Thorns FC: Like Tears in Rain

The Thorns 2023 season ended early last Sunday in an evening dark with driving rain.

The opponent, Gotham FC, reversed the scoreline of the loss they’d suffered here just a month earlier and ran off behind a Katie Stengel golazo that booked a trip to San Diego and the Final as well as nailed down Coach of the Year honors for their manager. Worst to first, indeed.

The Thorns…went home.

The semifinal loss was frustrating because many players had a fine match as individuals, and the match itself was as even as the scoreline suggested.

We saw – as we’ll discuss – some of the same issues last Sunday we saw all season; hero-ball and failure to finish, unforced turnovers, disconnected play, lapses of pace and concentration.

Cheering for this year’s Thorns always seemed to have a nervous edge to it, a scary precarity, as if at any moment the unthinkable could happen; the bottom could fall out and the squad would suddenly forget how to play the game and get routed.

At least they didn’t last Sunday. A defeat, yes, but a respectable one. I don’t see anything for the squad to be ashamed of.

For one, Gotham is a good club, and Amoros is a smart coach. He learned from the October loss, and tweaked his formation and some tactics. The Joisey Goils were disciplined, especially at putting and keeping a body – or two, or three – tight on Sophia Smith all night. Smith ended the evening with two shots, none on frame.

And that was a problem, because Coach Norris’ “plan” was, pretty much, “pitch it up to Smith and hope she makes things happen”.

Here’s Sam Coffey in the 27th minute, looking upfield for Smith. See Smith, over at the right edge? Yeah, there’s a whole lot of white shirts in the way, hunh?

Coffey tries anyway – you can see her pass, going right over the midfield stripe, but it’s nowhere near Smith (or Olivia Moultrie or Morgan Weaver out near the east touchline, or Crystal Dunn in the right channel). It’s Smith or Nothing and, given Gotham’s tight defense, nothing is what is was.

The Thorns had trouble with connecting pace and movement in the face of Gotham’s discipline and high press.

Example; here’s a Thorns second half possession, 51st minute, starting with Dunn on the ball:

She;s penned in by white shirts, so she looks inside to Sam Coffey. But Coffey’s run gets tracked down and Dunn has to lob all the way in to Reyna Reyes coming up from the back, instead.

Reyes doesn’t have a teammate running forward to thread a pass up to, either. You can see Weaver in the foreground moving laterally. Smith and Moultrie are out of the screenshot to the left, pushed up against the high backline and standing still. Dunn and Meghan Klingenberg are pinned along the touchline.

Reyes tries Weaver to see what she can do.

But Weaver is cut off from the through-ball; she can’t go forward, Gotham is too organized, and Weaver has to retreat back to open space to receive the pass.

See the nice chain of white in the middle of the attacking half? Yep, that’s in Weaver’s way like it was all night.

Weaver spots Moultrie; she’s well marked but is open on the downfield side and Weaver has nothing else, so…

…Weaver tries a long direct pass to see if Moultrie can turn with it.

She can’t; in fact, Ali Krieger is all over her and forces Moultrie backwards.

Moultrie stumbles, recovers and sees Coffey coming to help. But the Gotham midfield is coming on hard, too,

Moultrie tries to get drop the ball to Coffey, but Nealy Martin is too quick; she drives in, nicks the ball off Moultrie’s foot, and is turning to start a counterattack before Coffey can take her down.

We’ve all heard it over and over, on the park pitch or at the futsal court; pass and move, little triangles. Don’t pass to where your teammate is, pass to where they’ll be. Right?

So often this Thorns squad struggles with that, especially when an opponent presses them high and tight. A well-coached, well-trained squad responds with quick feet, intelligent movement off the ball, and pacy, precise passing to open space, just like they drill on the training ground.

If you pass to someone standing still and tightly marked..?

Kinda makes you wonder what has been going on the Thorns training ground…

Anyway, the first half from both sides was pretty sterile; if anything Gotham was the better side. Portland had their first shot on goal at 15′, a Reyes header right to Mandy Haught. Weaver blasted straight at Haught from about 20 yards out ten minutes later.

