Thorns FC: Tradition!

I love traditions.

The soft pinks of the cherry blossoms every springtime. The comforting familiarity of the local taproom where so many friendly moments linger. The old jokes among friends and family.

The annual Opening Day curb-stomping of the pathetic Orlando Pride.

Over eleven seasons: four games, four wins, cumulative score 10-1.

Like emerging from in front of a warm fire and from under a cozy blanket to see the first green shoots and tender buds emerging from the lingering chill, the beatdown of a hapless Orlando is sort of how the Portland Thorns greet the early spring.

Sucks to be Orlando, mind, but if they didn’t want to get beaten first thing every year they’d go play Gotham or something.

Thing is, yesterday the Shame were so shameful that it’s kind of hard to generalize from the game. Yes, the Thorns were better, as individual players and as a team.

How MUCH better?

That’ll have to wait until we see them against someone less Shameful.

In particular the backline; as Arielle Dror’s xG race plot shows, Orlando had nothing going forward yesterday; 0.75xG overall, zero – nothing at all – over the whole first half hour as the Thorns went up two-nil.

As you’ll see in the comments, that really skewed the defenders’ PMRs – they got dinged for poor passes or the occasional bad positioning, but had little occasion to do anything positive. Most of the time Orlando’s “attack” self-destructed before remotely threatening – Adriana’s 53rd minute shot was the only moment that Bella Bixby had to do more than stroll leisurely over to collect a random roller.

We’ll get into the details in the comments, but pretty much the whole Thorns squad had a good outing. Several players were terrific, and as a group the team looked composed and connected.

I’d append only a couple of mild caveats before we move into the details.

First, the Thorns had some moments where they lacked a certain urgency. Good forechecking, yes, but they took a while to become effective going forward once they had possession.

Mike Norris mentioned in the meeting last Thursday that he needed to impart some urgency to the attack, that it had looked too methodical and slow (“overplayed it in midfield” was how he described it, IIRC) and easily countered. I saw a bit of that in the first half hour and again for a stretch in the middle of the second half. I’m not sure simply because of Caveat #2…but I’ll be watching for that.

Second, as noted, holy Hell but Orlando sucks ass. They’re random going forward and porous in back, and Moorhouse was a tire fire in goal – one of her concessions came directly from her own inability to get her hands in front of her leg…

…and prevent the shot from clanking off to her opponent – and so it’s difficult to really get a sense of how good you have to be to look good against them.

Remember the last 20 minutes against the junior Nats last week; as the final preseason game after that showed, clubbing baby seals isn’t a good measure of how badass you are when the mama polar bear turns up.

This is a good Thorns squad. I’m just not sure how much yesterday tells us about how good that squad is.

But sometimes?

It’s just okay to have fun basking in a grand old comforting tradition.

Short Passes

Both clubs were fairly tidy on the ball, the Thorns a trifle better as you’d expect, 83% completion to Orlando’s almost-80%.

Dror’s passing diagrams points out the differences, though. Here’s Portland:

Look at the area around the center circle.

Sam Coffey is doing what she does – connecting people together. She’s acting almost more like a #10 than a #6. Out wide Meghan Klingenberg and Natalie Kuikka are the outside angles of the triangle formed by Coffey and Sophia Smith – that’s the width Norris talked about last week.

The backline, too, is pushed way up, and is connecting to midfield through Coffey, Kling, and Natu.

Meanwhile, here’s Orlando:

Look at Abello – she’s the giveaway; stranded deep in their defensive half and having trouble connecting effectively. Everyone is forced back from the Thorns’ goal. Marta is barely past the center circle and completely nerfed. The only player looking dangerous is the one you’d expect – Adriana. She wasn’t dangerous enough.

That’s a picture of a team being throttled in their own end.

Corner Kicks

Ten total. Six first half, four second. Eight long into the box, two short.

