Thorns FC: Lucky

“You can be good. Or you can be lucky. It’s better to be good. But sometimes you have to just take lucky and run like a thief.”

The Thorns were good in Chicago and (though they hardly needed to be) against Houston and got six points out of it.

They were lucky in San Francisco and got three more.

I’ll happily run with that.

But what we saw against Bay FC is not really a good way to keep taking those points.

Remember how I kept pissing and moaning last season about how NorrisBall consisted of tactical sterility and poor roster choices larded with an “attack” than began and ended with Sophia Smith hero-ball up front, a midfield that never seemed to figure itself out, and appalling defensive derps and soft goals in back?

Yeah, well GaleBall looked damn similar, at least inside the confines of PalPal Park, and while it nicked the points it was waaaaay nearer-run than it should have been.

For ten minutes from the opening whistle Portland tore through BFC’s backline like a tank truck through wet tissue paper and crashed two pretty goals. For the final ten minutes a ten-player-Thorns held off BFC to make those stand up.

In between?

Holy Hell, the people wearing the Doritos kit played like a junior high school recess pickup game, running around without doing anything much of value.

Here’s my notes to the 78th minute; goals or dangerous chances outlined in the boxes. Thorns in red on the left, BFC in blue (or white) to the right:

Pretty lopsided, eh? Here’s Henderson’s xG/PSxG race:

Here’s a closer look at the xG plot:

See the uptick in the blue line that represents the Smith 78th minute matchwinner?


That’s because there isn’t any. That goal was utterly against the run of play, freakishly soft, and needed a pretty awful keeper error on Lysianne Proulx to happen.

The Thorns got crazy lucky at PayPal; BFC should have, at worst split the points.

Here’s the xG plot from the BVC site to point out that 4 out of 5 times Portland gets one or no points from this one:

They got ’em all and I’m glad they did.

But today? We HAVE to do better.

Short Passes

Both sides were pretty tidy overall; Portland 83% completion, BFC about 81%. The problem was that when they needed to find that critical pass instead both sides tended to turn over.

The “behind the vaudevillian cane” passing diagrams point out how going up two in eight minutes let Portland sit in, and how being unable to convert prevented BFC from taking advantage of that:

That’s NorrisBall upfront – Smith on an island – but with the fullbacks pinned back by having Kundananji, Princess, and Castellanos all up in their faces all match.

The midfield looks balanced, which is good, but there’s a lot of blue, meaning that much of the on-ball value of the passing was low; lots of back-and-forth dinks, little or no tactical advantage gained.

BFC was lit up-front. Luckily for us their third forward (Castellanos) and their midfield weren’t:

Hey, but we won, amiright?

Turnover and over.

Here’s how things are going

Opponent (Result) – 2024Turnovers
Kansas City (L)43
Gotham (L)30
Louisville (D)54
Carolina (L)34
Houston (W)No data
Chicago (W)No data
Bay FC (W)41

Twenty-three first half, 18 second half. That fits, sadly. This was a win but a lucky win, not a “good” win.

Becky Sauerbrunn “wins” the giveaway contest with six. She ties with Janine Beckie on raw numbers but her appalling tackle-for-loss that shipped the Castellanos goal puts her over the top. Reyna Reyes and Kelli Hubly coughed up five each, Hina-san lost four (!!) and so did Klingenberg. Nobody else lost more than two.

Corner Kicks

Two. Both long in the first half.

25′CoffeyLongInto the crowd. Someone (Beckie?) got s head to it but weak and wide.
45+6′CoffeyLongOver the scrum and cleared away.



Fifth full match tracking Portland throw-ins in 2024. Obviously I lost data from Houston and in Chicago.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 14 throw-ins; 9 in the first half, 5 in the second. BFC was running wild; 28 total, 12 in the first half, 16 in the second. That fits, too; Portland not getting forward much, BFC pushing up and forcing Portland’s defenders to knock the ball into touch trying to stop them.

Of Portland’s throws 9 (64.2%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Four (28.5%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. One was “neutral” (7.1%) – that is, kept possession but produced nothing going forward – or I was unable to see.