At the other end Gotham was taking advantage of Portland struggles; at 15′ Dunn was tackled for loss, Jenna Nighswonger played 1-2 with Lynn Williams, butNighswonger’s shot went right at Shelby Hogan.

Three minutes later Midge Purce skinned Meghan Klingenberg but Hogan boxed her cross wide.

At 32′ Esther Gonzalez caught Becky Sauerbrunn ballwatching; Esther’s run nearly got to the through-ball but Hogan came out hard and smashed her down – luckily getting enough just enough ball to avoid the penalty appeal.

Two minutes later Yazmeen Ryan beat Reyes to the edge of the box and forced Reyes to foul her; luckily the Delaney Sheehan free kick went over the crossbar.

More of same in the second until close to the hour. Then Portland began working into the match.

Smith found Kling running the left channel in the 56th minute and threaded a pretty ball up to her…but Kling was offside.

Smith had a shot blocked in the 68th minute, Sauerbrunn headed a free kick wide in the 70th minute. Smith and Dunn made a brilliant double run in the 79th minute; Smith laid off for Dunn, but the return pass was just a skosh too long and Haught scurried out to claim it before Smith.

In the 89th minute Portland had the chance to take it all. Crystal Dunn fed Smith, who finally got behind the Gotham backline and took off for the North End like she was on fire, with Weaver running alongside and to her right.

With defenders closing on her Smith slid a perfect square pass into Weaver’s path:

With a perfect tee-up, all Weaver had to do was put laces through the ball and send it into the top corner so she and her team could run off six minutes later a 2023 NWSL finalist.

Instead Weaver stumbled over the ball and scuffed the shot, dinking a tame roller right to Haught.

In the fourth minute of injury time Dunn put Smith through again…but offside.

Then there was this. In the sixth minute of the first overtime period Morgan Weaver was in possession tear-assing up the east touchline. Smith saw her go and bolted up the middle.

Two things happened nearly at once; Weaver sent a pass forward up the flank, and Krieger tackled Smith like a Pendelton rodeo goat-roper:

Krieger pulled Smith down. Foul, yellow card…but Krieger was the last defender!! Should this have been a DOGSO and a straight red?

I think had the pass be closer to Smith, had Smith been closer to the goal, had Krieger been the only defender…yes. It would have been, even for Danielle Chesky.

(And let me say for the record that Chesky was surprisingly willing to whistle up and even card people! Who are you, ma’am, and what did you do with Referee Chesky?)

But…the pass wasn’t very close, there were other defenders running back, and the foul was pretty far downfield. So…

…I hate to say it, but I think Chesky got it right.

Then about twelve minutes later everything went to Hell and the season ended.

Just like the October match, this was a contest between two clubs who had trouble creating;

In a match like this it was always going to come down to who had a moment of brilliance or a bolt of luck.

Gotham had one, Portland didn’t, and that was that.

I’ll talk about this next week; I think this match gives us a lot of things to think about.

But for right now, it’s just over, the match, and the long, drama-filled year, on a chill November night; match and season gone, like tears in rain.

Short Passes

Portland was terrible on the ball, between unforced errors and the press; 68.1% completion. Gotham’s 75% looks like solid gold in comparison.

Sadly, Arielle Dror no longer posts those lovely passing diagrams, but Sofascore points out that several Thorns had unusually poor nights passing; Coffey at 65% completion is almost shocking given her usual tidiness. Both the notional wingers, Dunn and Weaver, were below 60%.

Here’s the SofaScore position diagram for Portland’s starters:

Pretty high line in back. Kling is pushed up, Reyes withdrawn; Dunn, supposedly the RW is almost a dual-8 with Moultrie. Very little width except Kling out on the right

Here’s Gotham:

Also a high line of confrontation, but a bit more width from the fullbacks. Curious pileup in the center circle, with Sheehan, Esther, and Martin jamming up the middle and Ryan tucked way inside, as well.

I don’t see much to pick out here; again, this was a very even match.

Goalkeeper Distribution

I had the two keepers fairly even, too; Hogan with 16 long balls, Haught with 15.

Here’s Hogan:

As you can tell, not much going downfield.

