Thorns FC: Whu..?

I watched the Thorns beat Orlando last Friday.

I watched them do it again last weekend when I reviewed the tape for this post.

And then I sat around trying to figure out what I saw. Both times it kinda looked kind of like a sloppy Thorns team struggling to beat a much poorer opponent. But…but…it was a win. A solid win. On the road. After two comprehensive bed-becrappings.

That shouldn’t have been anything but great and yet…it wasn’t “great”. Good. Okay. Fine.

Not great.

So I was pretty baffled then and I won’t kid you; I’m still not sure what the Struggle in the Sauna meant, beyond three critical points in a tight title race.

Because I think there’s a bunch of problems with trying to see anything more than that out of this sucker.

First, the Shame were utterly shameful.

I knew they were bad, but there’s “bad” and actually seeing how bad. How bad was Orlando last Friday?

So bad that even their youngest fans were drinking heavily by halftime.

That bad.

Seriously. In ninety-six minutes the Pride generated six chances, only two from the run of play:

  1. 35′ Yazmeen Ryan gave up a yellow-card foul on Kylie Strom and a free kick from about 30 yards from goal but the service was cleared without a shot.
  2. 40′ A Moultrie foul gave Orlando another setpiece that did produce a shot that Hina Sugita cleared out over the byline. Cluff headed the ensuing corner kick wide left.
  3. 43′ Kerry Abello ran through the Thorns backline (lookin’ at you, Hubly…) but Natalia Kuikka made a terrific recovery run and bodied Abello off the ball. This was really the only dangerous look Orlando got all game.
  4. 52′ Cluff tried a long downfield pass but Ally Watt was called offside.
  5. 56′ Kuikka picked up a yellow for a foolishly bad foul on Strom. The ensuing free kick dropped to Ally Watt inside the six, but her blast went off Becky Sauerbrunn’s leg for a corner.
  6. 90+1′ Kelli Hubly saw yellow for another foolish foul just outside the top left corner of the 18, and then had to head the setpiece over the byline…but Bella Bixby boxed the corner kick off a purple shirt for a goal kick.

That was it. That was all the home side had. How bad were they?

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

0.89xG-no-goals-bad…and I think Arielle is being generous here.

39-percent-possession bad. One-shot-on-goal bad. Seventy-five-percent-pass-completion-bad.

Orlando was baaaaaad.

But here’s the weird part; that didn’t make the Thorns look all that great.

As we’ll discuss in the comments, the Thorns as individuals were pretty much all at-least-decent or better. So…good? Yes.

But look at Dror’s xG race above; for all that the Thorns put two past Anna Moorhouse they barely created one real chance. I’m guessing that was because of several related issues:

Per Ryan Clarke Meghan Klingenberg said that the Thursday before the match was the first time this XI had practiced together since the home loss to San Diego the week before.

And, yes; in Orlando the Thorns looked the part of “a team of good players trying to figure out how to be a good team”.

And that leads us back to another team issue; this XI – which was in many fans’ opinions (including this fan) close to the current Portland “best XI” – has never played (and possibly practiced) together. Not once. All season.

Here’s Chris Henderson’s InStat Index table. Try and find a match, especially a recent match, where this same group played together before meeting up in Orlando:

I can’t find one. The closest recent game is in Cary on Matchday 16…but it’s missing Sam Coffey for Raquel Rodriguez and Abby Smith started over Bixby.

I know we’ve slagged off on her for things like formations and substitutions, but the roster churn is, in my opinion, the biggest issue with the gaffer so far this season.

And, as we’ll discuss further in the comments, the Thorns Offensive Weapon – Sophia Smith – looked tired and struggled to create, and was completely gassed by halftime.


Got the road win. That’s great. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how.

But now the Thorns have to travel to Kansas City to take on the suddenly frighteningly good Current. This isn’t the Trickle Charge of April. This is a lightning bolt, a goddamn runaway nuclear reactor, and we need to have a pretty big lightning rod or control rods if we’re going to stay near top of table.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: As noted above Portland won the passing competition by a huge margin, over 85% to barely 75% for The Shame, but let’s look at the charts:

That’s pretty. Everyone is passing and receiving like bosses and Coffey is the Final Boss just like she’s supposed to be. Having had some pretty iffy matches this season Kling is back on form, which is nice to see.

