Thorns FC: Good

Less than 96 hours after eking out a lucky 2-3 road win over Bay FC the Thorns hosted the then-second-place Washington Spirit with their three-game win streak on the line.

Just like they did in San Francisco, the Thorns jumped out to an early two-goal lead.

Then, just like they did in San Francisco, the Thorns sat back. And then, just like BFC did, the Spirit came at them, and things got kind of hairy.

Here’s Henderson’s version – compare the two matches, beginning with BFC on Wednesday:

Now here’s Washington last Saturday:

Deja vu all over again, amiright?

The big differences were:
1) Unlike BFC, Washington couldn’t finish worth a lick. They huffed and puffed and got repeated good looks but couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket. And…

2) Rob Gale set the club up in a sturdier formation here, a 4-3-3 that became a 4-2-3-1 but that played a lot like a 4-1-4-1…

…that largely (until late in the second half) kept Washington’s danger women in front of the Thorns backline. The runs straight through the backline that Princess and Castellanos and Kundananji got in San Francisco? Hatch and Rodman didn’t get here.

The Spirit finally nicked their goal, but too late. They ran out of time, still thrashing, and ran off without a point. Given the short rest, and the opponent?

I’m happy enough with that.

Mind you, I’d still like to see a complete 90+-minute outing from this club.

But this wasn’t lucky, not really. This was perhaps the first genuinely solid good performance from this year’s Thorns and, hopefully, something to build on for the upcoming Fuck Seattle Weekend.

Short Passes

The Thorns 80% completion is reflected in the modest number of turnovers (we’ll get there…). Washington’s 75% reflects their more-serious problems; they coughed the ball up repeatedly even when the Thorns sagged back and let them play (in the 82nd minute possession was running 61-39 percent in favor of Washington).

Here’s how they looked thanks to “behind the vaudevillian cane”: first Portland, reflecting the hour-long-ish low block:

Here’s the Spirit:

Pretty much what you’d think from the matchplay; Portland going up, sitting back, Washington pushing up, but getting no joy.

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
Washington (W)26

Sixteen Portland turnovers in the first half, only 10 in the second – largely because the Thorns didn’t have the ball enough to cough it up.

Sophia Smith was smothered, as usual, so she was tackled for loss and picked off four times. Christine Sinclair, Sam Coffey, and Nicola Payne each gave the ball away three and a half times (remember, if both passer and receiver mess up each gets half a turnover), Janine Beckie and Hina Sugita lost three each.

Fortunately for Portland Washington was racing them to the turnover booby prize, and won.

Corner Kicks

One, long, in the 39th minutes.

39′CoffeyLongKingsbury came out and claimed.



Sixth full match tracking Portland throw-ins in 2024 counting the lost data from Houston and in Chicago.

I had the Thorns taking a total of 24 throw-ins; 6 in the first half, 18 in the second; note that of that second half total ten came after the 80th minute as Portland took the ball to the corner to waste time.

As with the BFC match, Washington pushed up a lot and Portland had to knock the ball into touch repeatedly; the Spirit took a total of 32 throws, 16 in each half.

Of Portland’s throws 10 (41.6%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Fourteen (58.3%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. Two were “neutral” (8.3%) – that is, kept possession but produced nothing going forward – or I was unable to see.

BFC got an advantage from 20 (62.5%) and lost 11 (34.3%), One was “neutral” but largely unobserved.

This is, as you can see from the numbers, the first time the Thorns reverted to the their poor 2023 throw-in form. A huge part of that problem was Nicola Payne; she 1) repeatedly tried hucking long throws forward down the touchline that 2) repeatedly missed Portland players and either fell to Washington or were pinged around and eventually lost. Seven of the lost throws – half – were her attempts.

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%

Big drop in form, largely because of Payne and, probably, fatigue. But someone – Marie Muller, are you reading this? – needs to take young Payne in hand, because she singlehandedly kinda trashed a string of good work

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+7/-3 : +12/-2 : +19/-5) All her usual pluses, with extra sauce for her heroic work killing off the match late. Utterly huge, but we know that, even when not scoring.

Beckie (61′ – +6/-2 : +2/-1 : +8/-3) Better, especially in the first half. Faded badly in the second, so good work from Gale to sub her off for…

Dias (29′ – +1/-0) This…

…was an utterly filthy bloop header that chipped Kingsbury like a boss.

Offside, unfortunately, but, still. Pretty.

