Thorns FC: Cornered Again

I sat down today to start writing the first of the post-season pieces when this popped up on my phone:

Really, that’s all we know; a real estate/VC outfit from Sacramento/Orange County – that owns the Kings NBA franchise – is supposed to be the final bidder for the Thorns.

So far as I can tell from the news wire, this outfit:
1) has some pretty serious jack. They’ve spent a ton on the Kings, and
2) they seem to be very active dealing for players and coaches; they seem unlikely to play Paulson moneyball. But
3) they don’t seem very good at all that dealing; the Kings have been a long-term dumpster fire. Since the group acquired the Kings in 2013, their winning percentage has been: 0.341, 0.353, 0.402, 0.390. 0.329, 0.476, 0.431, 0.431, 0.366. Last season they finally broke .500 – 0.585 and returned to the playoffs for the first time in 17 years.

They got kicked right out in the first round.

During that time the Kings went through nine head coaches, so my money is that Mike Norris better be updating his resume.

Anyway. These people will be what they’ll be. We just have to hope that they have the best interests of the club and Portland fans at heart.

I wanted to add this, though.

If the Paulson fiasco has taught us anything, it should be that we should never again assume that the wealthy person or people who own the club have our or Portland’s or women’s soccer’s best interests at heart.

They’re not doing this to do us good. They’re doing it to make money.

If in so doing they can do us or the club or the city or the sport good? Great!

But we do ourselves and the club and the city no favors by just assuming the best of them. We cut Paulson a shit-ton of slack after he showed his whole ass back in 2011 and look where it got us.

We should ask these new owners the hard questions and check their answers for bullshit. We should expect them to be honest with us and make a fuss if they’re not. We should do everything in our power to convince them that the best way to do well is to do good.

Okay, so. Rant over. Post season? Let’s go!

The past to years I’ve looked at the Thorns production from the corner. The original 2021 study came about because of the widespread concern that Portland’s once-deadly Lindsey Horan- and Emily Sonnett-driven corner kick attack had dropped off the table once those players were gone (or had an off season, as Horan did in ’21).

What did we find?

First; we found out that while we think of “winning” a corner, corner kicks aren’t really that dangerous.

A study of corner kicks from the English Premier League found that of all corner kicks taken over a two-year period (2011-2013) a typical corner produces a shot about 17-20% of the time and a goal somewhere between 2% and 3% of the time.

Goal scoring (by team) ranged from low of barely 1% to as much as 6% to 7% of the corner kicks taken.

Second, we found that the 2021 Thorns scored off corner kicks at a rate well within that norm.

When taking a corner the 2021 Thorns generated a shot 54% of the time, put that shot on goal about 19% of the time, and scored about 3.5% of the time.

Third, unsurprisingly the Thorns’ corners feasted on crap teams; in games against the bottom half of the NWSL table the 2021 Thorns generated 10% more corners, 14% more shots, 7% more shots on goal, and 80% of the corner kick goals – 4 of 5 – scored all season than the results against the good opponents.

And, in the process, we discovered that 2021 Horan was a shadow of her 2018 self; a bike off the post against Louisville, then nothing all season.

We repeated the study the following season. Results?

First, that the Wilkinson Thorns played out of the corner a lot like the Parsons Thorns; the overall numbers were fairly similar; Parsons’ 2021 squad scored 5 goals off 140 corner kicks, Wilkinson’s 2022 Thorns scored 6 off 118 corners. A bit better, not much.

The 2022 squad had far fewer “big days” for corners, though; a huge number of Thorns 2021 corners came at the expense of a handful of crap teams (Chicago on Matchday 1, Louisville on MD5 and Kansas City on MD6, Orlando on MD10, Kansas City again on MD12, and Chicago again on MD19) – 64 out of 140 total corners came from those six games.

In 2022 the Thorns generated double-figure corners twice; Carolina in MD14 and Gotham on MD22 (and both those games ended drawn, where five of the six “big” games in 2021 were wins).

Okay, fine. What about this season?

Well, here’s the raw data:

Note that the Norris Thorns were more like Wilkinson’s than Parsons for clubbing tomato cans. The 2023 club only posted double figures twice; against Orlando on MD1 and San Diego on MD 9. Came close twice – nine corners against Kansas City on MD 12 and San Diego again on MD 20 – but nothing like 2021.

That’s really hard to read; let’s boil it down to a smaller table:

Data Category202120222023
Matches observed192222
Corners taken140118119
Average corners per match7.365.365.41
Long/Short (%)116/22 (83%)100/18 (85%)106/13 (89%)
Shots generated765456
Shots on goal generated272417
Goals scored565
Shots per corner0.540.450.47
SOG per corner0.190.200.14
Goals per corner0.030.050.04
Portland Thorns Corner Kick – Tabular Data Summary 2021-2023

So: Parsons’ team generates more corners (a lot more – we’re missing three matches!) and shots in 2021.

But all three squads generate about the same percentage of shots on goal, and goals, – that 0.01-per-year difference is a statistical wash – over the three seasons.

Here’s one odd fact, tho; the Thorns did better from the corner against the top of the table than the bottom. 2023 was the “anti-2021” for the top/bottom split.

Here’s the corner data from against the “good teams”:

And here’s against the “bad”:

The Thorns GET more corners from the cans, about six per game instead of four and a half, and generate about the same percentage of shots from each group, about 46-47% of the time.

But the shots on goal against the cans are half of that against the “good” teams – a SOG coming out of about 11% of the corners compared to 20% against playoff teams. And the Thorns got only two goals off the cans compared to four against the good teams.