How about The Shame?

That’s just sad.

Corner Kicks

Seven; three first half, four second, all long directly into the box

4′CoffeyLongOn Weaver’s head but the header went well over.
11′RyanLongOn Hubly’s head this time, but also headed over.
24′CoffeyLongRight to Moorhouse.
47′CoffeyLongCleared, recycled, cleared again, recycled again. The second time Kling crossed well, but Ryan’s shot was a Palmer Moonshot way into Row XX.
50′RyanLongWent to Smith, who headed down to Moultrie, but the defense was on her, tackled her, and cleared.
57′CoffeyLongHeaded clear, recycled out to Kuikka, who also shot way over.
75′CoffeyLongMoorhouse claimed easily.

So not much; couple of potential headers but those placed off target. Perhaps the best opportunity was in the 47th minute; Ryan reeeeally should have done better.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (86′ – +8/-3 : +3/-5 : +11/-8) This was the first time I’ve seen Sophia Smith look outright poor. This is perhaps the best illustration I can find of how she looked, running at goal in the 33rd minute:

She’s got Hina-san in support and Ryan running perfectly into space to her right with all the defenders fixated on Smith’s run. Simple diagonal pass and Ryan’s in on goal…


No. Instead Smith blasts the ball right into her primary defender’s legs:

The bounce is unlucky and hits Smith on the arm.

But that’s not the point. A fresh and creative Smith wouldn’t miss that open teammate. This wasn’t Peak Smith, though. She looked gassed from her long minutes with the Nats, tired and out of ideas. That’s unfortunate, and hopefully she’s getting rest this week, because we’ll need the hell out of her in KC.

Dunn (4′ – no rating) From the match announcers’ excitement you’d think that was the Second Coming of Garrincha, and to please them Crystal Dunn showed that she still knows how to run around and kick a ball.

I know I’m kind of alone here, but IMO Dunn has a lot to prove. She was…I hate to use the term “useless”, but she was virtually invisible during her one almost-full season here in 2021. For a player who loudly proclaimed (and got her new owner to promise that) she was going to be an attacking piece she managed very little attacking; one goal and no assists over a total of eleven games.

I want her to be not just good but great. I was…thrilled when the Thorns dealt for her; I crowed to My Bride “Honey! We got Crystal Dunn!”

The Bride, who knows me like a good cop knows every sketchy character in her beat, studied me and replied: “Ummm…okay. Aren’t you the guy who keeps talking about how “soccer is the team-y-est of team sports” and how it’s incredibly rare for a single player to have a monster impact on a team?”

“But, sweetie! Crystal Dunn!!”

I want Dunn to be the monster I’d hope’s she’d be. But she’s got a big hill to climb to get there from where we saw her last.

Weaver (+7/-3 : +9/-1 : +16/-4) Sam Coffey was Woman of the Match for me in this one, but Morgan Weaver was an utter beast and comes damn close. In particular she seemed to find a sweet spot for passes, obviously including the assist, but otherwise she was all over it. OPTA credits her with six – six! – “critical passes”, and I agree.

A hell of a fine performance from Weaver, who showed that her Chaos Muppet energy can produce results even if she doesn’t convert.

The test will be whether she can bring this same wrecking ball devastation against a much better team this coming weekend.

Moultrie (74′ – +6/-2 : +4/-3 : +10/-8) I’m liking what I’m seeing from young OM this season. A lot. I’m still not sure if I like that enough to want to start her over Rodriguez; Moultrie still tends to give up the ball too easily; seven of her eight minuses are for passes that went right to a purple shirt. But in general? She is looking good, and “Livvy vs Rocky” is a pretty good problem to have.

Everett (16′ – +2/-0) Saw out the win, so, terrific, plus the awesome little semisombrero she looped to Ryan at the death to help keep the Space Monkeys pinned down in their own deep right corner. Nice.

