Thorns FC: Rachael’s Sister

Mired in fifth, having taken two points of the preceding twelve, last weekend Seattle came to Portland needing a win.

They didn’t get it.

The Thorns shook off the dire outing in Louisville, looked opportunistic up front, organized in back, and rode a Hina Sugita matchwinner and Morgan Weaver insurance goal to send the Reign back up I-5 well-whipped and behind some truly epic trolling:

Here’s the thing.

I kinda love ‘Pinoe for her understanding of the role she plays in the Thorns-Reign rivalry: she’s the “heel”.

Now Fishlock?

She’s just a dick. Great player, total dick, and is ice-cold about it. She’ll roll you for a nickel and stab you for the extra dime.

Fishlock don’t care.

But Rapinoe does. ‘Pinoe just gets it. She loves the kayfabe, loves her part in it, loves trolling the Riveters, loves starting shit because that’s what a heel does.

She’s enjoyed a lot of Double Birds over the years, and has reveled in the abuse floating down from the Shed End, and I enjoy that, too.

This matchup will be less entertaining without her.

Fishlock, on the other hand…well, let’s just say that I thoroughly enjoyed watching Raquel Rodriguez put a headlock on her and keep her there pretty much all match.

I worried that the Thorns would have trouble finding run-of-play goals without Sophia Smith in the lineup and, sure enough, they didn’t find them.

Instead they got a well-worked set-piece goal in the 30th minute:

Sam Coffey drops a free kick dime on Rocky Rodriguez, who sends a perfect tap across the face for Hina Sugita to take right off Jordyn Huitema’s boot and bundle into the goal, 1-nil.

Sic minutes later Portland works their only corner; Coffey drops the service into the mixer where it’s cleared out but no further than Meghan Klingenberg.

Kling’s long cross pings off Huitema’s head to the back post where Morgan Weaver smashes the flick past Claudia Dickey for the dagger.

But, hey…I try and be fair about these writeups.

So y’know who I gotta shout out to for both of these goals? Who helped make them, and with them the Thorns win?

It’s an old Portland fan favorite, former-centerback-turned-Harvey-midfielder, Emily Sonnett.

That’s her up there, having been skinned in the 29th minute and following it up with a classic Sonnett derp, shoving Rodriguez over right in front of center referee (“forty stitches or a gunshot”) Koroleva to set up the Coffey free kick.

That’s our Sonnett; subtle like a kick.

But she had more gifts to give! Here’s the Weaver goal, as the ball flicks off Huitema’s head…

…who’s that defender stranded between Huitema and Weaver at the top of the six, ballwatching as Weaver gets ready to tee up her drive?

Yep. That’s our Sonnett.

You’ll always be a Thorn, Em.

I loved a lot about the Sonnett half of the Great Wall of Emily. But this stuff? No. I hated that. Sonnett bugged the shit out of me by making these rookie mistakes long after her rookie season.

I’m glad she”s now making them for Seattle and not us.

But even Sonnett couldn’t give this one away had the Thorns not done a hell of a good job; first taking advantage of their opportunities, and then sitting on the match and stifling Seattle’s attack, what there was of it.

Portland got what they needed between the 15th and the 36th minutes and then sat in, daring the Reign to come at them.

They tried. They failed.

The cup of Seattle tears is always sweet.

random notes:

1) The Thorns tactical setups and shifts were…interesting.

Here’s what the nice people at CBS thought they were seeing:

You can call it a 4-4-2 or (more accurately) a 4-2-2-2, with Rocky and Sam Coffey as double pivot DMs, Crystal Dunn and Hina-san as AMs, and Weaver and Christine Sinclair as forwards.

But on the pitch the Thorns moved around like hockey players. Here they are in the 3rd minute:

Okay, there’s the 4-2-2-2. Check.

