Thanks to ABell4 I spent a lovely 99 minutes with El Profe, the soccer fanposter who goes by “maajeestiic24” over at Twitch, to get my refill of last Sunday’s wonderful, improbably-hot-and-smoky-and-otherwise-insane, one-goal-up-one-player-down 2-1 home win over the visiting North Carolina Courage.
I wish after a year and a half in Panama my Spanish had progressed further than “Chuleta!” and “Dos cervezas mas, por favor!”, because it sounded like the dude was having big fun during this one. Which makes him a better man than I am, because I was sweating bullets up in 203, and not just because it felt like the inside of a smoking oven up there.
Largely because of this…
…and then this:
…is exactly what it looks like. It’s a fucking DOGSO and a straight red.
We’ll get into this in the comments, but it’s worth noting that here’s what I wrote about Kelli Hubly back in 2022:
“Hubly’s deal back in 2018 and 2019 when she was still largely a reserve and spot-starter was that she was a “high-risk/high-reward” player. One match she’d crush it, the next she’d cough up a massive defensive hairball and lose you the game.
A big part of her progression to starter meant cutting down on the derps, and she did; over the past couple of seasons she’s been rock-solid in back.”“2022 Final Grades: The Backline”
Here’s what made that boneheaded play even worse:
I’d worried about the club’s form coming in. The Replacements had struggled, although Hannah Befort was looking better every match, and the internationals had all taken some big mental hits Down Under. Sophia Smith had missed a penalty shot in the USWNT’s collapse, FFS!
This seemed like a trap game; I thought we risked coming out flat, taking the Damn Courage for their early season form, and getting swarmed instead.
Instead here’s my notes from the opening whistle to the DOGSO:
(The dashes are passes; “Tg” is a tackle for gain (“T” is a tackle), an “X” is a cross, a “C” is a clearance, an “A” is an attack, a “D” is a good defensive play, a “B” is a blocked pass or shot, an “R” is a dribble or run, and a “Z” is a shot):
1′ (POR): Kuikka – Moultrie – Kuikka X, C, Rodriguez take – Sinc – Rocky X Betfort good A but well defended by KPickett, Murphy take.
3′ (POR): Moultrie Tg, R – just too far for Betfort’s R, Murphy take.
6′ (POR): Kling free – Betfort flick – Moultrie – Weaver R, Z B, Betfort wins throw
6′ (POR): Kuikka throw – Moultrie – Weaver Z but @ Murphy
9′ (NCC): Boade – VPickett (Coffey b/w) – Ratcliffe – Lussi (Menges good D) out Gk
11′ (POR): Coffey Tg – Kling – Weaver – Betfort great A/R, KPickett flopping “T” (PK?) no call!
12′ (POR): Kling – Weaver, strong R, X, C, no Z.
In the first quarter hour the Thorns were fucking pounding on Carolina’s door. Killing it!
Two excellent half-chances (1st and 11th minute) and the bulk of the possession. Betfort was all over the Carolina backline, and I’d be willing to argue had a legitimate penalty shout on the Pickett flop.
And then a sending off, and a freakish free-kick goal on the ensuing set-piece:
The Thorns could easily have hung their heads and drifted away to an ugly loss.
First, Mike Norris made a smart substitution; he yanked his captain – who no longer plays any serious defense – for Meaghan Nally, slotted Nally in the backline in place of Hubly, and…
…dropped Raquel Rodriguez and Sam Coffey back into a double pivot, leaving his three forwards up top.
He also refused to let them (or they refused to) sit back; the forwards forechecked relentlessly all game. Here the squad is pushed up in the 9th minute:
And here they are almost an hour later:
That’s Betfort getting stuck in, BTW. Woman’s an utter beast with a thirst for blood.
I like that in a player.
Interestingly, Norris continued to send at least one fullback forward, typically Meghan Klingenberg, while hanging Natalia Kuikka back to deal with the threat of Brittany Ratcliffe.
That worked a treat; Kuikka (and we’ll talk about this in the comments, too) had one of her best games of the season and owned Ratcliffe like a box of Rice Krispies.
Okay, now…what helped a lot was The Damned were very un-devilishly slow and stodgy.
I expect pace from those wenches. I hate it, but they do that well. Instead, look at the two screenshots above. There’s a lot of white shirts just loafing around, aren’t there..?
In fact, Carolina had a whopping total of two fast breaks; a 58th minute attack beginning with an uncharacteristically poor Coffey pass picked off and put through to a running Olivia Wingate.
Bella Bixby came out hard and stoned Wingate’s shot.
Then in the 88th minute another turnover, this time by substitute Izzy D’Aquila, let Carolina bolt forward before going out wide to Ratcliffe, whose cross was headed towards two teammates running free on goal.
Bixby again came up huge, lunging out to bat the cross away (that’s the very first screenshot at the top of the page, BTW…)
That was it. There were some shots from distance, and a lot of “walking-the-ball-around-the-box”. But The Damned – up a player for damn near an hour – were outshot 10 to 9, 5 to 3 on goal.
