Like probably 97% of the Thorns fans viewing the match broadcast from Segra Field when I opened up the Paramount stream and saw this…
I don’t have the actual figures but the D.C. area probably has more of these damn lightning-strike-delays than anywhere else in the league (Kansas City, maybe?).
Worse than Rochester, I think, and the old Sky Blue, and those were the others I recall. Certainly the delay I remember the best was the open-mike-night “protect the precious” game back in May of 2019. The summer weather in Maryland just sucks for soccer.
After an hour, though, the soccer gods relented, the stream resumed, the players ran out, and the lineup card showed this…
…and like the same 97% I gasped with horror.
No Sophia Smith!!??
OMFG, doom, death, disaster! Without the engine room, the SS Thorn was likely to sink at her moorings. Without the dilithium crystal the starship Portland would be sucked into the scoress-draw-black-hole, and that was if we were lucky and the scary-on-paper lineup that featured last year’s wunderkind Trinity Rodman along with Ashley Hatch, Andi Sullivan, and Ashley Sanchez didn’t ring up half a dozen on us.
The good news is – that didn’t happen.
The sad act that is Washington continued its power dive into the Fiery Lake of The Wooden Spoon. Rodman’s sophomore slump continued; two shots, one on goal, no goals. Indeed; the Spirit didn’t score any of the goals in the Thorns 2-1 win;
Despite getting over 2.5 xG the Spirit couldn’t fucking convert.
In fact, for the first hour-and-ten-odd-minutes, nobody could convert.
The match was an ugly welter of fluffed shots, turnovers, poor passes. and, well, how’d you think things were going at halftime, Marissa Everett?
Yeah. Me, too.
I won’t kid you; by the hour I was so convinced that this turkey would end scoreless that I gave up, left the sound on, and went into the kitchen to prepare dinner.
So I missed seeing this fiasco live:
Possibly the weirdest own-goal I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen some weirdos. At least one of the commentors over at Stumptown made the observation that one of the field players – at least Natalia Kuikka and Everett are within or close to touching distance – could have grabbed Bella Bixby before she stumbled backwards into her own goal.
They didn’t, though, and suddenly rather than a dreary road draw we were looking at an appalling road loss to this season’s Sky Blue and possibly a mental hammerblow to our starting keeper’s confidence.
Credit where it’s due; the Thorns kept pushing.
Morgan Weaver came on – long overdue – for Yazmeen Ryan, and six minutes later the Thorns nicked a corner. Sam Coffey drove the ball across the top of the 18 where Kelli Hubly met the volley and drove her shot into the right-hand upper-A, and…
…Spirit keeper Aubrey Kingsbury repaid Bixby the favor, making a futile slap that got nothing but empty air. The ball dropped fortuitously right in front of Christine Sinclair who, old head that she is, followed the shot and tapped it in for the equalizer.
But…here’s the thing; the Thorns had only three decent-ish-or-better chances in the final half hour:
67′ – Hubly headed forward to Janine Beckie near the top of Washington’s 18. Beckie played a 1-2 with Hina Sugita before ripping out a nasty shot that Kingsbury had to do well to save.
84′ – the goal shown above.
90+2′ – Hina-san fed Weaver, who carried the ball across the face of goal and hit an absolutely gorgeous one-timer that evaded a diving Kingsbury and settled inside the far post for the matchwinner.
That’s it. That’s all.
Other than that? Pretty much what we feared; the Thorns’ replacement forwards – Everett and Ryan – ran around, got some good looks, and…fluffed the shot, were denied by Kingsbury (Ryan), tackled for loss, or just fired up, down, and sideways (Everett). Ryan was clearly the better of the two, but neither one looked much like converting.
And the team wasn’t exactly locking down the three points on defense, either; remember, Washington had put up something like 2 xG by the full 90.
And with less than a minute to go Dorian Bailey hucked a long ball that Camryn Biegalski flicked on to Rodman who ran through the entire fucking backline to force Bella Bixby to be a last-tick-hero and deny Washington the equalizer at the death.
This was both boring and frantic, and, luckily, a Thorns win.
