Thorns FC: Won and In

Two weekends ago I was worried about how the Thorns would do against San Diego. In the prediction game I admitted that I was “…nervous about this, because the Thorns’ form has been “win-one-lose-one-draw-one” this year, and (I’m) unsure of where San Diego is right now.”

Where San Diego was, it turned out, was comprehensively better than Portland, and the Wave washed out of town on top and in command of the Shield.

It may seem weird, but that actually made me less jittery about this one, even though Gotham had beaten the Thorns in Jersey. We’d lost one, so now it was the “draw-one-win-one” turn, right?


It wasn’t pretty much of the time, mind. The two clubs combined for more fouls (19) than shots (17) and fewer shots on goal (3 each) than offsides (7 total). Arielle Dror is taking some time off, but Chris Henderson sums things up pretty thoroughly:

As you’d guess, neither team made an xG of a goal over 90 minutes, and Gotham’s post-shot xG – that is, the goals that you’d expect could come from the actual shots the Joisey Goils took (as opposed to just where they took them, which is what xG tell you) – shows how little the visitors got from the match.

That had a lot to do with this, mind:

First half injury time…Portland has just turned the ball over, and Bruninha is on the run up the right touchline with Lynn Williams to her left. But…notice who else is there..?

Yep. Damn near the whole Thorns midfield; Meghan Klingenberg on the ball with Hina Sugita in support and Becky Sauerbrunn towards goal, while Olivia Moultrie is between Bruninha and Williams with Crystal Dunn goal-side and Natalia Kuikka trailing.

One of the big keys to this game was that after a shockingly sloppy defensive performance against San Diego Mike Norris sent his entire squad out to hunt and destroy Batgirls, and they did. The Thorns stayed organized, picked up marks, cut off passes (it helped that Gotham was pretty poor in possession) and closed down runners.

Gotham’s big guns were silenced; Williams finished with one shot on goal, Purce two shots, none on goal, Spanish star Esther Gonzalez, no shots at all.

At the other end it looked for a long time like the Thorns were going to have another “got chances, couldn’t finish” match.

Hina-san rang the outside of the post in the 4th minute, Moultrie pinged off the other post in the 35th minute. Hannah Betfort blasted into the MAC Club balcony four minutes later. Dunn hammered from the top of the six in first half injury time but right at Gotham keeper Mandy Haught.

And under “chances” you could also throw in the defensive stylings of Matiane Lopez…

Here she is, throwing a cross-body check on Dunn in the 28th minute without any apparent interest in playing the ball. This was after she’d laid out Betfort in the 19th minute, tho at least that time she’d at least made the effort to stick out a toe and poke at the round thing. Dunno why, bored, maybe. She didn’t seem to really care.

The center referee was Danielle Chesky, though, meaning that without visible wounds these weren’t even worth a discussion.

Finally, in the 53rd minute, the Thorns worked a corner. Klingenberg fed Weaver, whose usual “tear-ass-Chaos-Muppet-run-and-hammered-shot” Haught could only push around her post.

Sam Coffey dropped the corner kick in to Sugita, who laid a sleek turn on her defender and forced another block out of Haught and another corner on the east side this time.

That corner went short to Sauerbrunn. On the turn ‘Brunn had nothing, so she kicked it back out to Coffey, who lobbed all the way over to the back post, where Hina-san saw the opportunity and Midge Purce – marking Sugita – didn’t, until too late.

Sugita sprinted past Purce and nodded home the matchwinner; Hina for her fifth goal, Coffey for her eighth (league-leading!) assist.

Then came the un-pretty part.

For the next more-than-half-hour-and-change the Thorns parked the bus and Gotham swarmed all over them.

Purce shot well over in the 57th minute. Between the 58th and 61st minutes Gotham worked two successive corner kicks; Purce’s back post header was blocked by Moultrie for a third before an Ali Krieger foul put a stop to the pressure in the 63rd minute.

Gotham put in another spell of pressure between the 66th and 69th minutes, but the Portland defending held the Batgirls without a shot that time.

At the other end, well…in the 82nd minute Gotham turned the ball over; Moultrie fed Weaver, who saw substitute Christine Sinclair breaking up the middle, and fed her:

How many times have we seen this in the past? Sinc shifts the ball to her right foot, collect herself, and kicks in the afterburners, smoking the defender, blowing by the keeper or sliding the shot under or past her for the insurance goal.

That was in the past.

Now, Ali Krieger came steaming up behind Sinc as she lumbered towards the byline.

Krieger flat-out ran her down. Sinc tried to shift the ball, stumbled, was tackled, lost possession…

…and watched as the ball roll gently and harmlessly over the byline.


This lasted until, finally, in injury time the Thorns needed a huge save…

…from Bella Bixby to keep Williams from equalizing in the 93rd minute.

But that was all from Gotham. Hina-san had a sitter in the 97th that she blasted well over the crossbar, the whistle blew, and that was that.

The Thorns are in the playoffs, and with a bye for the play-in round; we can’t finish lower than second.

