Thorns FC: Crash

We’re so used to our air travel being safe and boring, protected by communications and electronic instruments and mechanical inspections, that we forget that in the Thirties and Forties air travel was a kind of scary and sometimes dangerous thing.

That was a trope of the movies of the day. The little model airplane, lost in the low clouds, would bore through the fog, the actor-pilots peering nervously at the blank gray walls all around, hoping for a break in the overcast to see the ground, fearing that they were already in the mountains rising around them.

The airplane flies slower and slower, the pilots desperate now, sure but not certain they’re in danger as they sink lower and lower, searching for a glimpse of what they hope will be welcoming lights below.

Then the nose of the plane breaks out of the clouds and – since this is a movie – of course you know what the horrified pilots see looming out of the darkness dead ahead.

In last Friday’s feature it was the airliner Portland Thorns that ended their 2023 flight of games without a loss with a 2-1 crash into Mount Houston.

I could go into the “whys”, but you know why:

1) The Thorns got several chances but could only convert one of them. Houston got fewer (and worse) chances and converted two.

It didn’t help that the center referee was Koroleva, and she let Houston play Whack-a-Smith. But the Thorns had chances early and didn’t bury them. Houston had less than three-quarters of an expected goal and found two of them.

Image by Arielle Dror on Twitter

2) Portland’s midfield – which began the game with a promising half hour or so of possession and control – started coming apart before the half and then cratered when Raquel Rodriguez had to limp off just before the hour; stopped pressing, exposed the backline, and was unable to close down the spaces behind them.

Here’s a typical situation right before the first concession: Rodriguez gives Marisa Viggiano too much time and space, and so when she finally does try and press Viggiano simply squares to Sophie Schmidt.

Crystal Dunn has sagged off Schmidt a bit too far to step into the pass, and, worse, then tries to stab at Schmidt and misses, taking herself out.

Now Schmidt has a ton of open space and two teammates to connect with, because you’ll notice there’s barely a white shirt in sight in front of the midfield stripe.

Schmidt picks out Maria Sanchez.

When the ball gets there? Natalia Kuikka doesn’t, so Sanchez has all the time in the world to find her targets.

Then there was the backline. But we’ll get there in the comments.

3) Bella Bixby had a troubled match, failing to hold an – admittedly blistering – Ebony Salmon cross on the first concession, then shifting her weight the wrong way – I think she guessed that Salmon was going to go to her right – that left her hopelessly planted on the Salmon matchwinner.

So all the same issues we’ve been seeing, as the Thorns drifted lower and slower, hoping for a way through the clouds only to hit the rock wall.

Some of the issues last Friday were pure individual error, and we’ll talk about those in the comments.

But as a team this group looks disorganized, looks like their confidence is shaken, and people seem to be looking around for ways to escape blame for losing instead of ways to work together to win.

There are clear problems with tactics, organization, and matchday management. Those are coaching problems, and will need the coach’s hand to fix them.

We’ll talk about that in a bit, too.

Short Passes

The Thorns 74.1% completion was an order of magnitude better than Houston’s 67.1%.

Of the total of 301 total passes per OPTA the Thorns attempted a total of 116 “attacking” passes, which I defined as a pass that was:

  • Intended to move the run of play towards the opposing goal; included lateral passes or drops if they were designed to put the receiver in an improved tactical position. Note that this meant that
  • A drop or a square pass that was purely to play out of traffic or to switch fields didn’t count; it had to be part of an actual attack, and the pass
  • Was either made within the attacking half or was completed across the midfield stripe.

I counted 70 in the first half, 46 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 35%; 26 (~37%) in the first half, 15 (~32%) in the second. I think that 50% is probably pretty good for these “attacking” passes, but like the three preceding games the Thorns are still typically below 40%, so still having trouble connecting in the final third

You get that from Arielle Dror’s passing plot for the first hour:

Notice that Smith is an island; ABell4 pointed out that the main reasons were that 1) she was passing poorly, so didn’t connect going out, and 2) was typically smothered so either had the pass picked off or was immediately stripped when the ball came in.

Everything’s going out wide, but almost nothing’s coming back into the goal.

Like I said; disorganized.

Here’s Houston:

That’s just brutal; ugly and unbalanced as can be. Neither of the goalscorers is connected to their midfield, and the midfield is all over the place. That was what was one of the infuriating things about this match. Houston wasn’t that good, Portland wasn’t that bad…but the Thorns found just enough ways to make critical mistakes to lose to these jokers.