Ryan (96′ – +7/-4 : +8/-2 : +15/-6) I think the Thorns got lucky last Friday in that Ryan totally picked up the Smith slack, including a hell of a flying kung-fu goal, and was a monster on both sides of the ball. She’s still pretty far down the forward depth chart, but looked a lot less so in Orlando. Well played.

Vasconcelos (<1′ – no rating) Pure timewasting.

Coffey (+8/-6 : +10/-2 : +18.-8) WotM.

Sugita (+9/-4 : +5/-5 : +14/-9) There’s nothing quite as heartwarming as a Happy Hina-san:

She’s just a joy, like a light in the window coming home on a cold, dark night or a good deed in a weary world. And when she gets to celebrate a goal? That’s Peak Hina Happiness, and I couldn’t love that more if it was a soft, fluffy kitten.


That goal was a massive goalkeeping error. Here’s the shot:

It’s a good shot, cutting back across Sugita-senshu’s movement and threaded through two defenders who may be unsighting Moorhouse.


Moorhouse has her left post well covered; she’s less than a full-body-length off the post, and the shot’s not that pacey. A good dive and it’s in her hands or, at worst, turned around her post.

Instead, Moorhouse freezes, and makes not a dive but a weird stutter-step forward and bends to her left instead of going hard to her left:

By the time the ball pings off the post and in Moorhouse has been spun like a top:

So I’m happy for Sugita and happy for the team.

But A.D. Franch ain’t gonna show us that weak shit.

Klingenberg (+5/-2 : +6/-3 : +11/-5) Solid defending and a burst of nice forward passing? Welcome back, Kling. Nice to see you again!

Sauerbrunn (+2/-2 : +4/-1 : +6/-3) Orlando was so goddamn toothless that the centerbacks had almost nothing to do. When they did, however, ‘Brunn was there, and helped keep the sheet clean. So just fine.

Hubly (+3/-2 : +1/-4 : +4/-6) Her centerback partner, though, had a couple of really sketchy moments.

Abello completely skinned her on the 43rd minute run; if Kuikka hadn’t been there to hand out a heaping helping of hakkaa paalle it’d have been a near-run thing to have gone in at the half all square.

Then in the 52nd minute Watt run Hubly tripped over the ball and backheeled it right to Watt. If the flag hadn’t gone up that, too might have been a scary mistake.

I like Hubs in general, but I’m kind of hoping that Emily Menges is getting closer and closer to match fit.

Kuikka (74′ – +6/-4 : +6/-0 : +12/-4) That’s more like it. This is the Suomi I’m used to seeing.

McGrady (16′ – +3/-0) Closed out the game with solid defending, so, that’s fine.

Bixby (+0/-0 : +2/-1: +2/-1) Untroubled nearly all match, couple of strong takes late in the game, though did badly on the 91st minute free kick – either come out and claim it, or stay; coming out knowing there’s a mass of bodies you can’t get over or through that includes enemy heads that can flick the service at your now-empty net is how you ship crap goals.

Coach Wilkinson: The Good? Three points on the road. Fielded her Best XI. Finally.

The Not-so-good:

  1. Was kind of forced to drop her Favorite Canadians by international play. Not sure she’s have been able to resist the chance to start Sinc and Beckie if they’d been available. So the existential dread of Peak Canadian remains.
  2. Didn’t find a way to get the XI she did field to practice together, and it showed.
  3. Her substitutions were weird again;
    a. Seeing Smith was bereft at the half RW subbed off Moultrie for Everett, instead. When I heard “Everett” as a sub I thought “Thank the soccer gods poor Smith gets a breather and was all “Wait…WHAT?” when Moultrie came off.
    b. Did the weird thing where she pulled Kuikka for McGrady…and then stuck McGrady over on the LB and switched Klingenberg to the right. Why? Kling had been doing just fine and it’s not like the Shame were more dangerous on one side or the other. This felt like more “RW tinkers just to tinker” shit.

Anyway, the real test comes this weekend.

Last time the Thorns played a league leader they got spanked by Casey Stoney and the Tsunami.

