What was most frustrating about last Saturday’s 0-2 loss to San Diego – and there were lots of frustrating things which we’ll get to in a bit – is that nobody beats the Portland Thorns as thoroughly as the Thorns beat themselves.
Which is not to say that the visitors didn’t help us a lot.
But just look at Arielle Dror’s plot:
Two San Diego goals on about half an xG?
NO Portland goals on twice that?
Okay, Chris Henderson is a bit less charitable to the Thorns:
The “post-shot xG” reflects the Thorns utter incompetence in front of goal – which we’ll also get to – but, still…that’s a baaaaaad look for a club that wants to be considered in serious contention for the Shield.
Stoney’s people weren’t freaking Brazil, mind. They did all the Usual Stoney Stuff; defended well (thanks, Naomi Girma, you beast…), pressed high – especially in the first half – and were opportunistic taking and finishing the few chances they got. They won, and that’s kind of “you’re as good as the scoreline says you are”.
But holy Hell did the Thorns do everything but tuck the match in Stoney’s coat pocket.
Here’s what I said in the Stumptown match preview:
“What worries me are 1) without Smith it’s gonna be tough to break down a Girma-led SD backline, while 2) letting the Wave hang around a scoreless match risks a defensive derp and shipping a crap goal; hopefully ‘Brunn will put some steel into our backline to prevent that, but it doesn’t take Pele’ to make a deflection or a defensive error and suddenly we’re down a goal.
We’ll see. But I’ll be really happy to see a couple of early Thorns goals.”https://stumptownfooty.substack.com/p/match-preview-portland-thorns-vs-12c/comment/41056905
Let’s start with the second worry; Defensive Derps.
Here we are in the 20th minute, Portland’s Raquel Rodriguez in possession but deep in her own end. Ready, Rocky? You got two defenders right in front of you…whatcha gonna do..?
You could pass out of trouble! There’s Emily Menges to your right, or you could even lob a big switch up to Hina Sugita in midfield.
Or you could…ummm…you sure you want to dribble through those two white shirts..?
Damn, girlfriend! You do! You did! Nice work! Now how about you look for a teamma…wait. What?
You’re gonna dribble Rachel Hill, too?
Wow. Okay, well…let’s hope that works…
Yes! You got past Hill and now there’s Betfort and Sugita and…shit! There’s ANOTHER goddamn Wave!
Put a boot through it! Get rid of it! WTF? You’re gonna dribble her, too? FFS just don’t get…
Well, shit. Now there’s Jadeyn Shaw running free down the right side of the box (because both Crystal Dunn and Meghan Klingenberg were looking at each other rather than moving to cover Shaw…) onto the through-ball and looking for targets inside.
And there’s Kyra Carusa, whose defender – Emily Menges – is somewhere in fucking Southwest Portland marking a piece of the Multnomah Athletic Club parking lot instead of tight on Carusa…
…where she should be.
So Shaw can dime Carusa and Carusa has all the time in the world to tee up that sucker and put the matchwinner past Bella Bixby.
The second concession was a bit simpler but even uglier in the “derp” sense.
San Diego worked the ball down Portland’s left (and there’s a reason for that, which we’ll get to in a bit…) and Kristen Westphal hucked a nice dime onto Alex Morgan’s head.
Morgan got up over Menges (hmmm…there’s that name again…) and bonked a fairly tame header back towards Bixby’s left post.
Bella Bixby utterly misjudged it.
For the record, Bixby had just made a terrific save in the 31st minute, going full stretch to palm away a fine Shaw free kick.
But Bix is good in that way…and kinda only in that way. She’s got a big wingspan, long legs, decent jump, and can get high and/or wide if she sees the shot and gets an eye on it early. She’s usually a reliable shot-stopper.
But those long limbs come with a price. She’s not very athletic (in the A.D. Franch sort of muscular-keeper style). She’s gawky and sort of spastic when she has to move quickly against the flow of play, or get down to smother a low shot. So when she got wrongfooted by Morgan’s header…
…and tried to scramble back to her left, she just lost her footing and sprawled helplessly as the ball looped past her for the dagger.
