I think you can look at last night’s Thorns-vs-USWNT U-23s game two ways.
You can just look at the scoreline – 4-1 Thorns – and conclude that – surprise! – the Thorns starters can comprehensively demolish a college all-star team. And you’d be right.
Or you can look at the match play and ponder the fact that said all-star team held the professionals to 0-1 for damn near 70 minutes. Yes, it was a pro team largely composed of reserves and spot-starters.
But you had three internationals (Christine Sinclair and Janine Beckie from the CWNT, Raquel Rodriguez from Las Ticas) in the mix, and even the reserves didn’t include any true rookies until Beckie torqued something in her leg (hopefully not an ACL, but tho I haven’t read anything as of this writing I’m hearing some very bad things) and Izzy D’Aquila came on for her in the 19th minute.
I think it’s a bit of both.
The Thorns fielded a pickup game XI to start with; Shelby Hogan in goal behind Meaghan Nally at RB, Gabby Provenzano and Emily Menges in the middle with Natalie Beckman at LB, a midfield of Rocky and Sinc in front of Taylor Porter at CDM, and Michelle Vasconcelos, Hannah Betfort, and Beckie from left to right across the front.
That midfield and frontline created some chances (I think the Thorns outshot the juniors something like 6-1 in the first twenty minutes or so). There was just nobody up front who could finish, and then in the 13th minute Provenzano got outhustled to the byline, gave up a corner, which was cleared but only out as far as one of the juniors backs, and the recycled lob fell to Rocky’s feet.
Rodriguez whiffed the clearance. It rolled tamely to the feet of the U-23’s #17, Weber, who lofted the ball across the face of goal into the top far corner, 0-1 Nats.
The Thorns reserves (and Sinc and Rocky) kept pushing up but – we’ll talk about this in the comments – had nothing and couldn’t find and equalizer before the hour mark.
Hina Sugita came on at halftime for Vasconcelos – no help. Natalia Kuikka and Sam Coffey replaced Rodriguez and Beckman right after the hour. Nothing.
Then a huge slug of starters – Crystal Dunn, Morgan Weaver, and Sophia Smith – and Reyna Reyes came in after 70 minutes and the shit-rain began to fall on the junior Nats.
Four goals in 20-odd minutes. Daaaaaamn. That’s just mean.
What I want you to do is go back and look at what happened last season during this tune-up.
The Thorns came out in then-Coach Wilkinson’s beloved 3-5-2 and looked very stymied and jammed up against Seattle in the first game.
Then they played the juniors midweek. Remember what happened?
Smith ran buckwild, grabbed a hat before forty minutes, and the 3-5-2 looked like a worldbeater. Everybody got all jiggly anticipating a goalfest to come.
Then the Thorns ran into a very lackluster Chicago that following weekend and we saw reality and what we’d see for the first two months of the regular season; the 3-5-2 was an attacking tire fire and the then-roster would struggle as it did all spring to get results with it.
I’m not saying this is deja vu all over again.
I’m saying; both Portland and Seattle rotated heavily last night.
(And Seattle looked like shit against Louisville in the first game, losing badly while being comprehensively outplayed)
I think both coaches are loading up for the coming Saturday.
I think we may well see both teams’ preferred starting XIs.
I think we’ll see then how good this Thorns club is likely to be.
I’ll see you then.
Again, no data. Again, the eye test was that until the Avalanche of Starters the Thorns typically had decent buildup that fell apart when a pass ran wide, or long, or into touch, or to a white shirt. The juniors seemed tidier on the ball but had significantly less possession. My guess is probably about 70% for both teams until the final quarter hour or so, and then it was katy-bar-the-door for the poor Nats.
Six (that I saw), one short, five long into the box, one first half, three second
|3′||Vasconcelos? (couldn’t see)||Short||To Beckman, who lobbed far post. It was cleared wide|
|9′||Beckie||Long||Headed clear, recycled, and cleared again for a Thorns throw, but nothing on|
|11′||Beckie||Long||Dropped in to Rodriguez but Rocky shot wide left|
|50′||Sugita||Long||Headed clear, recycled, but no shot|
|80′||Coffey||Long||Cleared out but only as far as Weaver, who shot but right at keeper|
So kinda nothing from what I saw, tho my guess is that the Thorns probably earned another or two and might have done something with them, given the mismatch after the 70th minute.