But not a hell of a convincing one.
Hey, I’ll take it. Three points are three points, especially now with San Diego apparently deciding that as an expansion club they really shouldn’t be top of table, dropping three of their last five, four points out of a possibly 15.
Washington is a trainwreck, possibly the worst collapse in NWSL history, and without our magic striker the Thorns damn near lost to them.
So good on the squad for fighting back. Good on them for grabbing the points out of that ragged bag.
But next time?
Let’s crush these tomato cans. That’s what they’re there for.
Passing the Passing Test: Not too bad; OPTA has the Thorns at about 77% and Washington at 80%, so pretty much a wash.
Everyone by Bixby is doing at least decently (and we’ll talk about Bix in her comment), but to me the really shocking thing is the positioning. Look where Ryan’s heat map is. Look at Everett. Neither one is consistently pushing up, and a lot of that is because…
…Washington was killing it with the high press. Particularly in the first quarter-hour to twenty minutes, the Thorns were completely pinned back. The “forwards” had to retreat damn near to midfield to pick up the ball, and then run at goal from there. No wonder when they arrived the Spirit defense was pretty well set.
No shock here; Rodman doing all the work. Luck for us she’s got the Black Yips or something.
Four; two first half, two second, three long, one short.
|27′||Ryan||Long||Blocked out on one of the few dangerous first-half Thorns attacks, Ryan’s service was cleared out to Kuikka, whose shot went well wide left.|
|41′||Coffey||Long||Cleared out again but to Klingenberg; Kling looped a little rainbow onto Everett’s head, but the header was up and over the crossbar.|
|84′||Coffey||Long||Produced the Sinclair equalizer shown above.|
|90+7′||Weaver||Short||The idea was to take the ball to the corner, but after a brief 1-2 between Coffey and Weaver the ball ran to Sugita, who booted it to Weaver on the touchline; either the ball had too much pace or Weaver was just woolgathering, because it went into touch for the Washington throw-in that started the Rodman run and shot that Bixby had to hero.|
So one goal, one pretty-decent chance (the Everett header) and one that doesn’t really count because it was pure match-killing (even though it didn’t actually do much killing…). So 66% decent chances? That’s pretty outstanding.
Player Ratings and Comments
Everett (66′ – +3/-3 : +1/-1 : +4/-4) I was pretty hard on Everett, and to be fair, the real issue was that she’s not Sophia Smith but, Jesus, who is?
But she’s also not really dangerous. Almost all her shots outside the little bloop header were off-target, and you can’t convert if you can’t at least put the damn ball on frame.
I can’t honestly see why she was started in place of Smith over Weaver. Move Ryan inside as the #9 and Weaver as the winger and see what happens. It certain couldn’t have been much more sterile that what did.
Beckie (24′ – +3/-2) Decent shift, I thought. Added a bit of pace and creativity to the front line. Still can’t defend a lick, which was a trifle of an issue in the waning minutes.
Ryan (74′ – +8/-7 : +4/-2 : +12/-9) Lots of good; runs, passes, crosses, attacking pressure. Lots of not-so-good; shooting, turnovers. As a squad player behind Smith? She’s fine. When she has to lead the line? Hmmm…
Weaver (16′ – +6/-0) Possibly the Chaos Muppet Performance of All Time; came on as Washington was drooping, smashed her way into their backline and stole a matchwinner.
Here’s the thing with her; Weaver’s been tearing up the last two matches. Why not give her more of a chance? Start her next to Smith, drop Sinc and put Sugita in her place. See what happens. What the hell, we’ve got some space at the top and Carolina away then the Tsunami at home. Sounds like a good time to see how far that Chaos Muppet thing can go.
Sinclair (+5/-6 : +5/-4 : +10/-10) Sigh.
Look, here’s Sinc, getting her doors blown off by Sullivan only half an hour into the match.
A ton of the sterility of the Thorns first hour-and-more was because Sinc’s pace was simply too slow, and her touch too iffy, to push the attack forward.
Then she scored, and justified everything else she did on the pitch that night.
I won’t pretend that Sinc doesn’t have value. She’s still got moments.