Hogan did hit one dinger; the one long green arrow is a 55th minute goal kick that dimes Weaver along the touchline. That ended in the play where Kling made a nice run but was just offside.

On the bad side of the ledger, in the 21st minute Hogan dinked a goal kick short right on Martin’s head; the subsequent Gotham attack was well defended, though, and came to nothing.

Haught had a little busier – and a bit better – evening.

She tended to go short and wide successfully; downfield, not so much.

Even with that Haught didn’t have anything special to add to the attack; most of her distribution had to be played up through midfield and, as we’ve seen, not much danger was created from that.

Like Hogan, Haught also had one pretty ugly derp, an underhit 68th minute clearance that went to Coffey. Nothing from the following Thorns possession, though.

Again; we’re seeing the effect of the whole “goalkeeper distribution depends on the field players more than anything else and is seldom decisive one way or the other” factor.

I think we can safely conclude this study.

Attacking Passes

OPTA had Portland with a total of 486 passes over 120 minutes. I tallied the Thorns attempting a total of 79 “attacking” passes during that time.

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%
Gotham (L)16.2%72.1%

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 numbers reflect the game state; Portland struggling in the first half (20 attempted, the lowest of the match, and 16 (80%) completed) then growing into the match late (second half; 37 attempted, 27 completed (73%). Overtime; 22/14, 63.6%).

The raw numbers look within the season average.

Based on attacking passes other than the first half the Thorns were attacking within the range they have all season. So attacks were being generated; but, again, they just didn’t result in goals.

Turnover and over.

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
Gotham (L)37 (17)

The first number is the turnovers in regulation; the number in parenthesis is the overtime.

The Thorns were turning the ball over, but they weren’t as awful as they’d been in LA, or against San Diego, or in Louisville.

Unfortunately, they needed to keep possession better than that, as well as they had against Gotham in October, and didn’t – especially in the overtime.

In regulation they turned over an average of once every 2.4 minutes. In overtime once every 1.7 minutes, a 30% increase. Not helping, with the Thorns pushing up and then worse, needing to find a goal to stay alive.

The worst victim was Smith; 10 turnovers over her 120 minutes. I say “victim” rather than “culprit” because the vast bulk of the losses were 1) tackles for loss as Smith tried to create something out of nothing because she had no other teammate options, and 2) passes that were intercepted because (see #1).

Crystal Dunn did not have a good evening with six turnovers, and the backline had real trouble playing out; Sauerbrunn turned over five time, Menges seven, Reyes 6.5 (I split the cost if both passer and receiver did poorly…).

Hina Sugita only had a single turnover…but it was the beginning of the Gotham goal sequence, which just drives home that sometimes quality has a quantity all it’s own.

Again…not awful, but just “not good enough” for a tight match against a good opponent.

Corner Kicks

Four. All long, two each half

9′CoffeyLongTo the near post, cleared out for a Portland throw
16′CoffeyLongFound Reyes’ head, but the header was fairly tame and Haught caught easily
84′CoffeyLongInto the crowd for Haught to box clear; the ball fell to Moultrie, whose shot was blocked and the attack sort of petered out
94′MoultrieLongInto the scrum, cleared away; no real danger

At least an attempt in the 16th minute. A bit surprising to see so few corners, especially in the second half and overtime as Portland was driving forward. I think it shows the degree to which Gotham was smothering Smith, and the wingers and AMs weren’t either filling in behind her or getting width; the attacks were being killed off in the center of the pitch and getting turned over by Gotham’s defense instead of Portland forcing the defenders to block and clear over the byline.


Twenty-first full match tracking Portland throw-ins.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 34 throw-ins in regulation, 17 in each half. They added 11 in overtime for 45 total. Gotham took 34 total; 17 first half, 12 second, five in overtime.

Of Portland’s throws 12 (26.6%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. 13 (29%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. The other 20, (44.4%) 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%

We’re looking at the same issue here we’ve been seeing so far this season; the Thorns don’t take throw-ins well.

And it’s not just “an NWSL thing”; their opponents also tend to be better at it – Gotham profited from 15 of 34 and only lost five.

