Thorns FC: Trap Game

trap game

A trap game is a game played against an opponent generally deemed to be easy to defeat. As a result a person or team may not prepare as thoroughly as they would for a formidable opponent. Often this attitude and its attendant lack of preparation lead to a loss.

It shouldn’t have been.

Orlando wasn’t the same Shame the Thorns destroyed on Opening Day. They’d beaten both San Diego and Washington in the venue where Portland walked out last Sunday.

The 3-1 loss was shocking but shouldn’t have been surprising. It was a whole flock of crows that have circled around the Thorns since May coming home to roost.

Formation problems

Here’s Arielle Dror’s passing diagram:

We usually look at this long after discussing the match play. We’re looking at it here because of what it says about the match play. Here’s Chris Rifer:

Oh, no. No, no, no. Been there done that 3-5-2 shit. Ohhellno.

Rifer has a point though, and he is kind enough to not mention that one of those 10’s is a granny whose wheels fell off three years ago and can be timed with a sundial. With all that combat power shoved into the attacking half you’d have to have Nobby Stiles or Tommy Smith-grade centerbacks to prevent being overrun when you turn the ball over.

And speaking of that…

Turnover and over and over

Remember the list of turnovers in the Dunn comment from Seattle? Okay, well, here goes…

7′HublyLong passDeep in the attacking half
15′KlingenbergSquare passPicked off in the defensive end but recovered
17′NallyPoor passLost deep in Orlando’s half
24′HublyPoor passLost in midfield, forced a good tackle out of Kuikka
29′NallyPoor passLong downfield boot, lost into touch
30′KlingenbergPoor passHorrific boot straight to Marta 30 yards out, gave up a dangerous back post header
32′HublyPoor passLed to a long period of Orlando pressure around the goal
34′DunnSquare passDeep in Orlando’s end, killed off buildup
39′HublyPoor passTackled back nearly immediatly
41′SugitaTackledHubly tried to force the ball to a covered Sugita, started a dangerous Orlando attack
44′HublyPoor passForced a panic clearance from Klingenberg
45+1′HublyPoor passTried to force the ball up to Smith who was also well covered, and turned over
47′KuikkaSquare passPicked off by Marta who feeds Adriana for the second Orlando goal, 2-1
51′ KuikkaPoor passDeep in the attack zone, killed buildup
60′DunnSquare passRolled over the touchline for a Orlando throw in the Thorns half
69′D’AquilaBad backpassMessiah Bright picked up, beat Kuikka, and scored, 3-1
70′ReyesSquare passPicked off in the Orlando defensive half, killed buildup
81′KlingenbergPoor passKilled buildup in Orlando half

Jesus wept.

Failure to pass from the backline into midfield

Here’s just one of the many, many times we watched the Thorns start with the ball along the backline:

Kelli Hubly has a dicey long lob up to Crystal Dunn, or another likely-to-get-picked-off attempt to Sinclair. Sam Coffey is surrounded and unavailable. This is another aspect of the whole “two 10’s” formation; neither Sinc nor Dunn gives Hubly an outlet pass.

So she does what she does a gajillion times; loafs a lazy crossfield pass to Meghan Nally.

But Nally’s got no more going forward than Hubly had; look at the Thorns surrounded on the wrong side of the center circle. So Nally passes back to Hubly.

She’s still got a whole lot of nothing, so Hubly tries to force the pass up to a covered Sophia Smith:

That fucking works about as well as it did all game: Viviana Villacorta nips in, picks off the pas, and starts the Orlando attack.

I tracked this in the second half. Here’s my notes:

56:13: Throw in Reyes – Hubly – drop to Bixby – wide to Kuikka – square to Kling – back to Kuikka – square to Hubly – square to Reyes – back to Hubly – wide to Kuikka – across to Kling – across to Hubly – long boot, lost in the Orlando half 57:03.

That’s pure “dink-dink-boot”, and that was down a goal. WTF? Where’s the urgency? Where’s the outlet pass? We’ve seen where, and so that went on all match.

