Thorns FC: Half Full..?

After an epic comeback win like the Carolina Red Card Wedding Reception it was hard not to think that the next match might be a bit of a emotional slump for the Thorns.

Then there’s the long-term issue of form; the Thorns seem to have trouble sustaining momentum. After a big win, as often as not a let-down draw, or even a loss.

So…what to think of the 1-1 road point at Audi Field against Washington?

Well, Chris Rifer – who’s seen a LOT of Portland soccer – was hugely impressed:

As you can see, I disagreed.

Here’s Arielle Dror’s xG race plot which started the Rifer conversation:


Neither side created a ton. Portland had two great chances that accounted for over half their 0.89xG. Take away the Hatch PK and Washington barely created just over half a goal all game.

Rifer thought that was Portland defending like a wall.


Reviewing tape I counted a total of 20-odd Washington buildups over the 100 or so minutes. Of these – not counting the penalty – I saw only seven that produced any danger. They were:
6′ Rodman gets through defense, in 1v0, shoots directly at Bixby
13′ Staab hits Sanchez w long throw, Sanchez weak shot right @ Bixby
37′ Rodman strong run, Rocky good tackle
43′ Saar crosses in, weak clearance right to Rodman, her shot is soft and right @ Bixby
56′ Rodman skins Kling but shoots right @ Bixby
62′ Kling stripped, Rodman turns but her touch is too heavy, Bixby out to take
84′ Ricketts lead pass puts Rodman through the backline but too heavy, runs over the byline

So nice defending by Rodriguez on Trinity Rodman in the 37th minute.

But the rest? Those were kinda on Washington more than rock-solid defending from where I sit.

The midfield and backline PMRs suggest that Washington was kind of moving the ball around at will; the savage pressing that shut down Carolina..?

That shit was gone like a happy memory.

Washington, on the other hand, was having fun getting stuck all in to Thorns:

This produced a whole bunch of turnovers, which we’ll get to, and that was on top of all the purely sloppy unforced mishit passes and heavy touches. The tidiness on the ball that helped give Carolina their conge’?

That was gone, too.

And speaking of gone…

It’s too early to have any real idea whether we’ve lost Sophia Smith. Or, if so, for how long. Knees are tricky. I’m going to keep my hopes up until the MRI comes back ugly.

Here’s the bottom line for me:

The Thorns got a road point.

That’s good.

The Thorns could have gotten three points; Washington was having hit-water-fell-out-of-boat issues all game, needed a shifty handball call to GET the point, whilst Mike Norris spent the first hour faffing about with Christine Sinclair trudging around midfield, immobile as a practice cone.

That seems like a missed opportunity to me.

That’s bad.

Short Passes

Neither club was particularly sleek; Portland’s 75% was marginally worse than Washington’s 78%. Lots – as we’ll discuss – of sloppy passing.

The first half shows what a hash the Thorns were making of the business:

What to make of this? Morgan Weaver has to track back damn near to the kickoff spot to get what little service she’s getting.

Smith is stranded, Moultrie is even moreso.

Coffey is tearing it up, but mostly lateral passes or backpasses, and the whole Kuikka-Coffey-Moultrie right side is a cat’s-cradle.

This is the weirdest looking 4-4-2 I think I’ve ever seen.


Like a bridge truss; all over the place – except for…where?

In front of goal. Right? Pretty much what we saw and have talked about.

Of the total of 383 total passes per OPTA I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 47 “attacking” passes (12% of the total, compared to 14% in Gotham, 18.5% against Kansas City, 17.8% against Washington, 16.5% in Chicago, 18% in Orlando, 16% in Seattle, and 15% against Carolina last week).

That’s the lowest attacking percentage since I started tracking this, and it’s worth noting that of that number only 26 were in the first 64 minutes, so something like 44-45 percent of the attacking passes came in the last half hour.

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.

Eighteen in the first half, 29 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 70%; 12 (66%) in the first half, 21 (72%) in the second.

So what I’m seeing is the same issue as the match as a whole; a full hour of languor, with Thorns just sort of kicking about. Then a solid half hour, but unlucky on both ends; not to score and conceding the spot-kick.

Turnover and over.

Last week was a blinder; only 17 turnovers over 99 minutes. Before that we’d seen a total of 18 turnovers per match against both Orlando and Chicago, 10 in the win over Washington, 27 against Kansas City and the previous high, 33, at Gotham.

In Washington the oopsies returned with a vengeance; 36 turnovers over the 100 minutes.

In keeping with the issues Washington had in front of goal, though, only a handful produced real danger; a Klingenberg pass directly to Rodman in the 31st minute led to a dangerous spell of possession in the Thorns third. Then in the 51st Kling booted directly to Ashley Hatch right in front of the 18.

