Thorns FC: Three the hard way

So after the collapse in Orlando I wrote to Mike Norris: “Figure it out. Go send your Thorns out with a solid tactical plan, whip Chicago, and let’s get this back on track.”


The Thorns did beat Chicago in Bridgetown, 2-3…but after leading 0-2 and 1-3.

Remember all those goddamn crows that were roosting in the rafters in Orlando? How’d Coach Norris do with working those issues out?

Formation Issues?

Everybody and their Rifer has noticed that the Thorns push ladidadi-and-everybody up into the attack; both Crystal Dunn and Christine Sinclair (Chris Rifer called them “dual 10’s” in Orlando and I’d agree) are probably 80% attack.

(When she can – Sinc’s pace means that if the attack is flowing freely she’ll be behind the parade…)

Plus both fullbacks play as wingbacks, spending much of their time at or forward of the midfield stripe, too.

Unsurprisingly that opens up a ton of space when an opponent goes direct, and exposes the centerbacks as well as piling a load of work on CDM Sam Coffey.

In Orlando that let the Pride rip three goals out of the heart of Portland’s defense.

So…did Coach Norris make any adjustments to deal with that against Chicago?

Here’s Arielle Dror’s passing diagrams; first hour at Bridgeview on top, first hour in Orlando at bottom:

Weeelllll….if you look reeeeeal close and squint you might see…Sinc and both the fullbacks were pushed up further in Chicago.

Only Dunn is close to where she was in Orlando.

So…no. The formation was still a problem.

Well…since we still had all that vulnerability in back, did we at least cut down on the…


I logged a total of 18 turnovers in Orlando; 12 in the first half, six in the second. Of those, seven led to two of the three Orlando goals or a dangerous attack.

In Chicago the Thorns also horked up 18 hairballs; 14 in the first half, four in the second. Because Chicago is a worse team than Orlando only three led to danger; a Menges pass directly to Bianca St. Georges in the 12th minute, another Menges pass that forced a kick-save out of Bella Bixby in the 48th minute, and a Kelli Hubly pass that was picked off in the 85th minute.

So, no; still lots of turnovers, just an opponent who couldn’t profit from them.

Outlet Passes?

Since the front five were pushed up how about the problem playing out of the back? Did we see less “dink-dink-boot”, at least? Were people moving to space to give the backs an outlet?

If you look back up at the passing diagram you can see that was…better. Still lots of lumping the ball up across the midfield stripe (or to a blanketed Smith or Sugita…), but more got through.

I counted only seven extended periods of “pass it back and forth along the backline”, and of those only five ended up with a boot that turned the ball over.

Defensive Disorganization?

OMFG, where to start?

Perhaps with this:

That’s in the 64th minute. Alyssa Naeher has just hoofed the ball all the way down the pitch. Arin Wright is beating cheeks to get under it with teammates in pursuit. Bixby has just made the wrong move – to come off her line to try and take the ball.

But where is Emily Menges running, and who is she marking, and what is she looking at?

The answers are, in order:
1) Randomly backwards,
2) Not Wright, and,
3) At the ball.

The old Great Wall Emily doesn’t make that mistake. This one does, hangs her keeper (who, yes, made a grotesque error, but we’ll get there…) out, and helps concede the penalty that keeps the match way closer than it should have been.


For me the answer is, no.

The tactics didn’t change, the individual errors didn’t stop, and Chicago took advantage of them to make this a much more difficult game than a team with the roster that Portland enjoys should have had with these poor no-hopers.

At least this one was a win. But…goddamn.

A couple of random observations from Bridgetown

Here’s Sam Coffey after the Chicago match:

“We play…in a league that’s super transitional, and we’re never going to sacrifice what we do in attack to cater to that or play on the back foot…I don’t think it’s tactical adjustments, I think it’s really just honing in on what we can do individually to be in the best position to prevent other teams’ counterattacks…We play in a big shape, so that leaves big spaces in behind…”

I respect the hell out of Coffey; she’s a beast. But…what the hell?

I mean, here’s the 77th minute. Two goal lead. Ummm…big spaces in behind?


You’ve got seven of your ten field players forward of the center circle! Defending a two-goal lead!

What happens if, say, somebody in a blue shirt finds Cheyna Matthews up the right touchline? And, say, Matthews can slot the ball past Reyna Reyes to a running St. Georges?