Now the leaders are the High Voltage, and we’re gonna need every hand on deck to ground that lightning and steal the thunder.

Not A Rant But, Seriously, We Need to Know This Stuff:

Who is Julie Doyle’s inspiration for these double-hairbuns?

I’m going with Chun-li just based on playing style, but…inquiring minds want to know. The league can barely manage the availability list, tho, so I’m not holding my breath. C’mon, NWSL. This is need-to-know shit. Be better!

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

14 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Whu..?

  1. Might just be coincidence, but I wonder whether Sinc’s is done playing NWSL games when the weather is like Hanoi in July?

    Sat out the Orlando match, which was on the back end of the Australia trip.

    Was on the 18 but didn’t play in Cary. By about 30 minutes into that match, all the players looked like they’d just showered in their kits.

    Also sat out the Houston match, back on her 39th birthday, as a precaution from a previous knock and going into the international window.

    If RW is actually holding her out of those matches, I give RW some credit.

    1. But played the full 90 in the smoky heat against San Diego…contributing to my “WTF?” where Sinc-and-RW are concerned.

      When she’s rested Sinc still seems able to contribute – which seems to make her a perfect super-sub or spot-starter coming off at halftime. But RW seems to have this weird “must…play…Sinc…whenever…possible…” thing. Gawd I hope we don’t see her start in KC!

  2. Your take on Dunn mirrored mine exactly. I was out of my mind excited when we got her, then completely bemused by her non-impact on the field. Instead of having Lavelle/Horan/Fox level impact she was practically invisible. Am I remembering correctly that she wasn’t even a starter most of the time invisible? Any thoughts about why? Is it possible Dunn will flourish in this system and give us the boost we were all hoping for?

    What are thoughts about Coffey vs Sullivan for the USWNT? I’m not a huge Sullivan fan (she seems pretty good at most things, but not really good at anyting IMHO), and I really thought Coffey was better out there, but am I simply blinded by how much I like Coffey?

    1. I want to think Dunn can be the Dunn of 2018. But she needs to be that player, and certainly wasn’t in 2021; Parsons seemed to be struggling with her and the owner’s dicta that she be “an attacker” without having any real idea of how to make her that attacker. Maybe RW has different, better ideas..?

      Dunno…but I hope so. I loved CD when she played against us; I’d love to see her play that way FOR us.

      Sullivan seems like a perfectly serviceable utility midfielder. I tend to agree that Coffey is a better #6…but one game is also a very small N. Hopefully if she cintinues to get caps we’ll see if she is or not. My money’s on her, yes.

      1. I think Coffey has a good chance of taking over the USWNT d-mid spot in the future, but I think it’s too late this cycle. We have no information on whether she’s any good against stiffer competition than Nigeria, and I’m pretty sure we won’t get it against England or Spain next month. And there’s just not enough time after that – Vlatko would need to play her several times to see if she stands up and to get her to gel with the team before the World Cup. Vlatko said her defending needs work too.

        Ertz will be back at at some point and I think the position is hers to lose. She will get a bunch of games to gel with the team. I sure hope she’s as good defensively as she was before pregnancy and birth and young-motherhood. Ertz isn’t a very good passer (unlike Coffey) but makes up for it with defensive steel that no one else touches, and that seems to be what Vlatko values in the position. Ertz is good on set-piece headers too, both defensively and offensively.

        I strongly suspect Sullivan will be #2; Coffey might conceivably be included if Vlatko brings three d-mids but that seems unlikely.

  3. Fair not a lot to take from this trip to Disney World beides 3 needed points. The left side of our attack is on fire. Would be nice to see the right side create chances like the left has been but I will gladly take what I can get. Fair analysis of the goals. I hope Smith catches her breath and gets her finishing shoes back on for Kansas City.

    Sidenote the Pride keeper was Moorhouse not Morehouse. We now have a 11-2-2 regular season record against the Pride and have a +19 GD against them over those 15 games. The Pride are bad but we continue to make them look worse, even if it doesn’t always make us look good.