Corner Kicks

Six total, five in the first half, one in the second, all long

1′KlingenbergLongInto the scrum and cleared for another corner
2′CoffeyLongAll the way over to Weaver at the far post, but a handball and turnover.
14′CoffeyLongTo Weaver again. Her header went wide, but was dropped back to her; Weaver tried a square pass to Nally, but Salmon stepped into the pass and took off
15′CoffeyLongInto the scrum, headed clear, recycled, cleared again for a throw-in
31′KlingenbergLongGot to Smith, but her weak header went right to Jane Campbell
73′ CoffeyLongInto the pack and cleared

The 14th minute effort produced an unholy mess like the 61st minute corner in Cary, where a defender’s error launched a dangerous counterattack. Otherwise, nothing.


Fifth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

The Thorns took a total of 31 throw-ins over 90+ minutes in Houston; 17 in the first half, 14 in the second.

Of these, eight – about 26% – resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Eight more were poorly taken and went against Portland, and the other 15 – roughly 48% – were just neutral, neither advantageous nor distressing.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage LostNeutral

The Houston game here still looks like an outlier, with much fewer “neutral” throws that any of the others. After several slightly-better-positive throw-in games this one regressed to the lots-of-neutral-throws we saw against Louisville. I’m not sure we’re seeing a pattern yet.

I did keep track of the opponents throw-ins for this one, just out of curiosity. Houston took 22 total throw-ins (10 first half, 12 second). They gained an advantage on four of them (18%), lost position on seven (~32%) and got nothing out of the other 11 of them (50%).

Kind of fits, though; Houston’s not good, and they’re not really good at throw-ins, either.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+4/-2 : +5/-5 : +9/-7) Sophia Smith looked tired and beat-up and not particularly sharp, frankly; six of her seven minuses are for poor passes, heavy touches, or misplays that turned the ball over.

Everyone can have a bad day, and as noted, Koroleva’s idea of pro wrestling doesn’t help a skill player like Smith.

Dunn (+4/-5 : +8/-3 : +12/-8) From the opening whistle to the restart Dunn was spraying random passes all the hell over South Houston, and her good work didn’t make up for that. For some reason she pulled her head out in the second just as, unfortunately, her teammates were going completely to hell – though you were doping off when Joelle Anderson snuck in behind you to pot the equalizer. Sometime the bear gets you. Good match on the whole on a tough day.

Weaver (71′ – +5/-2 : +3/-1 : +8/-3) Girlfriend, let’s talk…

You get a free header?

You gotta get UP and head that sucker DOWN. You’re a heck of a big-boned gal from southern Eastern Washington. That was right at the stroke of halftime – 40+5′. You sink that one you send Houston off down two goals and hangin’ low.

Just sayin’.

Other than that, all your usual good hard work and Chaos Muppetry. Subtlety is not in you, but energy and aggression is, and was.

Leon (19′ – no rating) Had a sweet little run onto a Smith through-ball in the 82nd minute but was caught offside by the Houston backline’s discipline. Give them this; the orange wenches can run an offside trap.

Moultrie (77′ – +6/-2 : +2/-0 : +8/-2) My pick for Woman of the Match. Sweet, sweetly precise service on the Rodriguez goal, lots of good marking and pressing (when the Thorns were pressing…) and in general helped make the midfield look solid for as long as it did.

D’Aquila (13′ – +4/-1) I really like what I see from this player, and I kind of wish we’d see more…but we just might, and when we need her to explode in a Queen Midge sort of way. Can she? She looks like she’s got pace and smarts and a dangerous nose for goal. I hope so.

Rodriguez (60′ – +3/-3 : +1/-2 : +4/-5) I’d like to have seen her a bit more involved, but Dunn was kind of all over the place and didn’t leave Rocky a lot. Well struck goal after a smart off-the-shoulder run. I’m hoping her knock isn’t serious, but there’s nothing from the club or on her socials.

But the act of her substitution was a problem in itself, which we’ll discuss.

Sinclair (30′ – +1/-1)

For God’s sake.

This is destroying your legacy. If you can’t see that, someone who cares about you needs to tell you that.

Coffey (70′ – +4/-0 : +2/-0 : +6/-0) Not really at fault on this mess; tough tackling and marking, good pressing, and clean on the ball. Excellent match when her team was struggling.