Who’s gonna be back there to stop that attack, unless you’re lucky and St. Georges fires wide?

(Hint: that might just happen!)

These are coaching decisions, not Coffey’s. Things like putting your best #10 out at right wing where she has to cheat inside to score your second goal.

Or not reminding your left wing to stay out wide so she can be there pot the deflection off your center forward’s hammering shot that your opponents’ keeper can only parry?

This is your job, coach. And…

Aw, the hell with it. We’ll get to that in a bit. Let’s move on.

Short Passes

The Thorns are the better team, so their 83% completion to Chicago’s anemic 73% is no huge surprise.

Of the total of 465 total passes (again, per OPTA) I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of only 78 “attacking” passes (16.7%, less than the 18% from Orlando and about the same as 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 44 in the first half, and 34 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 61%; 27 (61.3%) in the first half, 21 (61.7%) in the second.

That’s a good look for Portland, and reminds us that the Thorns aren’t “playing on the back foot”; they continue to push up – perhaps even when they shouldn’t.

Corner Kicks

Five per OPTA, three in the first half, two in the second. Four long, one short

19′CoffeyLongBounced all the way through, Kling dropped to Menges who booted all the way over the byline
23′KlingenbergLongWay over the pack to Coffey whose shot was blocked and recycled, to Kling who looped a rainbow right to Naeher
39′KlingenbergLongNaeher boxed away as far as Coffey, whose shot was blocked again, recycled but nothing came of it.
54′CoffeyLongHeaded clear to Kling, whose long lob went over the byline
90+7′CoffeyShort…to Dunn, just timewasting, and it saw the game out

Not much unless you count Coffey’s blasts, but neither had any real chance outside pure luck. So, not much of anything…


Tenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of only 10 throw-ins over 90+ minutes; six first half, four second; Chicago had 12; eight first half, four second.

Of Portland’s throws only two – 20% – resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. That’s only barely better than Orlando, and a very poor result.

Three were poorly taken and went against Portland. The remaining five – 50% – were just neutral.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage LostNeutral
San Diego39%22%39%

So two bad games in a row for throw-ins. Did the opponents have the same problem?

No. Chicago, like Orlando was significantly better than Portland at throw-ins; seven of Chicago’s 12 (58.3%) were effective improving their game state. Only two (16%) were turned over, while the remaining three – 25% – were “neutral”.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (78′ – +10/-4 : +4/-0 : +14/-4) This is your Sophia Smith.

In the 36th minute Natalia Kuikka crosses in to Smith, who is tightly marked by Chicago’s Ava Cook. And when I say “tightly marked” I mean “fucking sitting on Smith’s back”.

A lot of forwards would give up and just lie there hoping for help or a whistle.

That’s…SO not Smith.

She threw Cook like Bodacious launching Ty Murray, nicked the ball and hammered the pointblank shot that we saw Morgan Weaver wasn’t there to put back in the basket.

Smith made the first goal all herownself. Period. As in “Fuck you, Jobu, I do it myself” made it.

We better keep her happy. All’s I’m saying.

D’Aquila (12′ – +1/-0) Well, didn’t turn over the ball to start a concession, so that’s a better look that in Orlando! So, yay.

Weaver (89′ – +10/-3 : +10/-3 : +20/-6) So, Weaver…my Woman of the Match, pretty assist on the Sugita goal (and that first touch that took the ball to the byline? Fuuuuuuu..!) and all your usual Chaos Muppet goodness. Any regrets?

Oh. Gotcha.

No sweat. Good work out there.

Oh. There’s this:

That’s St. Georges taking a hack at you in the 58th minute.

At the time a bunch of people at Stumptown were howling for a red. I wasn’t one; I wasn’t sure it was deliberate, for one, and it didn’t look grotesque, for another, a passing kickout, not Nigel De Jong planting cleats in someone’s brisket.

But Kling saw it and was effing HOT..! so it must have been pretty ugly.

But now this..?

Now THAT’s a straight red.

Tatum Milazzo cleaning you right out from behind, ball nowhere to be found? Red. Gotta be; you can’t let that go and say you’re protecting the players. Milazzo doesn’t take a walk it’s open season on every skill player

But that wasn’t even a yellow.