But, wait! “We always win, two to one”, right? How were things going on the other end of the pitch? Morgan Weaver & Co were tearing it up, right?
This is late in the match, Portland pressing for a goal, desperate, needing something, anything. Substitute Olivia Moultrie sees substitute Michelle Vasconcelos breaking wide right and hucks a nice dime to her.
But nobody else is running, and San Diego’s backline is it’s usual disciplined self. Vasconcelos doesn’t find anyone to go inside to, and has to turn back towards the arc.
There’s still nobody there; Reyna Reyes is cut off, Hannah Betfort and Weaver are standing boxed in near the penalty spot, and Kling out wide is well marked, too. Nobody’s moving to the open space to Vasconcelos’ left front.
Sugita is the only option, so Vasconselos drops to her.
But there’s STILL nobody moving to space in the box, and San Diego has everyone covered. Hina-san has to go out Reyes wide…
…but look! There’s some possibilities there!
Nobody takes them. Nobody makes the runs, nobody puts the pass in.
Everyone stands around looking pretty, as Tobin Heath might have said, and Sugita is forced to go back wide to Reyes…who STILL finds nothing inside so sprints to the corner.
Anybody getting open in there? No?
Well, shit. Back to Sugita again.
Hina-san dribbles back downfield, looking to switch the ball, but when she calls Sam Coffey up to receive Rachel Hill sees it coming, gets there instead, nicks the square pass, and the attack is over.
The Thorns often have a problem with moving quickly and to space. Without Sophia Smith to smash at defenses and score (Weaver can smash through defenses like the Chaos Muppet she is, but scoring? Ummm, girlfriend, we gotta talk…) this sort of static “walk the ball around the box” attack is often the result.
So when an opponent with a solid backline can drop deep and sit in – in other words, if the Thorns can’t get the early goal, as I worried – this club has a LOT of trouble.
Short of a piece of individual brilliance it doesn’t often work. Team play breaks down, and the Thorns have to hope for a golazo (and nearly got one from Moultrie, but we’ll get there…)
So that turns back to my first worry – not scoring early – that isn’t helped when the Thorns other big problem – not finishing – returns with a vengeance, as in:
25′ : Crystal Dunn’s powerful shot forces a Kailen Sheridan kick-save but the rebound goes no further than Sugita. From 15 yards out. Hina-san blasts two yards high and three yards wide.
34′: Meghan Klingenberg serves a gorgeous cross in to Dunn…who heads it straight at Sheridan for the easy save.
44′: Betfort dimes Weaver on the penalty spot…and Weaver repeats the “blast high and wide” miss.
48′: Betfort on the doorstep heads wide left
80′: Weaver crashes in the right side of San Diego’s box unmarked…and boots it high over the crossbar again.
The best chance of the night came a minute later, when Moultrie hit an absolute one-touch stunner…but Sheridan palmed enough of it to clang off her left post instead of going in.
Moultrie had another crack, in the 94th minute that also went wide, and that was that.
Oh, yeah, the whole “MOM! The mean girls are pressing me!” thing.
As noted above, Stoney did scout the Thorns enough to figure out that if you press them high and hard much of the time they’ll panic and cough up the ball. She sent her troops out to press, press they did, and for pretty much the first half that tore apart any sort of Thorns interplay. As we’ll see, the Thorns were a mess of turnovers in the first forty-five minutes.
This has been an issue all season, so it’s not a player issue, it’s a coaching issue. I’m not sure why Norris doesn’t drill the squad in one-touch passing and quick movement (or, hell, going Route One over the press – I’d hate it and it’s ugly, but if you do it right it can work) to prevent the ugly scrambling that Thorns opponents can create when they press this squad.
As for counter-pressing..?
Don’t make me laugh.