3′KlingenbergLongHeaded clear but only to Sauerbrunn, recycled, Hina shoots but it’s blocked out to Coffey, whose shot is deflected over the byline
3′KlingenbergLongSinclair flicks on nicely to Smith crashing the far post; the ball is just a skitch too far and goes side netting, but good effort.
23′CoffeyLongAll the way over the scrum and cleared out to Klingenberg; her shoss drops to Moorhouse.
34′KlingenbergLongCleared, recycled, Coffey loops to Hubly, whose good header Moorhouse has to push wide for another corner
35′ KlingenbergShortTo Smith, who drops to Dunn; her cross is headed over the byline for a third corner
35′CoffeyLongAll the way to the far post and cleared, but Coffey regains possession and crosses in to Sinc, whose header is just wide
60′CoffeyLongMoorhouse goes up and mishandles but manages to fall on her own fumble
69′CoffeyShortTo Smith, who dumps it into the scrum where it’s cleared quickly
83′ CoffeyLongMoorhouse turns over her crossbar
83′KlingenbergLongDimes D’Aquila, but her head goes wide left for a goal kick

Nothing concrete, but the second third-minute header was a pretty play and could easily have produced a goal.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (77’ – +13/-5 : +7/-2 : +20/-7) Goal and assist, hands-down Woman of the Match. Nice to see that once she had her usual cast around her the “put your head down and run at the defenders” Smith I was worried about disappeared and MVP Smith took her place.

D’Aquila (13’ – no rating) Izzy D’Aquila came on just as the Thorns took their foot off the gas, so she didn’t have much to do. Not so much a reflection on her as on the game state.

Weaver (63’ – +9/-3 : +6/-1 : +15/-4) A poacher’s goal (see: Vasconcelos) aided by a good Sinclair strike that was too well placed for Anna Moorhouse to do more than parry into Weaver’s path. The goal was only the reward for an hour’s good hard work; Weaver at LW makes everyone around her – particularly Smith – better and more dangerous.

Vasconcelos (27’ – +6/-0) Nicely taken poacher’s goal. Other than that Michelle Vasconcelos was active and dangerous; perhaps all those preseason minutes helped. I’ll be keeping an eye on her.

Sugita (+5/-3 : +6/-0 : +11/-3) Reason #1,000 in the “Why I Love Hina Sugita” file; in the 76th minute Hina-san was in possession along the east touchline as two Orlando players converged on her. Here’s what she did.

That’s just filthy. The best part is the Orlando players reactions; when she spins through them and away they don’t even bother to try and chase. Sugita pantsed them so completely and utterly that they just stopped playing.

Throw in the dime to Sinclair on the Weaver goal, add in pulling two defenders into their own goalmouth to clear out the six-yard-box on the Smith goal, as well as all her usual clever work and this was another fine Sugita outing.

That said; RW is not Sugita’s best position, and her PMR shows it. I’d like to see her moved back to the #10, and there’s an AU where Crystal Dunn swaps with her so both players can use their strengths; Hina-san’s field vision and precision, Dunn’s pace and aggressiveness. But given that Dunn won’t move I don’t see that happening for the foreseeable future.

Sinclair (81’ – +10/-1 : +2/-2 : +12/-3) Speaking of tradition…yesterday was a deep drink from a fine old vintage, 2013 Grand Cru Domaine Sinclair. I’m not sure what happened between last Sunday and the end of the previous week, but the captain looked good in a way she hasn’t for two years; fast, decisive, and impactful.

Sinc more-or-less created the Smith goal out of whole cloth, owning Emily Madril like she had Madril’s house keys, cell phone, credit card and PIN number.

(In what might have been the Most Shame-ful Thing All Match, Madril then completed her beclowning in that play by following Sinc’s cross and then leaving her feet to…I’m guessing either try to block Smith’s shot or tackle her…but doing neither and, instead, sliding to a stop a yard away from Smith lying on her back like a wino sleeping off a bottle of Night Train. Sad.)

