Thorns FC: PostPreseason

In the final match of the “preseason tournament” the Thorns lost to Seattle on a Jess Fishlock 18th minute banger.

That wasn’t really a big problem.

Yes, the Thorns midfield sagged off Fishlock and gave her all the time and space in the world to tee that fucker up and sail it over Bella Bixby into the top right corner, so that’s not great.

But that was kind of pretty much all the Damndelions had. A 25-yard golazo? That ain’t gonna get you all three about ninety percent of the time if your opponent has their shit together.

No, the problem was that last night’s Thorns squad suffered from a distinct lack of shit-togetherness.

That broke down into two major having-their-shit-not-together issues:

First, the Thorns midfield was a slapped-together mess and the biggest pile was Christine Sinclair, who we’ll talk about in her comment. But starting her alongside Olivia Moultrie set up an “attacking” pairing of 1) youthful inexperience and 2) aged torpor.

With Sam Coffey still looking rusty, the Reign midfield pretty much owned the middle of the pitch. And…

Second, the Thorns as a squad reverted to something they have tended to do since the Parsons Era; they came apart when pressed.

I’m not sure why the Thorns do this – the squad (outside Sinc) has pace – but for some reason when pressed there’s a distinct lack of people moving to space and others calmly finding them there, and that was reeeeeally visible last night because Fucking Seattle does that well.

Blue shirts were always open for a pass; when closely marked the Damndelion in possession almost always had one and usually two open teammates to pass out to. Not quite tika-taka, but still, little triangles all over. Lyon Junior smacked the ball around with cool authority and calm confidence, leaving Thorns to run after them looking like a little sister being teased mercilessly to the point of tears.

The Thorns in possession?

Harried. Almost panicked. People hunted down, chased, forced into bad passes and turnovers. Others standing around waiting for…something, but not moving to open space but when moving, moving more at random, as if they didn’t know what their teammates would do or where and how to connect with them.

Unlike Seattle, Portland in possession looked rushed and frustrated, desperately racing around looking for something, anything to move the ball forward and usually not finding it, having to turn back or drop or dink a lateral pass.

Parsons’ squads were so consistently bad this way I came up with a label for it – “dink-dink-boot” – because it was “several random lateral-or-backpasses before a long hopeful rainbow that usually goes nowhere”.

There was LOTS of dink-dink-boot last night.

Things got a trifle faster and more pointed in attack after the hour when Crystal Dunn and Raquel Rodriguez came on…but instead of Sinc it was D’Aquila who came off (for Rocky at 74 minutes, Moultrie subbed out for Dunn at the hour) so that kind of was a two-steps-forward-one-step-back thing towards nerfing the attack.

So even as the attack ticked up a bit wasn’t enough of a bit. All Seattle had to do was sit back and hope one of Rocky’s shots from distance didn’t go in. They didn’t, and so it ended.

Some of this was having to play 11 v 10 because Sinclair. Another was the way Norris set up the midfield and front line.

Hina Sugita works least-best as a right wing, but that’s where she was. Morgan Weaver works best with a pacey midfielder behind her, but instead she had Sinc and Moultrie, and works best with Sophia Smith in front of her, but instead she had Izzy D’Aquila, who was fast and aggressive but just wasn’t on the same page. Vasconcelos for D’Aquila? Get the fuck outta here, you’re killing me.

The backline – Natalie Kuikka, Kelli Hubly, Emily Menges, and Meghan Klingenberg – was generally fine tracking back (Natu, tho…like I said Wednesday; stay home now and then! Dammit, you wander inside and your flank gets torched. That’s an unforced error, so let’s not, okay?) tho there’s still a fair bit of rust on Kling and ‘Brunn and it showed in lack of communication and cooperation.

Ciao Bella! was fine – couple big saves and not at fault on the concession.

Honestly? This one could and probably should have ended scoreless; Seattle had very little going forward, we had nothing, both defenses and midfields were holding decently at least.

Replace Sinc with Hina-san, shift D’Aquila out to RW, and plug Smith in the center forward spot? Start Dunn (or Rodriguez) over Moultrie?

Now you got game.

And next time we see this squad?

We gotta have game. Because it’s gonna count.

Short Passes

Still no data, but Seattle won the “eye-test” passing game by a fair bit; say about 75-78% to the Thorns 65-70%. The real problem for Portland was the lack of “key passes”; several times Kling hit a nice speculative ball down the left touchline, but Hina-san was tied up downfield, D’Aquila was well marked, and Weaver was all the way over in Gresham.

Corner Kicks

Three (that I saw), all long into the box, one first half, three second

32′CoffeyLongWent all the way over, recycled, cleared, recycled again, cleared again, finally lost possession
46′KlingenbergLongWon by a nice D’Aquila run. Went short and was cleared over the byline; off Seattle but the call was for a goal kick
54′KlingenbergLongDropped into the scrum and cleared out for a Seattle attack

Tracks with the lack of attack; few corners, and nothing productive from them.