Decent shift in a minor key, since Portland wasn’t trying to get forward in the final half hour (I recorded two attacks past the 60th minute; a pretty passing series in the 68th minute that put Smith in on goal and forced a decent save out of Kingsbury, and this one in the 72nd minute). Again, I’d really like to see a bit more from this player; I like what I’m seeing so far, but the game states have worked against her.

Sinclair (61′ – +5/-0 : +1/-2 : +6/-2) So we’ll talk about this in a bit, but the single biggest problem Portland had pretty much all game was that Washington passed and ran through the Thorns midfield at will.

Sinc was part of that problem, because after the quarter hour she’s about as mobile as a goalpost.

She’s actually been doing good work going forward. But she becomes less and less able to keep up with opponents to the point where the Thorns defense is playing 10 v 11.

But this..?

This poacher’s goal is why she’s playing. The woman still has soccer neurons that fire in her goddamn sleep.

So both frustrating…and amazing.

Linnehan (29′ – +3/-3) Same strengths and same issues as with Dias; good work, but at a time when the Thorns weren’t driving at goal, and it didn’t help that Washington’s attackers picked on the substitute forward.

Fleming (61′ – +5/-0 : +1/-0 : +6/-0) So here’s what I’m talking about; mid second half, Washington driving, Portland dropping into a 4-2-3-1 low block. And, as you can see, the backline and the DMs (Sugita and Coffey) were keeping the Spirit in check…most of the time.

But. The central midfield?

Wide open. Sullivan has all the time and space in Southwest Portland to pick out her targets and hit them.

That’s why I said earlier; I’d like to see this club work on playing 90 minutes all across the pitch, from front to back.

Moultrie (29′ – +5/-1) Young Moultrie’s defending can be sketchy, so I wasn’t thrilled to see her come in late to hold a lead. But she did damn well, so hats off.

Sugita (90′ – +11/-1 : +5/-1 : +16/-1) Hard to pick for this one, but I’d call Hina-san my Woman of the Match. After several matches being less-like-her-usual-clever-self Sugita-senshu returned to form. The ball seems to stick to her boot like it was on a string, and on a night Portland struggled with possession, that was pretty important.

Sheva (8′ – +2/-0) Saw out the win, so, okay. No real impact, tho; by that time Washington was fully stymied.

Coffey (+5/-1 : +2/-0 : +7/-1) See the “midfield” comment above; just flat out run past and passed around. Tasty goal! But that’s not really her job, and a more clinical opponent might have made her and her team pay.

Payne (+6/-2 : +2/-2 : +8/-4) Did a decent job neutralizing Washington’s Rodman, and was defensively solid in general on a night her entire unit looked very disciplined and effective.

Obaze (+3/-1 : +2/-3 : +5/-4) Had the roughest evening of her unit, including getting brutally schooled on the old “ball-side-goal-side” thing by Lena Silano in the 86th minute. Overall more good than evil as her PMR suggests. But was fortunate that…

Sauerbrunn (+4/-2 : +4/-1 :+8/-3) was light night-and-day from the tire fire she was in San Francisco. Excellent work from ‘Brunn, and her entire unit.

Muller (90′ – +9/-2 : +5/-6 : +14/-8) Hell of a first half, including a massive goal-line clearance in the 41st minute and tough defending everywhere.

Then fell apart – fatigue? – in the second, including coming within about 11 inches…

…of shipping a penalty in the 73rd minute.

With Reyes fresh on the bench and Muller visibly struggling it was up to Coach Gale to make the switch that could have been 17 minutes too late. That’s not on Muller.

Reyes (8′ – +1/-0) Like Sheva, saw off the Spirit, so, fine. But what I said above still goes.

Hogan (+1/-0 : +3/-0 : +4/-0) Finally! A complete, solid, outstanding game from Shelby Hogan that included this…

…which kept Washington on the ropes.

What this doesn’t show is that Oukeymata Sarr had a blocked shot that forced Hogan to go to ground before the rebound popped out to Kate Wiesner for the rocket.

Hogan had to bounce off the turf and leap full stretch to parry Wiesner’s shot, and did.

Hell of a match at a time when Hogan, and her team, needed her to have one.

Coach Gale: Four now, eh?

I’m not quite sure what to think about the interim-gaffer.

Overall his Thorns look pretty Norris-y. And he does stuff – like the Hour Subs and not seeing Muller needed replacement – that Norris used to do that drove me nuts.

But. It’s hard to argue with 4-0-0. And this was a good match against a good opponent, so the Houston and Chicago and BFC caveat’s don’t apply.


Is the guy making a case for full-time employment?

I think it’s a bit too early for that…but it sure doesn’t look bad for him.

Beat Fucking Seattle and the job might be his.