So this one had it all; tactical cluelessness, failure to score early, shipping bad goals on individual and collective errors, goalkeeping blunders, formation issues (looking at you, Norris and your fullbacks – we’ll discuss below and in the comments), panic when pressed, and several individuals having a very poor game.
That’s a highway to Hell, and it was.
Both sides were decent, Portland’s nearly-80% better than San Diego’s 75%, but when you gift your opponent goals they don’t need to snipe your backline apart..
Arielle Dror had only the first hour for Portland:
So what strikes me weird is Kling is so much higher than Kuikka.
Neither are particularly pacey, but Natu is generally faster than Kling. If I had to pick, I’d push her up and keep Kling home, especially with a speedy pair like Shaw and Hill working at her and, sure enough, Kling was repeatedly skinned and caught out of position. San Diego made bank off Portland’s defensive left side, as we’ve seen.
Other things from this:
1) Sam Coffey had an exceptionally sterile match. Little distribution, and almost none to the forwards.
2) Rodriguez was little better, though she had some forward passes.
3) The forwards are all over hell. Betfort, the notional CF, is withdrawn all the way behind Dunn, the RW (Sugita) is back at the center circle! Only Weaver is where she should be.
Here’s San Diego over the same period:
If that’s not a Stoney club I don’t know what is. Organized, disciplined…look at the spacing! Everyone’s where they should be.
If you’re gonna push up your fullbacks? THAT‘s how you do it.
Brief Note: Goalkeeper Distribution
I’ll be the first to say this; Bixby does not distribute particularly well downfield.
In fact, no Portland goalkeeper – going back to Michelle Betos – has been or is good at putting the ball into play out of the back, so I suspect that’s an Angerer thing.
Betos was so shockingly poor, despite having legs like a rugby prop, that I did a whole season’s worth of tracking her distribution and it’s effects back in 2015. That’s all gone with the old Slide Rule Pass, unfortunately, but the tl:dr was this:
Goalkeeper distribution is a grossly overrated part of the game.
I get it. When your keeper short-legs a punt to the opponent, or beats a goal kick into touch, it’s groan-inducing. “WTF? Why do we suck at this!?” is the instinctive reaction, and because 1) this one had Kailen Sheridan, who is good at distributing (look above at Dror’s passing chart) and 2) Bixby had a couple of real clunkers, there was a fair amount of moaning in the comments over at Stumptown about that.
When I screened tape I kept track of the keeper touches again. I noted all touches, separating the “played short” throws and kicks – goal kicks and clearances – out to the backs from the genuinely long downfield kicks and punts. Discarding the former – since those are 99.9% safe completions – here’s the summary of the latter:
Sheridan played the ball long a total of 22 times (7 in the first half, 15 in the second). Of those, 15 were either immediately lost to Portland or pinged off heads before eventually being turned over (6 first half, 9 second).
Her passing chart looks better simply because her long boots often landed first on a San Diego head…but from there often looped to a Thorn, or into touch for a Portland throw.
The remaining 7 went to a teammate, of which most – 4 of the 7 – were out to Colaprico or Shaw along the touchlines and from there into play.
None of the losses resulted in a dangerous Portland attack (since the loss usually came in midfield or even in Portland’s half, it meant that Portland had to play the ball on the ground to turn it back upfield) and none of the “good” plays resulted in immediate – or even eventual – danger to the Portland goal.
Bixby played the ball long 14 times, 7 in each half. Most of these went to San Diego; 10 of 14. One – a 44th minute kicked clearance – was genuinely “bad”; short, and directly to Rachel Hill. Hill couldn’t get a handle on the ball, however, and it ran to Klingenberg.
The others were, like Sheridan’s, deep in San Diego’s half or pinged around before someone got fouled or the ball bounced into touch. No danger resulted from any of them.
The four “good” outlets were not particularly productive; mostly either out wide to Sugita or Weaver, or into the center circle where, often as not, the receiving player was fouled and play had to be restarted.