Player Ratings and Comments

Weaver (45′ – +6/-0) Old School Weaver; run hard, shoot straight, no goals. As noted above, not really connected with her strike partners, and couldn’t do it all herself. Good shift on her own terms (except for the “didn’t finish” thing) but as part of a team, not productive.

Vasconcelos (45′ – +2/-1) I’m not sure what the hell Coach Norris is continuing to look for. This player is depth, period. She’s not awful, but she got what you’d expect a bench player to get against the best defense in the NWSL in 2022 – nothing – and having seen her now for damn near 180 minutes what the hell else would you expect?

I hate to sound like this; Vasconcelos worked hard. But sadly, there’s no award for effort in pro soccer. And so we’re left with what we’ve now seen from her this spring, which is “not good enough to start but probably fine seeing out a lead”. And that wasn’t what was happening in the second half last night, so that’s on you, coach.

D’Aquila (62′ – +2/-5 : +8/-0 : +10/-5) No synergy with Weaver or Sugita in the first half. Much better in the second as Seattle started to tire…and then got yanked, God knoweth why.

I’m liking what I see from this player, and since Janine Beckie is now out for the season I’d like to see more of her and less of Vasconcelos or Betfort.

Dunn (28′ – +5/-0) Crystal Dunn has cut like a razor so far this spring and, like D’Aquila, I’d like to see more from her to see if she can combine that with her teammates to make more goals. So far in 250 minutes the Thorns have scored once; that insane four-goal outburst against the juniors doesn’t count. Right now this club needs some more attacking quality, and Dunn looks increasingly like part of that.

Sugita (+1/-0 : +2/-0 : +3/-0) Her PMR tells the story of Sugita-senshu‘s night; she was unable to add anything much of value despite not playing poorly herself. Which means that her struggles aren’t on her, but on her coach; he played her where she was her least effective, as all of us who’ve watched her last season could have told him.

Sinclair (+1/-5 : +1/-5 : -2/-10) What the actual fuck???

Friend of the Blog ABell4 had this conspiracy-theory explanation for Norris having played Sinclair for over 190 of the 270 minutes this past week:

“Likely this means Sinc will play a much larger role for Canada than if Beckie was playing, and that means she needs to stay warm before the WC. We have a lot of Canadians in charge, and with Bev Priestman also there….I wouldn’t be surprised if she wasn’t saying to KK “please get Sinc minutes, and likely at F because we’re going to need her now.” I hope not, but again, wouldn’t be surprised.”

This is getting ridiculous enough that I’m tempted to agree with her. There’s just no reason for playing Sinc in this condition for more than garbage minutes in a 4-1 lead.

One thing I mentioned last Wednesday was keeping track of Sinc’s attacking moves – passes, dribbles, and runs – versus drops, lateral passes, and turnbacks. I did that for last night’s game, and here’s the toll:

First half: Attacks/Turnbacks – 7/6
Second half: Attacks/Turnbacks – 2/10

Pretty much exactly what you’d expect from an old player; not that forceful to begin with, then as she tired she became increasingly ineffective at adding to the attack just as her team needed more attack rather than less.

At this point all I can do is throw my hands in the air.

Jesus wept, Coach, you can see this better than I can. Why are you doing this?

Moultrie (74′ – +0/-3 : +3/-0 : +3/-3) I’m not sure what happened other than 1) Moultrie had Sinc around her neck like a boat anchor and 2) the Seattle midfield and especially Fishlock bossed all the Thorns midfielders, Moultrie included. Moultrie is usually a solid defender but last night the Reign passed around her like a practice cone. Trying too hard to chase people down and tackle the ball away? Dunno, but not a good game, whatever the reason.

Coffey (+2/-3 : +1/-2 : +3/-5) Same problem Moultrie had; unable to close down the Seattle passing lanes despite working hard. Surprisingly little connecting with her forwards, too, which is usually a strength of hers.

Rodriguez (16′ – +5/-2) If I had to pick a Player of the Match from this clusterfuck I’d pick Rocky. Her introduction produce a significant jolt of energy into her club, and she smacked a couple of shots from distance that sailed barely over – either one or both were as dangerous as the Fishlock strike and could have easily cancelled it had they been eight inches lower. Good shift on an otherwise bad night.

Kuikka (+4/-8 : +2/-4 : +4/-12) Here’s why Kuikka bugs me right now.

Her tactical positioning is goofy; she wanders inside or gets caught upfield a lot.


Like the good fullback she is she’s got her head on a swivel so she is quick to see the danger when that happens AND she’s fast as goddammit, so as often as not she runs down the runner AND she’s a good tackler, so when she does she strips them.

