Thorns FC: The ‘Mats

I’m not sure I can do better describing the dour 0-1 loss to Kansas City than what I wrote on the post-match thread over at Stumptown, so I’ll just take the liberty of quoting myself, then:

“I think every fan here would agree that the Replacements are working hard. Nobody’s jakin’ it. This isn’t the Timbers, playing dazed and confused.

But. The things we’ve seen the club do all season; things like turning the ball over, things like pushing up the 10s and fullbacks and getting torched in transition, things like people not named Smith failing to finish…these things are irritating when the squad is at full strength but lethal with this group of lesser talents. You can get away with doing stupid shit when you have Dunn and Sugita to bail you out. When it’s Taylor Porter? No. That stuff kicks you dead in the ass.

Fortunately it’s just this and Gotham and the Cup. So the damage is limited; it’s not 2015 or 2019.

Still. It’s frustrating for us to watch, and it’s gotta be as bad or worse for players like Sam Coffey who have to try to wrestle points out of this goat rodeo.

And it does shed a very unflattering light on Mike Norris and the FO. They had time to prepare for this. The league gave them a free hand to reach out and hunt up some quality unsigned players as NTRPs. They could have been working that group on playing together.

Instead we get two pickup games and two losses to very poor opponents.

And some epic crap officiating, but that is what it is (or not…see below)

Oh, well. Onward, Rose City.”

That was pretty much it. Outshot 23-5 (9 to 3 on goal), out possessed 60%-40%, outpassed, bombed with 31 crosses and 9 blocked shots, a poor Kansas City team got a lucky break and a soft penalty, sank it, and then just had to fend off a weakened Portland attack long enough to sneak all the points.

I mean…here’s Arielle Dror:

Take out the Michelle Cooper penalty (about 0.75 xG) and you’re left with about 0.5 xG for the Current over 90 minutes.

Take out what I’m guessing is the blocked Kristen Hamilton shot at about 24 minutes (about another 0.3 xG) and the whole rest of the Current over the remaining 89-odd minutes created about 2/10ths of a goal.

All the while the Thorns were chipping, chipping, chipping away. But look at the risers; all those little looks? Were shit. Nobody had a good look, nobody really created a good chance, and, obviously, nobody finished.

That’s really it. We’ll go into the details below, but the bottom line is that this was just what it looked like; a bunch of reserves and squad players doing about what they can do – be Preston North End on a rainy Friday – trying and flailing in a system set up for Sophia Smith’s Brazil.

Turnover and over.

Against Washington here I noted that the Thorns cut way back on the unforced errors. Having coughed up 18 turnovers against both Orlando and Chicago the squad gifted Washington only 10 times. That helped put Parsons’ crew to the sword.

Last Saturday the gift-giving returned with a shout; the Thorns turned the ball over an astounding 27 times over 90+ minutes against a Kansas City team that – although they defended decently enough – struggled to press effectively. These weren’t panicked clearances; these were largely unforced errors.

We’ll talk about this some more in the comments. But this is a training issue. This is a coaching staff not working with players to pass accurately and move to pick up passes quickly.

A particular specialty of the house is the “force the pass up to a well-covered midfielder or forward who then loses possession”. It doesn’t work unless you have a Smith or a Sugita who can turn with the ball and escape. Hannah Betfort can’t do that and neither can Michelle Vasconcelos, or, sadly, Izzy D’Aquila.

Forwards, score!

The Thorns ride Sophia Smith for a reason.

Without Smith there’s simply no real edge to the attack. It doesn’t help that Betfort simply isn’t an effective striker and can’t effectively play the #9, Vasconcelos remains a second (or third) option, even as a reserve, and Izzy D’Aquila has regressed brutally from her apparent form in preseason.

Morgan Weaver ran hard and tried her trademark “race to the byline and cross in” several times. More often than not there was no black shirt inside to receive the cross.

The one time there was someone it was D’Aquila…

…and with an open goal in front of her D’Aquila shanked a sad little dribbler that rolled to a scrambling Kate del Fava and was cleared away.

It was like that all evening.

Short Passes

Portland with 80% completion was significantly better than Kansas City’s 70%, another reflection of how poor the Current are.

Notice the usual high-fullbacks as well as the pushed-up AMs. Even the notional #6, Porter, is forward of the center circle. If Kansas City had been able to counterattack they’d have caught Portland in transition.

They can’t, so they didn’t. But even with this group of replacements, Mike Norris can’t play it safe. He just won’t adjust.

Here’s Kansas City:

Also playing a very high line, and with little more success.

Of the total of 479 total passes per OPTA (note that Kansas City had less than 70% of that total) I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 89 “attacking” passes (18.5% of total passes, compared to about 17.8% against Washington, 16.5% in Chicago, 18% in Orlando and 16% 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.

