Thorns FC: Dream Weaver

So I’m going to totally take credit for being the stinging bee that turned Morgan “Ferdinand” Weaver into the Mad Bull of Morrison Street:

So it was written, so it was (almost – the assist wasn’t there…) done; riding a second-half Morgan Weaver brace the Thorns hammered the Chicago Red Stars flatter than an unlucky squirrel that failed to beat the CTA L-train into Oak Park station.

Mind you, at halftime that beating assumed facts not yet in evidence. As they had in Kansas City, and again Wednesday against Louisville, again the Thorns were all over their opponents in the first half, and, again, all that sound and fury signified…well, not “nothing”, but surely “nothing in the way of goals”.

Lots of good ball movement, sure – both Sam Coffey and Hina Sugita pretty much were free to dictate pace in the midfield – and several nice moments; Sophia Smith with a balletic turn and run in the 30th minute (but without support, and Alyssa Naeher stoned her shot); Morgan Weaver with the cross just barely beyond Smith’s head in the 34th minute, and a point-blank Christine Sinclair header off a 40th minute corner kick that was, unfortunately, right at Naeher.

Even with all this, neither side had more than half a goal by xG (Portland ahead of Chicago, but as you can see that was a reeeeeal low bar…) at the turn.

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

And then the Thorns came out for the second half…

I dunno what happened in the dressing room. I don’t know who said or did what.

All I know is what we all saw; Morgan Weaver decided to get up from under the fucking tree, quit sniffing the fucking flowers, and stomp down to purely gore the living fuck out of the hapless Red Stars.

The second goal was particularly nifty; Smith takes the Kuikka pass in stride and breaks for the near post…

…Naeher breaks late but tight to her post while Weaver thunders through the Red Stars backline…

…for Smith to slot the slide-rule pass across for Weaver to apply the hammer.

By the end of regulation Chicago was down two goals, one player, and deader’n the dodo (thanks for getting sent off for an Amber Brooks Two Finger Salute…

for a freaking throw-in, Bianca St. Georges, you dope!).

Taylor Porter’s injury time rocket was just kicking the corpse.

I’m not going to spend a bunch of time fretting about the first half; the story of the end of the 2022 season appears to be that the Thorns are just a second half team, and against Chicago Morgan Weaver, Sophia Smith, and the Portland Thorns kicked ass in the second half like crazy monkeys.

One thing though.

The Thorns have won their last four matches by a combined score of 9 to 1.

The Thorns last four opponents have a combined record of 27-30-27

The Thorns top four potential playoff opponents have a combined record of 39-21-24


Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: Both clubs were tidy in possession, competing about 80% of their passes.

Dror’s diagram shows the nice connection between Smith and Weaver that made all the difference in this one. Also note how high up the pitch everyone is; we’ll discuss in the comments, but I think that Christine Sinclair had a lot to do with that.

Also, Kuikka is an utter beast.

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

As for Chicago…

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

…jammed up around the center circle, with Pugh forced deep to get possession. Didn’t help that Yuki Nagasato had a really off day.

Not so much “bad”, but really meager, and the scoreline showed it.

Corner Kicks

Three; two first half, one second, one short and the other two directly into the box

38′CoffeyLongPast the far post and cleared out to Klingenberg, whose looping whatever-it-was went over the byline
41′CoffeyLongKind of a low, flat arc right to Sinclair; her header was strong but right at Naeher
90+6′BeckieShortJust timewasting; went to McGrady, who knocked it back downfield.

Sinc had a nice look from the second corner, nothing from the first and the third wasn’t even trying, so call it 50%? That’s not bad.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+9/-2 : +13/-2 : +22/-4) Sophia Smith…

…doing Sophia Smith things…

…is just goddamn fun to watch.

The big point I got from this one is one that a bunch of us have been trying to make all season; put Smith and Weaver together and emphasize to them the need to play together and see what happens.

Guess what happens?

Good things.

