Not a town in Wales.

Our form over the last six.

I’m not sure that you can’t discount something for the first two losses. Those are the Replacements getting hammered by Kansas City here and Gotham away.

The last three results, though?

That’s the ridiculously terrific ten-player win over Carolina then the dour draw at Audi Field and this mess in Louisville.

Here’s the thing about the Louisville match. At the time I watched it live I was livid. Over at Stumptown I wrote:

“…to be an “epic collapse” this would have had to have been 1,000 times better from both squad and coach. Instead the squad looked like shit from the opening whistle, rode a freakish lucky goal, Bixby, and the woodwork for an hour until the shifty defending, poor individual play, and lack of a coherent tactical plan put them to the sword. We didn’t deserve points from this shitshow, and deservedly didn’t get any.”

~ Recap and Highlights (Stumptown Footy)

Since then I’ve slogged through the match again, and I think I was too hard on the squad. Instead:
1) Louisville was the much better side, and
2) The Thorns were not good – both some individuals and as a squad – but the real issue was that this team is set up to play Smith hero-ball and can’t do that without Smith.

My original wrath was roused when Louisville came out raging and should have been up by two in the first five minutes.

Portland’s “defense” was a shambles, and had Kirsten Davis’ wide open 3rd minute shot not clanked off Bella Bixby’s right post and then…

…Paige Monaghan not Wondo’ed off the crossbar from five yards out two minutes later the story of this match would indeed be about “epic shitshow”.

But that didn’t happen.

Much like Washington the previous match, Racing got look after look and shanked them all. It wasn’t defending. It was purely on Louisvlle finishing ineptitude. Then Morgan Weaver pounced on a horrific Rebecca Holloway backpass and clumsy Katie Lund clearance to pot the opener and put the Thorns in an utterly improbable lead.

You’ll note that Weaver immediately got it:

That’s “Settle the fuck down!” if ever I’ve seen it. And, surprisingly (for those of us who’d survived the first five minutes) the Thorns did.

The rest of the first half was pretty even. Here’s Arielle Dror’s xG race:

Note the Racing steps near halftime? That was this:

Bella Bixby gets down strong and parries away a scary-good Ary Borges shot.


Remember the whole “defense was a shambles”? Look who’s lurking utterly unmarked at the top of the six?

Yep. And without a defender (ummm…Kuikka? Hello? Your mark?) Abby Erceg puts the rebound square across the face of goal:

It rolls past Meghan Klingenberg – whose run carries her past the ball and over the goalline – and damn near into the paths of both Davis and Monaghan.

Luckily for Portland Hina Sugita got a boot in to clear the danger.

But you get the idea.

So…yeah. Portland did kinda ride a fluky goal, Bixby, luck, and the woodwork for an hour before the match caught up with them on a couple of setpieces.

First Erceg got a head to Louisville’s gajillionth corner in the 60th minute. Kelli Hubly gave her too much space, then closed too late and jumped too low to prevent the good header.

All square at one.

Four minutes later gazillionth-and-oneth corner was cleared out no further than Thembi Kgatlana (who, it should be emphasized, had been a menace all game), who calmly teed the ball up and drove it though the crowd and to victory.

Meanwhile, what was going on with Portland?

Well…lots of this, starting with a Coffey-to Natalia Kuikka throw-in. Lots of space for Kuikka to turn upfield, right?

Or…not; Kuikka noodles back towards the touchline and Kgatlana closes down and tackles her.

Pressed hard Kuikka has to drop back to Sugita, who dribbles inside looking for an outlet.

She’s not finding one; Kgatlana had Kuikka blocked off, while Monaghan and Wang Shuang are cutting off the forward and lateral pass. No Thorns are running off the ball into space, so Sugita has to drop back to Kelli Hubly.

Hubly, in turn, doesn’t see anyone moving to open space. She has to return the ball short to Raquel Rodriguez in the low center of the Thorns half.

Rocky doesn’t see anyone moving, either, so she goes back to the closest open teammate, Sugita.

Sugita? Still nothing. She sees Kuikka looking kinda open near the midfield stripe and goes there…but Kgatlana and Holloway are quicker; they sandwich Kuikka and…

…strip her of the ball.

As it happened, Kgatlana threw an arm back and slapped Kuikka across the face, conceding the foul and the free kick.

But the Thorns did this sort of stuff for 84 minutes and change; spent a ton of time standing or jogging, turning the ball over, or passing into dead ends that were closed by quicker Racing reactions.

The Thorns seem to have fitness issues playing in the humid heat. Remember the other two poor losses in Houston and Orlando? So you’d think that as the team looked slower and sloppier that we’d have seen some early-second-half substitutes.

The first replacements came on three minutes before the second concession.