So pretty? Pretty is overrated. The Thorns needed a win, and through solid defense and taking the chance they got, got one.

And that’s just fine.

Short Passes

Both sides were pretty rough; around 76% completion. Not tidy from either team, though purely based on the visuals Gotham seemed to have worse breakdowns in the attacking third than Portland.

We don’t have Arielle Dror’s lovely passing diagrams, but I wanted to show this; it’s the OPTA passing and defensive action plot for Portland’s fullbacks. Here’s the first half, the Thorns attacking towards the bottom:

Remember San Diego, where we talked about Klingenberg getting skinned and stuck upfield? Well, look who was told to stay home in the first half? Hmmm…

Okay, now here’s the second half – note Reyna Reyes comes in for Kling at 71 minutes:

Now Kuikka is staying home, too, and Reyes is entirely planted in the Thorns half of the pitch.

I don’t think we’ve seen the last of Mike Norris’ wingbacks. But he reined them in for this game, and it worked a treat.

Goalkeeper Distribution 2: Electric Boogaloo

Thought I’d track these again, just for to see how they compared to last week.

Haught played the ball long a total of 15 times (12 in the first half, 3 in the second). Of those, 7 were either immediately lost to Portland or pinged off heads before eventually being turned over (5 first half, 2 second).

Of those one went directly to Sugita in the 35th minute, who turned the ball back dangerously to the Gotham goal.

The others led to nothing, or were turned back over in midfield.

Two of Haught’s long balls; a kicked clearance in the 7th minute, and another in the 24th minute, went to Midge Purce; the first was offside, but the second began a good attack. Here’s her distribution chart:

Looks about right; half of the long passes – six on this chart – are successful. The other six are not.

Bixby played the ball long only 10 times, six in the first half, three in the second.

This match Bix’s long distribution really was poor; six of 10 went right to Gotham (OPTA shows only seven long passes, but all incomplete):

However, just as against San Diego, none of the losses was turned into immediate danger. Of the completed passes, none resulted in a promising attack, either.

So, much as against San Diego; the opponent’s keeper was better in long distribution that Bixby…and the advantage was largely ineffective at improving the opponent’s game state. The more I see it, the more convinced I am that it’s not that significant other than as a way to raise fans’ blood pressure.

Attacking Passes

OPTA had Portland with a total of 350 passes. I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 59 “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%
San Diego (L)17%72%
NJ/NY Gotham16.8%74.5%

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 unbalanced, this one more like Seattle in that Portland attempted 39 “attacking” passes in the first half, only 20 in the second and completed 28 (72%) in the first half, 16 (80%) in the second.

This also emphasizes how 1) Portland was creating attacking ball movement and completing those passes at a seasonally-normal rate. But only one goal came from all that, and that’s a bit of a “hmmm…

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
San Diego (L)49
NJ/NY Gotham21

Not bad. Not quite up in the “Washington/Seattle/Carolina” range, and only about 30% better than the loss to Gotham away. But way better than San Diego so good enough.

Corner Kicks

Six. Five long, one short-ish, two first half, four second

9′CoffeyLongRight to Haught for the easy take
12′KlingenbergLongWent near post, cleared out for a Portland throw-in
46′KlingenbergLongNear post again, cleared out againg
53′CoffeyLongWe discussed this; went to Sugita in the pack, her shot forced another corner
54′CoffeyShortShort-ish – went to Brunn at the near edge of the box, back to Coffey, then to Sugita for the matchwinner.
89′CoffeyLongBack post, cleared, recycled, but lost

A goal out of six attempts? That’s damn fine…although the goal wasn’t a typical “target forward in the box/Horan/Sonnett-style” goal. We still don’t have one of those. But I’m not picky; cheap goals where you can take them!


Nineteenth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 24 throw-ins; 11 first half, 13 second; Gotham took 32; 13 first half, 19 second.

Of Portland’s throws seven (29%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. 10 (41%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. The other 7, (29%) were just neutral; kept possession but nothing going forward.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage lostOpponent gainOpponent loss
San Diego39%22%63%26%
Kansas City23%14%32%45%
San Diego20%40%41%22%

Gotham was massively better at throw-ins: got advantage from 22 of their 32 throw-ins, or about 69%, and only lost four (11%). The advantage remained relatively consistent throughout the match.

The visuals looked similar to the Thorns throws we’ve seem; lots of Thorns standing around marked up, little or no movement off the ball to get open or make space.

Again, this seems like a solveable problem. Why not work on it?

Player Ratings and Comments

Betfort (71′ – +4/-1 : +5/-0 : +9/-1) So here’s the weird thing about her; Betfort, playing in the #9 spot, has seven of her nine pluses for defending; three forechecking presses, three tackles for gain, and a tackle.

That’s kind of ridiculous, and doesn’t even bring up her only shot being a metric mile off-target.

She’s big fun and a terrifically energetic and committed player, and that’s great.

She’s not a terrific forward, and that’s not so great.

