Thorns FC: At The Death

Shipping a 94th minute goal never feels good, so it’s hard not to feel grim about the 1-1 draw in Kansas City.

Especially given that the Current were barely hanging on all game, outplayed all across the pitch – and we’ll come back to that but here’s the raw metrics –

and shouldn’t have been anywhere near scratching back the point in second half injury time.

What bugged me most, though, (outside of center referee Calin Radosav’s Marco-Vega-Thorns-punishing-grade-crap-afternoon) was the lurking sense that we’d been here before.

That we’d had issues with shipping goals and dropping points late.

I was curious about whether this was just my observation bias, so I looked back at the results this season when the Thorns had conceded late and gone from leading to drawing. Here’s the toll:

MatchdayOpponent (location)Final ScoreNotes
3Washington (H)1-1Hatch scores at 61′ after Smith 57′ opener
7San Diego (H)2-2Kornieck brace after 80′
11OL Reign (A)2-2Balcer equalizer at 81′
14North Carolina (H)3-3Portland up 2-nil but the Damned score three times after the hour. Smith late equalizer gives way to Daniels late winner
19Kansas City (A)1-1Mace goal at 94′

That’s at least ten points dropped.

If you add back the points the Thorns gained from late goals thing look a bit less dire. Add a point for Ryan at the death in ACFC away and another for Chicago away where the Thorns gave up two early goals but salvaged the draw with the Smith goal after halftime.

In Louisville away in July the Thorns went up early but let Racing equalize before Hina-san got the winner late, so let’s add two more points there.

You can count the Washington away match, tho frankly Washington was so dire that Portland never should have gone down to begin with, but if we’re being charitable we could give them all three for the comeback win.

So that’s a for-sure +4 back, and +7 if we’re being nice.

But, still – add that all up and you’re still three points down (10 dropped, 7 gained) if we’re giving full credit for Washington away. If you’re inclined to give the defense stick for letting Washington score (and I kinda of go there) it’s -6 for the total.

So, no; it’s not just perception. In more than 20% of this season’s games the Thorns defense has shipped late goals and dropped somewhere between seven and nine points. Nicking those points would have put Portland on somewhere between 38 and 41 points, on track for the Shield and a first-round bye.

That’s so constant and so season-long that it can’t just be a player problem. That makes it a coaching problem.

That’s…troubling. As troubling as one of those “draws that feel like a loss”.

I have no idea how the club took this game. Badly, I suspect. To outplay and opponent and to be shiked out of three points by a combination of shit officiating, failure to finish, and shifty defending?

That might just be gutting.

Two things and we’ll move on to ratings and comments. We’ve talked about the shifty defending. What about..?

“Shit officiating”

I normally hate to whinge about officiating, but Merrick not getting blown up for a red for DOGSO (or a yellow and a PK) for this 49th minute atrocity…

…is a straight-up fuck-up by this:

No, not Marco Vega but…godDAMN…

Between the no-call on the Merrick-Smith clatter and the bizarre Sauerbrunn phantom “foul” on a diving Mace in the 94th minute Radosav was a dumpster fire, and, unfortunately his heat largely seared the Thorns.

What didn’t help is that Kansas City was dead tired from three matches in seven days and so were diving and playing Aussie rules football all afternoon and he let them get away with it.

There’s no way you can shrug that off. A referee should, at the very least, not impact a match and, instead, Radosav did in the worst possible way for Portland and the best for Kansas City.

Well, shit.

Now we’ve said that, how about “Failure to finish”.

Portland had a crap-ton of chances and couldn’t bury but one of them, and, in particular, yes. I’m looking… you…

…Captain Sinclair.

Sinc had three misses including two from point-blank range that should have put the Thorns up by three or so after the hour. The GOAT in her prime – hell, even in the last several seasons – would have buried at least two if not all three of them.

That’s really, really not acceptable.

Earlier in the season Coach Wilkinson’s attachment to her old teammate and hero could be passed off as loyalty and even seen as kind of heartwarming.

But now?


No team can continue to play 10v11 constantly. Except for a tiny handful of moments Christine Sinclair has become a boat anchor on this squad. Her slow pace is bad enough. But to miss gimme putts like that..? When that’s about all her remaining value..?

I want to believe she still has value. But that value doesn’t come from doing nothing for damn near 70 minutes in the sweltering heat of a Kansas City summer.

Let’s move on.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: As shown in the OPTA graphic above, Portland outpassed KC by a wide margin, 78% to barely 66%. The Current were tired, gave away a LOT of passes, and that went a long way to nerfing their attack.

Unfortunately, a LOT of those passes were lateral dinks or drops. The forward passes – other than the wonderful sequence in first half injury time shown below, were short 1-2 player moves that as often as not were turned back and well-defended.

