Thorns FC: Lit

“As he read, I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

This year’s Seattle home match was peculiar because of the priors.

Normally playing the Queens of the North is just your basic rivalry. Build a bonfire, fuck Seattle, burn the lot…we’ve all been there. SSDD, right?

THIS time, though?

Our situation was odd; horrible start, gaffer canned, Ken in his place and then the turnaround-four-game-win-streak that seemed first improbable and then increasingly probable. From one point, bottom of table on Matchday 4 to thirteen points and above the red line running out five games later last Saturday.

Their situation was just ugly; home opener win then a string of five losses. Winless on the road. Seven points. tussling for the Wooden Spoon.

So it wasn’t quite the usual chain-cage deathmatch we expect of Thorns-Reign. The real question seemed to be “how much time will it take Portland to break Seattle down”?

Well…damn near a whole match, was the answer.

Not because of Seattle, mind. Rob Gale sent his troops out to clog the middle and force everything wide…

…and it worked. Laura Harvey’s mob got nothing for the entire opening half despite lots of opportunities. As Washington had the match before this one, the Reign got their half-chances but few good ones, and then couldn’t finish them.

The problem was that Gale’s Gang didn’t, either.

Here’s the first half xG race plot from the delightful “beyond the vaudevillian cane” site:

Damn near nothing until the stroke of halftime, and then…well, we’ll get there.

Here’s Henderson’s version which shows this a bit more clearly:

Portland went up on a deliciously ridiculous Olivia Moultrie 42nd minute golazo, then had to survive Seattle’s injury time assault that culminated in a massive Shelby Hogan one-handed box off a Jess Fishlock header…

…followed by an insane Kelli Hubly clearance-off-the-goalline to keep Bethany Balcer’s followup header out…

…and the storm was weathered. Portland went in at halftime one up.

Then the two sides ran out and spend damn near half an hour doing fuck-all;

Until Payton Linnehan bounced a shot off Sofia Huerta’s arm:

That’s…well, that’s not quite as “soft as church music” despite what Laura Harvey claims. It’s pretty soft – Huerta’s not making herself bigger, her arm is not really in an “unnatural” position, she’s so close to Linnehan that she can’t really get out of the way of the ball – but her arm is away from her body and the ball does hit it and gets deflected.

Sophia Smith potted the spot-kick and, suddenly, Seattle came apart, shipping two more goals in the thirteen (thirteen?!?) minutes of injury time to be thoroughly whipped to the delight of the home crowd.

Four goals beyond, indeed.

Fair enough.

Short Passes

Both sides were tidy; OPTA says 83% completion. That matches my eye test, and the turnovers, as we’ll see.

Here’s the BVC passing matrix:

I think our BVC blogger misses the mark a bit here. Nicola Payne had a load to handle in Tziarra King, and so she wasn’t “leaving a flank open”; she was pinned back tussling with King, and winning. That was a big reason for Seattle’s attacking flatline, so credit where it’s due.

Here’s the Reign:

Yep. That’s it.

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
Seattle (W)20

Eleven Portland turnovers in the first half, only nine in the second. Part of that is that Gale’s defend-and-counter let Seattle have the ball (possession was running 34-66 in the 18th minute and ended 46-45), but the Thorns were exceptionally crisp passing and especially passing out of danger; I recorded no tackles-for-loss all match

Payne, fighting hard with King, coughed up four passes, and Smith gave the ball away three and a half times (remember, if both passer and receiver mess up each gets half a turnover). Moultrie gave away three passes, and nobody else lost more than two. So good match overall.

Corner Kicks

Three. Two long, one short, one first half, two second.

26′CoffeyLongAll the way over the scrum to Sinclair at the back post. Sinc looked like all she had to do was stick out a boot and pot it, but somehow the ball ran under her and over the byline.
90′CoffeyLongTo Sugita, but cleared without a shot
90+6′CoffeyShort…to Moultrie in the corner, pure timewasting.

The broadcast didn’t show a replay of the first corner. From the midfield camera angle it looked like Sinc missed a sitter, but if there’s one thing Sinc can still do it’s poach, and so I have to think the opportunity was not as good as it looked. Otherwise nothing.


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

Very few throw-ins this match; I had the Thorns taking a total of 14 throw-ins; 5 in the first half, 9 in the second.

Seattle took a total of 15 throws, 8 first half, 7 second.

Of Portland’s throws 10 (71.4%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. Two (14.2%) were poorly taken and went against Portland. Two were “neutral”; kept possession but produced nothing going forward (and one of those was lost by the receiver.

Seattle got an advantage from 12 (80.0%) and lost 3 (20.0%).