BFC got an advantage from 20 (71.4%) and lost 8 (28.5%), with no “neutral” or unobserved throws.

Here’s how that’s going:

OpponentAdvantage gainedAdvantage lostOpponent gainOpponent loss
Kansas City62.5%8.3%59.2%40.1%
Bay FC64.2%28.5%71.4%28.5%

Still better than last season, but a step back from the Louisville and Carolina (and presumably the Houston and Chicago) games.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+6/-2 : +5/-0 : +11/-2) Obvious Woman of the Match, but the raw numbers show how much hard work for how little gain Smith had at PayPal. Without her? We were sunk. But that’s not really a good tactical look.

Beckie (76′ – +4/-1 : +4/-1 :+8/-2) It speaks volumes that half of Janine Beckie’s pluses are defensive; two tackles, two duels-won. When your wingers are doing a lot of your defending? You’re doing it wrong.

Dias (14′ – +3/-2) Showed some flashes. I’d love to see more; maybe with heavy rotation we’ll see that today.

Linnehan (62′ – +5/-1 : +2/-2 : +7/-3) Lovely finish, and a pretty through-ball assist on Smith’s first. So far this rookie looks like a terrific pick. Let’s see if she keeps up this form. If so, we’re going to be very happy with her.

On the other hand…

Weaver (28′ – +2/-0) We may be very unhappy about this.

Weaver’s early season has been a pretty brutal revision to her crude form of 2022 and before, and now she’s picked up what looked like a bad non-contact knock. If she’s out – for the season or just a long stretch – I can’t see that doing anything but hurting her rounding back into form. Let’s hope for better.

Moultrie (+1/-2 : +9/-1 : +10/-3) Took three-quarters of an hour, but Olivia Moultrie woke up and played her way into the game, on both sides of the ball for a change (her second half pluses include two dangerous runs, three nice passes, two tackles for gain, and two duels won). Well done, Livvy!

Plus now we know which Teletubby you are:

Coffey (+3/-0 : +3/-2 : +6/-2) It looked to me like Coach Montoya told his troops “Make sure you pass around Sam Coffey”, because that’s what they did; Coffey spent a lot of the match spinning in place and chasing purple shirts.

When she caught them she whipped them as you’d expect. But that wasn’t nearly often enough. For most of the game BFC ran through Portland like water through a sieve because Coffey couldn’t be everywhere at once.

Sugita (76′ – +5/-4 : +2/-2 : +7/-6) For another player, kind of an average day. For Sugita-senshu? Shockingly poor. Like Coffey, worked hard but unable to really have an impact on the match.

Sheva (14′ – +1/-1) Little to say. Looked decent enough.

Reyes (+0/-3 : +6/-4 : +6/-7) Two things:
1) Against BFC Portland’s backline looked somewhere between “That’s not good, Bob” and “Holy fuck, what is wrong with you!?”
2) Of the defenders Reyes looked the best of the bunch.

Helped ship the Castellanos goal by dropping off Castellanos for the open tap-in, though, so not entirely blameless. Not a great outing.

Hubly (+2/-2 : +2/-6 : +4/-8) Hubly took a lot of stick over at Stumptown for her role in both concessions. And, no, she wasn’t great; at this point starting Hubly over Obaze is clearly suboptimal.

But Hubs wasn’t the real goat, because…

Sauerbrunn (62′ – +0/-6 : +0/-2 : +0/-8) …Becky Sauerbrunn was an utter trashfire. Between getting spun like a top on the first BFC goal, or coughing up the ball that started the second, our international veteran centerback was a hot mess, and Coach Gale unceremoniously yanked her after she almost one-handedly brought BFC level.

I have no idea what happened. But let’s not see that again, K?

Obaze (28′ – +3/-0) Settled the backline down, so, fine.

Klingenberg (45′ – +3/-2)
Muller (45′ – +6/-5)
Neither of the fullbacks-not-named-Reyes looked awful. Neither looked terrific. When your unit ships two soft goals it’s hard to get excited about “Yeah, sure, you did fine…”, but, yeah, both players did fine. The backline needs to tighten up as a unit, though, so…

Hogan (+2/-0 : +5/-1 : +7/-1) When a keeper has PMR pluses above the low single digits? She’s working her ass off, and that’s something you don’t like to see. Not really at fault on the concessions, and had huge saves off Kundananji in the 17th minute, Boade in the 71st minute, and Oshoala in the 90+3rd minute.