    Looking forward at the weather forecast for KC they are still very much in their summer. Sunday forecast of 94 and sunny. A prime candidate for water breaks. It makes wonder why we are playing at 4 PM Kansas City time. Maybe they thought fall cool down would be in place by now.

    We go into our 19 game with 1 road loss and they will be in their 20th game with 1 home loss. Sure their home loss was in May and our road loss was in August but it is still 1 a piece. I am hopeful and optimistic we manage to get at least get 1 point against KC Sunday.

    1. As noted above; left, right, or center, we barely created one “chance” all game; for all the hustle and brawl Weaver was doing the Thorns weren’t really getting many good looks at goal. Ryan converted hers and Sugita rode a combination of good and keeper error…but that was far from a dominant attack anywhere. And KC ain’t gonna give us what The Shame did.

      Moorhouse. Thanks; fixed.

      The Shame have had one decent season, 2016, and we crushed them and Sermanni in the semi, and that’s been that. They’ve been by far the worst franchise in the league outside the old Boston trainwreck.

      I’d be more worried about electrical storms in KC. Not unusual in their September. We could be looking at a “weather delay” with all that entails.

      A win would be good. But, failing that, we need at least a point.

    2. File this under “NWSL WTF?”; KC drops a clanger – 4-nil to (of all teams…) Chicago.

      OK, now I have NO idea what Sunday is gonna look like…

      1. If Sophia is on her game, there’s no reason she can’t copy Pugh and cut right through that defense. I arbitrarily point to the San Diego win as KC’s Zenith. Everything since then had not been a loss, but was looking shaky ready to lose. I judge it this by watching highlights and 20 minutes of the Gotham game so skewed perspective.

        Against Chicago for some reason they chose to rotate at keepers midweek, the drop off from Franch probably helped the tally. Pugh being healthy and on form of course helped.

        Elizabeth Ball had not a great game, through yellow card accumulation will be out Sunday. That might just be the best thing for her.

        The closer we get to game day the more excited about the KC game I am. I am closer and closer to predicting a win, but not knowing if our lineup ends up being I can’t do it yet.

        I have anxiety that a lineup monumentally dumb is thrown out, something like, Kuikka on the left, Nally on the right. Vasconcelos Beckie and Everett in attack. Moultrie put in the 6 for some reason and Sinclair as the 10. I don’t think it will be this bad all at once, but maybe 1-3 of these things could happen and they would not be great.

      2. A few thoughts:

        Hard to bounce back from down 2-0 after 8 minutes. It can be done – SD came all the way back after a similarly rough start against Washington – but it’s not easy.

        I was very surprised that Potter started Miller instead of Franch. Maybe he thought Miller was more familiar with Chicago’s attack? Nothing against Miller, but she’s not Franch and I can’t believe it would matter that much to rest Franch mid-week.

        Ball had a really rough night.

        As for the rest of KC, could it be as simple as “looking too far ahead”?

  4. I will agree Orlando have been bottom dwellers but you cannot give them the bottom spot alone when Sky Blue/Gotham is a thing. Their great rebranding and here we are 9 loses in a row, looking like they will finish out with 13 straight losses. They took a big hit losing Coombe.

    Orlando got 1 good year in 2017
    Gotham got one good year in 2021. It has been fighting for the bottom practically every other year for both. Orlando never hand anything like Sky Blue’s 9 point season in 2018.

    I will agree Boston Breakers are the worst the league has ever seen.

    2016 was our semi final loss of attrition to WNYF, and Orlando’s expansion year. The years before 2020 do all blend together at this point.

    1. I feel so bad for Gotham fans. Years of misery following Sky Blue only to have hopes raised by the rebranding and the early successes like the 2021 CC. At least with Boston there was never even hope; you knew they would suck and they always did. The poor Gotham fans are now looking at a club bereft of all the starry promise they seemed to have after the makeover.

    1. It is, and that was my idea, to identify her as “Finland”, since she’s kind of a little piece of the nation, our own personal Mannerheim Line, here in Portland…sort of how Rocky is “Costa Rica” and everybody and their sister is “Canada”.


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