Thorns FC: Long Time Comin’

Last Saturday’s 0-2 win at Lumen (“It’ll Always Be The Clink”) Field was the first away win in Seattle since August 26th, 2017.

It was the first Portland win over Seattle since September 15, 2018 (that season’s home semifinal). The following three seasons (if we skip over the tasty beating in Utah’s 2020 COVID Cup…) were a dreary procession of losses (five) and draws (three).

Seattle had a justifiable cockiness in assuming that the Reign could hold service even after a midweek match – their record shouted it. Even missing Jessica Fishlock in midfield, Laura Harvey’s troops must have felt pretty good running out onto the Lumen turf that afternoon.


There’s no Portland drink as sweet as a deep draft of bitter Seattle tears.

I got caught up in real life on Saturday, so I got to see only bits and pieces of the match. My impression was, as I said in the comments at Stumptown;

“What I did see was both impressive and occasionally nail-bitey. Lots of great passing…and the occasional scarey giveaway. Tons of great pressing and forechecking. Bixby coming up big several times…this looked like an outstanding performance, and against a good opponent. I’m stoked to be able to sit and watch the whole thing, but even more to see a solid win where we’ve often struggled.”

Match Recap & Highlights, 6/3/23

So I sat down to watch tape with real anticipation.

Now that I have? I’ve a couple more things to add.

This might well have been the most complete match this Thorns squad has played to date. Chris Rifer put it very well:

Yes. The Thorns weathered a nervy first half hour (be patient, we’ll get there…) and went up on a frankly weird long-range Sophia Smith seeing-eye shot, notable for two things:

  1. How the hell this gets past Tullis-Joyce I have no fucking idea. I think it goes through someone’s legs, so there’s that, and it had some pace, but, still…I’ll betcha that doesn’t go in more than one time in ten attempts. And
  2. Notice the crowd in front of Smith? Yeah. That was pretty much all match; Harvey clearly told her defenders to stick to Smith like a coat of paint. Didn’t help much, but Smith had that in her face all game.

The performance extended to the matchday mangement; Mike Norris’ substitutions were timely and effective. Particularly Christine Sinclair for Olivia Moultrie and Becky Sauerbrunn for Emily Menges in the 67th minute.

Moultrie had been struggling to find a way back into the match in the second half, and Menges, while still effective, was starting to show signs of wear, and – more importantly – the Reign were starting to find their way back into the match.

OL-B had nothing in the first half hour; good pressure on the ball but nothing dangerous in front of goal.

But in the 37th minute Elise Bennett skinned Menges, who was woolgathering as Emily Sonnett teed up the ball…

…but with the goal in front of her Bennett missed wide left.

Rapinoe turned on a missed Natalia Kuikka tackle less than a minute later and fed Bennett, who missed again.

In the 38th minute Rapinoe gathered in a rainbow, crossed in to (guess who?) Bennett, who’d got behind a ballwatching Menges…but Bennett (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) crunched a spastic header that missed wide right.

(Bennett ended with four shots, none on goal. Tire, meet fire.)

The Reign continued this harassment after the restart. In the 56th minute Sofia Huerta found Rapinoe again with a long crossfield pass and that found Kuikka a bit too far off her mark, but Bella Bixby made a strong save on ‘Pinoe’s good shot.

Four minutes later Sonnett crossed to substitute Jordyn Huitema. Huitema beat Menges soundly but fired wide right.

Once Sauerbrunn and Sinclair entered?

The OL Reserves had nothing again.

Seriously; my notepad is blank of Seattle actions from the 67th until the 95th minute.

Perhaps the best example of how the Thorns killed this one off in the late minutes is summed up in my notes like this:

“80:58. Bennett long cross, Reyes gain – pass to Dunn – pass to Coffey – drop to Hubly – square to ‘Brunn – square to Hubly – pass to Coffey – loop to Reyes – pass to Dunn – pass to Sugita – drop to Reyes – square to Coffey – pass up to Smith, good run but turns over trying to pass out wide to Weaver, 81:35.”

That’s a minute and a half of nothing but solid, patient, possession football, and the turnover was unlucky – a trifle less angle and it’d have allowed Weaver to attack. This wasn’t time wasting; this was a team playing within themselves looking for good opportunities and the main chance.