What I found in 2015, and what I saw from last weekend, is that the really critical factor in “long” goalkeeper distribution is the field players; the midfielders, in particular, will “take” a goalkeeper’s long punts and spot-kicks by getting up aggressively and controlling them. Because few keepers can send balls low and long the ball hangs in the air, and it’s on the players underneath it to gain possession.
San Diego was better in midfield that Portland last Saturday. Combine that with Sheridan being the better passer and you get the results.
That said, neither keeper’s distribution had a slightly-more-then-marginal effect on match play. The Thorns lost because they panicked when pressed, failed to move to space and pass quickly, and failed in front of goal at both ends of the pitch.
Goalkeeper distribution is showy, like driving in golf, and catches the eye for good or ill. I get why people get worked up about it. But it’s one of those things that look important that get washed out in the overall run of play.
Like the pro golfers say; “You drive for show. You putt for the dough”.
OPTA had Portland with a total of 444 passes. I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 77 “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)|
|Kansas City (L)||18.5%||67%|
|San Diego (L)||17%||72%|
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.
Like the previous game, the two halves were really unbalanced but the other way around from Seattle; Portland attempted 33 “attacking” passes in the first half, 44 in the second as San Diego’s press let up, and the Thorns completed 21 (63%) in the first half, 35 (79%) in the second.
That’s well within the norm, and, again emphasizes that the Thorns were 1) creating chances and half-chances, but 2) not finishing those chances. The attack got to the mouth of the goal…and died there.
Turnover and over.
Again, let’s do a table:
|Kansas City (L)||27|
|San Diego (L)||49|
From an all-time high in Louisville to an all-time low against Seattle to a NEW all-time high against San Diego.
That’s fugly, and we’ll have some discussions in comments
A whopping nine. All long into the box, three first half, six second
|8′||Coffey||Long||To the top of the box, cleared, recycled but eventually sort of petered out|
|18′||Klingenberg||Long||Cleared over the byline|
|18′||Coffey||Long||Rocky headed out, recycled, clear for a San Diego throw-in|
|54′||Klingenberg||Long||Sheridan boxed away|
|58′||Coffey||Long||Way over the pack, cleared out to Kling, her service dimed Betfort who headed wide left|
|63′||Klingenberg||Long||Went near post, cleared, recycled by Kling to Dunn but Dunn’s snap-shot went right at Sheridan|
|76′||Coffey||Long||All the way over the pack, cleared, recycled, worked a free kick off a Pogarch foul|
|81′||Coffey||Long||Came after the Moultrie post; went far side, and cleared easily|
So the Betfort header might have gone somewhere but the targeting was off. Nothing else for all that work, though, not even close, and I want to take a look at whether this is a problem at the end of this season.
Eighteenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.
I had the Thorns taking a total of 25 throw-ins; 9 first half, 15 second; San Diego took 27; 16 first half, 11 second.
Of Portland’s throws five (20%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. 10 (40%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. The other 10, (40%) were just neutral; kept possession but nothing going forward.
Here’s how that’s going:
|Opponent||Advantage gained||Advantage lost||Opponent gain||Opponent loss|
San Diego got advantage from 11 of their 27 throw-ins, or about 41%, and only lost six (22%). This changed markedly between halves; in the first the Wave succeeded in advancing half (8 of 16) throw-ins, but by the second that advantage had dropped to 3 of 11, or just under 30%.
We’ve observed that 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; in this one that held true for San Diego’s “good” throws but not for the “poor” ones.
One thing I noticed about the two sides last weekend; the San Diego press typically extended to throw-ins, and so did Portland’s slow movement off the ball.
That produced 1) long periods of Thorns standing around – the thrower looking for an open teammate – doing not much of anything, and 2) lots of “neutral” throw-ins where finally the thrower had to huck back towards her own goal and begin a “pass-around-the-back”.
San Diego tended to take advantage of Portland’s looser marking and their own better spacing:
Again, this is something that, if I were Mike Norris, I’d 1) notice and 2) want to improve.
