The Portland Thorns are NWSL champions for the third time in ten years.
I’m going to spend some time discussing how that happened.
But first I want to just revel in the happiness of this year’s squad. They kept fighting to the finish. They believed in themselves when no one – sometimes even we – believed in them.
And they were right. They deserve every happiness; they earned every joy.
The odd thing is that after all the drama – ending the regular season, conceding the Shield on the final day, and then the injury-time winner in the semifinal – I expected the Final to be a tense, tight, low-scoring game that stretched everyone’s nerves and produced nervous, ugly soccer.
What I least expected was…
The Kansas City Current had nothing Saturday.
Nothing as in…
…0.34 xG nothing.
No shots on goal nothing.
The match reports used the term “domination”. My recollection from the exultant chaos of my seat at The Sports Bra was a combination of Thorns tackling and Current giveaways that stopped Kansas City well short of Portland’s goal.
When I sat down to review tape I decided to track them; which Current attacking moves were killed by Thorns defending, and which were died by suicide?
|Quarter hour||Attacks stopped by defense||Attacks stopped by turnover|
Keep in mind that the Current only generated about four more attacks that did succeed in getting a shot or close to a shot;
- in the 34th minute (Kate del Fava headed over the bar),
- in the 40th minute (the Current had couple of looks inside the Thorns box but solid defending from Kelli Hubly, Becky Sauerbrunn, and then Meghan Klingenberg saw them off without a shot),
- in the 67th minute (a strong Lo’eau LaBonta cross went past Kristen Hamilton; after a couple of recycles KC was called offside), and
- in the 70th minute (an Alexis Loera shot was blocked).
And that was it; about 77 attacks; 4 taken to completion (but without a shot on goal), 27 snuffed out by solid defense, and 46 thrown away by sloppy passing, heavy touches, or other incompetence.
Wow. Yeah, okay…that’s pretty dominant.
We’ll talk about this in the comments, but the weird thing is that it was visible early on that the Thorns fullbacks were mauling Hamilton and Cece Kizer, and Hailie Mace and del Fava were not providing service to the forwards to let them get in behind.
The Thorns kept tight lines and didn’t give KC anything to work with when they did pass well – which, as we’ve seen, wasn’t often.
Late in the match the Current was simply out of ideas, trying – as in the screenshot above – to just pitch the ball into whatever space they could find.
After Crystal Dunn came on in the 73rd minute it looked like Coach Wilkinson went to a 1-3-2-4…
…and it was lights-out and the 2022 Thorns had the third star they’d been chasing since the winter of 2018.
Here’s to you. Who’s like you. Damn few.
Passing the Passing Test: Just like the semifinal, the Thorns were pretty meh at 75% completion but Kansas City was a 67% trash fire.
Natalia Kuikka and Kling are diming everybody, and the Morgan Weaver-Sophia Smith-Raquel Rodriguez-Yazmeen Ryan power front is sticking and moving like a golden gloves heavyweight. Props to Sam Coffey creating out of midfield, and even the centerbacks are getting a piece of the passing action.
Kansas City, on the other hand…
Mace and del Fava (and Loera and Edmonds further back) are trying…but everything is dying upfront. Look at where LaBonta, the notional #9, is playing! That’s a mess, and that’s what it looked like on the pitch.
Four. Three long into the box, one sort, one first half, three second
|32′||Klingenberg||Long||Into the crowd, cleared out for a Thorns throw, cleared again for a throw, finally lost.|
|58′||Klingenberg||Long||Pinged off a bunch of heads before being cleared out to Weaver, who rifled a shot that Franch had to turn around her post.|
|60′||Klingenberg||Long||Into the scrum, cleared out to Rocky who shot wide right.|
|64′||Coffey||Short||To Ryan; her lob was cleared, recycled, but finally ran out for a goal kick.|
One great chance out of four; 25% is pretty decent for corners, as we’ve seen.
Player Ratings and Comments
Smith (+15/-3 : +6/-3 : +21/-6) Despite all the hard work on defense it’s hard not to see how Smith isn’t Woman of the Match. Matchwinner, tireless hard work both attacking and forechecking defense. She’s had it all season and won the MVP for it and she brought it to Audi Field, too.