Hogan still doesn’t look entirely convincing, but a huge part of that is her backline is actively hurting her. Both she and they still need a solid game against a good opponent. Maybe today?

Coach Gale: Well…your mob got all the points. Take ’em and run like a thief.

But don’t kid yourself. They were good in Chicago, but lucky as hell in San Francisco, and Houston is shit, so consider the circumstances. Six of those nine points are kinda Ross-Dress-For-Less markdowns.

Today you’ve finally got a genuinely good opponent, so this will be the real test. Is GaleBall just Norrisball with a coat of paint? Or can you genuinely outthink and outcoach a decent competitor?

We’ll see in about twelve hours.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

7 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Lucky

  1. The third goal was soft, but Lysianne Proulx is just not a very good keeper, so not exactly fluky.

    1. Proulx’s pretty poor (FBRef has her third-worst in the league so far (-0.37 concessions-to-PSxG-against per 90min – behind Hogan (-0.39) and Franch (-0.38) but it’s hard to imagine that Smith knew before she launched it that Proulx was SO poor that couldn’t make a simple jump to get up to turn that over the bar. That’s kinda Goalkeeping 101.

      I mean, there’s “not very good” and there’s “rec-league”, so even for a not-very-good pro keeper that was still pretty fluky, thus the virtually-nonexistent xG bump.

      But like I said; when you can’t be good, be lucky. And that was good enough for Wednesday.

      1. It made me wonder if Thorns players were told to shoot more, seeing that Bay’s keeper was a little shaky. OTOH Smith always shoots a lot, so there wasn’t anything new about that. Guess it worked out.

  2. My reaction after that game (partly due to the depression of seeing Weaver go down with knee injury) was that was a win that felt like a loss.
    Bay was a team that I thought at the beginning of the season would be a contender, but they haven’t really put it together. I know the Thorns started out great and then just got passive, but I think Bay is a good team and the coach in his post game presser seemed really pleased. He seem unbothered that his team was cut to shreds in the first 10 minutes because as he noted he started several players that had not played much.
    I think Gale has started out pretty good. I have been less bothered by his lineups and substitutions than I was of Norris. But, I think he made a mistake Saturday. He should have rested Sauerbrunn and started Obaze and Hubly. Man we need another CB. Obaze is good but an international so she may miss some games.
    Being forever the optimist, the Dorito girls hung on a player down and came back with perhaps undeserved 3. Now lets hope that the rain at PP slows down the gazelles from Washington. I am picking the Thorns.

    1. BFC is…not a good TEAM.

      Right now it has some good pieces. The Afrika Korps looked genuinely dangerous Wednesday. After some dodgy opening minutes the Menges-Beattle backline stabilized, helped by a Thorns squad that, again, failed to pass through the midfield and resorted to Route One down the flanks. As noted above, Proulx is a hot mess.

      If they can put those pieces together? Then, yes; they might become a good team. But they got unlucky midweek and good teams don’t lose those sorts of games.

      I think the Gale bump is just the sort of thing we often see after coaching changes. I’m not convinced he’s the reason. We’ll see how he fares today. I’d like to think you’re right, but this is going to be a tough one.

  3. I haven’t been able to see the Bay game, but I have been looking at the passing charts and I’m seeing some differences to Norris ball. The biggest difference I’m seeing is that the fullbacks are staying back, not as advanced which has to be leading to improved defense. The other is that Sugita is clearly starting from a deeper position and is clearly working in tandem with Coffey to bring the ball forward. I’m also seeing better spacing on the field (with the exception of the Washington game). Even the Bay game passing chart is showing that the players are sticking to their position very well.
    Sinclair has also been very effective so far, with the one caveat that she compacts the spacing in the middle of the field. Her ability to be in the right place at the right time has really helped the team in this stretch, but the normal caveats always apply.


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