Thorns FC: Horrid

There was a little girl,
And she had a little curl
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good
She was very, very good,
And when she was bad, she was horrid.

Yeah, that’s Sydney Leroux putting the dagger into Portland’s second consecutive try – and second consecutive fail – at nicking the NWSL Shield on the last regular matchday.

What the actual hell can you say about this group?

How do you go from the 10-player win over Carolina through a sterile draw in D.C. to the loss in Louisville to the thumping win over Seattle to the appalling San Diego disaster to the solid Gotham win and finally to this vile mess?

It’s not just form. It’s going from a team that looks like a runaway Shield lock (Carolina, Seattle, Gotham) through meh (Washington) to a hot mess (Louisville, San Diego, LA)? It’s like the group needs medication or something because if a person showed those kind of mood swings they’d be in a doctor’s care.

Well, at least they made some people happy. Cotton candy tastes sweet while punking the Thorns, eh, ladies? You’re welcome.

It’s hard to figure out where to start.

Probably with this:

Kinda hard to see – Paramount-minus did a terrible job compensating for the deep shadow at the far end of BMO Field – but that’s Mary Alice Vignola beating Bella Bixby to her near post in the 36th minute.

We’ll get there, but Vignola was interviewed at halftime and said straight-out that she had looked up and caught Bixby cheating inside and knew she had her cold to the post.

Then there was this:

Two minutes later this time it’s Scarlett Camberos meeting a Claire Emslie cross while Meghan Klingenberg reels away, helplessly outworked and outjumped, doing nothing other than getting in Bixby’s way.

That’s what happens when you don’t stick your mark, Kling. But you know that. Or should.

How about this one?

Right after the restart now it’s Savannah McCaskill’s turn to beat Bixby to her near-post side, helped out by Kelli Hubly, too far off to tackle McCaskill but close enough to screen Bixby. Three-nil bad guys.

In the dying minutes Jun Endo joined the fun, seeing Natalia Kuikka loafing in the box yards away from the back post. Alyssa Thompson’s easy pass put her through and…

…boom, 5-1 and Bixby’s beat to her near post. Again.

Had this been a hockey game Bix would have been benched after the third concession (“rough day, have a seat, kid, it’s time to give the rook a try and see what she can do…”), but absolutely after this:

Her patty-cake block right back to Leroux let the Angel City doyenne utterly pwn Bixby’s team and pants her personally in front of 22,000 fans with a highlight-film bike. That’s a hiding you don’t shake off. How much worse could Shelby Hogan have done at that point?

Sorry, Bix. I don’t mean to pick on you. Your entire squad – with very, very few exceptions – utterly cratered in LA, losing the match, losing the Shield, and losing their composure in the most public fashion. It wasn’t you, or, rather, it wasn’t just you. Everyone from top to bottom bought a piece of this stinker.

One day she went upstairs,
When her parents, unawares,
In the kitchen were occupied with meals
And she stood upon her head
In her little trundle bed,
And then began hooraying with her heels.

Defense? What defense?

We’ll talk about this more in the comments, but the switch off from the fierce team defending that sank Gotham was brutally obvious. Let’s just pick one moment, leading up to the McCaskill goal.

Crystal Dunn has just been stripped and Emslie is tear-assing down the left touchline with Dunn in pursuit. That circle? That’s our Natalia Kuikka, the supposed right-back, caught upfield. And, worse, caught jogging lazily back to see what’s happening:

What’s happening is that Dunn is running down Emslie, who’s having to pull up and look for support. Kuikka, trailing, sees Emslie turn, so cuts back to pin her against the touchline.

But she’s so locked on to the ball she doesn’t see…

Vignola blow past her into the path of Emslie’s square pass. Kuikka is utterly scunnered; she has no chance to catch Vignola before Vignola can cross in to McCaskill and McCaskill can beat Hubly and Bixby like redheaded stepchildren.

Mike Norris didn’t actually push the fullbacks crazy high, either; this was pure anticipation and situational-awareness fail combined with Camberos, Vignola, and Emslie having pace that neither Kuikka nor (especially) Klingenberg could match.

Even in position both got repeatedly skinned.

Attack? What attack?

Let’s admit, before going anywhere, that Christine Sinclair has become The Place Were Goals Go To Die. Sinc at the #9 now effectively means not having a #9, so the attack was a player down before the starting whistle.

That said…nobody else was tearing things up in front either. Here they are moments before the screenshots above:

Sam Coffey is bringing the ball up but has no options through the middle – see all the black shirts? She has to go wide to Kuikka.

