Thorns FC: Turn and Turnabout

There are draws that feel like losses.

There are draws that feel like wins.

And, apparently, there are draws that feel like both, which is the way I felt about the 1-1 draw that Portland and San Diego thrashed out last Friday.

For about 86 minutes and change the Thorns pounded on San Diego’s doors like the hammers of Hell, while the Wave sort of faffed around, bunkered deeper than a gang of doomsday preppers…

…huddling around their own goal (shit, practically in it; it was worth the price of admission to hear the Paramount announcers thrash them for cowering in the shadow of their own crossbar), only occasionally sending a big ol’ Route One long ball into the Portland end.

That’s what Casey Stoney’s people do, and when it happened early in the game – like here, in the 13th minute – the Thorns backline was obviously briefed and ready for it:

Everybody’s got a mark (well, except for Reyna Reyes, who’s cheating in a bit) but when Kailen Sheridan puts the boot to it…

…Emily Menges drops back, Reyes moves out wide to cover Alex Morgan, and Natalia Kuikka and Kelli Hubly have Sofia Jakobsson smothered. The ball drops to Morgan…

…and so does Reyes, heading safely away. Nice. Disciplined, organized. That’s the sort of backline play we’ve been looking for, right?

Meanwhile at the other end the Thorns were going utterly batshit.

Morgan Weaver cracked a shot in the 2nd minute. Smith in the 3rd. Smith rang the crossbar in the 5th. After a spell of better San Diego possession between the 12th and 20th minutes in the 25th minute Sam Coffey dimed Hina Sugita at the back post for the lay-up…

…but Sheridan stuck out a boot and kick-saved it away.

That damn low block is a nightmare. It’s like trying to break down a door with your forehead, and Stoney’s block is the lowest of the low.

As you can see above, the Thorns put up 1.94xG in this match…but Chris Henderson’s post-shot xG number was only 1.2, meaning that for all that the Thorns were getting looks…they weren’t very good looks. At the half the Thorns had 12 shots.

One on frame.

It was a very weird sort of dominance. For about something like 80+ minutes the only way forward for San Diego was when a Thorn coughed the ball up.

Mind you…they did that. A lot. Remember that “spell of better possession” in the first half? It was because:
Hubly turned over in the 5th minute.
And the 10th minute.
Reyes turned over in the 12th minute.
Dunn in the 14th minute.
Coffey in the 15th.

Provided the Thorns were tidy on the ball, though?

San Diego got nothing.

Here’s the thing with Portland’s backline this season, though. There always seems to be a miscommunication or fuckup lurking there somewhere. It’s usually not gross, but…well, here’s San Diego in possession down the Thorns right defensive third in the 15th minute.

Jakobsson is in possession, with Kuikka doing well to front her up. Kristen McNabb is running the touchline for the overlap, but Dunn is pacing with her. So far so good, right?

But as McNabb blows past Jakobsson Kuikka does a funny thing; she retreats alongside McNabb as if Dunn weren’t there. And Dunn, possibly thinking that Kuikka wants her to switch up, curls inside.

So who’s got Jakobsson?

Well…nobody! She’s got a free run into the 18; luckily for Portland she just hoofed a long boot right at Bixby.

But see what I mean? This little shit just seems to be there, right under the surface, waiting for someone to seriously derp or a smart opponent to exploit it.

In the second half San Diego kept doing what San Diego does – what they’d been doing all game, lobbing Route One long – but the difference was that instead of little individual brainfarts whole pieces of the Thorns backline began – occasionally and randomly – to switch off.

The backs had been playing a crazy high line all game which, given the SDW bunker, wasn’t unreasonable. But the thing about that is that if you do that you can’t switch off. Ever. Not once.

You’ve got to either be sure you’ve got the offside trap locked down, or you’ve got to have your head on a swivel eyeing where exactly every enemy forward is and moving like lightning when they bolt for it so they don’t get in behind you.

For most of the game the Thorns defenders did just that. But after the break – tired? bored? just braincramping? – one or two Thorns defenders would go walkabout when San Diego made a perfect Route One rainbow and things would go completely to hell.

Sheridan hoofed another rainbow up to Morgan in the 49th minute, and…

…Alex Morgan – who had slipped behind Hubly and Kuikka – was kept onside by Menges who was fixated on Rachel Hill and not paying attention to what Morgan was doing enough to step up and pull her offside.

Morgan boltered off towards Bella Bixby, but Menges bailed her and the backline out with a perfect 2017esque tackle, so that one was averted.


The damn San Diegans kept at it.

