Thorns FC: Ohfor…


Or three, if you want to count that dreadful little Cup tie loss to Seattle a couple of weeks ago.

I don’t want to beat this dead…whatever the hell this poor dead thing is. We all know the issues. We’ve all seen them; we’re trying to play Sophia-Smith-soccer without Smith.

Turnovers. Transition. Individual errors. Hero-ball.

The problem with playing hero ball is that unless you have heroes (and step up, Hannah Betfort, you most-unlikely-hero-of-Gotham-away, you!) you’re kinda screwed.

And here’s the other thing with playing hero ball; even if you have heroes, if your opponent has bigger, better heroes, or if your heroes have an off day – and even heroes have off days – then you’re still kinda screwed.

That’s what bugs me about this squad and this coach this season.

This isn’t a sudden collapse of a solidly-managed club.

This is a group of reserves and fringe players doing the exact same things we’ve seen their hero-teammate starters doing. The difference is that the heroes can still nick points even with formation issues and repeated turnovers.

The Replacements?

No, they can’t.

The “good news”? This is the last time we’ll have to see this poor struggling group trying to make a sandwich out of soup.

By the next league game – and there’s some Cup ties in July and early August but, c’mon; that shit’s done and dusted and outside the pot of cash who cares? – we’ll have most if not all of the internationals back.

The real question I want to know about is whether we can play hero-ball all the way to another star.

Because when your wins depend on heroes there’s a lot of people aiming for your heroes. And they only have so many hit points. You gotta have a lot of luck and a lot of heroism to win out.

Do we?

Anyway. Just a couple of things from the loss from Jersey before we get to player ratings.

First, one thing I never thought I’d see was this squad giving up. But if this isn’t giving up…

…I dunno what is.

Chasing the game, having pulled a goal back, the Thorns offensively flatlined.

I couldn’t help noticing watching the replay (I won’t kid you; I was watching this live at The Sports Bra – and a big shoutout to those lovely people! – and I cashed out at halftime. The soccer was brutally ugly, it was a nice sunny afternoon, and I had a free cold beer and a good book waiting for me on the deck at home) that after the Betfort goal it got damn near impossible to watch for any length of time.

Gotham was just parking the bus, so, yeah.

But Portland?

Holy shit; random, confused, pointless…it looked like some sort of fucking second-rate flash mob. I kept having to stop the tape and re-focus; it was just that bad.

And then I got to thinking about this:

That’s Elyse Bennett running onto a Bella Bixby-blocked lob/shoss to pot the loose ball for the matchwinner.

In the rectangle behind her is Emily Menges, the one-time Great Wall. Who had been sprinting back underneath the Alyssa Malonson lob.

HAD been sprinting.

But when Bennett raced past her (past Emily Menges? Once the fastest Thorn on the squad..?) Menges sat up and just jogged.

I’ve honestly never seen that before. Veteran. Two-time champion squad defensive rock. Leader of the backline Emily Menges.

Emily Menges fucking just gave up.

That bugs the hell out of me.

Turnover and over.

We’ve been tracking this. How’d it look against Gotham?

Remember that the Kansas City loss set a new season high; 27 turnovers in 90+ minutes. After 18 turnovers against both Orlando and Chicago but only 10 in the win over Washington.


Let’s just say that Kansas City is no longer the record. The Thorns hacked up 33 hairballs at Red Bull; 20 in the first half, 13 in the second.

The Bad Girl?

Reyna Reyes – nine of the 33. Natalia Kuikka coughed up six, Olivia Moultrie four, and nine other Thorns had between one and three.

Even Bella Bixby had a couple.

Kuikka’s sixth minute backpass was probably the most heinous, simply because 1) it was totally avoidable, and 2) it could easily have resulted in the Thorns going down a player, given the crudity of Bixby’s chop-block on Midge Purce.

But the evidence is pretty clear; when the full squad does this it hurts the team. When the replacements do it, it’s lethal.

Forwards, score!


That means you, too.

Look, I get it. You’re not Smith. Hell, Izzy D’Aquila and Michelle Vasconcelos and Betfort aren’t, either. But c’mon, Kling. You got Abby Smith at your mercy here.

You could chip her. You could snap a shot inside the right post. Or…

…you could wait and blast a shot within her range that Smith could stick a foot out and kick-save away.

You had your team’s best chance of the match. You’re a huge leader for this club. You gotta sink that.

Short Passes

Dreadful; Gotham’s 73.1 wasn’t great but was “okay” given the result. Portland’s 68.3% was atrocious.

This is so weird I don’t know where to begin.

For one thing, WTF is Vasconcelos doing? She’s supposed to be right wing but she’s faffing around the center circle. D’Aquila is pushed up as the nine (not that she did much there – another awful game, and we’ll get there…), and Morgan Weaver is in some sort of weird AM/LW limbo.