I’m not sure why the coaching staff doesn’t work with the fullbacks – because it’s Kling and Kuikka who take the vast number of these throws – to be quicker, and better at getting distance and accuracy on the throws, and with the other field players to move to get open to give the fullbacks better options.

Even if it’s just a marginal advantage, it is an advantage. Why not take it?

Player Ratings and Comments

First, I should explain something. This match is unusual for the plus-minus ratings system because of the overtime skews the numbers. Typically it’s useful to see things like net PMR (did she have lots more good than bad? Kinda meh? Lots of minuses?) or overall numbers (+14/-14? Somebody was real busy! +2/-1? Were you even on the pitch?).

You can compare those across matches, or opponents, and even use them over the season to get a sense of changes in player form…but only if you’re comparing numbers over the same 90-minute period.

The overtime means the baseline isn’t even, that a “+20/-4”, instead of a good match, might just be the effect of having more opportunities for significant actions.

So I’ve separated the 90-minute numbers from the full match; I’ve tabulated the separate periods the way I normally do, so there’s a third subset that covers the overtime. So for this math the PMRs read like this:

(first half : second half : overtime : 90-minute total (full match total))

Are we good? Okay, then, so…

Smith (+6/-3 : +7/-3 : +4/-2 : +13/-6 (+17/-8))

Two things are both possible; Sophia Smith could do good, hard work for 120 minutes, and could also have a very poor match both by her own standards and in comparison to the other players on the pitch.

To end two hours with two off-target shots? Go back up and look at Henderson’s xG plot; Rodriguez is third on the Thorns xG chart with 0.13 xG…and Smith is somewhere below that. She’s not even visible.

That’s not a vintage Smith outing. Sofascore agrees, rating her the lowest on the pitch:

I’m not sure I agree that Smith was the worst player on the pitch in absolute terms; she still did a lot of positives. But compared to her own standard, I think if came down to the way she was used – thrown largely unsupported at a very solid Gotham backline – which exaggerated her weaknesses at a time when her strengths are still hampered by injury.

A thoroughly frustrating day for Smith, her club, and her fans.

Dunn (116′ – +7/-1 : +11/-3 : +3/-3: +18/-4 (+21/-7) Normally I’d hang “Woman of the Match” on Dunn purely by dint of the good, hard work her numbers show, and she did do good work in general, the sort of thing she does when she does well in midfield.

Unfortunately she was put on the pitch to be the right wing, and as such was not particularly effective. My guess is that Amoros had seen her use the space between their lines in the win on 10/7 and took it away last Sunday by shifting from a 4-3-3 to a 4-1-4-1.

The result was that Dunn ended up trying to huck crosses into the box:

You can see how poorly that worked. Dunno if that was her, or a coaching direction.

Bad day at the office? Not really! But – like the rest of this one – the final edge of technical and tactical performance just wasn’t there when the match balanced on a knife-edge.

Vasconcelos (4′ – No rating) We’ll discuss in the Norris comment, but while her PMRs suggest that Dunn was gassed by the second overtime, her relief didn’t provide anything of value.

Weaver (116′ – +4/-2 : +4/-2 : +2/-1: +8/-4 (+10/-5)) Lots of fans I read 1) love Weaver to death and 2) were pretty pissed that she was overlooked on the league honors list. No Best XI, not even a Second XI.

Here’s the thing; matches like this are why Weaver isn’t a consensus First XI.

Now I love Weaver, too; Happy Warrior Chaos Muppet that she is. But if you don’t see the whole player all you might see the holes in her game. She passes well…until she doesn’t (Sunday? 22 of 38, 58%). She shoots well…until she doesn’t (2 shots on frame, but both right at Haught and we saw the uglier of the two of those earlier…).

Unless you see her a lot you probably haven’t noticed how she’s upgraded her game all season and over the past seasons. She used to “run fast shoot hard and straight”; now she’s got more guile and precision. She used to occasionally help out on defense; now she’s a forechecking beast (6 of 12 duels won, same as Sam Coffey’s 50%) and a persistent presser.

But until she can consistently be all those things, all the time, especially in big matches like this one where neutrals can see that? She’s going to continue to be low-rated by those outsiders and neutrals.

Betfort (4′ – +0/-1) We had this conversation before, right? After ACFC? Let’s see…

“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.”