But here we are right after the restart – note that, again, Seattle is bringing the ball forward:

That’s pretty torqued; Weaver has dropped behind the midfield stripe leaving Sinc to forecheck alone up top. Hina-san is shifted all the way from her left wing to the far side of the center circle.

At least the DMs are where they should be. Emily Menges has swapped into the subbed-out Becky Sauerbrunn’s LCB position and Kelli Hubly is in her RCB place.

Here’s an 11th minute attack:

Sinc sees Sugita – who’s supposed to be the RW but who’s all the way over into the left channel – on the run and lifts a lob into her path.

But look at the support around them;
– Weaver, supposedly bookending Sinc is, instead, running the east touchline right in front of her.
– Dunn, supposedly the left AM, is on the correct side but is trailing her teammate Sugita thought the channel rather than pacing alongside her, while
– Rocky is pushing up and leaving Sam Coffey behind as the #6.

Okay then.

It got even more chaotic than that at times. Here’s the Thorns on the attack early in the second half:

I’m not even sure what the hell to call that.

Weaver has become the front-runner as Sinc drops out to wide midfield, Sugita pushes up inside her, and Dunn moves into the left channel.

The defense is playing a crazy high line, with both fullbacks halfway to the byline with Rocky shoved up and only Coffey holding down the DM position.

I’m not sure where all this swirling movement and tactical ingenuity came from. Mike Norris? Mister “4-3-3-or-die”? Go ahead, pull the other one.

But it got Portland a hell of a lot of possession out of it, and the press it facilitated forced a hell of a lot of turnovers and turnbacks. It worked like a mechanical ass kicker, so if it was inspiration or invention, I liked it. I liked it a lot. Well played, Thorns.

2) The defense wasn’t perfect – Seattle got a couple of truly scary chances, including 1) a carelessly-left-alone loose ball in the box in the 29th minute that Fishlock pounced on, dropped to Rapinoe to fire off a good shot and force Bella Bixby into an equally good save, 2) a low Rapinoe corner that ripped straight through the top of the six in the 66th minute but luckily without meeting a Seattle boot, and 3) a 70th minute long lob that Veronica Latsko beat Klingenberg to but couldn’t control – but pretty much stayed organized and kept Seattle in front of them and under control.

Here’s the Seattle successful-pass diagrams; attacking towards the top, first half on the left:

A bit more dangerous in the second half, but still largely stacked up between the centerline and the top of the 18; largely because Coffey and Rocky were taking no prisoners.

That’s good enough when your opponent isn’t having a truly dangerous day, and that’s good enough for me, then.

3) Does this mean the Thorns have locked up the Shield?

Ohhellno.

This was a solid win. The team looked an order of magnitude more composed and connected than Louisville, played like they’d actually practiced set-piece defending (which both players and coach said they had…) and were communicating and moving well.

But form hasn’t held for this squad this season, and this came right after a real stinker. The defense has been all over the place. Hopefully the return of Sauerbrunn will add some steel…but we only have one data point right now.

And without Smith I’m still not sure the goals are there.

We need to be patient; there’s three more tough games (okay…two tough games and Angel City…) to go. Baby steps. Kansas City did us a massive solid last weekend…let’s see if we can repeat the favor when San Diego washes into town next weekend.

Short Passes

Both sides nearly identical, and in general tidy on the ball (Portland’s 79% to Seattle’s 80%) but, as noted, Seattle had some real issues connecting in their final third.

Arielle Dror had only the first half for Portland:

Norrisball? Fullbacks high? Check.

Also unsurprising to see Rodriguez as the “pushed-up” DM…but it’s interesting to see how flat the frontline is; that kind of tracks with the failure to find runs in behind. Sinc is dropping to pick up possession as she does now (and not succeeding, much) but Weaver had similar issues.

I can’t really complain because it worked. But I’m not really sold on either Dunn or Sugita as wide midfielders. I think the squad needs a true #10, an ACM distributor and string-puller, to provide through balls to attacking forwards. Someone who can make the attack more agile.