Now…I don’t agree with leaving Sinc out for more than eighty minutes. Look at her PMR; she was visibly fading in the second half. If we want to keep sipping from that sort of Pinot Sinc we need to take care of the old bottle it come in, and that means managing her minutes. She should have come off with Weaver at the hour.

Rodriguez (9’ – +3/-1) See above. Rocky is clearly in form, and this club needs her to have more minutes to profit from that, as well as giving Sinclair’s legs some rest. Bringing her in earlier does both.

Dunn (63’ – +10/-2 : +2/-1 : +12/-3) What we saw in preseason; smart, fast, dangerous. Her run to the byline and drop to Sugita set up the first goal, so kind of a hockey assist there.

One thing I’d like to see more; Dunn connecting with the forwards. Go back up and look at the Dror pass matrix. Dunn is connected to Kuikka and Coffey. Weaver, Hina, Smith? Not so much. If she is going to play, and sees herself, as a midfield shuttler and creator she needs to form a better connection with the forwards. She didn’t have the surroundings to do that under Parsons in 2021 – Smith hadn’t emerged as “Smith”, Sugita was as often a midfielder as not, and Weaver was still running the 100-yard dash – but now all the pieces are there, and Dunn needs to start putting them together.

Moultrie (27’ – +4/-1) Decent shift. Nothing special, but didn’t really need it. Had a nice 83rd minute crack at goal that Moorhouse shanked just as she had the Sugita goal – didn’t get down quickly enough and the ball came off her leg – that the Orlando backline had to clear away

Coffey (+8/-0 : +5/-3 : +13/-3) See the passing discussion above. Coffey is a solid tackler and good at quickly closing down passing lanes, but her extra includes an excellent field vision and strong, accurate forward passing. Unfortunately that also makes her an attractive CDM for the USWNT, so we might lose her in midsummer. Hope not; club > country, and we’re going to want her here.

Klingenberg (+4/-1 : +3/-5 : +7/-6) Here’s where Orlando’s utter offensive incompetence shows up. Kling, all the defenders, had a solid match. Outside of a moment or two none of Portland’s backline put a foot wrong all afternoon.

But they also didn’t have to do much “right”; they stood their ground, marked well, and prevented Orlando getting a good look while the Shame were mishitting passes and mistiming runs to ensure that that was a fairly easy job. All the backline PMR numbers are low – single digits, most of them – and that is a giveaway, too. Not much going on back there.

So the PMR “marks” Kling got were for her occasional missed pass or a blown mark that was usually well upfield, i.e. not a danger to her own goal, rather than for individual good defensive plays. The good was there, but just as a unit and in overall positioning and cover. So keep that in mind as we go through the rest of the defensive unit.

Hubly (77′ – +4/-2 : +1/-2 : +5/-4) See: Klingenberg. Good shift, just not much to do.

Nally (13’ – No rating)

Sauerbrunn (+2/-3 : +1/-3 : +3/-6) Brunn was the endmember for the backline. Generally solid defensively, and had to do a lot of long passing out of the back, so tended to hit one to a white shirt every so often and got dinged for it.

Kuikka (+5/-3 : +8/-1 : +13/-4) Natu was the exception to the above; lots of big plays both passing, attacking and defending. Her pluses included three passes/crosses, four defensive covers/marks, two ball recoveries, two attacking runs, a clearance, and two tackles-for-gain. Outstanding work on both sides of the ball.

Bixby (+0/-2 : +1/-0 : +1/-2) Unemployed except for two moments, one great, one not-so. The great moment was the diving save off Adriana. The not-so-great was in the 21st minute, when Bixby played a ball just a hint too far with an Orlando attacker hovering and was forced to make a desperation clearance. I’m sure Die Kaiserin had words with her about that…

Coach Norris – We’d wondered what the new gaffer’s preferred XI would look like. Well, now we know and against Orlando, it worked like magic. Yesterday was a promising start to the new coach and a new season.