Corner Kicks

Six; all in the second half, four long, two short

53′CoffeyShort…to Ryan, but her lofted ball went right to Franch.
66′KlingenbergLongInto the scrum, cleared out to Kuikka whose shot went way over.
77′CoffeyLongEasily cleared, recycled but no shot.
80′KlingenbergLongPast the far post to Rodriguez’s head and from there over the byline.
84′KlingenbergLongFranch boxed away but into the scrum, cleared from there but over the byline for…
85′KlingenbergShort…to Beckie, some passing around the deep left corner but the lofted cross sailed over the end line.

No real threat. Rocky’s header was a tough angle, and that was the only attempt that even came close.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+4/-3 : +4/-1 : +8/-4) Sophia Smith, as always, hustled her ass off all afternoon. And, as always, her reward was to get double-covered and beefed around all afternoon.

Part of the issue is the forty-stitches-or-a-gunshot-or-play-on PRO referee approach to the game.

But another is that the Thorns don’t often play well together.

Oh, there’s usually a nice one-or-two-player pass exchange, but how often do we see stuff like this, the move that started with a Hina Sugita through-ball up to Yazmeen Ryan at 45+3′?

Look at the movement off the ball, too; Sam Coffey is moving into the gap between the fullback and centerback, and Smith is drifting wide. Ryan takes the pass and…

…immediately plays a diagonal pass into Coffey’s path. Coffey, in turn, sees Smith running free wide and…

…one-touches the ball right into her drive and Smith is in six yards from goal with just the keeper to beat.

Only a massive effort by A.D. Franch, coming late and hard (very hard – she and Smith went down and stayed down some time after the collision…) prevented a dangerous shot on goal.

But…how many times to we see the Thorns doing this? In this match, well, once; this was the only time that more than two Thorns players combined to threaten the KC goal.

Instead, we did what we always do; dink the ball around the outside of the 18 and then tried to pitch long balls and crosses up to Smith, who had to fight through a centerback draped over her shoulders, or Smith had to drop deep to take possession and then run at the opposing backline.

She’s amazing at it…but that’s damn hard work. I’m not surprised she’s looking tired this late in the season.

Weaver (90′ – +8/-5 : +7/-7 : +15/-12) A very Weaveresque match; tons of energy, lots of good movement, passing, forechecking…everything Weaver does well. And lots of stuff Weaver doesn’t do well, like shooting; seven of her 12 minuses are for crap shots that went wide, high, or tamely right to Franch.

Weaver is a fun, exciting player who has a ton of positives. What I’d LIKE to see is her become deadly in front of goal, so opponents would have to start trying to blanket her the way they do Smith.

I’ll bet they couldn’t do both.

Everett (4′ – no rating) Timewasting.

Sinclair (69′ – +3/-5 : +0/-2 : +3/-7) Thinking about her now just makes me sad.

Rodriguez (21′ – +3/-1) Imagine, if you will, not poor Granny Sinclair lumbering about for over an hour, but La Chispa out there instead, wreaking havoc and scoring out of pure determination (much as I love combination play, Rocky made that goal herownself out of sheer want-to…).

Kinda makes you think, tho, dunnit?

Ryan (69′ – +9/-2 : +1/-1 : +10/-3) Of all the individual efforts Thorns made trying to put the biscuit in the basket, it’s this one…

…Ryan’s 18th minute rocket, that I wish could have worked. Eight inches lower and it’d have 1) gone under the crossbar instead of off it, 2) put the Thorns up a goal early, and 3) been damn near a lock for Goal of The Year.

Other than that Ryan was a beast through the first hour, though she was fading when she came off. Problem being that…

Beckie (21′ – +0-1) …did little or nothing of value in her place.

I know we think that we have a good roster from top to bottom. But it’s stuff like this that makes me wonder if there’s not a big dropoff from the starting XI to the reserves.

Sugita (+5/-2 : +4/-1 : +9/-3) Another Hina-san match only in something of a minor key. Like Smith, I think the miles are starting to show up on her legs. Also, as always when Sinc starts, Sugita and Coffey have to bust a lung covering all the ground Sinc doesn’t.

Coffey (+5/-2 : +2/-2 : +7/-4) Pretty much the same as Sugita; solid, worked hard on both sides of the ball, kept a boot on Kansas City’s midfield…her forwards just couldn’t turn that into wins. Nifty little shot in the 37th minute, and this:

Cute! Saw Ryan loafing out wide and send the free-kick zipping for her to run onto. Sadly KC reacted quickly and saw the ball safely out for the goal kick. But clearly a training-ground idea, and a clever one.

Klingenberg (+4/-3 : +4/-3 : +8/-6) Decent match overall, though ballwatching at the back post on Marie-Anne Lavogez’s cross that gave Cece Kizer the free header. Heads up, Kling!

Sauerbrunn (+2/-2 : +2/-2 : +4/-4) Sauerbrunn’s wheels are gone and smart attackers know that, which is how Kizer skinned her to begin the 21st minute attack, and why she got caught flatfooted by Hailie Mace in the 94th minute as the ball spun away from them. You have to ask “why was ‘Brunn not lying deep?” given a lead to defend and that pace problem, but, that asked, I didn’t see her tangle Mace up before Mace went down.

I didn’t see contact at the time.

I didn’t see contact reviewing tape.