Like I said; this was goddamn good soccer.

Mind you, it helped that Seattle was rubbish; toothless in front of goal and a mess in back. Henderson’s xG/Post-Shot xG chart shows that perfectly:

Note the difference between the two values – the PSxG (a better metric for a single match) is roughly similar for Portland, suggesting that they made the shots they got, while Seattle’s is barely a third of their raw xG. Harvey said afterwards they the Reign had looks but didn’t finish, and the metrics bear that out.

And in back? Take a look at the Reign backline on Sinclair’s goal:

What are all those Seattle loafers doing back there? Not closing down Sinclair, that’s for sure. Part of that is Weaver and Hina Sugita and Reyna Reyes doing good work drawing defenders, but a lot of that is the Reign midfield and backline just lacking organization and faffing about uselessly. I’ll bet that Jess Fishlock might have helped there, but we’ll never know.

And it doesn’t matter now, anyway. The win’s in the books, the Thorns are back top of table (yes, yes, on goal differential over San Diego. Fuckit. Top is top) and now have a string on the road as the glow of the bonfire in Seattle fades into ashes.

Short Passes

Neither club was tearing things up; Portland’s 75.4% completion was better than Seattle’s 71.6, but not much. Here’s Arielle Dror’s passing chart for Portland in the first hour:


The attack looks bifurcated; on the left Meghan Klingenberg is feeding Weaver, on the right Dunn and Sugita – whose “heat maps” virtually overlap, suggesting that they were again swapping positions – are feeding Smith.

Sam Coffey is switching from side to side, but little involved in the attack (which matches my PMRs; of her 12 pluses only two are for impactful (meaning “forward”) passes…).

Here’s Seattle:

Megan Rapinoe was a beast, and she, Huerta, and Bennett were linking up all across the pitch. Luckily for Portland Quinn had a terrible match, Balcer was ineffective locked back near midfield, and Veronica Latsko was just utterly ineffective, period, and the Reign were useless in front of net.

Good work from Portland and an off day from Seattle, then.

Of the total of 488 total passes (per OPTA) I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of only 78 “attacking” passes (about 16% of the total). I defined these 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 42 in the first half, and 36 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 58%; 24 (57.1%) in the first half, 21 (58.3%) in the second.

The completion percentage is well above the 50% “good attacking” metric – consistent with the eye test – and I think the low number reflected the difference in the two teams’ buildups.

Seattle tended to work the ball around and try long switches and then drop and recycle the ball if the switch didn’t work.

Portland was much more direct; turn the ball over and go forward with it, usually straight up the touchlines.

The difference?

One worked, the other didn’t.

Corner Kicks

Three; all in the first half. Two long into the box, one short.

16′KlingenbergLongTullis-Joyce boxed well clear, recycled into a run of positive play that resulted in the Smith goal
25′CoffeyLongInto the scrum, cleared to Menges, who fed Coffey for a shot that went right at keeper
28′KlingenbergShort…to Smith, whose centering pass Moultrie hit just wide left

Not much there. The short corner was actually a well-thought out play, but Moultrie had to hurry the shot and couldn’t get her hips square.


Eighth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 23 throw-ins over 90+ minutes; 15 in the first half, 18 in the second, Seattle had 21; 8 in the first half, 13 in the second.

Of Portland’s throws, 12 – about 52% – resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position – and that’s outstanding, the best of the matches I’ve tracked.

Six (26%) poorly taken and went against Portland. The other five – about 22% were just neutral.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage LostNeutral
San Diego39%22%39%

Seattle was better, though; 12 of 18 (66%) were effective improving the game state. Only 2 (11%) were turned over, while the remaining 23% were “neutral”.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+10/-1 : +10/-2 : +20/-3) Felt like old times: Woman of the Match, a goal (and what could easily have been a brace had the VAR overruled a veeeery close offside call in the 96th minute.

All her usual hard work; passing, making runs, tearing holes in the Seattle backline…welcome back, Soph. Good to se ya.

Weaver (+5/-3 : +6/-3 : +11/-6) A very Weaverish game.

Terrific energy. Lots of brilliant left-flank runs. Great vision on the feed to Sinclair for the assist.

Lots of heavy first touches, and off-target shots.