Are we done yet?

Because of the high formation and turnovers the backline was repeatedly exposed and was disorganized when attacked

What didn’t help was a couple of players having personal meltdowns.

But this is just another day in Orlando: Adriana runs straight at the Thorns goal:

Natalia Kuikka is pacing her on her left, and Nally is closing from the right, so they’ve got her trapped, right?

Unless Nally overruns her, Adriana swerves right and Nally is overcooked and can’t follow, giving Adriana an open crack at goal:

2-1 Orlando.

Are we done YET?

GodDAMN. What else now?

How about “Failure to finish”?

Here’s Chris Henderson:

Here’s Arielle Dror:

One goal on an xG between 1.9 to 2? And – more telling for a single game stat – a post-shot xG of 1.9?

Combine that with Orlando’s post-shot xG of 2.7?

Portland wasn’t finishing their chances. Orlando was finishing chances they should never have had.

Look, this was a bad game, and even more shocking because the match in Seattle looked so promising. It makes that match look more like a one-off, a happy coincidence rather than the complete performance it looked at the time.

But we’ll get there in a bit. Let’s turn to some more metrics for the moment. I’m tired of these fucking crows. Shoo! Get outta here.


Short Passes

OPTA thinks the Thorns were pretty clean on the ball: 79% completion (to Orlando’s 72.5%) but, as we’ve seen, there was a lot of dink-dink, so the real issue is how well the Thorns did when they went forward.

Of the total of 465 total passes (per OPTA) I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of only 85 “attacking” passes (18%, slightly more than the 16% we saw in Seattle). 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 36 in the first half, and 49 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 50%; 19 (52.7%) in the first half, 24 (48.9%) in the second.

That’s pretty barren, and obviously got worse in the second half when Orlando could afford to sit back and bunker. The Thorns are a long-ball, few-pass buildup team, and had they finished and defended better might have came away with a point, but that’s done and dusted.

Corner Kicks

Seven per OPTA, four in the first half, three in the second. Five long, two short

6′KlingenbergLongInto the scrum, headed over the byline
6′KlingenbergLongSinclair blooped a weak header wide right
15′KlingenbergShort…to Dunn who played back to Kling, who looped a cross into Sinclair whose weak header was wide right again
23′KlingenbergLongMoorhouse easy take
71′KlingenbergLongHeaded clear, recycled, no shot
78′KlingenbergLongHeaded clear, recycled to Hubly who hit a decent header but Moorhouse made a strong save
80′KlingenbergShort…to Smith, back to Kling, looped cross right to Moorhouse.

Hubly with a decent chance, but nothing else, really. Sinclair, in particular, was wasteful, and in a match the Thorns couldn’t afford wasteful.


Ninth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 16 throw-ins over 90+ minutes; 8 in both halve, 18 in the second, Orlando had 18 -11 in the first half, six in the second.

Of Portland’s throws only three – about 19% – resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. That’s as poor as the rest of the match, and the worst of the season to date.

Another three were poorly taken and went against Portland. The remaining 10 – about 62% – were just neutral.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage LostNeutral
San Diego39%22%39%

Orlando was significantly better; 10 of 18 (55.5%) were effective improving their game state. Only four (22%) were turned over, while the remaining three – 19% – were “neutral”.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+7/-2 : +9/-3 : +16/-5) If there was a Woman of the Match in this fiasco it would have been Smith; tireless, aggressive, all sorts of good trouble, meaning that Orlando’s backs were all over her like a bad hairdo and hacking at her like a slasher flick. I dunno how she puts up with it; after the third brutal foul I’d come up spitting mad. More power for Smith for keeping her cool.

Weaver (67′ – +8/-0 : +1/-0 : +9/-0) For about an hour Weaver was Chaos Muppeting all over the pitch, including the assist and what should have been another (we’ll get there…). After that? Flat outta gas. It’s an acrebic comment on the Thorns depth and the gaffer’s tunnel vision that the sub was D’Aquila, a pure poacher and center-forward.