Weaver (63′ – +11/-6 / +3/-3 : +14/-9) Oh, my…if that 58th minute shot had gone in..!
Another in what I think of as “Weaver Games”; lots of good Chaos Muppet energy, great runs, deft passes, hard graft tracking back and defending.
Even more than that, soft shots (well, except for one) and poor placement. C’mon, coaches, help a sister out! You get this woman scoring, too? Christ, you’ve got a monster on your hands!
Beckie (27′ – +8/-1) Solid outing; defended when she needed to, and provided lots of possession at a time the Thorns needed to play keepaway.
Ryan (93′ – +4/-2 : +5/-1 : +9/-3) Good shift, both pushing up and defending. Nothing flashy, but the same dependable “third option” we’ve seen and expect from her all year.
Moultrie (1′ – no rating) Nice curtain call for the future of Portland soccer, and an end of a season of good progress. Looking forward to more next season.
Rodriguez (63′ – +4/-2 : +6/-0 : +10/-2) Some terrific passing, and put in the tackles when she needed to; as with Ryan, not a show pony, but a warrior for the working day who worked as well in D.C. as she has all season.
Sugita (27′ – +6/-0) With Beckie, possession in seeing out the match is a bit of a pleasant surprise. With Hina-san it’s expected, and it was there as expected at Audi. I’m not sure that Rocky needed to come off – I think she was doing fine – but we’ll talk about that another time. Domo arigato, Sugita-senshu.
Coffey (+7/-3 : +6/-2 : +13/-5) Hell of a match; locked down midfield, and distributed like a vending machine. A fine choice of WotM had Smith and Kuikka not been tearing it up.
Sinclair (73′ – +5/-8 : +2/-1 : +7/-9) This is for the joy of the team and the Championship, and Sinc surely deserves that.
But we’re going to talk about this.
Dunn (17′ – +2/-3) It would be impossible to top that 93rd minute winner, and she couldn’t. But played a solid shift and saw out the win that she’d sent the club thru to in the semifinal, so, fine.
Klingenberg (+10/-4 : +2/-1 : +12/-5) Every time I think that age is ready to reap you…
…you do stuff like this.
You were a beast in D.C. – it didn’t hurt that Kansas City wasn’t very pacey, but, still – you took the touchline away, and they never adjusted to that. Enjoy your second ring.
Hubly (+4/-0 : +4/-2 : +8/-2) The centerbacks were largely untroubled by Current pressure, but when they were they both handled it with disciplined calm; that quality has sometimes been fleeting in the Portland backline this year so it was damn good to see.
Sauerbrunn (+5/-0 : +3/-0 : +8/-0) Not a single foot wrong. Damn fine.
Kuikka (+9/-1 : +11/-1 : +20/-2) Supposedly the charge of the Finnish cavalry was the terror of Russian soldiers in the Northern Wars, and the cry Hakkaa Päälle! – “cut them down!” spread fear from the Baltic to the Urals.
Well, they say that at the youth team practices in the fields outside Kansas City the surviving Current veterans now tell tales of Finnish savagery that chill the blood of young wingers and send a shiver of fear up the backs of the listeners.
Bixby (+0/-1 : +1/-0 : +1/-1) Utterly untroubled. Couple of nice takes, but otherwise a day off work.
Coach Wilkinson: Well.
You did it.
For all our – for all my – doubts and worries, for all the stressing over formations and lineups, for all the fear and doubt and second-guessing…you bagged the Big Prize.
Now – our discussion isn’t quite over. Next week we need to talk about a certain blind spot.
But that’s for next week, and there’s time enough for that.
Today, tonight, tomorrow…those are to simply bask. Bask in the feeling of the end of a job well done, a mission accomplished, a well-earned rest.
Of the third star…
…of honors hard-won…
…of happy tears…
…and of the love of your friends and teammates.
Everything’s fine. Shush now. Shush. Time to rest.