalion carving up a Soviet motti, simply turns and…

…puts the Thorns up by four.

So the Thorns were good, the Shame was awful, and the results were just what you’d expect…

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter.

…now the question is; can we do this against a better team?

I hope so. The next two matches are ACFC and then Seattle away, and we may well then find out.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: Per OPTA, roughly 80% completion. What’s curious to me is that Orlando is listed at 79%, but so many of their “attacks” died at the end of a mishit pass that the number seems overstated.

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

Big triangle between Smith-Moultrie-Beckie as well as good support from Sugita, Po, Raquel Rodriguez, Sam Coffey, and Kuikka. Even Kelli Hubly and ‘Brunn are connecting out of the back. So, yes; what we saw.

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

Holy cats, that’s just pathetic. Explains this, too;

Ouch.

Corner Kicks

Much like the Houston game, though the Thorns whaled away with 26 shots they only came away with four corner kicks.

Against Houston I guessed: “Probably because the shots were either right on frame or well wide enough to be left alone rather than blocked or deflected.” and that seems like a likely reason for this one, too.

Three in the first half, one in the second, all sorta-long directly into the box.

TimeTakerShort/Long?Result
1′SmithLongSmith dimed Sugita in the top far corner but Hina-san hoofed the shot way high.
17′CoffeyLongAnother dime, this time on Sauerbrunn’s head; ‘Brunn hammered a powerful shot that McLeod rose and palmed away with a terrific save for the throw.
45+1′CoffeyLine driveCleared out quickly and the halftime whistle blew.
80′SmithLongCleared but only out to Kuikka, who hoofed a rainbow right to McLeod.

The ‘Brunn shot was a rasper that McLeod had to be a hero to keep out. Otherwise, nothing.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+10/-1 : +16/-3 : +26/-4) I’m not sure which is more amazing.
1) Smith becoming such a dominant striker at such a young age and so brief a professional career, or,
2) That she can do all that when she has to put up with 90 minutes of this shit:

Should have made it 7-nil in the 55th minute because Gunny Jonsdottir pulled her down…

…inside the 18 in the 54th minute.

I’ve seldom seen anything like it since Lindsey Horan’s MVP season of 2018, and Horan didn’t have anything like the overall effect on her team that Smith has.

Just. Amazing.

Moultrie (83′ – +2/-0 : +10/-0 : +12/-0) Second match in a row that young Moultrie has looked like her advertising. I’m not sure yet whether to give in and admit her partisans are right…but, damn, she sure looks the part right now.

Everett (7′ – +3/-0) Saw out the win and clean sheet, so just fine.

Sugita (87′ – +6/-2 : +7/-2 : +13/-4) Bagged the matchwinner with a gorgeous leaping 21st minute volley…

…and after that all her usual contributions; tackling, marking, recovering, distributing. Kyou ha otsukare sama desu, Hina-san.

Betfort (3′ – +2/-0) As with Everett; minor role, but saw out the win. Good.

Rodriguez (+3/-4 : +5/-3 : +8/-7) Once again, I’m kind of at a loss for what to say about La Tica. She’s good; hardworking, clever, tough defending and ingenious going forward. But somehow the overall effect is…not overwhelming.

Good, decent, not bad…but I’d really like to see more, and somehow it always looks like her midfield teammates Coffey and Sugita are tearing it up while Rocky is just kinda…there.

Coffey (82′ – 5/-0 : +7/-1 : +12/-1) Frankly, if I were able to make the award right now I’d hang Rookie of the Year on Coffey.

Porter (8′ – +1/-0) Taylor Porter did one positive thing in her eight-odd minutes on the pitch. Normally that’d be a “no rating” except the one thing was scoring a goal.

Mind you, it sure looked like the Shame had just stopped defending at that point:

But , y’know what? Who cares. The kid’s played a whopping 66 minutes, has one shot and one goal. Goddamn it, that’s just terrific. Take an extra lap around the park, you.

Beckie (74′ – +10/-3 : +7/-4 : +17/-7) Lovely service on the Sugita goal, some slick passing, and as a right winger had Kuikka at right fullback behind her so the defensive chores weren’t a nuisance. Needs to put those shots on frame; all three were away in the tules. But good match overall.

Ryan (26′ – +3/-1) Yasmeen Ryan was more involved and more dangerous than her numbers suggest – she had a total of six logged passes and two of them were “critical”; the 86th minute assist on Smith’s second goal, and the free-kick assist on Porter’s. So, like Porter, instead of an offhand “nice game” she gets a rose for kicking ass.

Pogarch (74′ – +10/-4 : +3/-3 : +13/-7) Another solid match from the Killer Attack Chicken. In particular, she was dependable defending, which has always worried me with her.. But no, she stayed in position, marked and tackled well. Nice work, Po!

Beckman (26′ – +2/-0) Unlike the other subs, Beckman really did just sort of be there. Again, saw out the win so, fine.