You know who I recommend, and we’ll just leave it there.

Here’s Seattle for the first hour:

What’s interesting to me is how poorly Lauren Barnes and Sofia Huerta did Saturday. The cool colors suggest it, but, think…do you remember them doing, well…anything?

There’s Rapinoe, doing fine. Huitema passed poorly in general but had some moments, Balcer had a dangerous header in the 21st minute.

But Barnes, Huerta? Nothing. Fishlock is in Rocky’s pocket, Sonnett wasn’t just a black hole of derp, she was pretty useless passing…that’s not a club that is playing well.

Attacking Passes

OPTA had Portland with a total of 488 passes. I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 78 “attacking” passes.

In the table below 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%
Seattle (W)16%64%

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.

The two halves were really unbalanced; Portland attempted 53 “attacking” passes in the first half, only 25 in the second, and the Thorns completed 32 (60.3%) in the first half, 18 (72%) in the second.

So pretty much what we saw: hard work but nothing much from the run of play in the first half, and then little of any attacking at all in the second.

It worked last Saturday, and I’m good with that.

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
Seattle (W)15

From an all-time high in Louisville to an all-time low? That’s much better.

We’ll discuss this a bit in the comments, though. I got my eye on someone.

Corner Kicks

One, and we’ve discussed it.

TimeTakerShort/Long?Result
36′CoffeyLongRecycled into the second goal

That’s efficiency, that is.

Throw-Ins

Seventeenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 26 throw-ins; 9 first half, 17 second; Seattle took 25; 12 first half, 13 second.

Of Portland’s throws eight (31%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Six (23%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. The majority (12, 46%) were just neutral; kept possession but nothing going forward.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage lostOpponent gainOpponent loss
Houston38%38%
Louisville24%28%
ACFC30%25%
NCC35%27.5%
Houston26%26%18%32%
Chicago23%6%55%
San Diego39%22%63%26%
Seattle52%26%66%11%
Orlando16%19%55.5%22%
Chicago20%30%58.3%16%
Washington36%20%40%8%
Kansas City23%14%32%45%
Gotham17%23%31%5%
NCC66%6%16%4%
Washington26%45%64%8%
Louisville28%14%41%18%
Seattle31%23%56%12%
Average31%23%46%17%

I’ve added “opponent gain” and opponent loss” columns so we can see how the Thorns have been compared to the opposition.

So Seattle got advantage from 14 of their 25 throw-ins,, 56%, and only lost three (12%) and that tracks with the opposition averages; Portland’s opponents are generally (Note: warranty not valid in Kansas City and Houston) better at this throw-in thing by something like 10% both ways.

I’m not sure why. But if I was Portland’s gaffer I’d sure like to change that.

Player Ratings and Comments

Weaver (+9/-2 : +9/-3 : +18/-5) Hard not to see a world where Morgan Weaver isn’t Woman of the Match. Clinical finish, relentless energy on both sides of the ball (four of her pluses are for tackles or presses), and all her usual Good Trouble.

Sinclair (68′ – +4/-3 : +1/-1 : +5/-4) It seems ungracious to be curmudgeonly about Sinc after this fine match, so I’ll simply note that she provided a little nice passing to her teammates.

Betfort (22′ – +3/-1) You keep that shot you cracked in the 79′ low and a trifle to the left instead of high and dead center and you put your team up by three. All’s I’m saying. Good hustle.

Sugita (+12/-3 : +2/-0 : +14/-5) Monster first half; if your gaffer hadn’t sat your squad back after the break I’m confident you’d have had one of the best games of the season. Breaking ankles like Tobin Heath in her prime is one reason I can’t get enough Sugita-senshu. Domo arigato, sensei.

Dunn (68′ – +6/-3 : +5/-1 : +11/-4) Very balanced match from Marcel’s mom; five attacking pluses, six defensive, and that says a lot about Dunn’s versatile role last Saturday.

