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.
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.
Seriously. In ninety-six minutes the Pride generated six chances, only two from the run of play:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 52′ Cluff tried a long downfield pass but Ally Watt was called offside.
- 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.
- 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?
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.
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.
Seven; three first half, four second, all long directly into the box
|4′||Coffey||Long||On Weaver’s head but the header went well over.|
|11′||Ryan||Long||On Hubly’s head this time, but also headed over.|
|24′||Coffey||Long||Right to Moorhouse.|
|47′||Coffey||Long||Cleared, recycled, cleared again, recycled again. The second time Kling crossed well, but Ryan’s shot was a Palmer Moonshot way into Row XX.|
|50′||Ryan||Long||Went to Smith, who headed down to Moultrie, but the defense was on her, tackled her, and cleared.|
|57′||Coffey||Long||Headed clear, recycled out to Kuikka, who also shot way over.|
|75′||Coffey||Long||Moorhouse 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.
- 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.
- Didn’t find a way to get the XI she did field to practice together, and it showed.
- 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!