But Kuikka can’t find a runner, either. The line of Thorns is well marked by another line of Angels. Finally Kuikka has to go up the touchline to Dunn.

But nobody’s running to space for Dunn to pass to, either, and a couple of Angels immediately close her down and force her back:

See the useless static line of white shirts? Yeah. There was a lot of that.

Finally Dunn gets harried and trapped and dispossessed…

…and the LA attack begins and we saw how that went.

Here’s Arielle Dror’s xG race.

0.59 xG.

Henderson is wrapped up in the NCAA, but I’m going to bet that the Thorns post-shot xG was even worse; other than Hina-san’s goal the only other legitimate chances were a 12th minute Dunn shot right at LA keeper Angelina Anderson, another Dunn shot in first half injury time that also went right at Anderson, and Sugita’s crack in the 53rd minute…also right to Anderson.

Her mother heard the noise,
And she thought it was the boys
A-playing at a combat in the attic;
But when she climbed the stair,
And found Jemima there,
She took and she did spank her most emphatic.

~Henry Wordsworth Longfellow

No attack. No defense. Dodgy goalkeeping. Given that it was hardly surprising that Tweedi’s Angels found the Thorns at BMO and did, indeed, spank them most emphatic.

Short Passes

Portland was decent overall – about 80% to Angel City’s 75%. It was turnovers that were the problem, which we’ll discuss.

Here’s Arielle Dror’s first half for Portland:

Sugita – technically a DM – is playing the #10, since the supposed ACM Moultrie was having a rough day.

Note the cool colors of the fullbacks; lots of passes, little value created – and this was the better half, mind! And not particularly pushed up; the problem wasn’t positioning, it was skillsets.

Coffey is…I have no idea. We’ll talk in her comment, but she was a nonfactor.

Worth noting that Sinc is getting service. She wasn’t stranded; she just couldn’t do anything with that service.

Here’s Angel City:

You can see how deep Emslie and Camberos were getting, and how effectively McCaskill and Amandine Henry and Vignola were in central midfield.

Like Cylons, Angel City had a plan. And it worked.

Portland’s – whatever the plan was supposed to have been – didn’t.

Goalkeeper Distribution

I meant to track the keepers again, but Anderson fooled me; she took nearly none of her outlets; three long kicks in the first half, only two in the third. Typically she kicked or bowled short or let one of her backs take the free and goal kicks.

OPTA thinks all five of her long kicks were lost, but I have two of them reaching her teammates, including a free kick that started a good ACFC attack in the 86th minute.

On the other hand, a short boot right to Sugita led to the 47th minute Dunn shot on goal. Not great, but not really dangerous, either (less than 0.05 xG per Dror’s chart).

Bixby played the ball long 13 times, seven in the first half, three in the second.

OPTA shows only six downfield passes, all lost. Not sure why the big discrepancy.

I had Bixby with one dangerous giveaway, a short goal kick in the 19th minute that started an AC move; the Thorns defense stopped that one, though, so no harm no foul.

Again; nothing of real value in attacking the opponent’s goal or significant danger to the keepers’ own goals.

Keeper distribution. If it’s bad? Is it irritating? Yes. If it’s bad or good? Is it impactful? Not really.

Attacking Passes

OPTA had Portland with a total of 447 passes. I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 64 “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%
NJ/NY 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 Gotham (W)16.8%74.5%
Angel City (L)14.3%67.1%

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 half totals are imbalanced, with 50% more attacking passes (38 to 26) in the first half – which were practically all within the first twenty minutes or so. It’s interesting to note that the total attacking passes are towards the low end, and correlate with worse results; the Washington draw, and the Gotham away loss.

But not much; the Thorns were within a couple of percent in both the Carolina and Seattle wins, so this is probably within the range of error of the stat. Not sure this one tells us much, at least I can’t see it.

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 Gotham (W)21
Angel City (L)60

Holy shit.

Let me take a moment to spank some people for this shit.

Morgan Weaver? Ten. TEN? turnovers in 62 minutes? You kinda get a break for the two tackles-for-loss because that often meant your teammates didn’t give you an outlet. But the rest being all passes or heavy touches? Damn, girlfriend! That’s uglass. C’mon. You know you’re better than that.

Nobody else in double figures, but Dunn coughed up five hairballs, Kling five-and-a-half (I split the loss if both passer and receiver should have done better), Sinclair six-and-a-half, Raquel Rodriguez five-and-a-half. Whole bunch of people with two, three, and four.