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Good

  1. Really impressed with Payne’s work on Rodman in the first half, I think the Spirit were expecting a mismatch and Trinity got all she could handle and more. Mueller did well on Rodman until she ran out of gas and you are right she should have been substituted maybe at 65. Reyes may not be as fast, but she is a smothering defender.
    Also, the Thorn’s did a pretty good job on Croix Bethune, who looks like a strong candidate for ROTY along with Ally Sentnor of Utah. So far Bethune looks like a slight upgrade over Sanchez.
    Still don’t know enough about Weavers injury, but maybe it is something she can come back from in two months. I think the Thorns have already started missing her on the defensive side. Our Chaos Muppet supplies a lot of things besides goals. Linnehan is good, but still not equivalent to Weaver.
    I thought Soph, Sauerbrunn, Hogan and Moultrie had good games, but Sugita was my WOTM. That turn-around poke to Sam Coffey for the first goal was sublime and left her defender on her butt. She is special! That was a win the Thorns can be proud of.

    1. I think Gonzalez’s tactics helped Payne a LOT; instead of driving at her Rodman was usually sent wide to cross inside (Washington hucked in 13 crosses to Portland’s 6…). With ‘Brunn and Obaze on the qui vive that didn’t usually work (tho it came damn close a couple of times and succeeded once). So in general, yes…but I’m not sure that was a slam-dunk.

      So with Bethune; like I said, Gale set them up, and the team played, a tough defensive shape that cut off those through-runs that the BFC Afrika Korps got.

      Weaver is on the 45-day DL after knee surgery. That suggests something less than a full ligament tear; meniscus, or partial tear. I will stand by my comment on her in the BFC report; Weaver had regressed this season. She’s now going to have to fight back from injury, and so Dias, or Linnehan, will have to fill in for her. That’s fine; at the point she went down injured I’d opine that Linnehan was not just equivalent but playing better than Weaver had been, so if that’s who we’re starting? We’ll be fine.

      My real want is a better-balanced midfield. So far it’s Coffey+Sugita >>>> Fleming > Moultrie > Sinclair. If Gale is going to run a 4-3-3 he needs one of the last three to step up. If a 4-2-3-1 he needs all three to do so. Can we do that today?

      Hope so!

  2. I was pretty disappointed in Hogan at the beginning of the season. It’s nice to see her start to turn it around. Maybe just indicative of defense improvement overall? Still, it’s weird that they signed Alvarado and we haven’t got to see her yet.

    1. I don’t see that as particularly weird. Swapping out goalies is hockey, not soccer. Most soccer managers and keeper coaches are hardwired to keep running out their starting keeper until it’s brutally obvious that said keeper is utterly done. Hogan had a poor outing in KC but hasn’t looked technically unacceptable since then.

      I think it’s a confidence thing, and this match should help.

      As far as “defensive improvement overall”, here’s the post-shot xG against for the last five matches:
      Carolina 0.3
      Houston 0.9
      Chicago 0.8
      BFC 2.1
      Washington 1.7

      The PSxG shows that it’s the other way around; Carolina, Houston, and Chicago got few good chances, less than a potential goal per game. BFC, frankly, should have taken the points based on their looks and Portland’s defending, which was poor, and Washington had a similar problem.

      It wasn’t the defending. It was, largely, Hogan and the opponents failing to finish.

  3. Well there was Lucky, Good and now I wonder what will be your headline for Seattle. The Thorns seemed like a team that came out like a boxer that is just looking at what the opponent has and then just pulverizes the opponent. From the 70th minute on it seemed like a clinic.
    I don’t know how good this team is and I don’t think we will know until the Orlando game.
    Yes a lot of what Gale does is similar to Norris, but I do think he is less stubborn and more willing to change tactics even in the first half. I would have made more changes at halftime in this game than later in the second half but…it worked out.
    He also has an enthusiasm that seems to be rubbing off on the players and a willingness to share the glory with his staff. That to me suggests he is open to other ideas.

  4. Thank you for showing the defensive line being held in this game. Its hard for me to see that in real time, and I don’t really re-watch games to analyze this, but that was my impression. If Gale is able to get the line to hold flat like those shots, then the defense should do pretty well going forward. It shows discipline, and that the players are putting in the work to stay in contact with each other. I’ll be willing to bet that the KC game didn’t look anything like that.
    I think the team is rounding into shape, and while they have beat some poor teams (Seattle, Bay FC and Houston), they have played well against teams who are playing well (Washington and Chicago). The Orlando game is going to be really interesting and another test to see where this team is at.


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