So the damage is more psychological than physical. I still wish she’d quit having to make those recovery runs to begin with. It’s bad for my blood pressure.

Hubly (+5/-4 : +2/-2 : +7/-6) As discussed above, Kuikka going walkabout exposed Kelli Hubly more than once, but Hubs dealt with those derps pretty well.

Did have one really bad moment in the 37th minute when Kuikka got skinned and the Seattle attacker bored in on Bella Bixby while Hubly and Becky Sauerbrunn got tangled up with each other. Luckily Bella kick-saved the pointblank shot.

Sauerbrunn (45′ – +1/-2) Looked more than a little sketchy in her communication with Kling. Early days yet, though. I’m confident she’ll tighten up her shot group be next weekend.

Menges (45′ – +2/-3) I’m not sure what to say. Good to see her healthy and quick, not enough to do last night to really say whether she’s back in form.

You ever notice how skinny Menges’ legs are? Like, pipestems? How the hell is she so fast? She must have the mothers of all fast-twitch muscles in there, to get that sort of velocity out of those little tiny quads and gastrocnemii.

Klingenberg (83′ – +1/-2 : +5/-4 : +6/-6) See the Sauerbrunn comment; still knocking the rust off. Sloppy passes and losses are the bulk of her minuses; mostly defensively solid.

Bixby (+2/-0 : +1/-0 : +3/-0) Looked good overall. Was stonked on the concession, so not on her. Couple of big saves to keep the match respectable.

Coach Norris: I can’t say I’m reassured.

I’m not jittery yet. But.

In 270 minutes I have yet to see what looks to me like the best XI from this club. The group that hung four on the juniors might be close, but given the opposition, who knows?

Sinc and Vasconcelos have played way too much, Weaver and Dunn way too little.

The headless-chicken running around against Seattle was disturbing; in a match that called for “clinical” instead we got “institutionalized”.

I get that preseason is a time for jiggling the parts to see what works, but…c’mon. How often do you have to see poor Michelle Vasconcelos bang her head against that wall to know that she ain’t gonna be able to knock it down? When your forehead is the hammer all you’re gonna do is get hurt, and so she did and so did her team.


Next week it all starts to count.

I sure hope that all this has been a cunning subterfuge to misdirect our opponents into thinking that the club doesn’t know what it has to do.

How’re you feeling about all this?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

7 thoughts on “Thorns FC: PostPreseason

  1. I’ll be worried if Sinc and/or MV start(s) next weekend. Otherwise it’s like my wife said to me 37 times last night while drowning herself in pineapple cider (she really hates losing to Seattle)…”these games don’t matter”. Given that it’s a World Cup year perhaps a good thing to see the bench get good field time when it doesn’t matter so in theory they will be ready when it does.

    I hate seeing Sinc play this poorly – and I don’t want to remember her this way, even if in the tiniest amounts.

    Loving Izzy and Reyes. My starting lineup
    Smith, Izzy
    Weaver, Dunn, Sam, Hina
    Kling, Becky, Hubs, Natu

    Subs: Reyes, Nally, Porter, MV, Rocky

    1. I’m not sure if Norris does a 4-4-2; my guess is that we’ll see the 4-3-3 he’s run with so far. The obvious problem is that it makes things difficult to find places for Dunn, Weaver, AND Sugita. There’s a lot of overlap there.

      It’s not so much that I’m worried. It’s that I think Norris missed some opportunities he should have taken. I agree, tho – if we see a lot of Sinc or Vasconcelos? Norris didn’t get the message.

  2. I’m putting this game, and the previous two, in the “preseason experimentation” folder, which I’m now tossing in the bin. Norris needs to see what works and doesn’t work, and no one much cares who wins the game. I do wish he’d played something resembling a starting lineup for more minutes, but with Smith out here that was impossible.

    When Sinc starts a lot of games, or Vasconcelos plays many minutes at all, that’s when I start to freak out.

      1. I’m surprised too, but the season is likely to hinge on how well the Thorns manage the World Cup absences, so getting the bench as many minutes as possible is probably a priority. I would guess, also, that Norris wanted to see how urgent it is to find a high-level forward to replace Beckie – seems pretty urgent to me, and I hope to him. Add in that the team hasn’t experienced a lot of off-season turnover, and that most teams will still be experimenting for the first few games of the season, and his choices don’t seem quite so weird.

        1. Thing is, this year we got the freaking Challenge Cup nonsense for that. Field a whole XI full of reserves, walk-ons, replacements…who cares? It’s like a whole “Open-Cup-But-Worthless” opportunity to do all that peeking and poking.

          I’d be more reassured if one or another of these slapped-up sides had looked brutally good. But other than a quarter-hour or so against schoolgirls? No.

          Again…not worried. But I’m going to be keeping an eye out on this dude this year, because this past week I didn’t see a whole lot of Sir Alex out of him…


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