Moultrie (22′ – +5/-0) Moultrie’s kryptonite is pace, and when she has to push up alongside Sinclair she gets run off her feet trying to cover the ground the captain can’t. Being able to sit back and pick her engagement points favors her game and it did last Saturday.

Rodriguez (77′ – +11/-0 : +5/-1 : +16/-1) We’ve discussed her role in dominating the midfield defensively, but the assist on the matchwinner was perfect and a nice summation of what La Tica brought; tireless workrate, clever on the ball, and field vision that created time and space for her squad. Ohe’, maestra! Gracias!

Vasconcelos (13′ – +1/-0) Decent shift, so, fine.

Coffey (+8/-1 : +2/-1 : +10/-2) Did so much work crushing Reign ball movement in the first half that I suspect Laura Harvey told her troops to try and pass around Coffey at the break. Why drive through the minefield? We’re so used to this skillset that we’re shocked when Porter or Provenzano has to fill in, but we shouldn’t be. Sam Coffey is that good, we’ll miss her when the Nats steal her away.

Kuikka (+5/-2 : +4/-1 : +9/-3) I’ve been giving Natu the side-eye lately; she’s been the Girl With The Curl and her form has been wildly inconsistent.

This time, though, she was very, very good; disciplined (she has a tendency to wander inside and concede a lot of touchline, but Saturday she either held her ground or anticipated the attacks thrown at her and scampered out to cover), tidy with the ball (her passes have had a sort of idiosyncrasy often as not lately but were spot-on last weekend), and stayed connected to her backline instead of freelancing dangerously. Pretty much kept a collar on ‘Pinoe, which is easier than it once was but still not a given.

Well played.

Menges (+3/-0 : +3/-3 : +6/-3) Unspectacularly solid, much like the Great Wall days. Benefited from much better communication and marking on set plays; not sure whether this was the extra training after Louisville or just having a good match, but the results were very good to see.

Sauerbrunn (45′ – +5/-2) See the Menges comment; good, workwomanlike defending and that was more than enough.

Hubly (45′ – +0/-5) So remember back up where I said I had a comment about turnovers?

Yeah. That’s you. Over the space of four minutes you:
65′ – booted a ball right off your own keeper’s gloves and conceded a corner that gave Seattle its best chance of the second half,
67′ – headed over the byline under no pressure to concede a second corner, and
69′ – botched a short clearance that coughed the ball up 20 yards from goal.

Before and after that? You were fine.

My problem with you back when you were a rook and then a reserve was that you’d do that sort of stuff; be solid for 89 minutes and then yakk up a horrific hairball that shipped goals and dropped points.

The points didn’t drop last Saturday, but you’ve been too good for too long to start doing this stuff again. A lot of other fans are turning against you for this shit.

I still think there’s a good player in there. But that means these derps have got to stop.

Klingenberg (77′ – +4/-4 : +2/-1 : +6/-5) Got lucky that Latsko couldn’t settle that cross in the 70th minute, but otherwise not much troubled and solid when attacked; got back downfield pretty neatly, which had me worried before the game given some of Seattle’s pacey wingers. Tenacious when pressed, which has been an issue this season.

Reyes (13′ – +2/-0) Fresh legs, fine.

Bixby (+2/-0 : +1:-0 : +3/-0) Largely untested. Decent save on the Rapinoe drive and strong to take in the 27th and 86th minutes. When you’re a keeper boring is good.

Coach Norris: Now 6-1-2, marra. Thanks.

I’m not sure what happened over the past two weeks and how much to credit or blame you for it. This squad looked all in pieces two weekends ago, composed and confident this past Saturday. Training? Motivation? Tactical genius?

The Reign looked toothless and all in pieces compared to Racing…but how much of that was a better Portland side?

The final word is this; success is never an orphan. You get to take the credit for whatever turned things around from Racing. So…good work.