Corner Kicks

Three. All long, one first half, two second

8′CoffeyLongOver the scrum, cleared, recycled but no shot
89′CoffeyLongInto the mixer, cleared out to Rocky but Henry tackled it clear
90+1′CoffeyLongFar post to Betfort, her shot was blocked and then cleared out for a Portland throw



Twentieth full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 31 throw-ins; 16 first half, 15 second; ACFC took 20; eight first half, 12 second.

Of Portland’s throws nine (29%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Six (19%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. The other 16, (52%) 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%
Angel City29%19%40%45%

Angel City was weird; look at the table. They either advanced possession or lost it; only 15% of their throws were “neutral”. Freakish, and I’m not sure why they were so unwilling to play it safe.

So we still kinda sucked at throw-ins…but that wasn’t anywhere near the problem at Beemo.

Player Ratings and Comments

Sinclair (+3/-4 : +1/-1 : +4/-5) For the love of God, Montressor!

Why? You’ve got a desperate opponent who HAS to win, on a hot afternoon, in a situation where you need everyone on board, especially pressing high and forechecking…and you start your fucking granny?

That’s taking careful aim and blasting your own leg off.

Weaver (62′ – +8/-2 : +1/-1 : +9/-3) Without anyone to play off of, without a striker to feed, Weaver’s energy largely went to waste. We’ve harped on the turnovers, so no point in belaboring that point.

The entire attack was dysfunctional. Some of that was Sinc, and some was other players having an off day. But when the entire enterprise falls apart, the cold gaze of consequence must perforce turn to the leadership, and we’ll get there.

Betfort (28′ – +3/-0) By the hour the Thorns were cooked to a turn. Starting Betfort for Sinc makes sense; she’s not Smith but she’s a great forechecker and can nick the odd goal.

Bringing her on when down by four? Makes no sense at all.

Dunn (61′ – +6/-5 : +2/-3 : +8/-8) One of the more energetic Thorns, marred by turnovers and tame shooting, but an honorable shift on a very bad day.

Smith (29′ – +2/-1) Rehab minutes.

Moultrie (45′ – +5/-3) This is another headscratcher. Not sure why the Moultrie-for-Rocky swap; both were relatively decent, neither was particularly effective. My thought would have been that without Smith and with Sinc a boat anchor up top a double pivot seems like a good idea, so why not start Rodriguez? But down by two at the half? Why pull Moultrie when you now need attack?

Rodriguez (45′ – +1/-3) See above.

Sugita (+7/-0 : +2/-1 : +9/-1)

Y’ever have one of those days? Where you’re fighting like mad and everything and everyone around you is just going completely to Hell?

I’ll bet poor Hina-san felt like the last onna-musha standing as the Takeda cavalry came thundering over the wrecked palisades and the bodies of her fallen ashigaru. Taito, Sugita-senshu!

Coffey (+0/-1 : +0/-1 : +0/-2) This is the second time in three games our normally reliable defensive midfielder has been utterly ineffective. Not just bad, but invisible. Is she nursing a knock? Worn out by a long season? Something mentally not right?

Just as in the San Diego game, Coffey might just as well have not been there, and I’m not sure what the problem is. Certainly her team’s collapse didn’t help, but…I’ve gone from “concerned” to “worried”. If we can’t get a solid match out of Sam Coffey we’re in deep kimchi.

Kuikka (+2/-5 : +1/-6 : +3/-11) Yike.

We’ve seen her two worst owns; the leadups to the McCaskill and the Endo goals. But Kuikka was utterly owned by pretty much every Angel who came at her; Vignola, Emslie…their cleatmarks went clean up Kuikka’s back.

This season has not been kind to our Finnish international, and last Sunday was the unkindest cut of all.

Menges (+0/-2 : +1/-2 : +1/-4) Much of the Angel attacks came from the wide spaces, so the centerbacks weren’t nearly as exposed as the fullbacks. That said, when you ship five goals? Your defenders have not a scrap of pride left to clutch to themselves, and neither did Menges Sunday.

Sauerbrunn (45′ – +4/-1) Three of her four pluses are for passing; like Menges, ‘Brunn doesn’t have much to boast about the backline’s defending.

Hubly (45′ – +0/-1) Culpable on both the McCaskill and Leroux goals, otherwise the same issues as Menges and ‘Brunn.

Klingenberg (62′ – +1/-4 : +0/-1 : +1/-5) In the 18th minute Camberos came tooling up the Thorns’ left touchline. Kling was in her path, started pacing her back towards the byline, and Cemberos blew past her like Kling was standing still.