Yes, it’s a marginal metric, but why not?
Player Ratings and Comments
Betfort (84′ – +3/-0 : +2/-3 : +5/-3) First, I want to draw your attention to not the plus/minus difference but the overall numbers for nearly all the Thorns. Weaver is the only player with a total close to 20. Almost everyone is like Betfort; their significant actions – good or ill – were barely in double figures, if that, over ninety minutes.
That’s a squad that’s just not getting stuck into the match, and that’s what I see from last Saturday; players not being effective. Not just succeeding, but not even trying and failing. San Diego simply kept the Thorns from – and the Thorns failed – imposing themselves on this match.
That, in turn, suggests that this wasn’t a player issue, but a match management/tactical/roster issue. We’ll get there.
That said, Hannah Betfort did what she could. She’s not an exceptional player; she’s depth, a decent squad player. But this club is designed around Smith hero-ball, and she can’t do that. She didn’t last Saturday, so here we are.
Sinclair (6′ – no rating) Why even? What the fuck did even the most insanely optimistic Thorns fan think Granny Sinc could do in six minutes and change?
Weaver (+4/-2 : +8/-5 : +12/-7) The misses, oh, the misses.
I’d like to call Weaver Woman of the Match. Certainly her numbers are the best outside of Moultrie’s, who benefited from being fresh legs at the time that San Diego was packed behind the ball.
But the misses! Weaver had two of the best chances to get points out of this shitshow, but reverted to her old “blast it high and hard” ways, so, no.
I’m reading a lot of people stanning her for a WNT slot. But if that’s gonna happen she’s GOT to develop a more consistently sophisticated touch than she has now.
She has it! That’s the frustrating part. But…it comes and goes, and last Saturday it up and fucking went just when her club needed it most.
Sugita (+3/-3 : +0/-4 : +3/-7) Possibly the worst match I’ve seen from Sugita-senshu this season. A member of the “blast it into Row ZZZ” club, shockingly sloppy passing, and faded badly in the second half. Hope this was just kyō wa tsuite nai ichinichi datta.
Dunn (64′ – +4/-3 : +4/-0 : +8/-3) See the Betfort comment. Not a bad individual day, but not effective for her team when they needed more from her. Her “missed a sitter” was the 34th minute header that could have leveled and at least offered a point and the nose in front for the Shield.
Moultrie (26′ – +6/-1) Huge late-match energy (her numbers work out to something like +19/3 over 90 minutes) and the best chance of the evening. Given her relative effectiveness compared to Hina-san and Rodriguez, I think Norris made a huge roster decision mistake not starting her.
Okay, now I have to add this; per Friend of the Blog ABell4 one of Moultrie’s relatives has taken to social media to blow up over this.
Sorry, Uncle Max (or whoever), but that’s bullshit Soccer Dad nonsense, and you need to sit down and have a nice hot cup of STFU. Keep that shit on the downlow, talk to the FO or the coach. Don’t put that on your relative in public. She’s a good teammate, and doesn’t need you starting Rec League shit when she and her teammates need to be a team. Knock it off.
Rodriguez (74′ – +2/-3 : +3/-0 : +5/-3) Same thing here as Sugita and Dunn, but included the insanely stupid decision to try and dribble four opponents right in front of her own goal. Well, you fucked around and found out, so hopefully we won’t see that again.
Vasconcelos (16′ – 1/-1) A bit salty, which I enjoyed, but just not good enough to change the game state. See Richard Hamje’s suggestion below.
Coffey (+0/-0 : +2/-1 : +2/-1) Shocking. Shocking. Shocking.
If I was surprised at what a poor game Sugita had Saturday I was stunned by Sam Coffey’s utter irrelevance. She did, literally, nothing much of value, and I’m not sure why except that her midfield was collapsing around her and her gaffer had no idea how to change that.
Had a moment or two of her usual terrier-fierce tackling, but as often as not followed that up with a turnover or a poor decision. I have no words.