This player is a ton of Chaos Muppet fun. If she ever refines her touch and sights in her shooting eye?

Christ, she’ll run the league table like Minnesota Fats.

Sugita (89′ – +5/-1 : +6/-1 : +11/-2) I’ll bet Hina-san wants that 50th minute miss back. Shikata ga nai, Sugita-senshu. Domo for another nice game.

Vasconcelos (1′ – +3/-0) Fresh legs and aggro forechecking to see out the match.

Moultrie (67′ – +8/-2 : +0/-0 : +8/-2) Helped see the midfield through the first half hour but faded out quickly in the late minutes and was gassed by the hour – tired legs from Wednesday? – so as noted above, good substitution, Coach.

Sinclair (23′ – +4/-2) Much better!

This is how you use your aging star. Short late shift, a lead to protect, and a tactical chess match where she can use her experience and anticipation to offset her lack of pace. Are you paying attention, coaching staff?

And the goal? How many times in her career has Sinc teed that shot up? You gonna bet against her burying it?


Dunn (+9/-3 : +5/-3 : +14/-6) So remember back where I said that I saw some scary turnovers? Here’s the toll in the first half:

TimePlayer HowResult
1′KlingenbergTackledNo damage; well defended
3′KlingenbergTackledNothing; Seattle turned back over
4-WeaverBad backpassRapinoe forced good defense out of Hubly
5′CoffeyTackledSonnet got a long shot, but right at Bixby
13′SugitaPoor passLucky bounce right back to Portland
18′SugitaPoor passBrief attack but well defended
22′DunnPoor passRapinoe got off a shot that Bixby had to dive to save and gave up a corner
31′KlingenbergPoor passThat’s what started the play from the screenshot above where Bennett beats Menges and fires wide
34′KuikkaPoor passBennet turned the ball right back over
41′ KuikkaTackledNo harm, Seattle turned back over
42′ KuikkaPoor passSeattle frittered the advantage away
43′ DunnPoor passWell defended, turned back over

I’m not picking on Dunn here…but remember how in the Cup tie Angel City had shit going forward – except when the Thorns turned the ball over?

Okay, well..?

I don’t expect the Thorns to be perfect, and as the passing stats show, Seattle was even less tidy with the ball.

Some of this was poor response to a high press, and some was just pure unforced errors. But here’s the thing – the less of this you do, Thorns, the easier you have it.

Coffey (+5/-5 : +7/-1 : +12/-6) Outstanding defense all match, and the minuses are kind of picky – for example, I dinged Sam Coffey twice for overhitting free kicks just because she’s usually a total machine diming people on setpieces. Good game in general and helped shut down Seattle’s usually dangerous midfield.

Kuikka (70′ – +8/-4 : +4/-1 : +12/5) A week ago Wednesday it was the Great Northern War, Kuikka against Jakobsson. Last Saturday it was the Dour Finn against the Purple-Headed Warrior, Kuikka against Rapinoe.

Call me biased, but I think our hakkapellita came out the better of the two again.

Reyes (20′ – +5/-1) Damn good shift. Picked right up without dropping a stitch. I’m liking this young player the more I see her.

Hubly (+5/-2 : +6/-2 : +11/-4) Solid match; I think it helped that her fullbacks tracked back (and Sam Coffey, Dunn, and Sugita – hell, even Weaver – did a lot of backchecking) and kept Bennett in front of her.

Menges (67′ – +8/-3 : +1/-1 : +9/-4) I know it seemed like I picked on EM a lot, and, yes, she had her moments. But she also played a lot of solid defending, including a critical block on a Rapinoe cross in the 23rd minute. Menges is another player I tend to be picky about simply because she’s been so good it’s almost shocking to see her making common defensive mistakes like ballwatching, almost like she was a normal player. Frankly, I still think that Menges/Sauerbrunn is our top CB pairing.

Sauerbrunn (23′ – +5/-1) I’ve always had a ton of respect for ‘Brunn. But she’s a good defender, not The Living Embodiment of Soccer Awesomeness. I’ve been skeptical of the moaning about how the Thorns defense is falling apart because Bruno has been out with a foot owie. The seemingly endless chorus of “Help us, Becky-Wan Brunnobi, you’re our only hope!” got up my wick like nothing else.