Forty-nine in the first half, 40 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 67%; 31 (63%) in the first half, 29 (72.5%) in the second; surprising in that with KCC packed in back the Thorns could still find a target in the second half.

But once there, the chances weren’t coming.

Lots of hard work, no result.

Corner Kicks

Nine. Four first half, five second, eight long, one short

18′MoultrieShort…to Hubly, whose cross to Weaver led to a blocked shot. The rebound was recycled but cleared for a throw-in
39′CoffeyLongHeaded over the byline
39′KlingenbergLongHeaded clear, recycled, headed back in and cleared, recycled again, finally Porter’s cross was lost
41′CoffeyLongCleared, recycled, but the attack petered out
64′KlingenbergLongHeaded clear for a Portland throw-in
70′KlingenbergLongCleared, recycled, but lost
78′CoffeyLongOver the scrum, cleared
81′CoffeyLongCleared and recycled twice before Betfort lost possession
90+1′CoffeyLongAll the way over the pack, recycled, D’Aquila headed tamely wide

Weaver and D’Aquila with some looks that came to nothing, otherwise no joy.


Twelfth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 22 throw-ins over 90+ minutes; 13 first half, nine second; Kansas City took the same total number, but 12 in the first half, 10 in the second.

Of Portland’s throws only five (23%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Since the average is around 34% that’s not very good and especially against a club like KCC.

Only three, though – 13.6% – were poorly taken and went against Portland. The remaining 14 – over 63% – were just neutral.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage LostNeutral
San Diego39%22%39%
Kansas City23%14%63%

Kansas City was kind of better/worse at throw-ins; 7 (32%) were effective improving their game state but 10 – (45%) – were turned over. The remaining 5 – 23% – were “neutral”.

Player Ratings and Comments

D’Aquila (+2/-4 : +6/-5 : +8/-9) Here’s what I wrote about Izzy D’Aquila back in March:

D’Aquila (71’ – +5/-4 : +6/-1 : +11/-5) And that’s without the final ten minutes or so, so her net is probably higher.

D’Aquila showed glimpses of quality in her twenty minutes against Racing, but last night she was, for about 40 minutes, the best Thorn on the field. She’s got speed to burn – I lost count of how many times she torched the juniors’ left back – she’s got professional grade positional and tactical skills, and as her equalizing goal showed, can finish.

Clearly this player is ready. My only question is “how ready”? Is she where Smith was in 2021; an international-level toolkit waiting for experience to open? Or is she just “a good player”? I hope we’ll see her at RW with the starting XI against a full Seattle side. I think that will show us some more. But as she stands, ladies and gentlemen, this is an outstanding young player.”

What the hell happened?

This player was worse than a nullity against KCC. She killed off promising attacks with poor touches, weak shots, and a lack of ideas.

D’Aquila can still find space, but she couldn’t do anything with it. I’m not sure if this is just rust, or whether the glimpses in preseason were fool’s gold, or whether she has legitimately gotten less effective here. But at the moment, she’s not adding value.

Update 7/4: I looked for this earlier, but Henderson is having a bit of a hissy about Twitter and he didn’t post it in time for publication, but here’s his xG/post-shot xG plot:

What it says about D’Aquila is utterly damning; with the opportunity to create more than a goal all herownself, she got nothing. I’ll expand in my reply to Barcasiempre below, but that’s not viable for a primary striker. You gotta sink your putts. Period. And when none of her teammates were getting anything better that half- or quarter-chances? Even moreso.

We need D’Aquila to be better at Gotham. Full stop.

Weaver (+13/-2 : +8/-5 : +21/-7) The best Thorn on the pitch – sadly, since she got no help and couldn’t find her Inner Smith to drag the club behind her to the points. Lots of hard work, lots of good ideas, lots of poor shooting (c’mon!)…all the usual goodness, just stranded by her teammates.

Vasconcelos (45′ – +2/-4) Almost invisible for her half.

Reyes (45′ – +3/-2) Slightly better than Vasconcelos.

Moultrie (+3/-2 : +8/-2 : +11/-4) Olivia Moultrie wasn’t the force she was last Wednesday, but she was still one of the better Thorns on the pitch. The difference was shooting; against OLR Moultrie was dangerous, against KCC, she wasn’t.

Porter (69′ – +4/-3 : +0/-1 : +4/-4) Fairly meh, other than that Taylor Porter is one of the Top Four on my Turnover Naughty List; coughed up four terrible passes, two of which sparked as-dangerous-as-Kansas-City-attacks-could-be-dangerous attacks. The other three Bad Girls were Kuikka and D’Aquila – whose goofs were typically downfield and less dangerous – and Menges, and we’ll get to her in a moment.