Oh, and FWIW there was some pissing and moaning about the coach leaving Smith out there for the full 90+ that ended with her getting her bell rung. That was unfortunate, but I think RW’s hand was forced by Coffey picking up a knock in the 70-somethingth minute. She’d had to sub Raquel Rodriguez off before the hour, and getting Coffey out used up her second “window”. Pretty sure that the Weaver-for-Dunn and Kling-for-McGrady were preplanned, and that was that.

Should she have pulled Smith with Coffey? Smith’d just combined with Weaver for a gorgeous team goal and the two looked like they were rockin’ the house; I’d have hated to break up that party.

So…I dunno. Just hope Smith is okay; she’s in concussion protocols or was as of the other day.

Weaver (83′ – +7/-5 : +10/-3 : +17/-8) Hard not to give Weaver WotM; the brace, all the usual Chaos Muppet energy and excitement, and…

…the silly celebration that was the distillation of pure Happy Weaver Warrior Goodness.

Oh, and huuuuuuge props to the group of fans who tried to start a “Dream Weaver” song after her goals. Sorry, gang, the capos won’t let you out to play; 1) player songs are pure spontaneous fun, and 2) the whole idea of “capos” means that spontaneous fun ain’t on the bingo card.

Keep trying, though. We need more of that.

Dunn (7′ – +4/-1) Just fine.

Sinclair (+6/-4 : +4/-1 : +10/-5) Two things can simultaneously be true:

Christine Sinclair had a decent match last weekend; she connected some nice passes, moved well, and helped out defensively in midfield that allowed her teammates to push upfield.

Christine Sinclair should not accept that low bar as a metric for “decent match”.

Sinc DID play pretty well, and it’s painful to reflect that at this point that’s a pleasant surprise. I really hope that she and the club sit down and talk after this season. That needs to happen because Sinc wants to go to the World Cup in 2023, not in spite of it.

Sugita (+3/-1 : +8/-1 : +11/-2) All her usual pluses, although playing out at right wing – where RW moves her when Sinc comes in – tends to mute her strengths.

Rodriguez (59′ – +4/-3 : +3/-1 : +7/-2) Normally I’d rather see Rocky in the midfield over Janine Beckie. They are both effective going forward, but Rodriguez is usually the better defender, and with Sinc lumbering about that’s usually important.

But Sinc was leaping about like a young roe among the mountains, so what turned out to be more effective was…

Beckie (31′ – +10/-4) …going forward, and Beckie had that all over against the Red Stars. Some really pretty passing, tho, yeah, she still doesn’t defend. Didn’t matter in this one.

Coffey (74′ – +6/-1 : +2/-1 : +8/-2) Was doing all her usual good things when she went down. Hopefully she’s okay. We’ll need her in the post-season, certainly.

Porter (16′ – +4/-0) Did nicely filling in for Coffey at the #6, and wow, what a rocket.

Klingenberg (84′ – +4/-3 : +6/-1 : +10/-4) Did well nerfing Mal Pugh, who was really all Chicago had, and provided some pretty service.

McGrady (6′ – +2/-0) Just needed to see out the match, and did, so fine.

Sauerbrunn (+4/-1 : +6/-0 : +10/-1) ‘Brunn had a damn fine match; nothing flashy, but always well positioned and one of the big reasons Chicago ended up with only a single shot on goal.

Hubly (+1/-3 : +5/-2 : +6/-5) Again, Hubly is the “attacking” centerback and is responsible for uncorking the big boomers out of the back. So, when a lot of them go to the opponent she gets a minus, and that’s two of them. But the others are for some positional goofs, so, need to clean those up, Hubs.

Kuikka (+11/-5 / +9/-2 : +20/-7) Whole lot of haakaa paalle goin’ on last weekend; tons of terrific tackling, great passing, plus the hockey assist on the second goal. Lots to like there, especially the recovery-from-whatever-that-slump was.

Bixby (+2/-0 : +0/-1 : +2/-1) Largely untroubled.

Worth noting this, from Chris Henderson:

The thing that drew my eye to this was the raw xG against numbers. A keeper that’s facing a lot of good shots is one whose defense is leaving opponents open for those shots.

It’s hardly surprising give what we saw last week that Katie Lund’s Louisville backline might as well just take matchday off; she, Aubrey Kingsbury, and Didi Haracic must feel like every match is like facing a junior high school recess or the horde in one of those zombie apocalypse films.