Player Ratings and Comments
Betfort (71’ – +6/-3 : +0/-3 : +6/-6) Betfort is one of those players I hate to slag off on because she works SO hard. The problem is that she doesn’t work well.
Classic Betfort; in the 52nd minute Nally delivered a cross that Betfort took in stride four yards from goal. It was a whipped-in ball and might have been a bit tough to handle, but the goalmouth was gaping like the Holland Tunnel. It seemed more difficult to blast over the bar rather than below it, but somehow Betfort managed.
We’re going to need attacking depth this summer. I just don’t know if Betfort is that depth.
Smith (19’ – +2/-0) The soccer equivalent of clubbing adorable baby seals.
Vasconcelos (45’ – +2/-1) Low bar; better than Sunday. Still deeeeep depth and marginal even as a benchwarmer. Showed fight, but just not technically clever or tactically smart.
Beckie (19’ – +4/-1) Fast and dangerous until the injury; hope that being stretchered off was just a precaution, but ACLs are always a WoSo nightmare and the initial reports don’t sound good.
D’Aquila (71’ – +5/-4 : +6/-1 : +11/-5) And that’s without the final ten minutes or so, so her net is probably higher.
D’Aquila showed glimpses of quality in her twenty minutes against Racing, but last night she was, for about 40 minutes, the best Thorn on the field. She’s got speed to burn – I lost count of how many times she torched the juniors’ left back – she’s got professional grade positional and tactical skills, and as her equalizing goal showed, can finish.
Clearly this player is ready. My only question is “how ready”? Is she where Smith was in 2021; an international-level toolkit waiting for experience to open? Or is she just “a good player”? I hope we’ll see her at RW with the starting XI against a full Seattle side. I think that will show us some more. But as she stands, ladies and gentlemen, this is an outstanding young player.
Sinclair (71’ – +3/-6 : +1/-2 : +4/-8) The Last of Sinc gets grimmer and grimmer.
Last night I wish I’d had tape to review, because I want to tot up how many times Sinclair advanced the ball through dribble or pass versus how many times she dropped or hit a lateral dink or turned back downfield. I’m gonna bet that the latter outnumbered the former by an order of magnitude.
Sinclair is now – even fresh, even just 180 minutes into PREseason – too slow, too soft, and too hesitant to be an effective starter. Last night she took three or four shots and none of them would have troubled a rec league keeper; weak, slow, or off-target.
If she gets any regular season minutes like this she’s going to be a boat anchor. That’s horrible, that’s not how the Greatest Of All Time should be remembered, and I just hope someone has the guts to sit her down and tell her that.
Sugita (45’ – +4/-6) Hina-san had a – for her – very poor match at LW until the Avalanche 25 minutes later; mishit passes, tackled for loss and dribbling into trouble. When the starters came in she moved into central midfield and looked much better – I read at Stumptown that she nicked one of the late goals, so, good – but I think she’s still struggling with both form and her fit into the squad. I’m a huge Hina otaku, so I have faith…but it’s hard to watch her struggle so much.
Rodriguez (61 ‘ – +4/-4 : +1/-0 : +5/-4) I’m not sure what’s going on with Rocky.
She’s had some bright moments, but they’ve been sort of lost amid heavy touches and getting bullied off the ball. She hasn’t connected well with her teammates…but her teammates have been players like Betfort and Vasconcelos as often as Smith or Beckie, so it’s hard to lay the problems on Rodriguez herownself.
Hopefully we’ll see her with the starting XI Saturday and then we might get a better sense of where she stands. Right now, though, I’m a bit concerned.