I’m willing to write the two lost points in Washington down to bad luck and a crap call.

But this? The Thorns looked stale, flat, and unprofitable pretty much all match. The seventh-place side was the better team for something like 89 of the 90 minutes, and we’ll go deeper into the “why” in the comments.

Short Passes

Another match with some pretty sketchy passing; Portland’s 77% was slightly better than Racing’s 74%..

The first hour is instructive of the futility produced by whatever-the-hell the supposed Thorns tactical plan was:

The usual Norrisball is evident in the fullbacks, both pushed crazy high. But are they providing service forward? The hell they are; Kling, at least, is trying to feed Weaver, but Kuikka is dropping into midfield. What the hell Hannah Betfort is doing is anyone’s guess.

The width there isn’t actually producing any danger up the flanks, so its hardly surprising that Racing could comfortably settle in to jam up the middle of the pitch and slow or stop Portland attacks.

Here’s Racing:

Keep in mind that this is before the second goal, too. Now that’s how you use your wingers/wingbacks! Pretty passing, and setting up Kgatlana, Davis, Shuang, and Monaghan to drive at goal.

Of the total of 457 total Portland passes per OPTA I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 73 “attacking” passes.

At this point we need a table to keep track of this stuff, starting withe Seattle away back in June. The “attempted” column is the percentage of attacking passes from the total number of passes, the “completed” column is the percentage of attacking passes (not total passes) completed.

Opponent (Result)Attempted (of total)Completed (of attempted)
Seattle (W)16%58%
Orlando (L)18%50%
Chicago (W)16.5%61%
Washington (W)17.8%76%
Kansas City (L)18.5%67%
Gotham (L)14%52.5%
Carolina (W)15%63%
Washington (D)12%70%
Louisville (L)16%70%

Remember 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, 38 in the second, and the Thorns completed about a total of about 70%; 25 (71.4%) in the first half, 26 (68.4%) in the second.

This isn’t significantly worse than, say, the win over Washington here back in June. Again, is suggests that the Thorns were finding teammates in the attacking third…but nothing more; once there, the attack was breaking down.

Which, if you’re set up to play Sophia Smith hero-ball and you have Hannah Betfort instead? Isn’t exactly shocking.

Turnover and over.

Again, let’s do a table:

Opponent (Result)Turnovers
Orlando (L)18
Chicago (W)18
Washington (W)10
Kansas City (L)27
Gotham (L)33
Carolina (W)17
Washington (D)36
Louisville (L)43

New turnover high? Brutal.

What’s worse that that is that a whole bunch of these giveaways led to immediate danger or worse:
1′ Hubly – direct to Louisville, began sequence that led to…
3′ Kuikka – to Shuang, led to Davis post
5′ Coffey – to Kgatlana, shot blocked
8′ Rocky – Kgatlana shot but at Bixby
15′ Kuikka – spell of LOU possession
37′ Hubly – LOU attack but no shot
43′ Bixby – short kick, Kgatlana shot over
53′ Hubly – right to Kgatlana, 1v0 forced huge Bixby save
57′ Menges – right to Borges, led to corner, boxed away
62′ Kuikka – right to Borges, led to corner and Kgatlana matchwinner.

So…not good, people. Not good.

Corner Kicks

Three, two first half, one second, all long.

21′CoffeyLongWay over the pack, recycled to Weaver who put in a good attack but ended up shooting right at Lund
40′CoffeyLongLund easy take
83′CoffeyLongAll the way to the back post but nobody there, cleared across the touchline



Sixteenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 21 throw-ins; 9 first half, 12 second; Racing took 22; 13 first half, 9 second.

Of Portland’s throws six (28%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Only three (14%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. The majority (12, 57%) 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%

Louisville did better: 9 of their 22 (41%) gained advantage, while only four (18%) lost it. The throw-ins tracked with the match as a whole; Louisville was just the better team.


The harder I look at this game the less I think I understand it, outside the obvious “Racing was the better team”…which elides the question “With the Thorns roster why should that even be a thing?”

I’m honestly not sure what Mike Norris wanted the squad to do. If you want to play up the gut why push the fullbacks way up? If you want to play through the middle and you have Hina Sugita top of midfield to pull strings, why aren’t Weaver and Betfort running to give her targets to thread the string to?

The defending I get; we’ve had issues all season, Kuikka had a very bad, no good day and Hubly was her now-usual on-again/off-again self. For a change Bixby, who is usually mentioned right in there with “defensive issues”, had a monster…but Racing picked the midfield and backline apart when they could as we’ve seen before.

And the pressing? I get that, too. For some reason Norris & Co. don’t see, or see and don’t care, that this squad doesn’t deal well with a high press. They get panicked and turn the ball over, they make poor decisions and get rattled.