That’s piss-poor officiating by Anya Voigt. Whether or not the St. Georges kick should have been red or yellow or not.

Vasconcelos (1′ – no rating)

Sugita (+6/-3 : +6/-1 : +12/-4) Still wish we could see her somewhere in the attacking midfield; her creativity is not set each way free when she’s pinned along the touchline – which is why she and Dunn switch in and out as they do.

Don’t see that happening, so I’ll take the Hina-san goodness we do get.

Dunn (+4/-1 : +5/-1 : +9/-2) I’m not sure what to make of Dunn this season.

She’s playing well. Her five goals put her second on the team scoring list and right behind Alex Morgan and Debinha on the G/min table (5 in 910 minutes for Dunn compared to Morgan’s 5 in 870 and Debinha’s 5 in 906).

Yet Chicago was just another game when we don’t seem to see her doing…match-changing things. Good work, yes; good passing, forechecking, making effective runs…but somehow she seems almost a ghost, drifting through the match invisibly, waiting for something.

I still like what she brings. But I wonder if there’s some different role that could make better use of her pace and aggression?

Sinclair (78′ – +2/-2 : +2/-0 : +4/-2) With the goal Sinc locked down her starting spot for 2024.

Yes, I’m fucking kidding. But…what the hell? I mean…she played a perfect role in Seattle, coming in late and locking down the win that Moultrie had helped create. So her reward is starting the next two games, helping make an ugly loss and a hard-fought win against a tomato can? Why?

If she starts Friday against Washington I’m gonna throw my shinai against the wall.

Moultrie (12′ – +3/-1) See the Sinclair comment. Sheesh.

Coffey (+8/-3 : +3/-1 : +11/-4) I think Coffey is getting sick and tired of doing all the hard work. She looked pretty gassed by the final whistle in Chicago. All her good work in the world can’t make up for a formation that shoves everybody forward.

“The best thing we can do individually…” is to be set up in the best tactical formation for the game state, not shoved so far upfield as to have to make 3.6-second 40-yard sprints eight or ten times a game because you’re 26 yard from the opponents’ byline when they lob the ball over your head towards Kelli Hubly.

Hope to see better help coming for you this Friday.

Kuikka (+3/-8 : +3/-0 : +6/-8) When I watched live I thought Natu was kind of a defensive liability.

Reviewing tape, I’m not so sure; five of her eight minuses were for passes, and even with those she wasn’t high up on my Naughty List for dangerous turnovers, so most of the lost passes were deep boots that were just a sort of clearance.

Still…not nearly playing her best. There’s no depth behind her, tho, so she’s going to have to work things out, and quick smart.

Hubly (+5/-3 : +3/-3 : +8/-6) Like Kuikka, not really playing as well as I’ve seen her, and I think a big part is that the whole defensive unit is shaken and playing tight and nervous (we’ll get there when we get to Bixby). Also like Kuikka, there’s no depth there, so we’re going to have to hope she can rise to the demand of Washington Friday.

You were on my Turnover List, though; five of 18 were yours (shakes finger).

Menges (-1/-4 : +4/-6 : +5/-10) What the hell is it? Nerves? Injury? Confidence shot? I never thought I’d have to write these things about you; you were the rock in the backline, the Great Wall (we all knew that Emily Sonnett was mostly there to make funny faces and photobomb postgame interviews).

It hurts to see you like this.

Klingenberg (62′ – +6/-0 : +0/-0 : +6/-0) Good shift, not sure why the sub off, unless the idea was saving your legs for Friday.

Reyes (28′ – +4/-3) Ummm…okay, but not great. Skinned by St. Georges on the 88th minute post that could easily have taken back two of those three points. Usually better than that, so I’m not sure why such a meh shift.

Bixby (+1/-0 : +0/-3 : +1/-3)

I’m so sorry.

I’ve been in your corner for a long time.

After the Franch fans hated on you. After internet comments trashed you for gawkiness and visual discomfort in the air. I kept my eyes fixed on your G/xG stats and your DDiff. You were saving the Thorns goals that their opponents’ numbers said they should have scored.


This is just not defensible.

The poor decision on coming off your line against Wright. The pathetically weak dive on the penalty shot. The inexcusably inept lurch that missed the 82nd minute Allison Schlegel header that got Chicago back to within a goal.

