Thorns FC: Nearly a Cat’s Game

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 groaned.

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;

Image by Arilelle Dror on Twitter

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.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: Not too bad; OPTA has the Thorns at about 77% and Washington at 80%, so pretty much a wash.

Image by Arilelle Dror on Twitter

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.

Corner Kicks

Four; two first half, two second, three long, one short.

27′RyanLongBlocked 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′CoffeyLongCleared out again but to Klingenberg; Kling looped a little rainbow onto Everett’s head, but the header was up and over the crossbar.
84′CoffeyLongProduced the Sinclair equalizer shown above.
90+7′WeaverShortThe 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.

Love to know what this was all about. Poke-a-Kuikka?

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.

John Lawes
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17 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Nearly a Cat’s Game

  1. Rodman is having troubles, but in my eye was the best player on the field and like Weaver is as much of a threat as defender as she is as an attacker. She is handful, but she is getting a lot of attention from defenders and at the end of this miserable season for the Spirit she will need to look at this season and learn from it.
    While both Ryan and Everett didn’t score they were in position a number of times and that is good.
    Considering the field, weather, delay and the talent that the Spirit have on the field I am pretty happy with this one.

    1. In order:
      Yeah, Rodman is really struggling this season. We’ll have to wait and see if that’s because she’s struggling, or because her rookie season was an outlier and she’s now reverting to the mean.
      As far as Ryan and Everett, I’ll just tell you the old Tony Herbert story about going hunting with his pop and coming across deer tracks.
      “Look, pop! Deer tracks!”
      “Well, you just take ’em home to your mom, then.”
      “Yep. I’m gonna be interested to find out how deer track stew tastes.”
      So getting into good position is good. Converting is better and Everett, in particular, didn’t look anything like converting.
      Talent be damned, Washington is a hot mess, and we came within a fluke goal and a wonderstrike of losing to them. I’ll take the points, thanks, but this was NOT a convincing win.

      1. Good story, I will remember that one. I have been a glass half full person for awhile, but I went almost a decade being a glass half empty person. I prefer the being upside, but I really enjoy your cautious takes.
        On Rodman, I don’t think she is 20 yet, so I see nothing but upside for her and as I noted earlier in the season I expected her to be not as good this year as last year, but with her talent, work ethic, and confidence in herself I see an amazing future. Why the Courage and Spirit are doing so poorly is a complicated mystery. And then there is Kansas City even without Mewis and Williams is playing so well. This year is a strange one. Diane Ordenez may be the 2022 version of Rodman, lots of tools but once the league gets book on her she will come back to earths orbit.

        1. The thing about Rodman is that she was outstanding in college and then jumped to the pros and looked amazing last season. That’s a great story…but that’s a hell of a big jump. Other college stars – people like Smith and Pugh and Macario – have taken a season or two to really find their stride.

          Now she’s stuck inside a team that appears to be imploding. That obviously has to affect her play. But how much is her, and how much is the team? We won’t know until we see her for another season, and in a better surrounding. But it’s just as likely, IMO, that somewhere closer to this season is her professional level than last season was.

          We’ll see.

          And so far the glass is pretty full for this squad. Top of table, undefeated streak…in general, I like what I’m seeing.

          That said…this match was kind of a turd in the punchbowl. It’s one thing to let Seattle back in the match. It’s quite another to come damn near to losing to the Spirit. Like I said; it’s three road points, thanks very much. But we are going to be without Smith again, and we need to be better than we were at Segra…

          1. Did Rodman play in college? I agree with both comments – that she was player of the match and is a not mess. Felt to me like she was trying to carry the weight of her team on her shoulders, and made a good run at doing so, but given the quality of her teammates this shouldn’t be necessary and is isn’t sustainable.

            Just saw her nomination for Ballon d’or Féminine – impressive. Hard to believe she’d get it…this time around at least, but she’s in exclusive company.

            Looking forward to the ICC…

            1. The Ballon d’Or is getting to be kind of a joke. Rapinoe was a ridiculous choice in 2019, and for Rodman to even get a nom this season? Even more ridiculous.

              My bad – you’re right, she didn’t play in the NCAA. Last year that seemed like a good decision. This year…not so much.

              I’m not sure what’s the deal with her, tho. Like I said – hard to separate her woes from the club’s right now

            2. And I’m looking forward to seeing 1) the starters and main subs get a nice long rest, while 2) a squad of reserves, cast-offs, wanna-bes and never-weres in Thorns kit plays in the silly ICC thing.

              That way the international stars will get their 30 or 40 minutes of time to work some rust off, and we’ll be rested when the REAL soccer resumes in late August.

  2. Thanks for your analysis. I wish we had Thorns talk radio. Long-time listener. First-time caller. The commentators called out how great Sinc still is. Do they really mean that or are they talking about how great she was? What would happen if she was subbed on at 75’? Let’s see what Weaver can do with some starts.

    1. I wish my partners still felt the love; I miss our podcast and taking up questions and comments from the “callers”. But the whole mess surrounding the management (and anyone who read the Oregonian piece about Mike Golub and can’t believe that a senior management executive could be a juvenile, teasing, in-your-face-asshole clearly doesn’t remember the alpha-jocks from high school…) was just too much for them. They have been kind enough to keep the lights on around this joint for me…but they just don’t want to podcast anymore.