They created so much nothing Chris Henderson was floored:
I wish I had Arielle Dror’s lovely passing diagrams, but she’s still recovering from the excitement of the World Cup. Maybe next time. But the Damned passed around a lot…and mostly got nothing out of it. No pace, no runs…nothing.
So the Thorns hung on, organized, alert and confident, and then lightning struck.
Couple of things here:
1) Kuikka lobs a perfectly weighted ball to Moultrie.
2) Moultrie chips another precise service to Betfort with two defenders in full cry (try it sometime and tell me how easy that is…)
3) Pickett is ballwatching and has no fucking idea where her mark (Betfort) is, and…
…4) Betfort flicks the ball on to herself with the neatest little outside-of-the-boot-heel-tap I’ve ever seen. There’s half a dozen ways she could have done that wrong.
…5) she finished with the deftest of touches.
I honestly don’t think she deke’d Murphy with the outside of her left foot as I’ve read elsewhere. I think it was just a good right-footed shot, placed too far from the keeper for Murphy to get at it.
After hanging onto the point for another almost half hour then, as we all know…
…lightning struck again.
Here’s my notes for the final half hour:
70′ (POR): Coffey Tg – Moultrie – Weaver Z @ Murphy
72′ (POR): Smith + Weaver Tg, Smith R, Z B, NCC take
75′ (NCC): Narumi R (Porter WTF?) but Ht, lost over byline, Gk
78′ (NCC): Long throw, Coffey H strait up, Wingate weak bike, Menges C, recycle, POR C again for NCC corner but Bixby strong take
84′ (POR): Kling throw, Moultrie – Weaver; NCC touch, Weaver regain, X, C
85′ (POR): Smith Tg, R – drop to Weaver, Z just wide R
88′ (NCC): D’Aquila L, breakout, wide – Ratcliffe, X, Bixby parry (Menges WTF?), C
And you’ll note – nothing from the 88th to 90+8th minutes, so that was that.
Not great overall: 75% to Carolina’s 85%.
How did the Thorns do in the attack, though?
Of the total of 392 total passes per OPTA I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of only 55 “attacking” passes (15% of the total, compared to 14% in Gotham, 18.5% against Kansas City, 17.8% against Washington, 16.5% in Chicago, 18% in Orlando, and 16% in Seattle).
That’s compared to Carolina smacking a ridiculous 640 passes around; ah, to have an extra pair of feet!
Anyway, 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-five in the first half, 20 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 63%; 19 (54%) in the first half, 16 (80%) in the second.
That’s damn impressive for an hour-plus of 10 v 11.
There wasn’t a lot of passing out of the Thorns last Sunday, but what there was, was choice.
And speaking of passing…
Turnover and over.
The Replacements were on a downward spiral; A total of 18 turnovers per match against both Orlando and Chicago, only 10 in the win over Washington, but then 27 against Kansas City and, worse, 33 at Gotham.
Against North Carolina I counted only 17; nine in the first half, eight in the second.
One was a complete disaster; Hubly’s heavy touch in the 14th minute.
Two more – one from Kuikka and another by Coffey – set up the 58th minute fastbreak, and a fourth by D’Aquila let Carolina run wild in the 88th. No other real damage, although Bixby was a repeat offender at losing possession, kicking three times into touch. As usual with goalkeeper distribution she didn’t cause any immediate danger to her own goal, but that’s not one of her strengths.
Overall a surprisingly good attacking performance, driving home what an outstanding match this squad produced.
None. Zero. Zilch. Nada.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that, but, again…a player down.
Fourteenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.
I had the Thorns taking a total of 15 throw-ins over 90+ minutes; four first half, 10 second; NCC took 25; 13 first half, 12 second.
Of Portland’s throws 10 (66%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. That’s outstanding and the best of the season to date
One was poorly taken and went against Portland. The remaining four (about 24%) were just neutral; kept possession but nothing going forward.
Here’s how that’s going:
|Opponent||Advantage gained||Advantage Lost||Neutral|
In keeping with the glum match they played, The Damned got advantage from only four of their throws (16%). Only one was really poor, but the bulk – about 80% – were just meh – tossed back and around just to keep possession.
Again…Portland just flat-out outplayed Carolina.
Player Ratings and Comments
Betfort (68′ – +7/-0 : +6/-0 : +13/-0) This game helped move me further and further towards the “Godammit, this is a fine striker” side of the fence I’ve been on about Betfort. Fierce, as noted above, relentless in the high press (three of her pluses are for tackles deep in the Carolina half).
Betfort showed off some pretty slick dribbling last Sunday, too, spinning and ducking with the ball on a string as Carolina tried to dispossess her and couldn’t.
Hell of a match for any striker, let alone a “Portland striker not named Smith”, which has been the rap on Bets.
Smith (22′ – +13/-2) For the record, this PMR works out as +53/-8 over 90 minutes.
Weaver (85′ – +10/-2 : +9/-5 : +19/7) All the usual Chaos Muppet goodness now with more forechecking. Her mana with Smith is supernatural, they’re such a sleek partnership.