The midfield looks somewhat sensible, but the fullbacks? Kuikka is tracking back trying to keep a leash on Yazmeen Ryan. But what the hell is Reyes up to? She’s got Purce steaming at her, and she’s still damn near in the Gotham back right corner. That, in turn pulls Menges out of position.


Here’s Gotham:

No real surprises. Everything going up the gut. Worked, too, and that’s what counts.

Of the total of 379 total passes per OPTA I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of only 57 “attacking” passes (15% of the total, compared to about 18.5% against Kansas City, 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.

Thirty-three in the first half, 24 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 52.6%; 16 (48%) in the first half, 14 (58%) in the second.

The second half drought is especially damning. Chasing the game, as noted above, the Thorns had nothing.

Corner Kicks

Only three. Two first half, one second, One short, two long

13′MoultrieShort…to Coffey, who hit a weak cross that was easily cleared
25′MoultrieLongWay over the scrum, recycled, ended with a D’Aquila shot right at Smith
71′CoffeyLongDimed Betfort who was well defended, the ball was cleared. Recycled, but got nowhere



Thirteenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 17 throw-ins over 90+ minutes; seven first half, 10 second; Gotham got 26; 10 first half, 16 second.

Of Portland’s throws only three (17.6%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Worst since Orlando, and the average is around 34% so poor on an absolute scale.

Four (23.5%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. The remaining 10 (58.8%) were just neutral.

Here’s how that’s going:

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

Gotham was significantly better; eight of 26 (30.7%) were positive, only one was lost, and the remainder (17, 65.4%) were “neutral”.

Player Ratings and Comments

Vasconcelos (54′ – +4/-0 : +0/-0 : +4/-0) Three of her four pluses are for tackles, and that pretty much says all you need to know.

Betfort (36′ – +4/-1) Perhaps as shocking as Betfort scoring was the goal itself; well taken, and the result of Betfort never giving up, chasing and harassing the Gotham backline. Well played.

D’Aquila (78′ – +0/-4 : +0/-0 : +0/-4) At this point I’m not sure if the D’Aquila Experiment should run any further. When we drafted her Chris Henderson noted that “Her conversion rate ran a little hot and cold…” but we haven’t seen so much as “tepid” since preseason. I don’t think she’s the droid we’re looking for.

Beckman (12′ – no rating) When you’re chasing the game and your substitution replaces an ineffective forward with an even more ineffective whatever-Beckman-is-at-this-point?

That’s how you say “Our bench is bereft” without actually saying “Our bench is bereft”.

Weaver (+4/-4 : +7/-3 : +11/-7) At this point I should probably be happy that Weaver, at least, was hustling and fighting until the final whistle. But it was frustrating to see that in her desperation she reverted to this; here she is with a chance in the 13th minute:

Look where Smith is! That’s AbbySmith all over; great technical keeper, not so great as decision-making. If Weaver gets a toe under the ball…

…it’s 0-1.

But Weaver still seems to have headspace issues when things get tense; she reverts to the “run fast/shoot hard” Weaver that was so frustratingly ineffective in her rookie season, so instead we get this:

A straight blast that comes off the defender for a corner that, as we saw, comes to nothing.

I don’t expect Weaver to be a Smith or a Morgan-grade striker. But she’s got to put more clubs in her bag if she’s ever going to progress.

Moultrie (+4/-3 : +1/-3 : +5/-6) It’s unfair to expect a 17-year-old to play like the key piece of the midfield, but Olivia Moultrie has been so good this year that it’s shocking when she has an off-game like this. She had the same problem she had against Kansas City; her shot selection was poor, and her shooting eye was way off. Solid defending, but nothing in attack when the Thorns needed more attack.

Coffey (+3/-0 : +0/-0 : +3/-0) All her usual strengths, but, like a pebble in a bowl of jello, wouldn’t add any sort of strength to the team outside her own reach. These last three games she must feel like Sisyphus, trying to roll the midfield uphill all her ownself.

Klingenberg (81′ – +0/-5 : +4/-3 : +4/-8) Juan Carlos Amorós must have see Kling’s name in midfield and rubbed his hands. He sent his own midfield and backline (Ali Krieger and Allie Long, in particular…) to harass her every time she touched the ball, and the result was ugly; Kling was constantly dispossessed.

I read in the match thread a lot of stick for her poor block on the Nighswonger shoss that looped to Long at the back post, blaming her for the third goal in three games. But here’s the thing; Kling was a victim of disorganized defending more than anything on her.

Here’s the Thorns moments before the shoss, with Yazmeen Ryan in possession out from the near corner of the eighteen:

Ryan had picked up the ball off a corner kick, and the Thorns were still packed inside; note six white shirts around three blue. Nobody was worried about Nighswonger because everybody was fixated, like a bird by a snake, by the danger of a Ryan cross back in to the penalty spot.