Porter (20′ – +0/-3) The only reason I can think of is that Coffey was having a pulmonary embolism.

Kuikka (+6/-0 : +3/-4 : +9/-4) On a night the Thorns backline will want to forget Natu was perhaps the most solid of the backs, and that was with Sanchez to deal with. Not errorless, but generally staunch in defense and passed forward well – her minuses are all defensive positioning issues as the scrambling started late in the game.

Hubly (+1/-8 : +3/-5 : +4/-13) Okay, here we go. This is where things get ugly.

Hubs, you were a hot mess out there, woman. Houston owned you like a box of Cap’n Crunch. Of your minuses only four were long mis-hit passes; the others were for positioning, marking, tackling, and anticipation. Possibly the most embarrassing was in the 40th minute when Tiffany Salmon skinned you three times – three times! – in succession.

I’m not sure what to say. We need you. We’re going to need you more soon; Menges is breakable, Sauerbrunn is going to be gone all summer, and Nally and Provenzano are deep depth.

But we need you to be better than this.

Nally (+1/-1 : +2/-3 : +3/-4) This…

…is gonna stay with you…

…a long, long time…

You’re not a natural center back, and you’re a depth piece. It’s punitive to throw you out without a midfield to protect you against a player the likes of Salmon. Might as well ask you to defend Sam Kerr 1v1. That’s just shitty.

I know a lot of people are blaming you for this game. But you can’t be blamed for being something you’re not; it’s those who put you where that was brutally exposed who are to blame.

Klingenberg (77′ – +7/-7 : +2/-4 : +9/-11) So. Two things:

You have GOT to quit knocking passes to the other team. Eight of your minuses are for turnovers, and some were appalling (your pass directly to Salmon began The Pwning of The Hubly I just described – shame on you, she’s your bestie!).

You also cannot run with Michelle Alozie. Ever. Not if you had a tailwind and a fifty-yard headstart. If you’re gonna play against her you gotta get help, or cheat, or foul, or something. But mostly you need a gaffer who can see that and get you outta there before Alozie skins you down to your skivvies.

Reyes (13′ – +4/-1) See above. Reyna Reyes put in a good almost-quarter-hour, and should have been in much sooner, as soon as it was obvious that Kling was a toy to be spun by the speedy daughter of Niger.

Bixby (+0/-0 : +0/-4 : +0/-4) Troubling.

I’m pretty critical on keepers, so I think Bixby should have been able to hold the Salmon cross on the Anderson goal, but I have to grudgingly admit that it was hot as hellfire and that the parry might have been all she could do. Your defense let you down.

And the Salmon goal…1v0, close range, a cross lurking, all your defenders beat?

Here’s the thing, though. In a moment like that, you’ve gotta give it all. Even when it’s hopeless, you gotta dive. Show your teammates you’re gonna wreck yourself to save that shot.

I’m worried about where your head is right now.

Coach Norris: Well, coach, y’kinda shit the bed, eh, marra?

Things started well, with an upgraded midfield and some good cracks at goal and an early lead. Then the game went completely to hell, and largely because of decisions you made.

First, the team started looking gassed about 38 minutes. My notes show Houston with dangerous attacks in the 39th, 40th, and 45+2 minutes, then as the second half opened in the 50th – twice – and the 51st.

Rodriguez came off the field at 57:34. Your club played 10 v 11 for over a minute as whatever was going on was going on – mind, given the first ten minutes after the restart you should have had substitutes warming up from the whistle – until the goal in the 59th minute and the Sinclair sub in the 60th.

And…Sinc? Seriously? In the fetid swamps of Houston? Against young beasts like Sanchez and Alozie and Salmon? She’s barely mobile under ideal conditions.

We’ve talked about Kling. Porter for Coffey? Leon for Weaver? I used to piss and moan about Mark Parsons’ subs not making sense, but this is just gibberish.


The two matches leading up to this you let your squad fuck around. This time they and you found out.


The next match is Chicago here. Chicago is a trainwreck carrying a flaming dumpster fire that’s going over a cliff.

You have one job; you need to send your team out to wreck Chicago.

Thump them. Whip them. Drive them before you and hear the lamentations of those women.

This team needs a dominating win to get some confidence back. You need to figure out how to make that happen.