Our defensive xG-against is almost perfectly average; 27.87 over 21 games, about 1.3xG per game. But Bixby’s xG-to-goals-conceded is a nifty -10.24, though, meaning that it’s likely she saves us about half a goal a game, similar to Haracic at the top of the league.

To me the shocker is Kailen Sheridan. Despite her defense – the best in the league at 16.96xG, or 1.2xg per game, her differential is only -2.96, or less than 0.2 goals saved per game.

I guess I just automatically assume that “Kailen Sheridan is the best keeper in the league” (except for A.D. Franch in 2017…) and much as I appreciate Bix, it was a bit surprising to see her compare so well with her group.

Well done, Bix. Take some time off and have a mojito.

Coach Wilkinson: Well played, coach.

I’ve been hard on you all season. But here we are, looking at needing just one more win at Gotham to nick the Shield.

It’s hard to fret about matchday details when you look at that.

We do need to win in Gotham.

But then…matchday details will matter, because every match after than will be all-or-nothing; win or go home. There won’t be time and space to make up for mistakes of bad decisions.

That’s going to be a tough test, a test that your predecessor failed his last two seasons.

We’re all in for it now. Let’s see how well you and your troops can do.

John Lawes
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6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Dream Weaver

  1. The one game I can’t attend in person because family wedding basically on the WV/VA border. Can’t even watch most of the game as I am driving back to DC until it is already 2-0 and Portland is up a player. I missed so much. I am happy for the win. A little sad I chickened out for Pugh and didn’t predict correct score. I am thinking the sneaky double bird might have been a common form of showing frustration. Two get caught in two weekends makes me think a whole lot more have gone unpunished in the past. Stadiums have limited cameras can’t catch everything. This might be a habit players need to break.

    Congrats on proving your time traveler status with that Weaver manifestation.

    Gotham will be an interesting game. Thorns 5-0 win was their first loss in this string of 12 losses, will be interesting to see if we can hand them their 13th in a row. Gotham haven’t scored a goal in their last 5 games. Portland have scored in all but 3/4 games. 0-0 tie Reign, 0-2 loss Dash, both in May. 0-2 loss to Wave a month ago, and if you want to count it 1-0 loss to Chelsea. All the other games Portland has scored at least 1, usually more. My fact of the season Portland have yet to put 3 consecutive wins in a row under RW this includes preseason, the Challenge Cup, and the regular season. This will be their 5th opportunity to do so after

    beating USA U-23 and Chicago in the preseason drawing 1st challenge cup game to Reign.

    Beating Wave and Angel City to lose to Reign in challenge cup.

    Beating Houston and Orlando back to back and drawing in LA.

    Beating Gotham and Racing to draw NC in Portland.

    Now to beating Racing and Chicago as we come up to the end of the season. Will the 5th time be the charm?

    I will say I have fallen prey to the gambler’s fallacy. Seeing them not win 3 games in a row all year made me think after KC draw the Shield was likely out of reach. Would need 3 wins in a row likely, a feat not achieved and therefore likely to not happen this year. Hopefully I will be proven wrong Saturday.

    1. I can’t imagine that the players don’t get frustrated (or angry) at the bad calls or no-calls and have flipped the officials off on the down-low.

      The St. Georges thing was exceptionally stupid because 1) it WASN’T on the down-low, and it wasn’t off-camera – I got the screenshot, as you can see – and 2) it was a fucking throw-in deep in Chicago territory. It was as close to “utterly meaningless” as a play could have been, and yet the nimrod got run for it and will miss the closer that’s now a must-win for Chicago (I don’t think they control their own destiny, tho…)

      Here’s the thing about the Stumptown comment – it was written half an hour BEFORE kickoff. I’ve never, not in all my years of fandom, ever had that happen. That’s why I posted it – it was so weird…

      Gotham sucks major ass. The Thorns just need to go there and put them to the sword. End of story.