Kuikka (74′ – +3/-3 : +3/-0 : +6/-3) So here’s last Saturday’s entry in the Weird Shit Mike Norris Does reality show:
1) The Thorns went down early and desperately needed a goal, and
2) Sugita was having a rough outing, and
3) Kling was getting handed her ass, Kuikka was looking much better, and
4) Moultrie was fresh and (as her shift showed) a danger woman, so
5) Why the ever-loving fuck pull Kuikka for Reyes and Dunn for Moultrie?
I don’t know! Don’t look at me. I’m baffled at Norris’ subs half the time anyway, but this one was a real head-scratcher.
Reyes (16′ – +1/-1) Like Vasconcelos, not discreditable, but not really effective, either. Another “WTF” sub; if you’re going to try and pull goals back, as my old compa Richard Hamje pointed out over at Stumptown: “Instead, go to three in the back, pulling Kuikka for Sinclair. Put Moultrie in for Sugita (not Dunn).”
You always were the smarter brother, Richard.
Menges (+1/-3 : +1/-0 : +2/-3) Hard to give props to the backline when you ship two goals. At fault on the Carusa goal, too. Not a great outing, but see the Sauerbrunn comment.
Sauerbrunn (64′ – +5/-1 : +0/-0 : +5/-1) Individually, fine, including several solid defensive plays. As the leader of the backline has to take the slap for the shambles on the Carusa goal, but keeping the Wave to less than 1xG isn’t discreditable overall. But when the team isn’t set up to score (or can’t when they get good looks) the slightest mistake can punish you, and it did.
Hubly (26′ – +5/-1) Big, big tackle off Hill to save a 1v0. Solid shift, tho her long passes are always an…adventure.
Klingenberg (+5/-8 : +3/-1 : +8/-9) Oh, my.
So part of the problem was that your coach insisted you push up, and that resulted in Hill and Shaw eating your lunch, including the crackers and the fruity yogurt drink. Of your eight first half minuses four were for getting caught out of position upfield.
But another was that your passing and possession was atrocious; 10 of the 49 turnovers were on you. The positioning was your coach’s fault; the turnovers were largely yours.
Well, hopefully both you and the coach will learn from this, eh?
Bixby (+2/-1 : +1/-1 : +3/-2) As discussed; huge 31st minute save, horrible 38th minute concession.
Frankly exposed by your coach’s decisions and roster, as well as some pretty gobsmacking individual derps, but the Morgan goal…ugh. That was not pretty. Need to work with a strength and conditioning coach…but the physical limitations of that long tall frame…I dunno.
Coach Norris: 9-5-6 now, eh marra?
The bottom line is that you can delegate authority but not responsibility, so this one’s ultimately on you. Even moreso in that you knew what Stoney would bring, saw her troops bringing it, and had no answers.
It’s not like she so much “outcoached” you; it’s more like she just stuck her fist out and you hit it with your face.
And your team’s face, which hurts even more.
Well, now the Shield is out of your hands. San Diego wins two of two, they win the Shield no matter what the Thorns do.
And now, worse, your squad has to beat Gotham here next weekend, and Angel City on the road to even be sure of second.
Let’s look at the worst case, shall we? No points from the last two.
If the Thorns finish on 32 points and:
San Diego loses to Carolina and beats Louisville,
Gotham wins out,
Carolina beats San Diego and draws Washington,
Washington draws Carolina and beats Seattle, and
Seattle loses to Washington and beats Chicago:
San Diego finishes with 36
Gotham finishes with 36 (but is probably second on GD),
Carolina finishes with 33,
Washington finishes with 33, and
Portland finishes fifth and has to beat Seattle to play in.
That would suck even worse, wouldn’t it? For a team that has strung together two wins a grand total of…once…since April. To have to win three in a row?
So. Let’s not do that.
Let’s beat goddamn Gotham and LA and go into the playoffs with a bye.
And then I will join this nice lady and be a goddamn magical unicorn.