It’s the attack I don’t get.

Clearly this team is set up for Smith. Why not? You’ve a big fucking hammer, you swing the big fucking hammer. Why use a screwdriver to drive nails or Hannah Betfort to score goals.

But we didn’t have Smith.

And I’m not sure what Norris’ Plan B was, or if he had one, or if he had one and the players couldn’t or wouldn’t execute it.

But what happened at Lynn Family Stadium looked slow, sloppy, and disorganized, and I’m not sure whether that’s on the coach, or the players, of both

But that’s sure as hell not going to win any Shields.

Player Ratings and Comments

Betfort (90′ – +2/-2 : +1/-3 : +4/-5) After her blinder against Carolina here I wrote that stuff like that was pushing me off the fence about Bets.

Games like this one push me back on it.

She’s not a bad striker. She works hard and gets into dangerous positions. And we’ve seen that she has both skills and can convert. But…then she has games like this, where she spends ninety minutes doing…not much.

I’d really like to be convinced about her. But I’m not.

D’Aquila (1′ – no rating) Why?

D’Aquila is what she is. That’s not terrific, but she’s young and has room to grow. But you’re chasing the game and one thing she has definitively proved is that she’s NOT a game-changer now.

So why waste the ten seconds to bring her on? What’s she gonna bring? Nothing, is what she brought, so…why?

Weaver (74′ – +6/-0 : +3/-0 : +9/-0) Player of the Match is tough for this one. Weaver had a damn fine match…but sort of lost her bite late. The other…we’ll get there.

I’m not sure why Norris didn’t either 1) try the Coffey-Weaver connection working that worked in Washington, or 2) try and get Hina-san and Weaver on the same page, or 3) both.

Lacking service from midfield Weaver had to do a hell of a lot of running in the 90-degree heat/90-percent humidity, and as a result had to come off gassed when the Thorns needed her most. And, worse, her replacement was…

Sinclair (16′ – no rating) and here’s why. Dunn is ferrying up in the 83rd minute She’s only got one option; Sinclair to her left.

If that’s Weaver, Dunn slots the through-ball inside the fullback and Weaver runs onto it and is in on goal.

But it’s not Weaver. It’s Sinclair, whose wheels are completely gone. So Dunn has to lay up short:

Sinc does what she can; squares to Moultrie arriving late. Moultrie passes back to Sinc at the edge of the 18 and Sinc bangs a ball off her defender for a corner which, as we’ve seen, goes nowhere.

That’s pretty much sums up the Sinclair Problem.

Sugita (61′ – +2/-0 : +1/-2 : +3/-2) Not a particularly good game from Hina-san. Not awful, but lacked bite and included several uncharacteristic turnovers.

Dunn (29′ – +6/-0) I’m not sure why Dunn didn’t start. When she came on she lifted the squad to the extent she could, given that it looked like a lot of her teammates were done by that point. Is she still suffering from the World Cup? That seems hard to believe.

Moultrie (+2/-0 : +2/-0 : +4/-0) Latest in the string of “meh” outings from the young player, and I wish I knew why; tactical misfit, or individual issues?

Rodriguez (61′ – +2/-6 : +0/-1 : +2/-7) Rocky had big problems with the press, which surprised me because she’s usually very hard to dispossess. A big part of her issues may well have been that her teammates were slow to give her an outlet, which kind of fits. Hot, humid, second match of a road swing…not shocking that the squad was off color. That’s where you come in, coach. We’ll get to you.

Porter (29′ – +0/-3) Sadly, the usual step down we’ve come to expect when she enters, both defensively and going forward (three turnovers in her half hour…).

Coffey (+4/-1 : +6/-0 : +10/-1) Did what she could, tho the turnovers bit her, too, shockingly given her usual tidiness. Didn’t help that both Rodriguez and Moultrie were very poor games.

Kuikka (+3/-8 : +0/-2 : +3/-10) A turnover machine, and after a damn fine match in Washington. The Thorns as a squad have massive consistency issues this season, and Natu is the most consistently inconsistent of the squad. Picked an awful night to lay a real rotten egg. I don’t know if there’s a solution unless she sits for Reyna Reyes.

Hubly (+5/-2 : +3/-6 : +8/-8) A wild mixture of solid defending with sloppy giveaways. Should have been tighter on Erceg on her goal, but it’s the body of work that’s getting troubling.

Menges (+3/-2 : +4/-4 : +7/-6) Sort of the same problems, tho her defensive derps included completely losing track of Davis in the 3rd minute and she should be hugging that post for bailing her out.

What’s frustrating is to see her doing stuff like this:

Reyes misses the tackle, but both players are getting in each other’s way and the result is that Kayla Fischer leaves them both sprawling.

