Thorns FC: Two Golazos and a Derp

Happily the golazos came last, though, and took the Thorns to the Final.

I won’t kid you; I was nervous as a cat going into this match. I worried about the regular season meetings. I worried about the respective coaches. I worried about…well, everything. At least, that’s what I told the ESPN guy when he came up to me on Morrison Street and asked about the game.

Of course, he didn’t want to talk about that; he wanted to talk about Yates. And I told him that wasn’t why I was there that day.

There’s my fifteen seconds of fame, then.

And by rights, I should have worried; here’s how the teams looked in front of each other’s goal:

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

The derp is there, in the eighth minute, when Meghan Klingenberg give Alex Morgan all the time and space in southwest Portland to dime Taylor Kornieck unmarked inside the Portland box (I shrieked on the Stumptown match thread: “Have we learned nothing??!!”) as Kelli Hubly missed her attempted headed clearance and Kornieck calmly nodded home the cross to put the visitors up one.

Fuckfuckfuck! The worst possible start; putting the defend-and-counter Wave up on a horrific defensive breakdown. Doom! Gloom! The Inner Eeyore in me slurped down 4/5ths of my 12-buck Widmer in mourning for the exit sure to come in an hour and change.

Then Raquel Rodriguez showed up with golazo number one:

That’s a fucking banger.

Look back up at Dror’s chart; that sucker barely moves the xG needle – it’s so far out and so long across the pitch that the algorithm assumes the chances of success are virtually nil.

As Rocky would say; don’t tell me the odds. Never tell me the odds.

So it was all square at the half because of that and because Bella Bixby reacted to the next defensive breakdown like your cat when there’s a bug in the house:

I know a lot of people aren’t high on Ciao Bella! She’s not a “badass” keeper like A.D. Franch or Kailen Sheridan (who is the Best XI keeper this season because…ummm…reasons?). She looks gawky in action, and she seems hesitant coming out at times.

But, goddamn it. You can keep your badass keepers; I’ll have me some Bella Ciao.

After the restart the match turned cagy. I don’t recall thinking this at the time simply because I was so intent on hoping for a goal, but for the first quarter hour neither team created much (again, look back up at the xG race).

Lots of mishit passes, lots of turnovers. Both squads looked tight, seemingly worried more about conceding a matchwinner than scoring one.

After the hour, though…

64′ – SDW; dangerous cross in to Korneick is well-defended by Hina Sugita, goes out for a goal kick.
78′ – POR; Sophia Smith with a sweet touch to control and a slide-rule pass to Morgan Weaver running into the top of the 18, but Weaver shoots tamely to Sheridan,
79′ – SDW; good spell of possession in front of goal, Morgan’s close-range shot is blocked by Becky Sauerbrunn.
85′ – POR; another long spell of possession outside the San Diego box culminates in a Crystal Dunn looper to the back post. Janine Beckie heads the ball over Sheridan’s flapping hand with Hina-san charging into the goalmouth, but Sheridan recovers and gathers the ball.
85′ – POR; moments later Weaver crosses to Smith, but Sheridan saves her strong shot.
89′ – POR; Beckie crosses in to Weaver, Weaver heads just over the bar.
90+3′ – POR; Smith wins a corner…

It’s hard to do justice to this moment. Dying seconds, ball in the northwest corner, Kling poised to deliver and both teams milling inside the 18, and the entire stadium roaring “PT! FC!”.

It was the Thunderdome and, sure as hell, two teams entered…

…and Kling delivered, a low rainbow into the scrum. A San Diego defender got a head to the ball, but no further than the middle of the 18, where McKenzie Doniak saw the uncleared delivery and put a low head to it.

Notice former Thorns Christen Westphal at the far right of the screenshot above. She’s frozen, seeing the header coming towards her but not…

…Dunn coming from behind her.

One team left.

After a wild rumpus…

…the whistle blew.

Portland was in the Final.

It’s hard not to see this as catharsis. A green rebirth after a long, hot, dry summer of discontent.

I hope that’s true.