Coffey (29’ – +4/-2) The usual bundle of energy and midfield wrecking ball, Coffey was the first sign that bad things were coming for the junior Nats, the first Mongol, her shaggy steppe pony well hidden among the treeline, glowering down upon the peaceful Ruthenian village that will be a flaming ruin strewn with carnage before the fall of night.
Porter (71’ – +5/-2 : +1/-0 : +6/-2) I thought Taylor Porter had a decent match…but, again, the juniors didn’t have a lot to hit her with, so. I’m just eyeballing, but her passing looked crisper than the other reserves, and she had some solid tackling and effective marking. Still depth, and hard to say how deep without better opposition, but not a bad night, and that has to count for something)
Dunn (19’ – +6/-0) I’d gotten used to “just-sorta-okay Dunn” over the past couple of seasons, so it was a real pleasant shock to see a Crystal Dunn who looked frighteningly fast, crisp, and effective. Her play on the D’Aquila goal was gorgeous; brilliant run to the byline torching the Nats’ right back and pinpoint cross onto D’Aquila’s head. I wasn’t there much longer, but it looked like she had more to deliver. Great to see, and I hope she starts Saturday and brings that same skillset.
Beckman (61’ – +4/-3 : +0/-0 : +4/-3) Depth, nothing more. Not pacey enough, not strong enough, just overall not good enough to push into the starting lineup. Every team needs a squad player or five, but at this point I’m not sure she’s good enough to fend of a challenge from one of the draftees. We’ll see.
Kuikka (19’ – no rating) Had virtually nothing to do since the Avalanche of Starters was burying the poor juniors.
Provenzano (+2/-2 : +0/-0 : +2/-2) Got beat to the byline to concede the corner on the Nats’ goal, proving in case there was any doubt that she’s no Emily Menges. Like Beckman, depth, so all she really has to be is “not bad”, and she isn’t, and keep in mind Provenzano is, what, probably third or fourth on the centerback chart behind Sauerbrunn, Menges, and Hubly, and possibly even Reyes and Nally. So, not worried.
Menges (+4/-3 : +2/-0 : +6/-2) Solid work. I’d like to see Menges run her backline a bit more decisively, though, especially when she’s got reserves alongside her like Beckman, Nally, and Provenzano. Given her long layoff, though, it’s probably unrealistic to expect that so soon. All her usual defensive positives and some nice long passing out of the back.
Nally (71’ – +2/-2 : +3/-0 : +5/-2) Meaghan Nally isn’t a particularly good right back. Not awful, but not pacey and her forward passing is kind of sporadic; I wish she’d work on her accuracy. She’s also depth and, like Provenzano, as such just has to be “not awful”. I think if Reyna Reyes is as good as advertised we may not see a lot of Nally this coming season.
Reyes (19’ – no rating) As with Kuikka, little to do since all the carnage was at the north end. I’d like to see her start; maybe in one of the Cup ties, to see what she brings.
Weaver (19 – +6/-1) Good to see that the injury worries were overwrought, and always fun to watch the Happy Warrior.
Hogan (+0/-0 : +0/-1 : +0/-1) Not at fault on the concession and otherwise fairly untroubled, so hard to really do more than check the block. Her minus is for a horrific short outlet pass that could have been real trouble had the U-23 forward been able to control it and shoot. Still, overall, fine.
Coach Norris: Well…
The first hour seemed like “the plan”; send out a mix of mostly-reserves and a handful of starters to see what they could do.
As such, it was kind of a shitshow.
I don’t see what Norris was looking for in Vasconcelos that he hadn’t seen Sunday, Betfort is not starting quality, and as Abell4 said in the Stumptown comments – if that frontline and AM group could score on an empty net she’d carry their practice bags to the corner of 23rd and Burnside and kiss their butts when they got there.
Then, with the match on the line, Norris pulled out the sledgehammer.
That seems just mean…but I get it. You want to build confidence ramping into the season, not let your troops twist in the wind. So you open up the squirrel guns and really give ‘em Hell. Cruel, but soccer is a cruel game.
Which, I might add, we might be on the receiving end of this coming weekend if Seattle is as good as they looked near the end of last season.
See you then.