Ryan picked out Nighswonger and floated a crossfield pass:

NOW the clump begins to break up. Weaver had made an abortive move to the pass, saw it was out of range, and had stopped near the top of the box. Kling was closest to Nighswonger so moved out to close her down, but…

…too late; Nighswonger teed up, Kling stuck a foot out, the ball pinged into the air and landed in the goalmouth.

Bad goal, poor, disorganized defending…but not on Kling more than anyone else, really.

Still…see the Beckman comment. Our “depth” is proving to be an illusion.

Porter (9′ – +1/-1) No impact.

Kuikka (+3/-4 : +1/-1 : +4/-5) Disturbing. As a veteran international you’d think Natalia Kuikka would provide discipline and calm to the Replacements. Instead she continues to play poorly. I’m not sure what the problem is, but at this point she is a net negative, and the coaching staff needs to help her out or find a replacement.

Hubly (+3/-2 : +2/-1 : +5/-3) Hard to hand out roses for a stinker like this, but Kelli Hubly had a solid game in general – indeed, the whole backline was “not great but not awful” most of the match; it was the random derps that led to concessions, as well as the attack and midfield unable to possess and pass effectively.

Menges (+2/-3 : +3/-2 : +5/-4) Why are you doing stuff like this..?

And jakin’ it at times, like on the Stengal goal?

I’m hoping that this is just a down spell, because we reeeeeally need you to be the Great Wall Emily again.

Reyes (+4/-8 : +5/-6 : +9/-14) Bad, bad game. Poor passing, defensive errors, though the positional problems are probably on coaching. Not entirely shocking for a rook to pull a rock during a team-wide down cycle, but not helping the depleted squad.

Bixby (+1/-4 : +1/-1 : +1/-5) The struggles continue. Lucky, as noted above, not to have been sent off early for a poor decision and bad challenge. Bixby is still a good shot-stopper, as her 39th minute kick-save attested. But she’s not playing with the sort of confident aggression that reassures a backline.

I think this has become a sort of self-licking ice cream cone. The backline is playing tight and nervous, knowing that any error could result in a concession. That makes Bixby tense and tentative, not wanting to take chances and, when she does, often miscalculating, which puts the wind further up her backline. Rinse, repeat.

Coach Norris: Kind of mean to pound on the same issues all over, but…

At this point I think we can all figure out how this goes. Either the hero-ball is heroic enough to fight through all the other troubles we’ve seen over and over, or it runs into a rock – a Seattle having a great day, a Smith injury, a string of unlucky results – and sinks.

I don’t see this coach as having a lightbulb moment. We are what we are and that’s what we’ll be until something changes in management.

So we just have to hope for heroics.

Now the World Cup break gives us nothing but Cup ties until late August, so I’ll be back to chat about them but no “Thorns FC” for a bit. See you on the other side…

John Lawes
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2 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Ohfor…

  1. Nice writing John! This:
    Coffey (+3/-0 : +0/-0 : +3/-0) All her usual strengths, but, like a pebble in a bowl of jello, wouldn’t add any sort of strength to the team outside her own reach. These last three games she must feel like Sisyphus, trying to roll the midfield uphill all her ownself.
    And on STF… pulling fire watch in an empty barracks. That is a great visual of a massive timewaster.
    As an admitted optimist, that game left me with nothing to be optimistic about. Nothing! Nada! Zilch!
    I thought that was you at the Sports Bra. I wasn’t sure. Watching two games for awhile and the USWNT were pretty underwhelming in the first half too. I think Alyssa Thompson suffers some of Olivia Moultrie’s issues. She shoots when she should pass and passes when she should shoot. Electrifying speed, but still needs polish. However, when Williams and Rodman to came in to join Smith the field opened up. All three are fast, strong, good passers, good defenders and pretty reliable shooters. Vlatco was smart to bring in DeMello, she is the NWSL hot hand and without LaVelle, she is the adrenalin the midfield needs. I remain unconvinced that Ertz and LaVelle will be ready even for the knockouts.

    1. I think the “optimist” take is that this is probably the last league match for the Replacements. By August we should have several starters back.

      What’s NOT hopeful is, as noted, seeing all these same issues time and again. This isn’t rocket science, and I want Norris, a fellow Geordie, to get wise to them and do something, he hasn’t yet and doesn’t seem likely to, dammit.

      The real issue behind ALL this is the sale, and I’m getting pretty irked that we’re hearing nothing. That’s the real Nada/Zilch thing that chaps my ass.

      I won’t pretend to be too worried about the Nats. They were up against Wales’ hard bunker and took time to break it down…but they did. They’ll need to keep on doing that this coming month and change…


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