But for me it’s enough to see the joy on these faces and know that, if just for that blissful moment, it was unconfined.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: The Thorns weren’t great – 72% completion – but San Diego was utter rubbish at 65%.

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

The chart mirrors what I saw on the pitch. Both Thorns fullbacks were working like animals. Weaver and Smith were lit (tho Smith was effective as a decoy much of the time) and connecting well – that’s becoming a thing, and I couldn’t be happier – and Sam Coffey had busy day. Sugita-senshu, though, was not on her usual game.

Well…we knew Kornieck was trouble, and she was on Sunday.

Note that the Thorns defenders did a number on Sofia Jakobsson who’d been such a pest against Chicago, and McNabb was stone cold, forcing the Wave to play through Westphal to get traction.

When your goalkeeper is among your top passers? You got a passing problem.

Corner Kicks

Six. All long into the box, two first half, four second

5′KlingenbergLongWent all the way through the scrum to Hubly, but her shot was wide right.
20′KlingenbergLongHeaded clear but only to Sugita on the far side; Hina-san‘s put-back was also cleared, but only to Rocky who teed the ball up and smashed home the equalizer.
53′KlingenbergLongInto the scrum, cleared, recycled into a long cross right to Sheridan.
57′KlingenbergLongFairly short to the near post and cleared from there but only back to Portland, who knocked the ball around for a bit. Finally Rocky boomed a shot over the crossbar.
63′KlingenbergLongPinged off several heads, cleared but recycled to Kling whose cross went long to Sheridan.
90+3′KlingenbergLongLanded near the goal, dinked out, Doniak headed short for Dunn to win the match.

Two goals off six corners is terrific; turns out that the Great Horan isn’t critical for Corner Kick Magic. Rocky and Crystal will do juuuuust fine.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (97′ – +6/-3 : +6/-3 : +12/-6) Not in her usual style, but a solid and effective match overall. If she’d have been able to get the ball out from under her feet in the 26th minute, though, we’d be writing about her and not Marcel’s mom.

Sinclair (<1′ – no rating) If you were still pogoing after the matchwinner like I was you missed the captain coming on. I had no idea Sinc had played until I saw the NWSL website.

Weaver (+9/-1 : +9/-4 : +18/-5) It’s hard to give Woman of the Match to someone who wasn’t one of the goalscorers, but the Chaos Muppet ran wild against San Diego, and a lot of the backline disruption that kept the Wave on their heels was her doing.

Still needs to work on that pesky finishing; good looks, tame shots. Coaches, eh? Help the woman out.

Ryan (77′ – +6/-2 : +4/-0 : +10/-2) Yazmeen Ryan had a hell of a good afternoon that was largely lost between the golazos. But she was terrific on both sides of the ball; her forechecking has become one of the most valuable points of her game. I’ll talk about this in her comment, but Coach Wilkinson took a risk starting Ryan over Sinclair in such a match. It was a good decision, but Ryan had to validate it and did.

Beckie (13′ – +3/-0) I normally worry about the step down Beckie means to the forechecking defense when she replaces Ryan. Last Sunday she didn’t; she stepped in and continued to trouble the San Diego midfield and backline as well as providing her usual good service.

Rodriguez (62′ – +6/-2 : +2/-0 : +8/-2) I have no better comment that to simply replay that goal, but all her usual energy defending. Must have been a relief to have a couple of midfield teammates who were also defending, too…

Dunn (28′ – +9/-2) Think about it; that works out to +27/-6 over a full match.

Dunn has been sporadic – in both appearances and performance – until last weekend. It’s not exactly shocking; let’s remember this:

That’s…pretty damn heroic.

Now, here’s what I don’t know; was this a one-off? Was this a player playing over her head? Or…is this the New Crystal Dunn?

Dear God I hope.

But we’ll see. For now, it’s enough. I’m so happy and proud of your mom, kiddo. She done good.

Coffey (+2/-2 : +5/-1 : +7/-3) Struggled to get involved in the first half, grew into the second. Here’s an intriguing look at two Portland midfielders.