Then we’ll see about the next steps for this season.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

9 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Crash

  1. Dash Game
    Nice analysis John. The Thorns were the better team but were unlucky, disorganized and the substitutions were not helpful. I try to be optimistic, but as you would say the good things were a lot of Deer Track stew.
    Dunn has improved back to her pre-2020 level in a lot of ways, but there were a lot of missed passes. Weaver has improved so much this year but at 5’10” she needs better technique on headers. When she missed that I could see she was really pissed at herself. She had a few minutes earlier given Liv some scolding for taking a less certain shot when she was wide open, but after she missed on the dime Liv put on her head, she let her know it was a great pass and she knew she screwed up. By the way I would not trade Weaver for Balcer. Morgan Weaver does a lot of things good and I would argue that outside of Lynn Williams there is not another forward in NWSL that plays better defense.
    The back line made some mistakes, yes and it is a shame that the best Center Back not named Sauerbrunn on the team is Natu, that is where she plays on the Finish National team. If Mengis doesn’t get healthy, I think they need to put Natu there and play Reyes and McGrady (when healthy) as fullbacks. I don’t know if she would be willing to do that because she is a very good fullback and seems to have fun crashing forward.
    I agree with you that DAquila needs to play more minutes. She looks fast, aggressive and a good decision maker. Plus, she is a header threat, only 5’7” but a great athlete with some hops.
    I am a big fan of Sinclair, but everything you said was fair. She started this year like a freight train, but the Houston game was not a great place for her to come in and change the trajectory.
    I am just hoping the Chicago game helps them right the ship.

    1. As I hope I made clear in the post; I think that most, if not nearly all, of this is a coaching/management solution. It’s not on Nally to suddenly be Menges or Sauerbrunn; it’s on the FO to – if Menges and Sauerbrunn aren’t fit, to find a better solution. Kuikka at CB, Reyes at RB? Fine! But that’s on the coaches, not on the players.

  2. I have been getting this message lately from Kapersky. Any ideas?

    Visiting an untrustworthy website has been prevented

    One or more of this website’s certificates are invalid, so we can’t guarantee its authenticity. This happens when the website’s owner hasn’t updated the certificate in time, or if it’s a fake site created by scammers. Visiting a website like this makes you more vulnerable to attack.

    You were protected from visiting this website by Kaspersky security. You can close this window with no risk.

    Hide details

    Detected at: 5/15/2023 5:37:45 PM


    Reason: This certificate or one of the certificates in the certificate chain is not up to date. View certificate

    I understand the risks and wish to continue

    I have been ignoring it but there is part of me that is nervous about messing with the Russians.

    1. I laugh at the Russians! Ukraine forever!

      Kidding aside, I got the same thing yesterday when I went to the site. I’m fully paid up, I’ve got the “Jetpack” thing running that’s supposed to be the security tool, so I’m not sure what’s wrong, but I’m trying to get in touch with WordPress to find out WTF. I’ll fix whatever the issue is.

    2. Should be fixed. Got an email today from the site host that they needed to jerk another fifteen bucks out of my pocket (after just having paid the fucking $400 hosting fee, mind..!). I hit the greedy bastards in the palm, so it should be okay now.

  3. From Bill Cornett via e-mail:

    “Didn’t catch the Friday game, so it was interesting to see your breakdown after sifting through the Stumptown cacophony. Informative, and Oh Geez! that passing chart. It looks like a PacMan chasing a sand grain Sophia Smith.

    Reyes comment—Nigeria typo.” (Note: intentional, from the root of the country name, the Niger River)

    “I’ve been watching games and pondering, and see much of what everyone else sees. I think it’s futile to stew over Sinclair…. the decision is obvious, but that dog don’ hunt. Dollars to maple bars she starts Sunday.

    Concur on Bixby not looking right. If she derps Sunday and Hogan waxes the next Challenge Cup match, you gotta wonder. On the other hand, the coach is no E. B. Farnum. Bold is not his middle name.

    At least this happened over the weekend: Lussi 1 Reign 0. I’m simple and easily pleased when good news arrives in sleeveless form from over the horizon.”

    1. I really have no sense of Norris as a roster manager. His matchday management seems iffy in terms of subs and formations – I’d have already tried a 4-4-2 to try and get more power in midfield – but unsure how he’ll respond in “big picture” terms. Agree there’s no solution to Sinc; so long as she wants to play she’ll start. Sigh.

      Seattle is a puzzlement, too. The roster is stacked, but they seem to fold at just the wrong times.


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