Your body language is horrific. Your mistakes have to be putting the wind up your backs; there’s nothing more terrifying than believing your keeper doesn’t have “safe hands”, that any and every defensive mistake can be a concession.

I’m not your coach, and I can’t see what Nadine Angerer sees. But what I do see?

It’s appalling.

It’s painful for me to write that. I think you’re trying hard. You’re not jakin’ it. It’s not cowardice or sloth. But I think it’s time for you to let Shelby Hogan try, instead.

Coach Norris: Well, marra, that was kind of a low bar. You cleared it, but…damn.

This coming Friday you won’t have the sorry-ass Red Stars to figure out.

Mark Parsons knows your squad, and his Spirit has a better defense, so Sophia Smith is going to be sat on like Ava Cook did, only all game.

You start Sinclair Ashley Sanchez is gonna go through your midfield like a dose of goddamn salts.

You give Parsons the sort of space in front of your backline you gave Orlando and Chicago, Ashley Hatch and Trinity Rodman are gonna eat your goddamn lunch.

You can do what you’ve been doing all season.

Or you can adjust your formation and your XI to deal with your opponent’s strengths and minimize your weaknesses.

What’s it gonna be?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

9 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Three the hard way

  1. Agreed- unless changes are made to bolster our defense & protect that football field in front of Bixby, Washington will eat us alive. And having teenybobber lightning bolts on the front line is the present & possible future of the NWSL. we have to have a better way to deal with that.

    A response to comments on an earlier post: we all respect & value Sinc. Given. It’s hard to believe this isn’t her last year (with the World Cup and all). Is it possible some deal was made that let’s her start whenever she wants so she can be fit for the WC.? Feels like her book makes it clear she rates her national team first. Also, Bixby, ouch.

    Regarding the prediction game. I think Thrakazog should be heavily sanctioned in some way (like red cards for bad puns or some such) b/c if he wins this darn thing again there will be no living with him. Which I do.

    1. We’ll see Friday. I agree that this is going to be a “statement game”.

      I have no idea what’s up w Sinc. I don’t think she’s really “getting fit”; her game has shrunk to popping up every so often to try something she’s done a jillion times. Not that she’s hopeless, but she has so little impact for huge stretches of the match. She’s getting minutes, so that can’t hurt…but how much it’s helping? Hmmm.

      Yeah, we may have to start doing a sort of “golf handicap” for the clausura to prevent a walkover!

  2. So do we know who all is going to the WC?
    US-Dunn & Smith
    Costa Rica-Rocky-(if she’s fit)

    Anyone else?

    P.s. my son has tried to sign in & join the prediction game but there’s a snafu (he emailed you). If the snafu is overcomable maybe u can split the current leader’s points with him. Trust me, both will be fine w/it

    1. I really don’t follow the USWNT outside the actual playing windows, so I couldn’t help you with that…but I don’t think Finland is even there, so no Kuikka. The others, yes, AFAIK.

      I think there are also “reserve” slots. Not sure how many or who’s on them.

      Let me check my email queue and the comments at the site. Sometimes WordPress holds comments for approval and that might be going on.

    2. Leon will be going with Sinc for Canada. She was signed to get some playing time before the WC. She hasn’t played much, but I guess practice counts for something.
      Somebody mentioned on STF that Father’s Day might have been a tough day for Bella. I think Nadine needs to give her some time to get herself together. She has not been protected well and if Hogan has the same problems then the answer is fix the defense.
      Trouble is CB position it is pretty thin and the best CB we have is a RFB, Kuikka and she is playing in a position with no backup. Since McGrady has been out for so long I think I would only trust her a LB. Reyna is an LB with the skill to play RB. Kling has played RB. Norris needs to be creative here and I suggested on STF that they give Betfort a shot at CB. ABell noted she was a CB in college.
      One thing that definitely needs to happen is not let both FB’s attack at the same time. We are left with a two CB defense and that is not fair to the Keeper.

      1. Really interesting post, thank you. I would love to see Betfort there and Kuikks as CB. Never understood why Betfort was transformed into striker- she seems to have skills, just not goal- scoring skills.

      2. As I said; Angerer knows her players. If Bixby starts tomorrow we’ll know she hasn’t lost her coach’s confidence. That’ll work for me.


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