First, Sam Coffey:

Then…Diego Chara.

Both defensive midfielders. But the difference in style! Chara the classic midfield destroyer and Coffey the creator and distributor. Twin kids of very different mothers.

Sugita (+6/-0 : +7/-5 : +13/-5) Hina-san was mostly her usual self – clever, active – while being surprisingly careless with the ball, especially in the second half. Not exactly bad, but not up to her own standards. Part of that was having to do a lot of wrestling with Kornieck.

Klingenberg (+5/-3 : +7/-2 : +12/-5) I worried about her pace before the match, but Kling was solid against Jaedyn Shaw, who was kind of rubbish last Sunday. Hockey assists for the corner kicks, too. Take ten bucks out of petty cash.

Sauerbrunn (+3/-3 : +5/-3 : +8/-6) Did just fine; clearly got the message about “put a body on Alex Morgan” and did, and was solid in the air. Well played.

Hubly (+1/-3 : +3/-1 : +4/-4) Culpable on the Kornieck goal; first ballwatching, then just poor defending. Turned things around in the second half, though, and shared ‘Brunn’s affection for giving Morgan a Glasgow Kiss

(in her defense – because I read a number of Portland fans accusing her of diva-dom, Morgan gets laid out a lot. I don’t blame her for trying to work the refs – that’s part of the game, too – and I kinda wish Smith would learn from that. I don’t enjoy it, but part of a striker’s toolkit is making sure that the referee protects her if they aren’t naturally so inclined.)

Kuikka (+4/-9 : +5/-2 : +9/-11) Like Hubly only tighter and flailed more in the first half; all her minuses are for turnovers or other losses. Like Hubly, righted herself in the second half, and the bottom line is that her unit didn’t let San Diego pee a drop after the 8th minute, so…

Bixby (+1/-0 : +1/-0 : +2/-0) We’ve mentioned the monster save in first half injury time. Not really at fault on the concession. Solid other than that, but with the caveat that San Diego didn’t test her that hard, either.

Coach Wilkinson: As discussed, I was worried about the coaching matchup.

I shouldn’t have. RW made all the right moves; picked the right XI, made the right subs, even set the right tactics…although when you’re gifted a couple of bangers like those? You don’t exactly have to be Sir Alex Ferguson.

The coach did a solid last Sunday, though, and I can only take off my hat. Chapeau, you.


Let’s see if we can all do this again in Washington, eh?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Two Golazos and a Derp

  1. Thanks, John, it’s fun to relive the game again through your analysis. And maybe this one was fun to analyze as well, unlike some we could mention.

    Was the cat you were as nervous as the same cat Bixby channeled on her wonder save? If so maybe we should all chip in and buy you a beer. And man! when I watched the video shot from behind the goal, how in hell did she do that?

    One small quibble:
    “When your goalkeeper is among your top passers? You got a passing problem.”

    I’d say that’s maybe not entirely true when you have a goalkeeper who can dime a midfielder, well past the center stripe, a midfielder who will win the header 90+% of the time. Especially when the opponent is mostly conceding the header and just trying to cover the header receivers. It didn’t quite work for them this game, but it seems like a sensible thing to try. Maybe they should have switched tactics sooner, but they kept coming tantalizingly close.

    1. I don’t recall when I did this – sadly, it was probably when I was writing for Slide Rule Pass and those posts are as gone as the Hittite Empire – but I looked into goalkeeper distribution based on Portland keeper(s).

      The tl:dr version was: distribution is not a significant factor in field play.

      Maybe half a percent of the time a keeper makes a pinpoint pass – “dime a midfielder” as you put it – that unlocks the opposing defense and creates a sinificant chance for her team. The keeper makes a monstrous (Sheridan against Chicago in the QF) sort of error that results in a significant chance for the opponent at about the same rate.

      The remaining 99% of her passes are effectively a wash; they get put into play without significant advantage to one team or another.

      And that matches the eye test; think about the three games the Thorns played against SDW this season. One – one – of Sheridan’s passes resulted in (as it turned out) a goal – the dime to Kornieck who flicked on to Morgan blowing through our centerbacks. The rest? Meh.