Sauerbrunn (+8/-0 : +4/-2 : +12/-2) Yeah, we hear ya, ‘Becks.

Goal, assist, damn-near-goal on the 17th minute corner…what more can I say? That Kelli Hubly was utterly whack celebrating ‘Brunn’s goal?

Well, yeah. She kinda was.

Hard to assess as a defender because the Shame were so shameful. But very good overall and fun to enjoy the whole club’s obvious delight in her getting the goal. Yeah, that was kind of it; just fun.

Hubly (+3/-1 : +5/-0 : +8/-1) Same-same with Hubly; hard to rate her in her primary role just because she had so little to do. What she did, she did well, so there’s that.

Kuikka (+7/-1 : +6/-2 : +13/-3) Great to see the hard work finally pay off with a goal. Lots of good work behind the ball, plus the usual passing. Hakkaa päälle pohjan tytär!

Bixby (+3/-1 : +3/-0 : +6/-1) Bixby had a weird game, because for almost all the match she was utterly untroubled, picking plastic daisies while her teammates ran Orlando off the pitch.

But.

When the Shame had a crack, they really had a fucking crack.

Meggie Dougherty-Howard threw a hammer in the 17th minute. Jonsdottir punched a strong header in the 33rd. Jenkins fired a hellstrike in the 59th that sent Bixby to full stretch to turn around the post. And Courtney Peterson unleashed a thunderbolt in the 67th.

No matter; Ciao Bella was up to it, kept the clean sheet and earned her rose. Damn well done.

Coach Wilkinson: Which is it?

Are you more cunning than a cunning fox appointed Dean of Cunning at Cunning University, who sandbagged the league early with a dreadful formation and relentlessly riding an aging superstar past her limits, only to turn suddenly into a brilliant conqueror whose troops sweep all before them in a cascade of goals, ten in 180 minutes?

Or are you an overmatched noob forced out of her beloved 3-5-2 and her preferred XI by injuries and circumstances, with her club feasting on the carrion that has flopped dead in their presence?

I haven’t the damndest idea.

I know this, though:

That’s goddamn scary.

Two Thorns coaches have had to deal with mass international callups.

In 2015 Paul Riley (spit!) was a trainwreck; failing to assemble a cast of “other players” who could soldier on through the World Cup, cratered, and by the time his favorites returned the club had imploded and never recovered.

In 2019 Mark Parsons assembled a jumble of reserves, bit-players, and future stars (like Midge Purce) and made a solid run at the World Cup break.

Which will you be?

Obligatory Post-TFC: Rant – WTF, Orlando?

On second thought, if I played for this clownshow I wouldn’t want anyone to know who I was, either.

Okay, carry on, then.

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3 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Pride and Prejudice

  1. First, love the cunning fox reference.

    Second, didn’t the Wilfs just buy Orlando less than a year ago? As well as Orlando City SC, who are sitting in fourth in MLS? Obviously, still plenty wrong with the Pride, though.

    In theory, Sugita, Coffey, Moultrie, and Hogan are done by June 28th (I assume Coffey comes back unless called in to serve from alternate status). Not sure that means, with travel, they can all play on July 1st. If count them all out, we only have twelve field players on the roster currently, so I sure hope all of them are available. Very curious to see what the roster looks like for the Angel City match, as well as how that changes for the match(es) after that before Euros & CONCACAF championship are done. Could be rough. I think only the Spirit have it worse than us.

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  2. Thanks John as usual great stats and very funny. I wondered what they would do with the extra goal keeping coach, but I think he is working on set pieces. We have seen some good ones. The Coffey free kick that Becky scored on was blistering and way to go Becky anticipating that McLeod could have trouble handling it. The Ryan to Porter free kick was really well designed or maybe Orlando went to sleep.
    Speaking of blistering, last year the only complaint I had about Soph was that her strikes were too weak particularly in the latter part of the game. That left and right strike against Orlando were lethal. She puts some Welly on it with both feet. Plus her and Coffey are both pretty good corner kickers, I like where the ball goes.
    Yes glad to see Kuikka score she has been trying but they have been a little too far out and sometimes overly ambitious, but I like her trying.
    I too have been wondering what the lineup will look like against AC. Against Houston Weaver played only for a short time and didn’t look herself. She sat out for Orlando (thigh injury). I hope she recovers quickly. I think she is almost as important on defense as she is on offense. Betfort and Beckman are going to play more important roles and I think Porter could cover the 6 position if Coffey doesn’t return early.

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    1. I was happy to see ‘Brunn score – as much for how much her teammates loved it as for her own funny reaction – but that was kind of a lucky bounce. McLeod didn’t have an awful match – her “defense” just took a total dump on her – but she didn’t do well with that ball, pacy or not she should have smothered it.

      The international break is going to be weird, and I’ll just suggest that we won’t know what the squad will look like until we do.

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