But…boyfuckinghowdy, did she impact this one.

Bringing on Sauerbrunn did everything the moaners said it would; it stabilized the backline, it shut down Seattle’s penetration and crushed their looks at Bixby:

That’s outstanding, and if she keeps this up, I’ll happily give her all the midichlorians. You get some, ‘Brunn.

Klingenberg (+4/-3 : +2/-1 : +6/-4) Solid match though in a minor key; wasn’t asked to go forward as much because Morgan Weaver could receive the ball at midfield and take off running all the way to Lake Washington before anyone could stop her. Sturdy defending, so, overall, fine.

Bixby (+1/-1 : +3/-1 : +4/-2) Brilliant saves off Rapinoe in the 56th minute and Tziarra King in the 95th minute. Wasn’t troubled as much as she might have been if the Reign could have actually put shots on frame, but a good match all the same. The knee tweak was scary because it was the ACL-tear knee. Hope she’s good to go.

Coach Norris: Wasn’t that more fun, marra?

When you use your veterans in ways that maximize their strengths, when you send out a midfield that can help cover your backline, when you sub in people who can maintain or improve your game state? Mind, it helps that your opponent could hit water if they fell out of a boat. But, still…

Well done.

Thanks for this nice present; it’s a delicious treat to beat these wenches.


Next we’ve got Orlando in Orlando and then Chicago in Chicago. Those are six fat points just aching to be reaped.

Go get ’em.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

2 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Long Time Comin’

  1. Nice match report and very upbeat. I watched the game on TV in Germany, but I knew the score when I woke up before I saw the game. I agree there would have been some angst for me if I had watched the game with out knowing the outcome, as Bennet looked very dangerous, but had some major finishing problems. BTW she has a great knack of to make herself available in a dangerous place, but only needs to learn to convert. She is fast and strong. Quinn was very out of sorts in that game. And, of course there was no Fishlock or LaVelle, so…. But Wow! It was a very good performance by all the Thorns. I read the comments in STF and there were a lot of happy campers there too. That is the kind of game that makes me feel very upbeat about the rest of the season, because OL is the one of the two best teams in the league with the Thorns. San Diego will get creamed I think during the WC break and I feel pretty good about our subs.

  2. Thanks for all this work, John!

    Our pass map is really interesting. It IS so bifurcated, and I’m surprised we were more successful than I would have suspected looking at that. It seems like we went from having two 10’s in earlier games, to none at all lol. There is no one occupying that central distributing role, at least in the first 67 minutes. I’m guessing Sinc sat more in that spot when she came in, and is probably likely why she was able to score? OLR may have realized we weren’t trying to go through the middle and abandoned marking up, hence Sinc having so much space on that goal.

    We went from almost TOO attacking in previous games, to a much more defensive formation here. Which, was smart and well-played on Norris for this game, most definitely. I hope he finds a happy medium between the two for more run-of-the-mill games, though. Would love for him to find a way for a central 10 role to be more involved. It’s strange that Crystal and Hina are swapping so often and are basically overlapping. It works when it works, but I think it can pull Crystal from occupying that central space…which means she’s not getting those goals she was getting earlier in season where she’d make late runs and have loads of space. Now, no one is really there because they’re both playing inverted wingers on the right touchline. We’re operating more like a hybrid 442, it seems.

    On second watch, it wasn’t nearly as nervy as it was initially….of course because I knew the outcome. But, my initial read of the game was that they were very nervy and overthinking in the first 30 or so, when it wasn’t as bad as I thought. Turnovers weren’t as frequently as they felt, and few were truly (possibly) disastrous. Sam was everywhere, but man did she totally overcook 3 good set piece chances! I was surprised by that the second time around, but she did a great job otherwise.

    Sinclair! The best way to utilize her. Minimizes her weaknesses, and totally exploits her strengths. Does Norris see this? Is he just swapping Sinc for Moultrie (and vice-versa) every other game, or is there actually a plan behind the decisions? He started Sinc for our only loss in swampy Houston….I hope he learned his lesson about what humidity and heat can do on the aging player, and go with the same lineup as last game.

    Anyways, this was a game that I was really eager to see the stats on from you because it was hard to read with just the eye test. Thanks again!


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