Okay, Mike, what part of this didn’t you understand from last time? Subbing in four minutes from time when you went down a goal ten minutes earlier is kind of nonsense to begin with. But Betfort is unlikely to strike you lightning if Weaver can’t, making this move even more pointless. Parsons subs used to drive me nuts sometimes, they seemed so random and unrelated to the game state. But this..?

Moultrie (116′ – +7/-1 : +3/-2 : +3/-0 : +10/3 (+13/-3) I thought at the time that Olivia Moultrie was having a fairly decent if somewhat subdued match, but her numbers look pretty awful; 63% passing, losing 65% of her duels, two shots, one on frame.

Moultrie is another of the players for whom I think Mike Norris hasn’t figured out a good role. He tends to use her as a #10, which I think is her strongest position but with which she can struggle when her passing is off as it was on Sunday. But when Norris goes back to the single pivot (which I think he likes better – he’s said repeatedly that he’s a 4-3-3 guy!) he plays Moultrie as half of double #8s, and her defending isn’t good enough for that.

For this match as with her teammates; not shameful, but just a trifle short of what was needed.

Sinclair (4′ – +1/-1) The look on her face in the walkaround says it all:

There’s a reason aging actors are filmed in gentle light at a distance. The harsh glare of tight closeup brings out every frown line, every sag, every imperfection.

Sport is all harsh closeup, and this season there has been nowhere for this formerly-great player to hide.

We’ll have to see whether that reality has intruded on the relentless drive that has been central to Sinc’s personality since forever.

Rodriguez (59′ – +6/-2 : +1/-1 : +7/-3) I can kind of get what Norris’ thinking here was:

“Rocky is doing okay but she’s not providing the attack we need. Sugita is more forward, so let’s swap her in and see if that’ll start something going.”


Sugita (61′ – +3/-2 : +1/-3 : +4/-5) …instead Hina-san had an awful match; perhaps the, or at least one of the, worst she’s had all season, culminating in the turnover that ended the season.

That part I don’t get is that Sugita had more-or-less just stepped off a flight from central Asia. She must have been – at least she played much like she was – jet-lagged to a faretheewell. And Norris should have at least suspected that. Like the 116′ subs, it’s a real headscratcher.

One recurring theme this season has been “thin bench”, and it’s possible that Norris looked down the row of seats and didn’t see anyone he thought could do better than Rodriguez than Sugita could.

Well, he was wrong.

Coffey (+10/-3 : +4/-0 : +5/-1: +14/-3 (+19/-4) My pick for WotM. Held things together in the first half, when it looked like Portland might get run off their legs, then kept the pressure on Gotham that nerfed their attack as Portland drove at them.

Another CDM might be praised for “great match!” but for Sam Coffey? Just another day at the office. If the new FO has the sense god gave a goat they will shower her with riches and bathe her in affection to keep her here forever. She’s a generational player and I hope we – and they – recognize that.

Klingenberg (60′ – +1/-1 : +3/-0 :+4/-2) Despite being the “pushed-up” fullback I only saw Kling get skinned once (Purce in the 18th minute). Given the pace of the Gotham wingers that was my nightmare, and Kling did well to soothe my worries. She passed better than her squad and turned the ball over only twice, lowest of the starter derps other than Rodriguez. So, a decent shift on a tough night.

Kuikka (60′ – +5/-2 : +0/-2 : +5/-4) Like Sugita, Natu had played quite a bit for her country and had arrived in Portland late, so I get why the oddball fullback rotation (Reyes left/Kling right at kickoff, then Reyes right/Kuikka left after the hour).

I was worried about Kuikka more than Sugita, given the former’s trashfire in LA. I should have been the other way around; Kuikka was fine, Hina-san a mess. Jet lag, dread crippler of young adults!

Menges (+2/-1 : +2/-2 : +0/-5 : +4/-3 (+4/-8)) Troubling. Emily Menges was fine until the club needed her most, at which point she kind of fell apart.

The Stumptown commentariat picked on the substitution of Kelli Hubly for Sauerbrunn as the proximal cause of the concession but, no, sorry, it was Menges; first with a pathetically short “clearance” that went right to Kristie Mewis, and then a futile stab at Stengel as she teed up the shot.