Now we just have to wait and see how it works against a better opponent.

A bit of a rant for the end.

This bugged me.

I get it; Peregrine has always kind of put the Timbers as first-among-equals with the Thorns. But this is kind of rubbing it in, and I don’t like the way it makes it so obvious.

The Timbers have a title, from 2015. As a Timbers fan, that’s great.

They’ve won the conference in two other seasons. That’s great, too.

The Timbers have never won a Shield, or come close…

(Timber Dave reminds me that I was wrong; the Boys DID come close, finishing second in 2013 in the first year of Porterball…)

…they’ve played for the championship three times and won, lost on PKs, and got blown out.

The Thorns have won the league twice, missed the playoffs only once, also gotten to the Final four times where they got blown out, struggled to an ugly win, and convincingly whipped the other two finalists.

So it seems to me that the better team has been afforded the least space to boast about that, and the only reasons I can think of for the “why” are pretty goddamn ugly.

I’m not sure that the FO sees it this way.

I hope they don’t; I hope this just typical grabass Peregrine careless indifference and not a sort of boys-club sexism.

But it sure looks like it.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

11 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Tradition!

  1. Not sure if the cameras caught it, but the minute-76 Hinamagic saw a good % of Key Bank (including me) on their feet screaming with uncontrolled elation. It was one of those moments where you’ve witnessed something that shouldn’t be possible and you’re ready to get religious in a hurry. Pretty sure that when Smith congratulated her on the goal a few minutes later she pointed upfield as if to say “the goal was nice, but that move was unreal”.

    Orlando’s pass % surprised me – it felt like they were all but gift wrapping the ball for us. Then again, as the graphs show, not much value created in the process.

    Agree 100% with assessments, particularly on Becky and Sinc. It did feel like Becky gave away a few easy ones, but it’s hard not to hold her to a higher standard. Still concerned about MV, but thinking good thoughts, as we need her to be strong come June.

    Side note – very curious how the Challenge Cup impacts season games and strategy. For example, our next home game is against the Dash on Friday 4/14, then we fly to San Diego for a CC game on the 19th, then back home for LOU on the 21st. No way you play the starters for all three – guessing the World Cup backup squad plays SD on the 19th. We will be at that game…hoping for a bench vs bench matchup that previews how we do during the World Cup.

    1. Wait, we play on the 19th and 21st? I thought FIFA had a rule prohibiting games within two days…. That’s just not enough recovery time.

        1. Still too packed. That’s what irks the shit about the Cup this season.

          What was interesting is that last Thursday one of the questioners made a comment about the Cup as a “gimmick” and the FO reps all responded by bridling about that. Which is kind of what they HAVE to do; they have to at least pretend they want to win everything.

          But under the current setup the Cup IS a gimmick. It’s just Regular Season 2.0. It’s a boldfaced cashgrab, and just more miles on tired legs for a meaningless bit of chrome.

          So I hope that Norris goes deep to the bench for that match. Lose 6-nil? Fine. The starters can hang out in the nearest taphouse playing pinochle for all I care about it.

  2. Thanks for the PMRs. The stat matches my eye test better than almost any other, so thanks for the work you put in to compile it, and everything else here.

    Our defenders had so little to do because our midfield was so dominant, which tickled me because I like watching good midfield play. The midfield really made the high press work to a T. I don’t know if we were that good in midfield because we ARE that good, or because Orlando…. I guess time will tell. It was certainly a good way to start the season.

    Speaking of fun midfielders, Coffey did more quarterbacking this game than she did last year. She showed flashes of it last year but yesterday it was the most prominent part of her game. I think her tackling has improved too; that was the one thing I could think of to not hand her the starting job on the USWNT, and now that argument is nearly gone. “Nearly” is in there because this was, after all, Orlando. (I sincerely hope Orlando can get its sh** together some day, simply because Marta deserves it. But once again, it doesn’t appear to be happening this year.)