Sheridan tried again in the 61st minute. Jakobsson made a long run in the 70th minute.

After the 74th minute the pressure started coming harder and faster; Taylor Korneick found Alex Morgan in the 74th minute but Bixby stoned her. Menges turned over a minute later, but Bixby boxed Jakobsson’s cross safely away. In the 81st Sheridan tried the long rainbow to Korneick to flick on to Morgan, but Kuikka nicked the ball off her feet.

Then in the 86th minute Kuikka turned over to Madison Pogarch. Po found Jaedyn Shaw who spotted Korneick running through the backline…

…and threaded a – admittedly great! – pass up to her. Reyes had missed the run and Jakobsson was on a tear.

With Reyes beat it was up to Emily Menges to either play the pass or mark the runner. Instead, Menges did neither, weirdly turning the wrong way and letting Jakobsson in 1v0 on Bixby.

Who came hard and strong, got big, and blocked the shot…

…which, with the peculiar cruelty that is sewn into all soccer balls, bounced right back to Jakobsson.

Menges and Reyes had both overrun her, giving her time to settle and pot the ball easily into the net for the matchwinner.

Well, shit.


Because three minutes later the Thorns – refusing to hang their heads – pushed up, found Izzy D’Aquila (who’d come on that same minute) in possession outside the Wave eighteen.

D’Aquila slid a pass to Michelle Vasconcelos who found Sophia Smith who was for once unmarked along the edge of the box; Smith’s hard drive clanked off Sheridan for a corner.

Sam Coffey raised her arm, sent the drive to the back post where Reyna Reyes called Hubly off, got up high, and nodded the service home to steal the point.


This one was all over the place; lots of good – passing, movement, attacking flair, discipline (for much of the game) – with some frustrating lapses at just the wrong times.

It felt like the Thorns should have taken all three…but it also felt like they might just as easily have left with nothing.

Turn, turnabout…it was exciting, more exciting than a for-86-minutes-scoreless-draw that I’ve ever seen, anyway.

But let’s not do that in Seattle this coming weekend, okay?

Let’s stomp those #%!#$!#s and get on the bus.

Short Passes

Portland with almost 80% completion was much better than San Diego, whose 72% was a big factor in their piss-poor attack. Much as I complained that Portland turned the ball over a lot, that was because a fair number of those were in their own defensive half. The Wave couldn’t connect going forward, so they killed off their own buildup as often as not.

Of the total of 457 total passes per OPTA the Thorns attempted a total of 102 “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.

About 56 in the first half, and 46 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 68%; 34 (60.7%) in the first half, 35 (76%) in the second.

That’s outstanding, and it just points up what a great job Portland was doing going forward

Unfortunately life got in Arielle Dror’s way, so we don’t have her good passing charts. But you pretty much know what the Thorns did. Here’s just Coffey, for example:

Here’s her San Diego counterpart, Danielle Colaprico:

Like night and day, innit?

Corner Kicks

Ten. Seven first half, three second, all long into the box, all Coffey.

2′CoffeyLongHeaded clear, recycled, eventually fell to Weaver, whose strong shot was blocked out for another corner
3′CoffeyLongHeaded out for an third in a row
3′CoffeyLongInto the scrum, headed clear, recycled twice, finally Smith put a weak shot in that Sheridan scooped up
27′CoffeyLongHeaded out for another corner
27′CoffeyLongWay over to Reyes, recycled, tried a through ball to Weaver who was offside
32′CoffeyLongInto the scrum but went all the way through for a goal kick
39′CoffeyLongDimed Sinclair, who nodded a nice centering header that unfortunately took Hubly on the knee and Hubs bonked it over the crossbar
69′CoffeyLongDimed Hubly this time, but her header went right at Sheridan, who ain’t gonna ship that shit.
79′CoffeyLongHeaded clear, recycled, but Weaver knocked the pass right to San Diego
90′CoffeyLongReyes for the equalizer, 1-1!

Pretty decent; the 39′ Sinc header was a good idea that just went a bit the wrong way, and the Hubly header was the same, and of course Reyes, so call it 30% good looks and 10% conversion and that’s boss as hell. Well done, Sam & Co.


Seventh full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

The Thorns took a total of 18 throw-ins over 90+ minutes; 12 in the first half, only six in the second, only one more than the match against Chicago here, where the Red Stars were unable to do much to disrupt Portland’s passing and give up throws. San Diego had one more; 13 in the first half, six in the second.

