Thorns FC: Around the corner, again

Last season a number of fans questioned the Thorns ability to turn attacking corner kicks into goals. I was one of them; it seemed that Once Upon A Time we had these amazing setpiece weapons – specifically, either Lindsey Horan or Emily Sonnett – that could spin corner kick straw into golden goals.

And then those weapons were lost. How did that affect the club’s ability to score from corner kicks?

Well…it made me want to do the actual work of putting together a record of Thorns attacking corners.

I did, beginning in 2021. You’ve read them in every TFC: over the past two seasons, between the passing breakdown and the plus-minus ratings.

Then back in January 2022 I wrote up the findings for the previous season.

The findings?

Well, turns out that 1) corner kicks aren’t really all that dangerous – the best data we have suggests…

that the typical corner produces a shot about 17-20% of the time and a goal somewhere between 2% and 3% of the time with the goal range running from a low of barely 1% to as much as 6% to 7%.”

~ from “Cornered”, 1/30/22

…and that 2) the 2021 Thorns actually scored around the middle of the EPL average. In the 19 games I tracked, off 140 corner kicks the Thorns produced 74 shots, put 27 on goal, and scored 5 goals, for a goal 3.6% of the time the Thorns took a corner kick.

2022 was Year Two of the Post-Horan Era of Thorns soccer. How did the team do off corners this past season?

Let’s go to the whiteboard, Lesley!

Here’s the raw data. It’s kinda hard to read, so we’ll break it down further from here:

Couple of stat things here.

The Thorns used the short corner quite sparingly in 2022; only 18 of the total corners went short, about 14% (meaning that about 86% of all corners were “long”, conventional into-the-box type). That’s actually slightly more than the last Parsons season, when his squad knocked 116 out of 140 – about 83% – directly into the box.

But that’s a rounding error, so the two squads really didn’t play corner kicks differently by any real statistical measure across the coaching and squad changes.

What I do find kind of fascinating is that the 2022 Thorns tended to generate relatively few corner kicks per game compared to 2021. Here’s the two seasons side-by-side:

Here’s a part of that; in 2021 Portland went wild on corners in six games: Chicago on Matchday 1, Louisville on MD5 and Kansas City on MD6, Orlando on MD10, Kansas City again on MD12, and Chicago again on MD19.

Since the mean corner kick number for 2021 was 7.3 per game, those six games account for about 21 goals over the mean, making those games responsible for the entire 21-goal 2021-versus-2022 margin.

And note the victims; Kansas City twice, Chicago twice, Orlando, and Louisville.

Two expansion teams, The Shame, and Chicago – and Chicago on Opening Day was a hot mess. If you recall, we broke down the corner kick data in 2021 and concluded that:

“It’s worth noting that the early season successes are directly related to just five matches; Chicago on Matchday 1, Louisville on Matchdays 5 and 8, and Kansas City on Matchdays 6 and 12.

These were bad teams last season (well, Chicago was a bad team on Matchday 1, anyway…) and here’s what happens when you isolate just on those five games:

Those crap teams allowed almost 10% more corner kicks, 14% more shots, 7% more shots on goal, and allowed four of the five goals scored off corner kicks in 2021.

My guess is that this isn’t an outlier or a unique-to-the-Thorns-2021 thing. Crap teams give up crap goals…”

~ from “Cornered”, 1/30/22

The Thorns in 2022 1) didn’t have nearly as many corners a game as 2021 – about 5 per game instead of about 7 – largely because they 2) didn’t have anything like those massively-over-the-mean sorts of games they had against the tomato cans in 2021. The Thorns only earned double-digit corners twice; against The Damned Courage on Matchday 14 and against Gotham on Matchday 22.

Not sure what that says about the two different squads or their coaches, but it’s a data point in the set.

We’ve nattered on about numbers. How about results? What did the Thorns get out of all these corner-kickings, and were they better for Coach Wilkinson than Parsons, or worse, or what?


Despite creating less – about 73% of the corner kick opportunities they did last season – the Thorns in 2022 created twice as many dangerous chances and one more goal, scoring on five percent of their corner kick opportunities as opposed to about three-and-a-half percent in 2021.

Again…1.5 percent is not particularly definitive; remember that the EPL range was over 5 percent, so the error bars from the mean are easily one-and-a-half percent or more.

My thought is that the Thorns have been relatively static on corner kick conversions between the 2021 and 2022 seasons.

What can we conclude, then, from all this?

Pretty much what we said in 2021:

  1. Corner kicks aren’t really that dangerous attacking situation, and “winning” corner kicks doesn’t really help the attack that much, and
  2. The Thorns are about as good as most other professional teams at turning those opportunities into goals.

But with any luck, perhaps the Thorns can make the setpiece magic happen in the semifinal.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

3 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Around the corner, again

  1. Thanks, John, it’s nice to think about actual soccer for a minute.
    I find it interesting that while the attacking team (or the fans at least) always seems happy to “win” a corner, the defending team very often is just fine with “conceding” a corner. That reinforces the stat conclusion that corners aren’t all that dangerous.
    The thing that winning a corner does accomplish is maintaining possession, at least for one play, and often more through recycling. Possession in and around the opponent’s box is no small thing.

    1. Yeah, I’m definitely following the news, but I’m just tired of the drama; I want MP to GTFO so we can have our club back…

      I think we learn as we play or watch that a corner is “won” and assume that it’s an opportunity. And certainly when we watch stuff like the Gotham game, where Gotham got several corners and finally scored off one, it tends to reinforce the “eye test”. But, you look at the stats and corners begin to look less threatening.

      I think to really complete the study you’d have to do the same for attacks in the run of play. What are the typical conversion rates, for, say, an entry into the opponents’ final third? The opponents’ box? It well might be LESS than 1%, so suddenly the corner looks better.

      Funny thing; I watched Inter and Barca the other night. Barca walked the ball around and around Inter’s 18, while Inter went for the slashing runs. Both came away with three goals. So I wonder…

  2. Well, walking the ball around and around the 18 clearly hasn’t been super productive for the Thorns. I’d love to see more slashing runs by strikers ready to take a cross on the fly.


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