Menges is supposed to be running the backline to prevent just this sort of traffic accident. C’mon, EM. You know better than this. Prove all the Sauerbrunn-anxiety is oversold. You can boss the backline, you’ve done it before. Let’s start doing that.

Klingenberg (74′ – +2/-0 : +4/-0 :+6/-0) Given her age and the weather, I was impressed, particularly with Kgatlana running her touchline. Solid defending, good passing.

Reyes (16′ – +3/-1) Presumably to add to the attack as well as replace tired granny legs, but too little, too late.

Bixby (+3/-1 : +2/-1 : +5/-2) Bix kept this squad in contention long after Racing should have routed us. Huge saves in the 3rd, 8th, 49th, 54th (that’s the one above) and 63rd minutes. Woman of the Match for me, which in itself is kind of damning; when your keeper is WotM, you’re doing it wrong.

Coach Norris: Now 3-4-3, eh, marra?

As I said above, this was such a dog’s breakfast I’m not what was on you.

The substitutions? Definitely. Too late, and tho Dunn and Reyes were fine Porter is meh at best and Sinclair for Weaver was just an error. Even gassed Weaver moves faster than Sinc.

But I have no idea what your tactics and setup even were, assuming you had any. That looked like some sort of primordial soccer soup out there, a bunch of random people who just happened to be wearing the same shirts.

How can your squad play a blinder like Carolina at home, a mostly-solid-if-languid-for-an-hour workwomanlike match like Washington away, and then drop this clanger? This team seems to have more faces than Eve.

Well…the other results last weekend dropped your club to second, and three of the final four games are with playoff teams; Seattle here on 9/16, San Diego and Gotham here two and three weeks (respectively) after that, and the final regular season meeting in LA on 10/15.

If San Diego wins out, they’re top, and they get both Louisville and Kansas City in that same time period.

Big hill there.

Are you and the squad up to climbing it?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: WLLWDL

  1. This was a match that should have been three points and the loss really hurts. The schedule is real difficult now. The only upside is if the Thorns win out they can possibly push two of four contenders from the shield behind them. Having both Seattle and San Diego here is a positive. I am trying to be positive, but man it is getting so hard to be a “cup half full” person after that game. I usually like to watch the games at least twice. There is no way I could look at this game again. Even Morgan Weaver after her goal looked subdued and worried. They came out flat and could not pull themselves up and off the carpet.
    You have my admiration for taking another hard look at this sad game. Thank you!?!

    1. Given the match? I wouldn’t say that this “should” have been a win. That would have required a lot of differences in both sides’ play – Portland would have had to have been a LOT better, Racing much worse. Like I said in the piece; Racing was the better team on the day.

      For me the big question is “why”…and I think a lot hangs on 1) this squad is built around Smith and they lacked Smith, and 2) Norris didn’t have a tactical answer to “we don’t have Smith”. His forwards weren’t working well together, his midfield was slow and sloppy, his defense tended to panic, and everyone reacted poorly to Racing’s press.

      So “should”..? “Could”, maybe…but that’d be in another country and besides the wench is dead.

  2. Im going to float a theory here, we are not as good as our record. The FO made zero improvements (not counting the short term loan of Leon) over the offseason while most other teams added talent. The margins in this league are so tight, standing still means falling behind, especially with an aging roster (sinc, kling, brun). That lack of improving the roster is now being exposed with the loss of Smith. Add in inexperienced coaching, lack of fitness, and inconsistency of play and you get game like the stinker we just watched.
    Is it possible to plug Dunn in for Smith? They looked neck and neck at the beginning of the season.

    1. Hmmm.

      Well, I think the problem is – take a time machine and travel back to October 2022. The club has just won the league and came within a Gotham goal of the Shield.

      The roster doesn’t look broke then. How – and why – do you spend big money to fix it? With the owner having to promise to sell?

      And even if you do…who do you go after to improve the roster and who gets canned (because this is the NWSL and you don’t have room to carry passengers) to shoehorn them in?

      Teams like ACFC and SDW had big money backers. Teams like Louisville were wrecks and HAD to spend or become the Next Boston. Portland? We were fat and happy, why worry?

      Now…I’ll agree that that hasn’t aged well. Norris looks like a legacy hire who’s over his head. The depth has been exposed as mediocre. The sale has dragged on far too long.

      But. I think it’s unrealistic to assume that meant that the club should have been running around with it’s hair on fire in January trying to buy Sam Kerr.

      NEXT January? Yes. That might need to happen, depending on the sale and who re-signs.

      Dunn at the #9? Dunno. It’s been years since she played forward. She’s got skills…but striker skills? I have no idea.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.