Of Portland’s 18, seven – about 39% – resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position – that’s outstanding, matching the overall good attack we had. Four (22%) poorly taken and went against Portland. The other 39% were just neutral.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage LostNeutral
San Diego39%22%39%

San Diego did pretty well with throws, too, though: 12 of 19 (63%) were positive. Their “bad” throw percentage – 26% – was about the same as Portland’s, and the neutral throws were shockingly few – only 11%.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+9/-3 : +5/-4 : +14/-7) Sophia Smith looks like she needs to break her duck. She’s playing frustrated, making poor decisions – dribbling into traffic, missing open teammates – and taking low percentage shots.

A huge part of this is that she 1) draws an incredible amount of “attention” from defenders, which also means she 2) gets drilled. A LOT.

This is frustrating not just for me as a Smith and Thorns fan but also because I don’t go to watch some thick-necked centerback lay a wrestling move on one of the league’s most entertaining skill players. I know PRO better than to think they’ll do anything about that – shit, it took about half a dozen brutally crude fouls to earn Korneick nothing more than a yellow last Friday – but it’s still frustrating.

Sugita (77′ – +7/-2 : +4/-0 : +11/-2) I still think Sugita is wasted out at right wing, but I might as well stop beating that taiko drum. She’s doing good work out there, and Norris isn’t going to move her. Unlucky not to get the opener, but that was a hell of a save by Sheridan.

Vasconcelos (13′ – +5/-4) 1) Michelle Vasconcelos is not as good as Sugita, Hina-san didn’t look gassed, so I’m not sure why Norris made this sub. Vasconcelos also was a turnover machine.
2) OTOH, Vasconcelos was a big part of the equalizer. So.

I’m still not sold on her as an “automatic” late match sub, which seems to be Norris’ pattern. But she did well enough in this one, so, shabash, MV.

Weaver (+8/-2 : +9/-4 : +17/-6) Morgan Weaver had three goals in the first five games this season.

She’s had none in the last four.

I love her energy, I love the chaos she wreaks on opponent backlines. One thing I loved about her in San Diego was she was forechecking like a madwoman. She damn near forced turnovers off Sheridan – twice!

But if she’s gonna be a winger a big part of her job is scoring.

Sinclair (66′ – +4/-2 : +2/-2 : +6/4) What can I say? That she wasn’t the problem? Okay, she wasn’t the problem.

Here’s what Mike Norris said about his choice to start Sinclair: “We knew the match wasn’t gonna be won in the first 30 minutes. We looked for a bit of control and a bit of experience to start out. It was a tough choice.”

But the thing we saw was that the match could have been won – in the first 15 minutes! Would having a tiny bit more energy, more mobility, more involvement have helped?

The bottom line is that Sinclair just isn’t really starting quality anymore, but she’s gonna start, and we’re going to have to accept that. I don’t agree with that, but that’s how it’s going to be.

Moultrie (24′ – +5/-1) See above. Good shift, just not her or her club’s night.

Dunn (89′ – +3/-1 : +9/ -2 : +12/-3) Weirdly, as her teammates were running riot in the first half Dunn was struggling to make herself felt. When things settled down and San Diego worked back into the second half? Dunn was all over the place. Like her teammates, lots of good work, not much for it.

D’Aquila (1′ – no rating)

Coffey (+9/-2 : +6/-0 : +15/-2) See the passing chart above. Excellent match, and a legit contender for Woman of the Match.

Reyes (+16/-4 : +5/-3 : +23/-7) Not just for the goal, but a ton of great defending, clever passing, and a hell of a match overall from the player we were treating like a pariah for a rookie error a handful of weeks ago. Woman of the Match for me, just for doing so damn well after that horrific debut.

Hubly (+3/-5 : +5/-2 : +8/-7) FFS, Hubs, quit passing the ball to the other people! You know better than that!

Not a great match; of the backline our centerbacks were the most troubled. Did “okay” marking and positioning, but that’s a pretty low bar, and the crap passing was really irking. Hubly is reminding me of Sonnett, who I used to thrash for making rookie mistakes year after year. Centerbacks don’t have to be brilliant. They have to be sturdy and reliable, and it’s time to see some more of that, K?

Menges (+2/-0 : +6/-3 : +9/-3) See the Hubly comment, with the addition that you’re the veteran leader with Sauerbrunn out. All those little derps and switches-off? Your job is to slap your defenders upside the head when they do that shit…which means you can’t do it, either, and when they do it’s on your to get them to get their shit together.

Kuikka (+7/-3 : +8/-4 : +15/-7) Our Hakkapellita and her Swedish enemy Jakobsson refought the Great Northern War along the San Diego touchline and it was fucking epic.