  2. When I saw your challenge to Weaver before the game I though he may just get his wish fulfilled because she is so due. And what the hey, she did it, well no assist but she should have had a hat trick. For weeks Stumptown Footy has been full of whinges about Weaver’s lack of finishing, Smith’s selfishness or just not looking for teammates, Sinclair’s lack of speed, the coach being such a rookie, the defense being so porous, the team’s inability in the first half to score. However, against Chicago this team really showed something to the worriers. Smith almost had a hat trick of assists, Weaver was converting energy into scores and great passes, Sinclair was showing how valuable she is a as a connector and steel. I thought the defense was solid, and Rhian noted that those scoreless but dominating first halves deserved credit for the second half explosions. We are seeing a team that no matter who is on the field play pretty good soccer. A credit to this young coach and her team peaking at the right time.
    This was a good Chicago team that came unglued and lost their composure and for the most part Mallory Pugh was checkmated by Natu and the backline. Louisville showed in their next game that that trio of Fox, Howell and DeMello is despite being young very good. Yet they were totally nerfed by the Thorns.
    Now we just need to see Janine Beckie get on the score sheet. She has been playing well, seems to have almost a psychic connection with Sinclair, so she needs to get a goal or an assist in this next game.
    The Thorns will very likely win the Shield. The Championship will be a bigger ask as the Reign and Courage are both playing very good and both are uber talented.

    1. This was…not a good Chicago team. They’ve been decent in stretches over the season, and they are mid-table if everyone is on form.

      Last weekend, though, Nagasato was a hot mess for some reason and tho Pugh was better she was really their only weapon (the next highest scorer for the Red Stars, Ella Stevens (4 goals) never even came on) and, as you point out, with just Pugh going the Thorns were able to handle her.

      DiBernardo is looking her age, Colaprico and Gautrat were invisible. I’m happy for Weaver and the points, but this wasn’t San Diego or OLR or Carolina.

      I think it IS likely that we can win out and take the Shield.

      My real question is whether RW can manage a a couple of knockouts. Hopefully yes, and hopefully we’ll get to see soon…

  3. I would agree in the second half Chicago was bad; but in terms of talent and the balance in the league this year, on my curve, I would rate PDX, RGN, SD and NC as very good teams. On my scale KC, LA, HOU, and CHI I would rate a good, well good enough to have a shot at the last two places in the playoffs. On this scale ORL, LOU and WA are fair teams and NY/NJ is a poor team.
    I am giving the Thorns some credit for making teams look not very good. Also, some of the talent on Chicago like Arin Write, Morgan Gautrat, Colaprico and Nagasato; that I think are really good, looked tired or invisible in the second half. I have always liked DiBernardo and, like Emily Mengis, she never seems to get credit for how good she is.
    So yes Chicago has been hammered by injuries and maternity leaves and then inexplicably bad game this weekend from Write and Nagasato and the finishing touch was the total screw up St Georges and mental breakdown by Morse to try a professional foul in the box when you already have a yellow….Ouch! Poor Mal Pugh she was looking at a possible MVP if the Red Stars had made the playoffs (I am assuming they won’t now) and that MVP ship has sailed for her.
    Sophia Smith on the other hand now has a chance. If San Diego follows a tie and loss in the last two games of the season with a flame out in the first round of the playoffs and Sophia can power the Thorns to the Championship, then she has a real good shot.

    1. But that was my point; regardless how “good” (and I’d argue that rather than “good” your middle four range from “above average” (HOU, KC) to “average” – I mean, that’s kind of the definition of “middle” right..?) the Red Stars are on a day when their impact players are going well, last weekend their impact players except for Pugh WEREN’T going well…and so even when the Thorns were faffing around trying to figure out where the Chicago goal was the Red Stars were pretty hopeless. And when the Thorns DID…

      Same with the Current in the draw away; they’re “above average” in general, but they weren’t able to generate much when the Thorns were all over them. Part of that is that the Thorns played well. But part of being a “good” or “very good” team means being dangerous even when your opponents are playing well.

      Oh, well. What matters now is taking care of business in Joisey.

      And I agree that Smith should at least get a look for MVP. Gonna be a tough year, though; several players (beginning with Morgan) are having career years.


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