Still. All these giveaways helped keep the Thorns out of synch and struggling to impose their game on a very impose-able opponent.

Corner Kicks

Six, one first half, five second, all long.

45+3′CoffeyLongOver the scrum to Rodriguez, who dropped to Moultrie. Her shot was blocked and Kling’s recycle went right to Kingsbury
79′CoffeyLongNear post; Kingsbury fought with it but ended up holding on
83′CoffeyLongKingsbury went for it but fumbled, cleared, recycled but Kingsbury took the lob
85′CoffeyLongBack post and cleared, the recycled lob right to Kingsbury
90+5′CoffeyLongOver everyone to Porter, whose weak effort fails to make contact for what would have been a free header
90+10′CoffeyLongOver everyone and the whistle went.

Porter with a missed chance. Otherwise, nothing.


Fifteenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 22 throw-ins over 100 minutes; 17 first half, five second; Washington took 25; 13 first half, 12 second.

Of Portland’s throws six (27%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Ten (45%) were poorly taken and went against Portland, the worst to date. The remaining six were just neutral; kept possession but nothing going forward.

Here’s how that’s going:

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

Washington’s throws were characterized by:
1) Success – 16 of 25 (64%) advanced their position. Only two – 8% – were negative, and;
2) Sam Staab; as we mentioned after the last Washington game, Staab has a monster throw. Around the penalty area it’s as good as a free or corner kick.

That’s a hell of a useful weapon to have. Just sayin’, coach. Just sayin’.

Player Ratings and Comments

Weaver (+1/-3 : +6/-1 : +9/-4) This was such a pretty team goal I wanted to highlight it, starting with Sam Coffey tackling for gain and bolting upfield:

She’s got Olivia Moultrie to her right, Taylor Porter to her left, and Weaver out there in front of the Washington backline.

Coffey plays a nice little 1-2 with Moultrie to play through the DMs, and…

…sees Weaver running off her defender’s shoulder. Coffey slots a perfect through-ball:

Weaver takes it in stride and – here’s the terrific part – with Kingsbury coming out strong…

…Weaver slices the ball to the far post with the outside of her right boot.

2022 or 2021 Weaver just blasts that right at keeper.

This Weaver has got some slick foot skills. I loved seeing this, and I’d love to see more.

Weaver had two terrific second half injury time runs; in the 94th minute she drove to the byline and crossed in to Crystal Dunn’s feet, but Dunn had a defender on top of her and had to lay off to Betfort, whose shot was soft and right at Kingsbury.

A minute later Weaver made the same run, made the same cross, only Betfort’s good shot was blocked out for a corner.

Good match, great goal, and unlucky not to have more.

Smith (45′ – +6/-2)

What can I say?

She’s terrific, a generational talent. She routinely beats defenders 1v1 and even 1v2

She can’t play hero-ball 1v4 or 1v6, and that’s what Washington threw at her.

I hope she’s not badly injured, as much for the loss of the joy she brings as for the loss of her talent to the team if she is.

Betfort (45′ – +1/-3) I think Hannah Betfort thrives on the high press. She wants to get stuck in and is a danger when she’s allowed off the leash.

The cautious sort of low-ish block Mike Norris held the squad into at Audi Field did Betfort no favors, nor did her having a slow, static midfield behind her for damn near twenty minutes.

Moultrie (72′ – +2/-0 : +3/-1 : +5/-1) Olivia Moultrie didn’t so much have a “bad game” in Washington as she had very little of the game at all. For most of her shift she had no chance to go forward, and tracking back she had to cover both her and Sinc’s ground, so Washington’s danger women simply ran around her.

As you’ll see; this is a common theme for this game. Look not at the net but the total of the PMRs. Lots of “+3/-2” sorts of totals. That’s players not having much of an impact, either for good or ill.

Moultrie was just one of much of the squad who struggled to impose herself on the game last Sunday.

Dunn (18′ – +10/-1) On the other hand, four players had outstanding games by their own and the team’s plus-minus metrics; Dunn was one. Hina Sugita, Sam Coffey, and Natalia Kuikka were the other three.

If Smith was ready to go a full 90 – which I’m guessing was the plan unless the Thorns went up by three early – why wasn’t Dunn? Dunn for Moultrie and Sugita for Sinclair sparked the Thorns for the final 20 minutes and only bad luck and a shifty penalty stole the points from them. Coach? Any comment on this?

Rodriguez (45′ – +3/-2) and Porter (45′ – +2/-5) Playing one of the double pivots neither player had a terrific match. While Porter was unsurprisingly the lesser of the two she benefited from getting Dunn-Sugita help in the late going.

In a sense neither player had a “bad” game, though. They worked hard and did what they could, and Washington helped by coughing up the ball in midfield when even daintily pressed.

Not great, not bad, road point…kinda…yeah, it was like that.