And the Current had been flopping all match and getting the calls…so you’ll excuse me if I give the referee’s decision to give ‘Brunn a yellow and KC what turned out to be the fucking match-stealing free kick what I like to call the “Brooksie Two-Finger Salute”:

Sometimes the fucking bear gets you.

Doesn’t mean you have to like it.

Hubly (+4/-3 : +2/-3 : +6/-6) Much like ‘Brunn, Kelli Hubly was largely untroubled by the toothless KC “attack”.

Unfortunately, much like Brunn, she did have some really ugly moments, including losing track of Lo’eau LaBonta running onto a through ball in the 59th minute and forcing a big kick-save out of Bella Bixby and then doing almost the exact same thing when Kristen Hamilton fed Elyse Bennett. Luckily either Bixby came up big both times, but, damn, Hubs; don’t do that to your keeper…

Kuikka (+6/-8 : +5/-3 : +11/-11) Busy, busy. Both ways; lots of good defending and passing, lots of sloppy giveaways and iffy positioning. Cece Kizer skinned her, too, so ‘Brunn was in good company. Better than her dreadful August, so there’s that.

Bixby (+0/-0 : +1/-1 : +1/-1) Not at fault on the concession, a deflected short-range missile. But this..?

Goddamn, Bix! If you’re going to go down for low shots with just your arms (I’m an old-school keeper that was taught “always keep part of your body between the ball and the goal”…) you gotta be damn sure you can catch and hold that shot.

You didn’t concede in the 51st minute; that’s good. But making everyone watching think you might concede?

Don’t do stuff like that.

Coach Wilkinson: It’s hard to find a handle to beat the gaffer for this one. Finally go up late after outplaying the home side all match, then crap referee awards bullshit free kick for a goddamn dive and the opponent hits a rocket and equalizes?

That’s kind of hard to plan for.

Nope. This time my only big matchday grief with RW was about starting Sinc again and leaving her out there once the poor captain was clearly not helping.

But the match did cast some unflattering light on two other issues; late concessions dropping points, and the strange, disjointed way the Thorns seem to attack. Lots of passes, sure…but incisive passes? Passes and runs that slice through defenses? Multiple players moving and passing like they anticipate each other’s movements?


Now the Thorns have to turn this around and, on very short rest, meet Racing Louisville here midweek.

And then host Chicago over the weekend.

Now there are some coaches who might, say, use the crap officiating and the flopping and the bumping-and-shoving and the brutal unfairness of outplaying the living shit out of the Current only to get screwed to get her troops reeeeeally pissed off.

Revengeful pissed. White-flame-hot pissed. Angry and resentful and ready to purely kick the living shit of the next bunch of different colored shirts they ran into. Tired and bruised as they would be…but ready to take no prisoners.

Is Coach Wilkinson that sort of coach?

I guess we’ll find out Wednesday.

shite ref and crap draw Post-match Palate Cleanser.

Adorable babies!!!!

John Lawes
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5 thoughts on “Thorns FC: At The Death

  1. Observation on the PK – the moment the ball was put into play only Becky made the mad dash to close the gap…had Everett (and others) done the same it would have been blocked…however, breaking the wall on a direct kick is a tough call for any player.

    Hubs is scaring me. Too often out of position or beat on the 1:1s. And I’m really tired of every announcer pointing out how she is the only Thorn to play every minute of the season.

    Save for a delightful run of games which clearly ended when someone on this forum tempted the gods by writing “Gee we don’t have close games…”, we have had trouble converting for two years now. We barely won the Shield last year…after leading the standings ,unchanged of the season. Here we are again – 1 of 9 SOG converted. A win would have all but guaranteed the Shield. Now we have to win all three of our remaining to pull it off.

    To last last point, we are still the most likely. Reign and Wave are the next two most likely. The final top two should be one of those three if my math is right. KC could do it, but it would require some unlikely losses.

    1. As a keeper I always wanted my wall to stand fast. If the free kick taker is good enough to bend it over the wall and tuck that sucker into the top corner? She’s good and it’s up to me to fly. But don’t start ducking and dodging and deflect an otherwise saveable shot past me.

      I don’t think it’s Hubs. I think the whole backline has issues; look at Brunn’s numbers, look at Kuikka’s. Somehow we’ve lost the sort of disciplined cohesion we had in the early Parsons Era, and I’m not sure why and I’m not sure how to regain it. But defense is the rock on which great teams are built (Brazil wants a word, yeah, okay…) and it’s hard to be confident upfront when you’re worried about conceding in back.

  2. I think you could give Everett a minus, a big one. When KC tapped the ball for Mace to hammer, Everett stepped out of the wall and turned her back. And deflected an easy save into a two point loss. If she just stays put until the ball is past her, like she should, the game is over.

    I’m not pinning the loss on that one play, but that was undisciplined play by a fresh player who should know better.

    1. I couldn’t tell from the live broadcast or the tape who deflected that shot but it was not well defended, no, so that’s on Everett. Well, and her club for not training on that, too.


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