Betfort (21′ – +3/-1) Works hard, but just lacks the striker’s sacred fire.

Coffey (+4/-0 : +2/-1 : +6/-1) KCC was so lame that our midfield destroyer had little or nothing to destroy. Failing that she tried to help the attack and that’s where WE were so lame she couldn’t build anything, either.

As I said in the opening comment; that must have been insanely irritating. Sorry, Sam.

Kuikka (+5/-3 : +5/-3 : +10/-6) It’s really difficult to assess the backline given that Kansas City was girls against women. Solid defending as much as was needed, and four of her six “minuses” were poor passes.

Hubly (+4/-3 : +1/-2 : +5/-5) Same as Kuikka outside a truly horrific defensive goof in the 93rd minute that could easily have shipped a second had Alexa Spaanstra wanted to have a crack.

Menges (+5/-1 : +4/-2 : +9/-3) same-same, except Menges’ issue was a couple of bad giveaways deep in the Portland half. Luckily Kansas City couldn’t do anything with them.

Klingenberg (+7/-3 : +5/-3 : +12/-6) It’s kind of embarrassing when the young padawan shows up the old maestro.

Here’s Elizabeth Ball putting Weaver on the deck in the 43rd minute:

Notice the subtlety of it? The body is upright, the right foot is planted, the right arm is withdrawn. Weaver is getting a full-on hip throw but the contact looks organic and incidental. No call.

Now here you are as Spaanstra blows past you nine minutes earlier:

Arms out, body twisted, the push couldn’t be more obvious. Foul, yellow card, penalty.

(Which is why I’m not as arsed about Tori Penso as I was over at Stumptown. She didn’t call a good match, but this wasn’t the big error I thought it was at the time; it was a more experienced player making a rookie mistake and a younger player playing smart. Cruel game, eh?)

This is the second match in a row you’ve helped the opponent make a matchwinning goal. You know better, you’ve done better.

Let’s not keep doing this, okay?

Bixby (+0/-1 : +0/-0 : +0/-1) The minus is for a very late, very poor dive on a 15th minute Jenna Winebrenner post, but otherwise really untested. Hard to tell if Bixby’s confidence is anywhere, but she seems to be back in goal so hopefully it’s somewhere good.

Coach Norris: Not much more to be said.

Luckily for you there’s only next weekend, some Cup ties, and possibly a late August game to worry about.

But this and last Wednesday really lay out the things that this squad should be doing better and aren’t, and the choices that the management could and should have made and didn’t. That’s troubling.

But when you have the horses it might not matter. And yours will be back in August.

Let’s try not to drop too far by then, eh?

John Lawes
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2 thoughts on “Thorns FC: The ‘Mats

  1. What you wrote about D’Aquila in March from my view point is a very accurate assessment of her. I think she is a going to be a good player, at least as good as Tyler Lussi and Simone Charley, possibly better, not Sophia Smith and not quite Morgan Weaver, but a good player. To support my argument, I think the improvement from the game last week to this weekend’s game was huge. Against Seattle, a better team, yes, she was dreadful, but against KC she showed some promise. In the presser I could see the determination of a player who knew she could have done better. The coach knows it, her team mates know it, now Go Izzy! The team has a big game against Gotham and we will see if she continues to improve. Myself, I am betting on her.

    It seems to me that KC was using a Stoney approach to playing the Thorns, defend hard, hope to steal a point then bunker like mad. Teams have been bunkering a lot against the Thorns particularly with our full complement of magicians like Smith, Dunn and Sugita. I think the Thorns were impatient in this game, taking shots that they shouldn’t have, passing when they should have been shooting and particularly in the first half not protecting their defense on the counter. Lets work on those things Thorns.

    1. Couple of thoughts:
      1) see the update to the D’Aquila comment. I don’t see how the “she was better than OLR” take holds up. D’Aquila’s job is to score. To have 1.12xG and no goals? That’s the definition of “fail”. I’ll stand by my disappointment from her preseason form; we DO need her to be better, and she’s not, now.

      2) KCC is such a trashfire it’s hard to distinguish them “bunkering” from them “incapable of threatening to score”. After the PK? Yes. Then they did pack behind the ball.

      And it was hard to tell whether the Thorns’ attack was just impatient or whether it was a larger lack of familiarity and connection. It’s clear to me that Norris didn’t work hard preparing this group, or trying to bolster the group, for these games. Why? Dunno. Lack of interest from the old boss? No pressure from the presumptive new boss? Individual lack of managerial skills? Some combination of all three?

      Oh, well, at least it’s just this and Gotham, and the worthless Cup.


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