D’Aquila (23′ – +1/-3) Unfortunate that her most significant action was to start the implosion that led to the third concession. Just a bad night in a bad position when the whole team had a bad night.

Sugita (56′ – +8/-3 : +2/-1 : +10/4) Reason #1,000: “Why I Love Hina-san”:

Weaver served a pretty cross and Smith provided the clinical finish, but it was Sugita’s cross-goal run that dragged Emily Madril out of position to give Smith the time and space to sink that putt.

That said, right wing shoves Sugita-senshu up against the touchline and takes away a lot of her clever footwork. Norris is playing two advanced attacking midfielders – the “two 10’s” but has his best 10 parked out at right wing.

Vasconcelos (34′ – +3/-2) Look back up at Henderson’s xG chart; Michele Vasconcelos had the best chance of the second half. Just too little too late.

Dunn (83′ – +2/-4 : +7/-4 : +9/-8) Betcha wish you had that 22nd minute back, dontcha? Weaver with another trademark burn to the byline, perfect cross right to your feet standing at the penalty spot…and you tripped over the ball that might have been the dagger. But no.

Struggled to get involved in the first half, and when she did found herself chasing the Orlando rocket ship that was headed out of sight. Not sure whether she needed a breather, but…

Leon (7′ – no rating) …did nothing whatsoever of value, making the substitution another head-scratcher.

Sinclair (67′ – +4/-4 : +1/-1 : +5/-5) Sinc was the poster child for “futility in front of goal” in Orlando, and you know what I’m going to say about her pace and what it does to the Thorns midfield. Starting your oldest player in the fetid swamp that is Orlando is another real head-scratcher, don’t you agree, young lady?

Moultrie (23′ – +6/-1) I see you do.

Coffey (+10/-3 : +2/-2 : +12/-5) Worked her ass off and was rewarded by a front-row seat at the Pride racing past her teammates. Was utterly gassed by the whistle. Sorry, Coffey. This one wasn’t on you.

Kuikka (+2/-5 : +4/-5 : +6/-10) Here, on the other hand, we come to some people that this one was on. Goddam, Natu, what the fuck was going on that night? You’ve had some tough games – everybody does – but you were a trainwreck out there. Turnovers, missed marks, culminating in body-checking your own keeper on the Bright goal.

Shake this one off. We can’t afford another night like that.

Hubly (+2/-8 : +2/-2 : +4/-10) Speaks for itself.

Nally (56′ – +2/-1 : +0/-1 : +2/-2) Her lack of agility exacerbates her positional naivety, and her passing means that she’s a ticking counterattack bomb. I really hate to just give up on a player, but so far we haven’t really seen anything positive from her.

Reyes (34′ – +3/-4) By the time Reyes came in the Thorns were chasing so her contributions needed to be lopsidedly positive. That she couldn’t isn’t an indictment of her.

Klingenberg (+5/-5 : +0/-4 : +5/-9) Fortunate that Adriana was driving at the other Thorns backs more often than not. It’s worth noting that despite pushing up to provide service that most of her completed passes are short, or lateral squares and drops:

When Kling tried to push the ball up to create chances?

She had trouble connecting. Look back at Dror’s passing chart; the passes are going Kling to Sinc, who as we’ve noted couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket.

Bixby (+1/-3 : +0/-2 : +1/5) Ouch.

Should have done much better on the Adriana free kick; started late and dove weakly. Not much chance on the second but disastrous positional error on the third, colliding with her own defender.

Ironically Bixby is still statistically “above the line”, saving a trifle more than her xG against suggests. That’s cold comfort when the backline is shaky and must be playing with their chins on their shoulders half the time worrying about their keeper.

I trust Nadine Angerer to be a better judge of her staff than I am, and if she doesn’t consider it time to try Shelby Hogan, I’m not going to argue. But when Bixby looks bad, she looks reeeeally bad, and that’s not reassuring.