That’s unfortunate, because as her numbers show, EM was solid for 106 minutes, admittedly given that Gotham was pretty deep in “falling out of a boat” waters and ‘Brunn was doing the bulk of the work. But, still…

We’re going to need to talk centerbacks in the offseason.

Sauerbrunn (105′ – +4/-1 : +3/-0 : +2/-1 : +7/-1 (+9/-2) I don’t have the whole “Help us, Becki wan-Brunnobi, you’re our only hope!” thing for her that a lot of other Thorns fans have, but I’ll happily admit to loving her her skills and defensive nous. And there are times when she seems to give the defense additional steel. This was one of those times; some starch seemed to go out of the backline with her.

Hubly (15′ – +1/-0) So, no; “Hubly on” wasn’t why we conceded. But “‘Brunn off” might have hurt. And that’s both puzzling and worrying, because as I keep saying; Menges ran the best backline in the league in 2017. She should have the chops to pick up right where Sauerbrunn leaves off. But somehow, for some reason, that seems at least questionable. I’m not sure why (injury? lingering locker-room issues from last season’s affaire?) but I’m getting pretty frustrated with it.

Reyes (+1/-5 : +4/-7 : +1/-3 : +5/-12 (+6/-15)) Sofascore and I disagree on Reyes.

The website rates her fourth best Thorn on the night (rating 7.1, behind Brunn (7.4), Coffey (7.2), and Kuikka (7.1).

As watched tape I was constantly writing “(fill in Gotham name here) beats Reyes”; of her minuses all but six are for defensive positioning or getting skinned, and she had more than her share of turnovers. I thought she had a rough night.

I’m not sure how to reconcile that discrepancy. I typically expect good work from Reyes, so perhaps when she had just an “okay” sort of night I was excessively hard on her. I do expect to see good work from her in the future, so there’s that.

Hogan (+1/-0 : +0/-0 : +0/-1: +1/-0 (+1/-1)) Largely untroubled but comfortable when called on. I don’t see her at fault on the concession; that was a goddamn golazo and largely on her teammates, if anyone not Stengel has to tear off a piece of it.

It’s too bad she takes the L, because I thought starting Hogan was a good and brave decision from Norris, one of the few I completely agreed with from the jump.

It also might well be the end of the line for Bella Bixby; my guess is her confidence was shredded in LA, and after a season of various miscues and errors I suspect the current coaching staff is ready to try starting Hogan next year.

We’ll see next season.

Coach Norris: Well, marra, it was a rough ride, wasn’t it?

The roughest part was seeing the same things come up as problems time and again, and those things largely coaching issues. Yes, there were some injury problems – there always are. Yes, some players (D’Aquila, Provenzano, Beckman, Nally…) never developed.


Designing the attack around “Sophia Smith does hero things”, and then finding out that smart opponents (hi, Coach Amoros!) can mark even heroes out of the match,

Tinkering with rosters and formations all season, and often in ways that seemed irrespective of opponents and players available; being unable to find ways to use good players like Moultrie, or replace ones that weren’t working like D’Aquila,

Strange patterns of substitution like the 116th minute and Hine-for-Rocky on Sunday night; subs that often looked pre-scripted and poor, or not reflective of the game state,

Seeing repeated technical glitches – turnovers, throw-ins – return again and again, as though the club was not working on and solving them on the training ground, and

Perhaps most damning of all, failing to craft this club into an engine of soccer power from a roster loaded with skilled and international players.

All those were things were your job, were in your control, and you didn’t, or couldn’t, deal with them.

The tragedy of this squad was, as I said at the start, that the club often seemed to be a “team of great players” rather than “a great team”.

The good news is that this club is still loaded with skilled and international players.

Now they need a gaffer to go with that; someone with a bit more on-field vision, a trifle more tactical cleverness, a smidgen more responsive matchday management.

Someone to build that “great team”.


Well, we’ve come to the end of another Thorns season, the eleventh of my experience.

It ended not so much “badly” – since nothing that can bring such main truck delight can ever be “bad” – but without the delirium of victory. With pain in our hearts for the team, who fought so long and hard through the year.