But for 90 minutes? She’s visibly struggling, and when she struggles – because she’s Sinclair and the team looks to her – the team struggles.
I don’t know how to use her best.
But I do know that she has a lot of baggage when she goes the full 90. And I wish to hell Coach Wilkinson would do something about that.
Rodriguez (+2/-4 : +2/-2 : +4/-6) I thought Rocky had a decent first half when I watched this live. In review…I’m not so sure. But I think it was largely because she had to cover all the ground Sinc couldn’t, so she was having to get into marginal positions and take risks that otherwise she could have played more tactically.
Still a decent shift; tough tackling, sticky in possession. Had we had Smith up top, might have done more going forward.
Coffey (+7/-3 : +0/-1 : +8/-4) Excellent first half, faded badly in the second. Again, had to do a lot of the work in midfield left by Sinc’s small footprint.
Sugita (+7/-1 : +8/-6 : +15/-7) Hina-san got desperate in the second half, forcing shots that had no chance, getting caught upfield trying to create something out of nothing. Still skillful in possession, still a sniper with the pass, just trying to force a win out of a brutal slog of a match and having a tough time. Lovely feed to Weaver on the winner, so fortunately her hard graft finally paid off.
Klingenberg (61′ – +3/-2 : +1/-2 : +4/-4) I think Kling came off just after the hour largely because the Thorns’ problem was Rodman and Rodman was chewing up Kling and spitting her out. And because of that Kling couldn’t get forward, so it was no attacking loss to replace her with…
McGrady (29′ – +2/-1) Still had quite the battle with Rodman. Decent shift, no more.
Sauerbrunn (+1/-3 : +4/-6 : +5/-9)
Did I mention that the backline wasn’t exactly locking down this match?
Stuff like this Sanchez rocket-over-the-crossbar was happening all over the defensive third. As the senior centerback, it’s a big part of ‘Brunn’s remit to make sure her people are marking up and tracking their runners. That didn’t happen at Segra, a lot, and it’s damn lucky that the Spirit at this point couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat.
Hubly (+3/-3 : +9/-0 : +12/-3) Hubs, on the other hand, was an utter beast, and helped grab the three points in a big way. Solid, solid defending and some damn fine passing, too. I’d give her a sort of hockey assist on the Sinc goal.
Kuikka (+3/-2 : +3/-6 : +6/-8) Third sub-par match in a row for Natu. Nursing a knock? Euro Blues? Dunno, but she needs to shake it off. We’re not so deep at fullback that we can afford her as a semi-passenger.
Bixby (+1/-4 : +2/-3 : +5/-7) I’m not sure what to say. Horrible concession, massive saves…Bix taketh away and giveth, all within 90 minutes.
At this point I don’t know if I’d do if I were the gaffer. In A.D. Franch’s last season here Bixby looked easily as good as Franch, and had better numbers. Franch is tearing it up in KC now, though, and Bixby seems to have developed some issues with shot stopping, taking balls out of the air, and controlling her area.
I don’t usually make an issue about keeper distribution, either, but Bix was unusually awful in this one, booting balls into touch when the squad needed to hang onto possession.
But we know little about Shelby Hogan (other than she’s good…but how good?) and Abby Smith has always frightened me; she always seems to be a massive brainfart away from giving away the game with an appalling error.
So if you re-arranged the keeper chart…what would you get?
What I’d like to get is better from Bixby.
We’ll see if that happens.
Coach Wilkinson: This one’s kind of hard to analyze.
It was a road win, a gritty comeback win at that.
But the squad didn’t really play that well. Until the own-goal the match was all…
…and then, suddenly, for the final 21-odd minutes it was…
…fucking NWSL After Dark.
How much of that is on the coach?
Certainly I’d question playing Sinc the full 90. Or starting Ryan/Everett over Weaver.
But the real bottom line is that this team is built around Smith, and without her it’s going to be a scramble.
Coach Wilkinson and the squad scrambled to three points at Segra, and so maybe we just give thanks and move on.
Sometimes you get steak. And sometimes you get the Tender Vittles you get and just eat ’em the hell up.