Got a bit careless late in the game, so well subbed-off. Not on her; she must have been gassed running for two. Still, c’mon, Weaver…you can score goals. More finesse, less force, k?
D’Aquila (5′ – +3/-2) I really want to like this player better. She works hard, and isn’t afraid to push up. But her touch is often brutal and she doesn’t seem to have a lot of soccer nous. It’s just “run hard and kick”. In the 2013 NWSL that might have worked. It doesn’t now.
Moultrie (+16/-1 : +9/-1 : +25/-2) Holy shit. Those are Great Horan numbers. And young Livvy deserved every one. Ruthless tackling, fierce recoveries, elegant passing, and clever dribbling. I’m not sure what happened last Sunday – Moultrie had been looking out of ideas and overwhelmed with the Replacements – but I want to see it over and over again. Player of the Match for me…
Sinclair (22′ – +1/-0) Good substitution, and for all I think she was pissed at the time (she looked sullen shoving the armband on Sam Coffey’s wrong arm) I think she got it by the final whistle.
Nally (68′ – +2/-1 : +3/-4 : +5/-5) Two things can both be true: Meaghan Nally is not a very good defender, and Nally did enough to get a deserved place in the victory line Sunday night. I’m not sure if a better opponent might not have picked on her. But Carolina didn’t, or couldn’t, and so we’re here. Well enough, then.
Coffey (+5/-2 : +9/-1 : +14/-3) So here’s the thing about Coffey and Raquel Rodriguez; they didn’t ring up huge numbers Sunday night…because, like a good goalkeeper, their positioning and anticipation were so impeccable that they never had to step in and make that big “D”-winning duel or “Tg”-winning tackle.
But they both worked nicely at the dual 6 or kind of 6/8s, and so the Carolina midfield go no traction. Most attacks were cut out, or forced out wide to peter out in a pointless skein of passes.
Damn fine shift, and a clinic on running a midfield down by a player.
Rodriguez (68′ – +7/-2 : +3/-1 : +10/-3) see above.
Porter (22′ – +3/-2) See the Nally comment. Porter just isn’t that good. Not awful, but she’s a visibly significant step down from the midfield starters outside Sinclair. She did fine Sunday night, though, and that’s enough.
Kuikka (85′ – +15/-4 : +5/-0 : +20/4) There’s a very Finnish story told about the border guard who is well-hidden in his sniper position on the first day of the 1939 Winter War with the Soviets.
He’s got good warm clothing, his rifle is sighted to hit within a couple of millimeters over a kilometer, and he’s so well camouflaged as to be invisible to the immense column of Soviet infantry and armor slogging towards him through the gloomy woods.
He contemplates this parade for some time, chewing on his hard ryebread pettuleipä, and then remarks to no one in particular;
“So many of them, and so few of us.”
He chews for a moment more and adds glumly;
“How will we ever manage to bury them all?”
Reyes (5′ – +2/-0) Just fine.
Hubly (17′ – +0/-4) As discussed above, Kelli Hubly has regressed this season. She’s back to making the big errors that kept her on the bench through so much of 2018 and 2019. Obviously Sunday’s was an order of magnitude worse.
Bottom line; if she’s going to continue to start Hubly has got to knock off these brainfarts. She’s got to start hustling; the whole disaster began with a lazy pass or careless touch that’s been very much a feature with her lately.
Hubly has been much better than this. I’m not sure what’s wrong, but her coaches need to either get her headspace issues fixed or come up with a roster workaround.
Menges (+2/-1 : +5/-2 : +7/-3) Couple of minor goofs, and benefited from having a whole team in front of her defending like heroes as well as a goalkeeper standing on her head. Was the backline general, so earns that praise for her unit’s organization and discipline. That hasn’t always been there this season…but was when her team needed it. So…big props, EM.
Klingenberg (+4/-0 : +9/-3 : +13/-3) A huge performance from Kling, both going forward (8 of her pluses are for attacking) and defending. Had Tyler Lussi in her face a lot, and Lussi got nothing other than from a setpiece. Worth noting that Norris pushed her up a lot, yet Kling was only caught upfield once all night. Damn hard work, and a good match.
Bixby (+1/-1 : +6/-2 : +7/-3) After she looked slow and gawky on the Lussi goal I panicked a bit. But Bixby didn’t, and ruled her area in the second half; came out strong to take in the 44th, 51st, 79th, and 93rd minutes plus the two big stops we’ve mentioned. Looked confident and commanding, which had to have steadied the troops in front of her.
I should have trusted you, Bix. Well played.
Coach Norris: Canny match, marra.
Solid tactics (that double pivot, aye?) and all the subs worked well. On a night that could have shattered this squad you were there helping make it work for them.
Okay, now here’s the reward for good work: more work.
Momentum has been hard to hold for this club this season. We’ve seldom played two really good matches in a row. Form has been hard to hold.
This Sunday in Washington the Thorns have a chance to knock Washington out. They’re reeling; no wins in four, two points from the last twelve on offer.
Go there, put them to the sword, stay top, and send a potential playoff opponent a message like a blow to the head.
Are we up for that?