We join the fans of the other eleven clubs who will not add that golden star above their crest this year.

But, as always, we still sing our songs of joy. We celebrate those women who worked and played so hard and so long.

Thank you, Thorns. We’ll see you next year.

“Across the field of play
the dusk has come, the hour is late.
The fight is done and lost or won,
the player files out through the gate.
The tumult dies, the cheer is hushed,
the stands are bare, the park is still.
But through the night there shines the light,
home beyond the silent hill.”

~Grantland Rice
John Lawes
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5 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Like Tears in Rain

  1. Thanks for thoughtful and well researched article. It seemed to me that since the injury and/or world cup debacle, Sophia has lost her “muchness”. A lack of killer instinct and form that made her our “hero” to begin with. Hope she gets it back next year.
    I would agree that the inconsistency and lack of depth did us in this year.
    Not to be over dramatic, but every day we loose waiting to MP to finish the deal puts us further and further behind in our re-build (re-tool?)for 2024. I can get over a playoff loss, but this year long ownership purgatory is killing me!

    1. I’m not sure how much is Smith herself (whether injury or form in general) and how much is opponents marking her out of the matches. The most clinical finisher is going to struggle with a defender on her touch-tight for 90 minutes. That’s on coaching; you need a Plan B when your hero Plan A striker is smothered. We never had that.

      The thing is that an ambitious owner (group?) can jump in strong. How long is a phone call saying “Hi, free agent! Here’s a shitpot of money! Play for us!”?

      I’d love for the news to break tomorrow…but what’s more important IMO is to get new owners in with big visions and deep pockets. We need – first and foremost – a truly outstanding head coach. Someone with real vision and plans for the club that go beyond “let’s try this and see if it works”.

      From there…we’ll see.

  2. Thanks John a good summary of this year and the factoids presented were helpful in explaining why sometimes this group of outstanding players were such an inconsistent team. And yes give credit to Gotham. I have never seen Soph, Weaver and Dunn caught offsides so often. Offside traps are dangerous and require discipline, but when they work. These three have got so much explosiveness that they can ride a defender’s shoulder and then just get by them. The problem is as you noted the ball has to be played to where they are going not to where they are.
    Dunn announced today she is leaving the Thorns, but she didn’t say where. She will be missed, but I have felt like she wanted to be somewhere else.
    Your comments on Morgan Weaver are fair. I am one of those people that was bummed, but I recognize that my homer instinct caused me to select five Thorns for the first team and two for the second. Most of my non-Thorn selections made the first two teams. So I do have the ability to pick talent over affection. We see the improvement in Morgan and I have no doubt we will see more next year.
    She should watch Erling Haaland. He is tall, strong and fast and of course defenders are always looking for him, but he has this tremendous ability to find an open spot to get a good shot, I mean like wide-open! However, just like for every Haaland there is a Van Dyke and for every Sophia Smith there is a Naomi Girma. So… no strategy works all the time against great defenders.
    But coaching has been part of the problem for the Thorns and throw-ins continue to be a problem and they need to make the field wider. It seems like and extra pass sometimes would have been a help to stretch the defenders. When four people are on one player there has to be somebody open.

    1. The Weaver thing doesn’t bug me because I have little or no respect for these league awards. The voters seem to have no real knowledge of the players they pick; it’s all homerism, or name-recognition. Even the journos seem to ignore or discard statistical evidence and just go with their emotions.

      I think she developed a lot this season. If her development continues – and she got a lot of press late in the season – she’ll be due for a breakout season and public recognition next year.

    2. The Dunn announcement in itself is irking; she’s a good player and will be missed.

      What’s even more frustrating about it is the timing; almost immediately after the end of the season. It suggests that 1) Dunn had already decided to take another offer for non-soccer (Pierre?) reasons, 2) Dunn was skeptical, either about the new owner/s, or about there BEING new owners, that the sale might not be going through and not wanting to continue to work for Peregrine.

      And an irking reminder that we’ve had three head coaches and none of them really manage to find a way to use Dunn really successfully…suggesting that we’ve had coaching issues now for years…


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