Coach Norris: This one kind of pantsed you, eh, marra?

Poor lineup, poor tactics, poor substitutions and then several of your players had awful games…it was kind of a perfect shitstorm.

The problem is that a lot of the tactical and roster issues aren’t black swans. They’re the same goddamn crows that have been picking at the trashcan lid all season. A combination of bad luck and poor play (and an opportunistic Orlando squad) knocked the lid off and suddenly there was trash all over the pitch.

Well, that’s three points down the dispose-all. Over and done.

Now you wanna talk trap game? Chicago.

They’re shit, and they got spanked 5-nil at home last week. They gotta be hurtin’ and desperate for something, anything, to rescue their season.

And who better than the entitled Portland Thorns, coming off a humiliating loss and on the road for the past week?

And here’s the thing. When the post-match presser journo asked you whether the problem in Orlando was “intensity or execution” and you replied “I don’t know, I wish I knew the answer”, the problem is that it’s your fucking job to know the answer.

You might not know right at that moment. But that just means you have a lot of hard work to do figuring things out. Admitting you don’t know is telling your troops you don’t have a plan they can execute and win.

You can’t do that and still have a team.

So. Figure it out. Go send your Thorns out with a solid tactical plan, whip Chicago, and let’s get this back on track.

John Lawes
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5 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Trap Game

  1. ARGH! Norris!!! WTF? Who watches that game last week against Seattle and thinks: “I got it! Sinc’s best contribution is in the starting lineup!”? Who has ANY other better option (or 2, or 3) and starts Nally?? I find some peace in the idea that the team wanted, and arguably deserves, a coach that they like, trust, & are comfortable/familiar with rather than making them deal with the emotional upheaval of finding a new/good one. It also means when/if (sigh) the team is taken over by a new owner the search for a competent coach can begin.

    1. Here’s something to ponder:
      The Thorns have had five HCs since 2013.
      CPC was a virtual unknown. Her year was rife with rumors about how she was there to “hand out the orange slices” and that her veteran players were running the club because she was tactically naive. She quit after one year.
      Paul Riley? Spit.
      Mark Parsons came in with the rep “semifinal-peak”; he’d picked Washington off the floor but than got bounced twice in the semi. After three great seasons he did the same thing again in 2019 and 2021.
      Wilkinson was a figure of furious contention over the first half of the season, and made a poor personal decision at the end.
      And now, Norris.

      So I guess what I’m saying is that the constant over eleven seasons is that we’ve never had a “big name” coach here. The competence of Parsons seems obvious in retrospect, but he was no better than a journeyman when he was hired. CPC and Wilkinson were virtual unknowns. Riley (spit!) had the best c.v. when he arrived and – for all the sonofabitch should be buried in a ditch – he can coach. Wilkinson is hard to assess.

      But we’ve never had a Vlatko. Or a Sundhage. Or any of the other name managers in the game. I’m not sure if that’s a feature or a bug. But it is a Peregrine thing for WoSo, anyway.

    1. I feel the same unfortunately. I also think that we may keep a poor coach around as long as we’re in the top 5. A fantastic roster shielding a rookie coach and bad tactics…it’s maddening to think about what this roster could be doing with an experienced coach. I hope it doesn’t take losing a lot more games, having mediocre seasons, or losing our stars for a coaching change to happen. I feel the sentiment parallels the Sinclair situation also.

    2. See my reply to Roses above re: coaching. If and when this sale goes through we might see something different. Until then? “Meh” seems to be a Peregrine thing with coaches.

      And the thing is that lots of teams can use an old head like Sinc’s. Look at Gotham getting value out of Lynn Williams, or Seattle with Rapinoe. But you have to use them in ways that lean into their strengths – experience and cunning – rather than put them where their weaknesses can make your squad older and slower. Unfortunately I tend to agree that it’s lots of people 1) being fond of Sinc and so 2) deferring to her wishes rather than making hard choices based on the team’s good.

      And, like the coaching, I don’t know how, or whether, that changes under the current owner.


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