Weird, I know, right? I can’t explain it. Any ideas?

Oh! Here’s a thought; how did Portland compare across the league for corner kicks?

Well, we don’t have data for the past season, but Arielle Dror did us a solid and provided us a lovely chart of goals scored across the league in 2022:

Let’s do another table!

We’ll take total goals divided into corner kick goals and get the percentage of the total represented by the corners:

TeamGoals ScoredGoals from CornersPercentage
San Diego3226.3%
Kansas City29620.6%
Angel City FC2328.7%

Last season the Thorns scored 12.2 percent of their goals from corners, and were within 25% of the league average for corner kick goals.

This season the Thorns scored 5 of their 42 goals – or 11.9% – from corners.

I’m gonna bet that the percentage of the league average for corner kick goals is gonna come out real close, too.

I’m convinced.

Parsons to Wilkinson to Norris…the Thorns have remained pretty consistent from the corner across three gaffers and three seasons.

(Okay, except for the whole bizarre going-from-Parsons-squads-thumping-on-the-cans-to-Norris-squad-fearing-them thing. I won’t kid ya; I’m baffled by that one.)

Neither among the league’s most dangerous nor down amongst the dregs, the Thorns’ corner kick production seems to be solidly in the league mean through that time. I think we’ve got the data we need to close this study for another year.

What should we discuss next? Any thoughts?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

4 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Cornered Again

  1. Is there a graphic that shows where each players scores goals? The reason I ask is I am sometimes frustrated by the shots Kuikka takes. Inside the six she is pretty deadly, but from outside her shots always seem to be moon shots. Sugita seems to be at her best as a poacher and shots from further out are not often successful. Weaver appears to have a pretty predictable place that she shoots from, I may be wrong about that, but if it is true she would benefit by being more unpredictable. Sophia and Liv both have a tendency to dribble into heavy traffic and it is difficult to get a shot. Soph can get a good shot when surrounded by other players, but those opportunities seem to be when she has room to dribble around and through at speed.
    I mentioned in an earlier post that I have only recently started watching Erling Halland and what impressed me is how often he is wide open and his teammates find him and he can just pick his spot and score. My first impression was that he was a big guy like the old Ronaldo who could just muscle through, but Wow he has some skill in finding wide open spots.

    1. So, in order:
      1) Kuikka: yes and no. The graphics are there, but you’d have to go through every match at the league website, go to the “stats” page, go down to the “chalkboard”, toggle “shots” on and then toggle off everyone but Kuikka. Do that 22 times and record the shot locations and you’d have it.

      There’s a table at her player page that gives you the bare numbers; shots, SOG, goals, and where and how she scored.

      It’d be a hell of a time-consuming job, but you could do it.

      But…the bottom line is that Kuikka isn’t very deadly, in or out of the six. She’s logged with 11 shots over 1,859 minutes. Two were on frame. One – a 48th minute header against Chicago – scored.

      That’s why in general I hate to see her shoot. She’s not good at it.

      2) You’re right about Sugita-as-poacher; she’s got six goals and all are inside the six. OTOH, she’s 12-for-24 on frame; that’s not Smith…but it’s better than most of the forwards OTHER than Smith.

      3) Four of Weaver’s seven goals come from the top of the six…but they’re all across the top; dead center against Louisville here, top left (as you look at the goal) in both Washington games (nearly identical spot!), and top right against Seattle here. Two are inside the six – left post against Orlando on Opening Day, outside the right post in LA. The one oddball is the Louisville away goal, but that was a freakish turnover and long blast from the penalty arch.

      So…maybe? The bottom line is that Weaver runs that left channel a lot, so she tends to shoot from there a lot. Not sure if she needs different approaches, or just a bit more guile in general.

      4) Part of the problem for Smith is that she was asked to take on three defenders! I’m sure she’d love to drift into an open spot to pot sitters, but the opponents know she’s 80% of the Thorns attack, so they sit a body or two on her and force her to make magic. I’m surprised none of Halland’s opponents do the same, but ManC has a lot more weapons going forward, so…

  2. You are absolutely right about Man City having so may players who can score themselves or get the ball to an open Haaland. Choose your poison Foden, De Bruyne, Stones, Grealish, or Ake, they are all good and the coach is Pep. When I see Haaland score he seems to be either all by himself or running with a couple of defenders on him and either he leaves them behind or muscles past. He is just…well Haaland. Amazing!
    If Janine Beckie is healthy this coming year maybe they will give Hina a more central role as a provider rather than an attacker and Soph would have two swift players (Weaver and Beckie) to join her on fast breaks. I had hoped in the semi-final having Dunn, Soph and Weaver would be a fearsome threesome, but with Weaver nursing an injury, Soph not 100% and Dunn being somewhat inert, it just never worked out.
    Boy do we need a new owner for this team, any daydreaming about lineups next year feels futile.

    1. No question that the guy is a generational talent. Helps to be on an oil sheik-funded colossus.

      Hard to say on Beckie. We saw very little of her before the injury, and big injuries change players, too, so it’;ll be even harder to say what she can or might do if she’s still here in the spring.

      As I noted in the final match report, the real “Norris issue” was that, given a roster what was well above the mean for raw talent, he couldn’t consistently make that talent perform as a well-above-the-playoff-mean team, and the forward line(s) were no different.

      The ownership quandry looks like it’s within weeks or months of resolution. But then the new question becomes (because owners are just a bank accout) who is running the squad on the pitch. That’s the most critical hire; a truly skilled and tactically clever head coach. That’s….not Mike Norris, but who it IS? That’s a make-or-break hire. We’ll have to just wait and see…


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