That was the beginning. By the final whistle Kling had been skinned repeatedly; by Cemberos, by Alyssa Thompson, by Emslie…it’d be quicker to list the Angels who hadn’t torched poor Kling.

I’ll always love her fire. But it’s time, Kling. Your old compa Rapinoe gets it (and can still bag a brace, the wench!); you’ve had a terrifc run but it’s finally time to hang ’em up.

Reyes (28′ – +1/-5) Reyna Reyes came on after all the destruction…and picked right up getting torched by Thompson; in the 76th, 77th, and 86th minutes the young rascal left behind nothing but a pile of smoking ash and a half-charred cleat.

Bixby (+1/-2 : +0/-2 : +1/-4) We’ve seen all the concessions, so can we talk about this now?

That’s a straight-up penalty and goddamn stupid. You didn’t need to pull down McCaskill – who’s luckily one of the whiniest forwards in the league – because you’d just made your best save of the match. You have KLing right there. To paw at McCaskill is just flat out dumb.

But that was just part of a very, very bad day at the office.

I’m not sure if you still have enough confidence left to not have another. Self-confidence is a goalkeeper’s currency and you piled up everything in your pocket Sunday and Angel City just fucking totally lit it on fire.

Your metrics are the worst of the starting keepers in the a LOT.

By your most recent “Post-shot xG minus Goals Allowed per 90 minutes” which measures how many goals you concede compared to how many the opponents’ shots predict you should have conceded puts you at -0.16. Of the starters only A.D. Franch is worse.

By comparison, the keeper with the league’s most goal against is Alyssa Naeher in Chicago; 50 GA. Naeher’s PSxG-GA/90? +0.01…meaning she’s saved Chicago a tiny fraction of a goal per game.

You’ve cost Portland nearly a goal every six games.

I just don’t know how much longer the club can afford to start you if you’re gonna be like this.

Coach Norris: 10-7-5 now, eh, marra?

Well, you sure picked a damn bad time to shit the bed; fail on your XI and your tactics and your substitutions. Jesus wept, man, did you not run the tape of Mark Parsons backing into the playoffs in 2019 and 2021 and what happened then?

I know lots of people are pissing and moaning about playing Sinc the full 90 as the Big Fail in this one, and, no, that was not a good choice.

But look; I “get” the Sinc thing. It’s a very unusual, very specific-to-Sinc problem that only happens with truly great players who outrun their greatness. I’ve seen it before (Abby Wambach was the standout example before Sinc). But she’s literally sui generis for the club, and gets treated in ways no other player does. Yes, playing her is a failure of coaching…but more a failure of ownership and the GM, who have failed to sit her down and explain that she’s hurting her own club.

My big issue with you is that this club shows signs of worse issues, both technical (failure to execute simple soccer techniques and tactics) and temperamental (those swings from excellence to yesterday’s disaster) that make me question your whole approach to this gig.

The coaching fail with Sinc is unusual. The coaching fails with the whole squad, though?

THOSE are truly concerning; makes me wonder if your grasp not only of tactics and strategies but your very basic, fundamental understanding of the game is deeply flawed.

Now you’ve got three weeks to prepare to win a two-game tournament, with a team that hasn’t won two in a row since June.

You and the squad gonna rise above this shitshow and do that?

Hope so.

But win or lose? After that?

We gotta talk.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Horrid

  1. Terrible game, but your analyses are fun to read; like this little nugget: “McCaskill can beat Hubly and Bixby like redheaded stepchildren.”
    I am so disappointed in this team, especially when hard workers like Weaver, Kuikka, Moultrie and Coffey don’t do well. Weaver looked like she might have been sick no other explanation, well as I said on STF she had some good defenders on her; Gordon is great. Coffey seemed isolated and nerfed by a very good AC midfield, I don’t know. Moultrie was working hard, but it wasn’t helping much, same with Dunn, working hard but not accomplishing anything. All of them just had so many turnovers and yes Weaver! She usually causes more turnovers than she commits.
    Hina was the only bright spot. The fact that Hina was on and everybody else was off makes me wonder if the locker room is as together as they say they are. Hina owing to the language barrier might be unaware of that dynamic. I saw a lot of sullen faces or I think I saw them. This didn’t seem to be a happy team from the word go.
    On a brighter note some former Thorns had a good weekend. Alex Morgan an assist and a goal off a Madison Pogarch assist; Purce and Ryan both scored for Gotham, and Tyler Lussi was the heroine for the Courage. A long way off in France Horan had a hat trick on Sunday.