Coffey (+2/-0 : +6/-0 : +8/-0) Same story with Coffey; struggled to get involved in the first half, spent a lot of time cleaning up after her teammates giveaways and chasing people Sinc couldn’t catch.

Grew as a force in the second, picked up the gorgeous assist, and was the usual rock in back.

She really works well in the double pivot provided the AMs in front of her are not…

Sinclair (61′ – +2/-2 : +0/-2 : +2/-4) This is just sad. Here’s the captain, latching onto a loose ball near the top of the arc with Smith to her left and Weaver running into space to her right.

What does she do with this bounty?

She boots it directly to…

Tara Fucking McKeown.

I’m just frustrated and angry. There’s no point in sending Sinc out to lumber around the pitch, flailing, trying and failing to get involved, and making errors like this.

The goal she’ll poach every seventh game or so isn’t worth the extra work she piles on her midfield and backline and the opportunities she provides the opponents.

C’mon, coach. Give her, give us, give her teammates a break and hold her on the bench until she can come in as an impact sub. She’s a boat anchor right now, especially since you have…

Sugita (29′ – +9/-0) …Hina-san to do the heavy work at the #10. Tidy in possession, fierce in forechecking…you’ve got a goddamn F1 Ferrari and you’re keeping her in reserve to try racing an International Scout at the Monaco Grand Prix.

That’s nuts.

Kuikka (+6/-2 : +5/-2 : +11/-4) Solid night for our haakkapellita, and particularly keeping the knuckle on Ouleymata Saar, who looked dangerous but got little out of Kuikka because of the latter’s positioning and anticipation. Second outstanding match in a row.

Nally (+1/-2 : +4/-1 : +5/-3) Good match in general. Nally will never crack the league Best XI, but she put in a solid defensive shift at Audi, so well done.

Menges (+0/-1 : +3/-2 : +3/-3)

The handball rule is a troublesome one, and this is a troublesome handball.

It didn’t “benefit” the Thorns at all; the ball came off Menges’ boot headed up in the air; in all likelihood it would have gone out for a corner, or Bixby would have caught it, or it just would have come down on someone’s head to be pinged around.


How do you write a rule that allows for the judgement whether the handling “benefits” the handling team? Where do you make that judgement, whether the handling was genuinely inadvertent, or cunningly feigned?

To me this one, though, while clearly a “handball” in the letter of the law, is soft, soft as church music. I don’t have any hard words for Emily Menges about this.

Now, this..?

THIS I’ve got some words for.

This is in the 54th minute; Washington had hucked a harmless long rainbow into the Thorns’ 18.

Bella Bixby was there, no black shirts were closer than the edge of the penalty area. So what did you do?

You came steaming back and threw a leg out, and whether you touched the ball or not you freaked your keeper out, forcing her to pull up and chest-trap the ball, afraid to handle it in case your touch was ruled a backpass.

You’ve led the Thorns backline a loooooong time. Tell me you don’t understand about communication, especially with your keeper. I’m not sure if you don’t trust Bixby, or you weren’t thinking, or what the hell was going on.

But this is not the sort of calm professionalism I expect from you.

Klingenberg (72′ – +0/-6 : +2/-4 : +2/-10) Holy hell, that must have felt like the longest seventy-two minutes in history. Every three or four of them Rodman was skinning you out of your shorts. That must have like one of those movies where the zombie hordes just swarm out like rats, only bigger and with more sponsorships.

You’ve come up with a variety of clever workarounds to the pace that Time has stolen from you. But some opponents simply have the sort of ball skills and raw speed that no amount of experience and anticipation can put a harness on, and this was one of them. It hurt to watch, and hopefully you can shake it off for the next one.

Reyes (18′ – +4/-1) Much more up to the task of Rodman Harnessing. Good shift going forward, as well.

Bixby (+1/-1 : +1/-1 : +2/-2) Here’s a weird stat thing.

When she played Nadine Angerer was famous for stopping penalties. That was her Big Stick; if you went to a shootout she’d win it for you. She was that good. That was one thing she was known for.

When we looked at this earlier we noted how she seems to have the skills to teach it to her players; A.D Franch was terrific against the spot, and it seems as if young Shelby Hogan has looked good facing PKs.


Not so much, and last Sunday’s was no exception. Hard to say if she’d have saved given her shallow dive, but Bixby guessed wrong anyway.

That was too bad, because outside that Bixby had a pretty damn good match. It helped that Washington wanted her to have the ball and shot right at her, but she had a nice save off Rodman in the 6th minute and came out strong in the 62nd minute to shut Rodman down again.

Tough night.

Coach Norris: So, it kind of comes down to how you look at this game, eh, marra?

Lots of people – the Chris Rifers of the world – see this one as a glass half full. Tough road match, bad luck with the penalty call but nicked the road point against a playoff-bound team.