And the reward for good work?

More work. San Diego will be here next week, hurting and desperate for a result. That’s your next job, and there’s no sleep until then.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

5 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Rachael’s Sister

  1. Thanks John, I always look forward to your analyses because it fills in a lot I didn’t see watching the game. I won’t gush over this game, even though that is how I felt afterword, because this Reign team has some problems and they have probably cost Laura Harvey a chance to be the next coach or even consideration to be a choice for the USWNT. Sonnett and Huitema both had hands in both Thorns goals. Rough night for those two.
    Facing San Diego next week one would have to think if the Wave win the Shield and the Championship Stoney would be another strong candidate.
    If the coach Norris puts this same lineup out there against the Wave I really like our chances because a midfield of Coffey, Rodriquez, Sugita and Dunn is very good. Typically Natu plays well against the Wave and at home. So there is that and having Becky and Menges as the the CB’s. All that is good. Plus Alex Morgan may not be playing.
    This game had a lot of heroes so a lot of praise to pass around, but the mind can’t stop drifting to the 30th, which should be the easier of our next two home games. Gotham is looking dangerous.

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  2. More work. San Diego will be here in less than a week, hurting and desperate for a result. That’s your next job, and there’s no sleep until then.

    How are we calculating a week? I am aware NT players are off so perhaps less than a week with the whole team to plan for San Diego, but 11 days to the 30th is generally more than a week not less.

    Does this mean the Thorns have locked up the Shield? Ohhellno.
    True.

    If we can beat both Wave and Gotham the shield is ours before our final trip to LA. However this is the Thorns and this is the NWSL. I would likely predict a win against the Wave and a draw against Gotham, in our next two games. If we do that I could see us dropping the shield in our last game poor result again like last year. Who knows that Bella Bixby goal could be the difference between shield/first round bye and not having that luxury.

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    1. Should be “here next week”; I forgot the FIFA break, just woolgathering.

      I’d like to win out and lock up the Shield, but I’m more concerned about form. We’ve had issues with that – we haven’t won two in row since June, and one of those needed help from Chicago (and it was still 2-3 at Bridgetown and we shipped to goals in the final 20+ minutes…) – and as I mentioned, I’m a bit worried about our attack vs our defending.

      Chris Henderson does a nice little spreadsheet showing the xG and xG-against for the league (https://twitter.com/chris_awk/status/1704003573833499055) here. Take a look at our post-shot xGa; at 1.35 we’re in the bottom half of the league. All the other playoff teams are better than we are, some by a fairly wide margin.

      Our “differential” is highly positive, but that’s because our PSxG is so huge. And that’s pretty much a Smith artifact.

      Without Smith’s 11 our GF drops from 40 – 177% of the league average – to 29, 128% of average. That’s still good! But it’s not much better than San Diego’s 27 or Carolina’s 26.

      And their GA are much better – 22 for SDW, 19 for NCC – than our 25GA.

      So, yeah…I’m still pretty nervous. We need to hold form, and we haven’t done that – much – this season.

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      1. So much is our of our control, even the teams coach. How many minutes does Coffey see, how many minutes does Dunn see? And things like that. How ready is this team to play together when they have just come back from a break.

        We of course have the Long history of dropping really dumb points to Sky Blue/Gotham, and don’t really have a better record in LA yet. Last year that late draw from out of nowhere.

        Our last 2-0 win over the Reign was a 3-1 loss in Orlando. You have a point, form has not been great.

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        1. We’re top of table, so the club’s form in GENERAL has been fine.

          But it hasn’t held over distance. Like I said; the last time the Thorns won two in a row was June. But the Thorns also haven’t LOST two in a row this season. The up-down-sideways thing has been the pattern.

          Now, tho, we’re gonna need to win out to lock down the Shield. No last-game draw bullshit like 2022. Win three, finish top. It’s that simple…but that difficult.

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