    1. So, in order…
      Weaver; yes, AC’s backline and DMs did good work, but, no, as I said in the piece, only two of her appalling ten turnovers were the work of the defense. The rest were on her being sloppy or rushing or just derping. The lack of support had to hurt, yes. But she’s got a job and should do it well. She’s not a rook anymore.
      The locker room; hard to tell. Given the struggle to get consistent results this season I’m going to guess there’s some strain there, and the utter collapse at BMO wasn’t an encouraging sign of a tight, tough-minded group.
      As far as former Thorns…I hope Horan is having an enjoyable and productive season with OL, but the others…
      Let’s put it this way; if I bumped into one of them at Civic Taproom of a Friday I’d happily stand them a round to thank them for their good work and the fond memories that inspired.
      But on the pitch..? Ohfuckno; Morgan and Ryan and Po and Lussi are now The Enemy. No cheers, no happy for them while they’re flying other colors. They’re opponents, and get that “go home you bums” treatment as such.

      1. OK! I guess I am a sentimentalist. But that being said I caught a lot of grief in Spain for changing my allegiance to Real Madrid from Barcelona after Louis Figo moved to Madrid. Lots of grief! That is not done! But when Lionel Messi started to play for Barcelona I became a Barca person again. It has taken me awhile to get that” Soy Barca,” not “Estoy Barca.” To remind myself my handle is “barcasiempre.” But I still follow former Thorns and wish them luck except when they play the Thorns.

        1. Again…I’m fine with enjoying, say, Purce’s exploits when she plays for the Nats. Or Raso when she plays in England, or Horan for OL (tho I loathe OL on principle…).

          But former Thorns who are actively helping opposing NWSL clubs? That doesn’t brighten my day; it’s depressing, if anything, that we couldn’t or didn’t keep them here to do those good things.

  2. In the post-game press conference, Kling & Coffey looked destroyed (an aside, but boy does Coffey present herself well. None of the multitudinous insertions of “like” that make other young players sound like fingers on a chalkboard to me). Coffey noted that they they are inconsistent; they look like a championship team some days, and like a bottom table team on others. Too right. She says it’s something they should have addressed earlier in the season. While not overtly blaming Norris, is she putting the onus on the coaching? I’m wondering if the players are happy with Norris &, if so, whether their discontent will be addressed by new ownership (whoever that is).
    I keep wondering if we are missing something about Sinc. Could it really be that she is unable to accept that she is not the player she once was, despite all evidence, and Norris is too spineless to make the tough decisions? Part of it may be that the team seems to be built around a strong 9 & we don’t have a good bench, so w/Smith out, he has Betford (who as I think you noted, is a better midfielder than forward) and Sinc. Bev Priestly mentioned having confidential discussion with Sinc about her role before she retired (Priestly may actually have a backbone).
    I am also wondering about the detestible expansion draft & who we’ll protect & lose. I’d hate to think they protect Sinc out of respect. I also wonder if Dunn will want to be traded – her reason for coming to PDX no longer exists.
    I have great hopes that we will get motivated and invested new owners and this team will shore up their talent/bench/coach.

    Long, rambling late post, I know. It took me a while to want to dive back in after that loss.

    1. Sorry so late getting back to you; I tend to stop checking comments after a while…

      The story back last winter was that he was well-liked as a Wilkinson assistant and that was a huge selling point for him to move up. The club finished high on the table, so the players wouldn’t seem to have too much to piss and moan about him, but who knows?

      One of the things about Sinc that makes her who she is, and made her such a power when she was a power, is her relentless will to fight and win. That doesn’t go away as the body ages. So she isn’t going to just stop. That’s where the manager and GM come in…but the problem here is that Sinc is an OG, the last “plankowner” (a Navy term for a sailor who was on board when the ship was commissioned…). Her cred here is massive – bigger than KK’s, way bigger than Norris. If it came to a fight between her and Norris, he’d lose. So I don’t think there’s any way to tell what, if anything, has gone on between them but clearly she’s not inclined to sit.

      The dire performance of the CWNT and her role in it seems to have changed her mind about playing internationally, but continued success here means she hasn’t had that come-to-Jesus moment.

      I have no interest in playing expansion-draft-lists yet. We have no real idea who’s re-signed, who won’t, who’s going to own the team come draft day, who might be in the technical box…there’s simply too many unknown unknowns. It’ll be what it’ll be, but hopefully the team isn’t foolish enough to waste spots on players like Kling and Sinc.

      And the sale? Who knows? Two months ago it was supposedly in the final processes. Now? You got me; no idea. Needs to happen sooner rather than later, tho.


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