The Finnish cavalrywoman is by “Ironlily” on Twitter:

And I think – despite the goal – that Natu got the better of it, and that’s saying something; Jakobsson is an utter beast and I’d love to have her here.

Bixby (+1/-0 : +4/-1 : +5/-1) Did everything possible on the concession; her backline simply let her down and the ball took a miserable bounce.

Remember the criticism of her flapping at a high cross and missing it against Chicago? Well, Angerer must have said something to her, too, because Bicby had some sweet boxed clearances in the 61st and 76th minutes. Great save in the 74th minute, too.

Coach Norris: Well…we got the road point.

This must have been frustrating for you, too. The team played about 86 minutes of solid defense and swarmed the Wave like an army of pizza rats mad for the stuffed crust special at Domino’s. This might well have been one of the best matches in general that this club has played this year.

But turnabout is fair play, and nobody said this game was fair. So for all that good work nothing but a single point, and still in second behind Gotham.

I’m still not really sold on your rosters and substitutions. As I said; Sinc wasn’t the problem…but she’s still A problem.

There’s a whole bunch of people on your bench who are doing nothing like Beckman and Provenzano who may well have to step up when the planeload of internationals are gone in July, and will not have more than garbage minutes before then. Why aren’t we seeing more of them?

Well…this coming weekend we have to go to the damn Clink and play the damn Damndelions, and we’ve got another boss battle on your hands.

What’re you going to do with it?

Don’t look at me; I’m just a hippo in the shark section. You’re the man, you figure it out.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

3 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Turn and Turnabout

  1. Thanks for all of your analysis on this wacky one, John!

    I’m curious what your opinion is on something….

    Beyond the tragedy of Menges in that NCC game, how have you rated her since? Getting better? Worse?

    Specifically, how do you judge her performances against Hubly’s? Hubly has been pretty questionable for me the last several games, if I’m honest. I’m quite curious what happens when Brunn comes back, which seems to be quite soon. I know Menges hasn’t been amazing either, but does Menges beat out Hubly for the start next to Brunn? Does Hubly retain that despite her up and down form?

    Very curious who you think will sit next to Brunn when she’s back since you’ve marinated in the stats more than I have and may have more clarity…

    1. On Menges:
      1) She’s been really quite poor this season, poor as in “I’ve never seen her like this” poor. I’m not sure if it’s mental or physical, but she’s making a LOT of errors defensively which was usually her strength. Possibly fallout from L‘Affaire Mengison? Dunno.
      2) But…for the record, I’m not terrifically high on Sauerbrunn, either! She’s the best of the CBs but she’s been a lot less reliable that I’d hoped, and her “leadership” doesn’t seem to keep her backline disciplined or organized. I’m fine with her, but I’m not on the “Help us, Obi-Wan Kenbecky! You’re our only hope!” shuttlecraft, either.
      3) Plus as last night reminded us, this club has issues especially when playing from a lead. Chris Rifer over on Twitter makes a good point; there’s issues with the way Norris has the FBs pushing up and the MF not covering even when all that’s needed is to keep things tight at the back. So it’s not just a CB problem, it’s a Thorns defensive organization problem.
      4) That said…the problem Norris has is:
      4a) Sauerbrunn is the “stay home” CB. That means the whoever he plays alongside has got to be pacey, AND tactically engaged as well as a good passer – the “other” CB is going to be the one starting the movement out of the back.
      4b) Menges is still faster than Hubly, but not nearly as much as she used to, while
      4c) Hubly has been reverting to the “high risk/high reward” player she used to be.
      4d) Both have tended to turn the ball over more than they should be doing, as well as switching off an inopportune moments

      So…I don’t think it’s really so much a question of Menges v Hubly but a larger, defensive coaching/organization change. The FBs and MF need to tighten up, especially when defending a lead. The CBs need to be switched on all game.

      For that I think Menges is the better option…if she’s not having some sort of headspace issues or still fighting off a knock. I can’t tell that from the stands, or even from her metrics; only her coaches seeing her every day in training can.

      But we need to be strapped down hard for Seattle this weekend.

      1. Thanks for that in-depth opinion!

        I agree that overall, it’s the formation and tactics that are kinda making everyone look worse. After seeing this past OLR game, it appears Norris has adjusted a bit. The midfielders did seem to sit a little deeper, which definitely made Coffey and the defense function better than they have been. Curious to see if this continues and how it improves the defense’s ability to do their jobs…

        I am pleased that Menges seems to be improving a little bit every game, and I’m interested to see how she does over the WC window. Very curious to see if she performs well enough to overtake Hubly for that #2 spot, whenever Brunn returns (after WC)…


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