      And my point isn’t that it’s bad when your goalkeeper is a good passer. It’s bad when your goalkeeper is among your BEST passers; it’s relative, and suggests that the problem isn’t with the keeper, it’s with your #10 and your AMs who should be better and aren’t…

  2. Thanks John for the fun and interesting analysis. I have seen the game on TV now and it is much easier to concentrate on when you know how it ends. That game was so much fun at the park. I agree with all the ratings and your comments, but Kuikka is the one where my eyes saw her being a lot better than her pluses and minuses. She took some speculative shots sure, but I think other than that she was pretty phenomenal and had Jacobsson on her back heel the whole game. Hina was sort of invisible in the first half but played much better in the second half. I think both she and Coffey had their hands full with Korniek and Hina had Van Egmond on her like a glove.
    This game was interesting because it both teams were so fast and San Diego, especially in the second half, was really bunkering. All four Thorns forwards were charging the San Diego box like the Light Brigade, but were not getting much reward because it was an absolute dense thicket of defenders. The Hail Mary attempts from Kuikka, Hina , Rocky, Klingenberg and Dunn were the only open shots available and two of them went in.
    I agree with your comment about Alex Morgan demanding attention from the ref for being mugged so much. Both Morgan and Smith are aggressive players that get fouled a lot. But Morgan is more apt to fall on the turf like a sack of rocks, and she gets more calls. Even Ally Wagner noted that Smith would do well to fall more and she felt that Smith should have tried taking Girma into the box where her choices would be cleanly taking the ball off Smith (no easy task) or fouling. Girma certainly deserves Defender of the Year as well as ROTY. The only other person I have seen this year do as well on Smith is Buchanan for Chelsea.
    I know that Doniack headed the ball to Dunn, but I thought it was a Korniek’s header that landed at Rocky’s feet for that goal. I hate seeing the ball headed in the box by defenders. It has to be done sometimes, but I would rather see it dribbled out or kicked out of bounds. This game was decided by set-piece mistakes.

    1. Defenders are constrained on dealing with high balls in the box. It’s difficult to nod them down to feet to boot clear. And there’s usually too dense a crowd inside the box to dribble clear. So it winds up a game of “wee heidies” which, I agree, is less than ideal, but which is usually hard to avoid.

      I’d say that the game was decided not so much by mistakes as by 1) insanely low-percentage long-range golazos that went in and 2) Portland’s defense tightening up on Morgan and Kornieck after the initial derp. It’s ugly, but putting a body on Morgan is a tactic that has worked for others and worked for us last Sunday.

  3. Is anyone else a bit worried about our attack? It strikes me that “score a golazo” isn’t a sustainable attacking strategy, despite our just doing it twice. KC will focus more on defending than SD did – this ain’t gonna be no wide-open game – and we’re just not that good at breaking a bunker. (Why do we even try aerial crosses to someone who’s like 5’4″?!) I *did* like that we had a lot of pressure on SD’s goal in the last 20 minutes of that game and probably should have scored on some of our other chances, but… we didn’t. We scored only on wildly improbable shots. Are we capable of scoring against a packed defense with well-planned, well-worked plays?

    Okay, okay, I admit this is partly just nervousness before the Big Game. We did score more goals than any other team this year, did score more goals this season than we’ve ever scored in our history, did have a +25 goal difference compared to KC’s, um, 0, do have at forward a petite but terrifying monster and another who just put up a +18 on the positive side of her PMR, and on and on. Nervous anyway.

    1. I am, too; again, look at the xG chart. This should have gone into overtime. The Wave backline did a decent job of neutralizing Smith, and Weaver – Chaos Muppet as she is – was rubbish at converting (again…), and we didn’t really have another effective attacking threat. Bottom line? We got lucky.

      Now…I’m happy we did. It was a joyous day. But I agree…what the Thorns brought against SDW isn’t really sustainable. We need to have a better attacking plan against KCC.


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