I get that. I do.

But me?

I see it more like half-empty; coming off a huge emotional high win, against a struggling (two losses, two draws last four) opponent (who generated half-chance after half-chance but needed the center referee to salvage the home point) to come out flat for an hour, finally nick the winner, and then drop two points in second half injury time?

That seems kinda sad.

Just a wasted opportunity.

Hey! I like road points! I’ll still take it!

I just can help wanting more.


Next weekend the Thorns continue their road trip, this time in Louisville, a team that, while not above the red line, is close – 8th, three points adrift of Seattle.

Can this squad come out harder, faster, more lethal than they did in the first hour at Audi?

Will we have Smith back? If not…can the squad that was on the pitch in the last twenty minutes here duplicate the energy and style of that twenty minutes for the full 90 there?

Can we run that group out to do that?

Well, coach? Can you?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Half Full..?

  1. In terms of half-empty vs. half-full, I have to ask myself WWED? (What Would Eeyore Do?) That answer is pretty clear.

    The handball call: it was just galling after that lousy, result-changing call to see Alyssa Thompson get away with an actual blatant handball in the box. Mind you, I was glad to see AC beat Reign, but still. I’ll be interested to see the VAR Review of the call against Menges. Any idea why there was no VAR on the Thompson handball?

    1. Since I didn’t watch any of the ACFC/OLR game I have no real insight into what happened, other than to just restate my opinion that the “handball” rule is, other than the offside rule, one of the most difficult in the game both in enforcement and consistency.

      The whole point is to prevent something like the Suarez handball in the Ghana match back at WC2010. But a LOT of ball-hand contact is less obviously a problem, and the Menges handling was typical – a handball (and, yes, it was) that didn’t actually do much of anything to help the Thorns.

      The Thompson handball looks pretty obvious to me, and it’s more clearly a “benefit” to ACFC; Thompson’s arm directly stops the flight of the ball towards the endline, compared to Menges’ – where the cross was already deflected off Menges’ foot and all the arm did was prevent it popping up into the air.

      But I’m not sure how you could write a rule like that, or how you could enforce it; as Jensen’s non-call shows, just enforcing the existing rule is troublesome.

  2. Thanks for the analysis John. I guess right now I can’t think about much until we know how bad Smith’s injury is. This is a very talented team and I think it is set up to survive this injury with the available talent. BUT! If and Only If the best players are on the fields and playing in their best positions. Soph is a big unknown, but the other unknown is will the coach start his best eleven and put them in the best positions to help the team. We will see against Louisville. They are a fast team even without Fox. This is a definitely winnable game. Anything less than three with a tight table could be a huge missed opportunity. Soph won’t be there regardless of her injury, but this team could still win this game. That is my half-full view.

    1. Again…the one constant from this squad this season is inconsistency.

      So the galling PK equalizer might anger and electrify the squad to want to come out and put the sword to Louisville. The Thorns should be the better team – not as much better without Smith – so that should be do-able.

      OTOH…if Norris runs out the same XI he did in the first hour at Audi (with Betfort for Smith) and has them drop and give Louisville the sort of possession the Spirit had? I could see that going to hell in a hurry…

      We’ll have to just see. I’m going to be cautiously hopeful, but Norris has bollixed things like this up before.

    2. Damn I forgot Fox is no longer LooVill, but NC.

      I am hoping for Weaver and Dunn and behind them Sugita, Rocky, Moultrie and Coffey with the back being Natu, Menges, Sauerbrunn, and Reyes. Subs in order Betfort, Kling and Sinclair. If Sauerbrunn is not ready Nally is fine. She is the opposite of Sonnett, who often was high risk, but high reward. Nally seems to be low risk, but also low reward. But then how often does a center back win the game. It hasn’t happened since last week (err Dahlkemper).

      1. I’m not really enthusiastic about Dunn at the #9. She doesn’t play there for the Nats, hasn’t player there here, and didn’t play there for NCC. IIRC the last time she played as a forward was for Chelsea back in 2017, but there she was moved to wingback. Not saying that’s impossible, but Betfort looked like she was coming along nicely, and Dunn is a big piece of the midfield when the midfield is set up “right”.

        Other than that…my preference would be to see Norris get the squad to press. They can’t do that with the 4-3-3 if Sinc and Moultrie are the two AMs, tho, they’re both too slow. But a diamond with Hina-Dunn-Moultrie/Rodriguez and Coffey (or a 4-2-3-1 with Betfort-Weaver-Sugita-Dunn in front of a Coffey-Moultrie/Rodriguez double pivot) I think would work.

        Will Norris go there? Two games ago I’d have said he was married to the 4-3-3. Now? I’m not sure.

        We’ll have to see.


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