    Minor corrections: The Thorns have been to 4 finals, winning 3 (2013, 2017, 2022) and losing 1 (2018, ironically the only home game of the bunch). If the agony of losing to The Damned Courage and Mr. Spit has erased that loss from your memory, I hereby apologize for bringing it up again.
    And the Timbers did come close to a Shield once, finishing only 2 points out in 2013. Aaah, the days when the Timbers were good. If – *if* – Ryan Johnson’s late-game bicycle kick against NYRB had gone in, we’d have won that Shield, all else staying equal. Then again, “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts, then every day’d be Christmas.”

  3. Fun to watch game and the Slo-Mo of Hina to Soph to Vasconcelos was a treat. That was beautiful play, male or female.
    If the Thorns get through the World Cup break in good shape they should be one of two at the top of the table (with Seattle). I am picking the Thorns, Seattle, San Diego and KC as the top four teams. That sounds like “duh,” but last year only two of my obvious picks were in the top four, so what seems safe is never certain in the NWSL. I know KC has some injuries, but I am not as impressed as I was after the draft.
    I think Washington, Gotham and Houston could make the top six. If Julie Ertz is good enough to be on the USWNT, she could make Angel City good enough to make the top six. But, I wouldn’t bet she will be the Ertz of 2018.

    1. Just found out Julie Ertz is a free agent, so where she winds up in the NWSL is still up for grabs. Even a 75% Ertz would be a valuable player for whoever signs her.

  4. I’m so surprised to see that Ertz will be playing with the USWNT! Wonderif that makes Coffey less likely to make the WC trip.

  5. It has been A WEEK for me on the work front, so I’ve been slow to even look through the STF threads/comments, but I thought this was a great place for my thoughts because your data always matches the eye test. The first 15 minutes or so were kinda nervy and they looked disconnected and made messy passes, but that cleaned up pretty well.

    Sinc! Who knew she still had it in her?! I was worried Sinc and Dunn would get in each other’s way and would be a bit too attacking and leave Coffey hung out with too much space to cover. But, Sinc was great the first half, and, Orlando was just terrible so it wasn’t too tall a task for Coffey (who was excellent!!) Coffey came out with more tackling prowess than I’ve seen from her prior, and I’m all here for it. Still dubious on having Sinc start though (esp against any better teams.) Also wanna see it more than one game, because it’s not been the norm the last few years. I hate Rocky coming in for 10 minutes. Even with Orlando being awful, Sinc still showed some slowing down after the half, and should’ve been pulled then. So, still hoping Norris manages her minutes better and can better read when she is slowing down in-game.

    Wished we would’ve seen more minutes for D’Aquila. She should be the first F off the bench IMO, not Vasconcelos. It’s kind of a bummer to see her come on for Smith, because I really wanna see her play with Smith and Weaver. I’m still not won on Vasconcelos, but she got a good goal being where she was supposed to be. Would she get that goal against better teams? Dunno. Also dunno about her ability to run and play-make against better defenses. I’d still rather have D’Aquila on if we’re looking for goals and goal-scoring opportunities….

    Hina and Dunn…still think they need a swap. They’re both excellent players so it still works, but I think a swap would make it that much better and would suit their strengths so much better. It turned into more of a 442 at times though, because Hina was so withdrawn much of the time. Again, not sure how this works against better teams.

    I thought they came out swinging and it bodes well for us, but I still wanna see it against teams that aren’t a dumpster fire.

  6. This makes our home opener record a perfect 10-0-0.

    2013 Portland 2-1 Seattle
    2014 Portland 3-1 Kansas City
    2015 Portland 4-1 Boston
    2016 Portland 2-1 Orlando
    2017 Portland 2-0 Orlando
    2018 Portland 2-1 Orlando
    2019 Portland 3-0 Chicago
    2021 Portland 5-0 Chicago
    2022 Portland 3-0 Kansas City
    2023 Portland 4-0 Orlando.


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