Sinclair (19′ – +0/-2) See the screenshots above. What the hell?

Weaver (+9/-4 : +10/-1 : +19/-5) All the usual (pace, creativity, power, intelligence) and all the usual (water, fell, boat). She’s a terrific support hero and second option.

Moultrie (83′ – +11/-2 : +5/-0 : +16/-2) Living argument for starting…except when we need the double pivot. Great passing – seven of her pluses are for passes – plus a post, and decent defending. Excellent match on both sides of the ball.

Smith (7′ – +2/-0) Hi! Great to see you again!

Dunn (71′ – +10/-0 : +3/-1 : +13/-1) Great first half doing a lot of DM work (5 defensive pluses, 5 attacking) before fading back to pure defending in the second, so sort of a double #6 with Coffey late in the match. Still think she should have drawn the PK, Chesky, y’damn porch robber.

Rodriguez (19′ – +6/-1) Pure DM; five of her six pluses are defensive. Dunn looked a bit cooked in the heat, so good relief, and saw the match out, so, again, good.

Sugita (+10/-2 : +12/-2 : +22/-4) From awful to sublime, from the depths of despair to the heights of joy. All her strengths – cleverness, vision, intelligence – on both attack and defense. WotM, and a joy to see again.

Coffey (+5/-1 : +6/-1 : +11/-2) Another happy return from San Diego, and back to her usual Quiet Professional destroyer self, plus the assist. Nicely done.

Klingenberg (71′ – +2/-2 : +6/-1 : +8/-3) Perfect example of how Kling and her backline teammates worked on Gotham was in the 38th minute; Gonzalez latched onto a long cross, but Kling and ‘Brunn closed her down, relentlessly kept her in front of them while cutting off her outlet pass until she finally just tried a hopeless cross that went right to Sugita for the clearance.

As noted above, stayed home most of the match and played solid defense, largely shut down Purce. Hell of a fine match.

Reyes (19′ – +4/-0) Jumped right in, kept the pressure on, so good shift.

Sauerbrunn (61′ – +3/-1 : +1/-0 : +4/-1) A tribute to her team defending is ‘Brunn’s numbers show how little she had to scramble. Kept her unit disciplined and well organized. With Menges (and Hubly), shut down Gonzalez.

Hubly (29′ – +2/-0) No visible drop-off from ‘Brunn, so, just fine.

Menges (+2/-1 : +1/-2 : +3/-2) See the Sauerbrunn comment above.

Kuikka (+8/-2 : +3/-1 : +11/-3) Got to be the “up” fullback; five pluses for passing. Did to Williams what Kling was doing to Purce, so that’s good, too.

Bixby (+2/-0 : +1/-1 : +3/-1) Largely untroubled until the save off Williams, but all the more impressive for that.

Coach Norris: Well played, marra.

Kept the fullbacks home and locked down the defense. Kept the squad looking for the opportunity and found it, and your subs made sense outside Sinclair (but…Sinc. Sigh. What will it take..?). All in all an excellently run match.


Here’s the thing.

Fucking Houston choked against Angel City, and now the Real Housewives of LA are foaming at the mouth at the prospect of getting playoff shares.

They need a win to get in.

You and the Thorns need a win to get the Shield.

Who needs which more, and are you ready to fight for that? Your old boss and her squad couldn’t, losing the bijoux on the final day. Remember? I sure as hell do.

Do you really want to end the season like that?

I sure as hell don’t.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

3 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Won and In

  1. No, it wasn’t pretty, but I felt pretty calm watching it. The Williams shot was scary yet Bella was there.
    Now for this next one I think the Thorns are the better team, but they have to break this curse of losing every other game. I feel like if they beat LA the curse will be broken for the rest of this year. The Shield will be theirs and Soph will be fully back by the time of the semifinal. To beat LA they need to take care of the ball and keep the Kuikka and Kling back defending. Thompson is scary fast and she will have some confidence after scoring this weekend.

  2. Could the “curse of losing every other game” have anything to do with the starting lineups and tactics? I don’t have the data at hand to confirm this idea, but it seems to me that a good Thorns performance was regularly followed by a poor game with a different set of starters and a different tactical approach. It was almost as if the attitude was, “Well, that worked so let’s try something different next game.”

    Here’s hoping that’s not the approach to the ACFC game. Assuming limited minutes for Smith, I want to see the same lineup that beat Gotham.

  3. Obsoletely, this is a fast LA team. While the last games starting 11 isn’t as fast, it is fast enough to win. Dunn and Weaver are good on both sides of the pitch and Hina may not be a bolt of lightening, but when she is running horizontally and not vertically she is really fast. If Moultrie has another game like she did in the last one we will be alright and if she is struggling, Rocky can come in with some muscle. Of course our FBs need to be playing it safe and the CBs need to be at their best and ready for that speed coming at them. Hoping Smith gets 15 minutes and scores one, because I think Kerolin will score at least one and if she doesn’t the Spirit will probably win that game.


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