      And Sinc…I mean, Jesus wept; the woman still has decent professional-grade soccer in her at, what, 39? Freaking Pele’ – Pele! – was toast by the time he played for the Cosmos at 35!

      But she doesn’t have 90 minutes of decent pro-level soccer in her anymore. Scoring a poacher’s goal doesn’t make up for the issues with her in midfield that left her team looking at an own-goal loss six minutes earlier. Two goals on three attacks in a half hour is kind of the definition of “against the run of play”. I’ll take ’em…but that was NOT a well-played match.

      Hopefully we’ll see better in Cary in a couple of weeks.

      1. I understand where your partners are coming from. I cancelled my season tickets and haven’t been to the stadium at all this year. Makes me sad.

        1. I never really considered opting out (I gave up my Timbers seat, but more because it had gotten up to $1K/yr and that’s too damn much for a game.) simply because that punishes the players more – they depend on us. The management has TV deals and endorsements and all that crap. But playing to empty seats? That’s gotta be hard.

          AND there are a lot worse things than Paulson the thin-skinned rich kid and Golub the asshole jock; my EPL team is Newcastle, and they’re now owned by fucking Prince Bonesaw and the Saudi oil sheiks. I want Peregrine to be better…but I’m not ready to be all “sell the team” and end up with a goddamn vulture capitalist who’ll end up moving to Salt Lake.

          Not agin anyone who can’t stomach what’s going on in the C-suites, tho. Everyone has a line they won’t cross, and I get that the FO has crossed that line for some of us…

        2. So here’s my question; how do you find a way not to be sad?

          I mean…barring league intervention Paulson is unlikely to sell, and his m.o. has always been to back his buddies, so people who seem to be pretty asshole-ish like Golub and Gavin are also unlikely to go anywhere.

          But…you’re here. So you still are interested, still follow the team if not from the stands. What – short of a meteor strike wiping out the top execs at Peregrine but leaving the club here, solvent, and healthy – would make you and everyone who shares your sadness (like my podcast peeps) be able to return to the stands again?

  3. Re the Smith-less team:
    Great to get a win without Smith, and an across-the-country road win at that. We also did fairly well during the CONCACAF W break when Smith was gone (I think we were 1-0-2 for 5 points out of 9 on offer), though in that case we were playing against teams that were also missing their national team stars. This game was against a team with plenty of talent; I keep thinking Washington will get it together at some point, and I was very happy their resurrection didn’t begin against us.

    1. I dunno. There’s something truly, madly, deeply wrong there. They are just kind of a hot mess, despite their roster. I’m glad we nicked the points, mind, but I’d like to see a more convincing performance in Cary in a couple of weeks.

  4. Given what happened in San Diego post game, I almost forgot this game happened midweek.

    Still waiting for any decision on punishment from the league for the post game antics.

    I am not surprised Everett was put as CF with Smith a late scratch. As ~ average as her record is, she still has more experience filling in there for the Thorns over the years then anyone else, unless we stick Sinclair up there.

    Almost all of our bodies with experience in our attack are wingers, or midfielders who push high up. It is not to say that Hina, Ryan, Weaver, etc. could not slip into the CF for a game, just on a last minute call up I can see the logic in going for experience, even if talent wise it is a step down.

    I will be missing the WICC games. 8:40 PM is a good kickoff time to try and play out of the heat, but I do not want to stay up that late on a weeknight, and I have other plans on Saturday. I expect our Betforts, and Hogans will likely get some time against Monterey.

    Wednesday also sees Moultrie and the U-20 world cup group stage end. USA needs a win against Japan by 2 or more to guarantee their spot in the knockout stage. Best of luck to them all. If they crash out we do get our Moultrie back, but perhaps a shell of herself with the disappointment of defeat.

    I think the Winter transfer window of Jan 2024 Moultrie is off to Europe. After another season here that just seems like the next step on her career, if she can avoid the sophomore slump. She will be 18 and ITC eligible. I am not saying it is the smartest move, but it does seem like the logical next step for her.

    1. I dunno. Moultrie has become more than just a squad player here, but has she raised her profile high enough to get interest in Europe? Interesting thought…but I’ll be watching the wire this winter.

      And the WICC was just as ridiculous as it should have been. Chel$ki slaps OL all over the pitch, kicks back in the final half hour (treating it like the preseason tune-up it is, or should be…) Lyon brings on van de Donk. gets two junk goals against a pickup-game defense, then “wins” on PKs (which of all the squad Horan misses…)

      Plus Henry picks up some sort of calf strain. Ugh.

      And the nitecap? NWSL After Dark again, with RW sending on a handful of the starters at the death which moves the needle not a bit. Weaver and Sinc (Sinc!) hit the weakest of PKs, the jumpy Monterrey keeper is WotM, and the whole thing fortunately doesn’t get anyone hurt. Glad I stayed home and watched the thing in airconditioned comfort…


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