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%

Both sides were tidy from the touchlines, so no real difference there. After an atrocious match throwing-in against BFC Payne has done much, much better.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+6/-2 : +11/-3 : +17/-5) What do you call a “hat-trick of assists”? Whatever you do, you had to use it here. Hard to single out anyone for Woman of the Match for this one, given that it was a comprehensive squad win, but the assists kind of make Smith the frontrunner.

Sinclair (62′ – +4/-1 : +1/-0 : +5/-1) I’m not sure if it’s Gale’s plan, but it’s hard not to see the past couple of matches as a clinic in “how do you use an elderly Christine Sinclair”. Slow down the opponent, keep them out front of you, so you minimize the problem of Sinc’s lack of pace. In a track meet she’ll kill you. In a rugby scrum her size and smarts help out.

If it is your plan? Well played, gaffer.

Beckie (28′ – +4/-0) Saw out the win, so fine, but still isn’t really breaking things open in attack, which is supposed to be her forte’.

Moultrie (99′ – +5/-2 : +2/-0 : +7/-2) Potted the matchwinner, so there’s that. Still could use a bit more synergy with both her midfield as well as Smith. Not bad, mind, but I think she needs a bit more guile; I think she’s leaving attack on the table.

Wade-Katoa (14′ – no rating) Warm body.

Sugita (+8/-1 : +6/-1 : +14/-1) My Alternate for WotM. Tireless, clever, inventive, and rugged. Sweetly converted goal; the cross was bounding vigorously and Hina-san met it perfectly. Subarashī, Sugita-senshu!

Fleming (61′ – +1/-3 : +0/-1 : +1/-4) Probably the only Thorn who didn’t have a solid match, and I’m not sure why. She seems to have issues figuring out how to fit her CWNT form into this squad. Hopefully she can figure things out, because there’s a couple of other players (Dias, Linnehan…) who look like better options.

Linnehan (29′ – +6/-0) And speaking of whom…note that her numbers work out to something like +18/-0 over the full ninety. Hmmm.

Coffey (+3/-2 : +4/-0 : +7/-2) Locked down the midfield, which was critical, and largely wrestled Fishlock to the turf, which was equally critical.

Payne (85′ – +5/-3 : +4/-1 : +9/-4) As mentioned above, big match form. King is trouble if she can get in behind – she’s fucking pacey and whip-smart – and Payne didn’t give her an inch.

Reyes (18′ – +3/-0) Kept the pressure on, sealed the deal.

Hubly (+1/-0 : +1/-2 : +2/-2) How many pluses can you give for a single action?

Hubs was her usual self for 102.5 minutes; kind of just there with an occasional minor defensive derp.

But that 47th minute clearance? Holy shit, that paid the freight for everything else. That goes in and suddenly Seattle is back in the match spoiling for a fight. Missing that opportunity had to gut them, and so Hubly gets all the props for a single plus.

Sauerbrunn (+4/-0 : +2/-0 : +6/-0) This is the ‘Brunn I want to see; calm, disciplined, fierce. Kept her unit’s heads in the game. More like this, please.

Muller (99′ – +6/-2 : +7/-2 : +13/-3) The usual good from our Außenverteidiger, including a huge clearance on an 89th minute corner kick. Big match, big performance, just another Arbeitstag for The Miller. Hoch, hoch!

Klingenberg (14′ – +2/-0) Good shift, as you’d expect.

Hogan (+2/-0 : +0/-0 : +2/-0) Looking better and better; hopefully these solid matches are boosting her confidence. Hogan’s technical skills are not in question; it’s been her headspace that has looked iffy, and she’s been much better there in the past several matches.

Coach Gale: Now five-oh-oh, eh?

I wasn’t sure if the “interim” meant handing out the orange slices, but his tactical plan for this one and Washington have impressed me. I’m starting to think the guy has some chops.

Chops enough to make things permanent? That, I’m not sure. But things sure look like they’re trending that way.

Today’s match means traveling to the fetid petro-swamp that is Houston.

The Dash are crap; offensively sterile, defensively porous. Coach Alonso might very well have lost the locker room. But Portland has traditionally had issues playing at “Shell Energy Stadium”, so this one isn’t necessarily s gimme putt.

But this club looks like they’re rolling. That means crushing the juice out of the Orange and getting back on the plane.

Let’s see if that happens.

John Lawes
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10 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Lit

    1. I lived in Houston back in the Eighties. In my brief time there I developed a loathing for the place like nowhere else I’ve ever lived. The humidity is oppressive enough, but Houston is the most relentlessly ugly city I can think of. I’m sure there are people who are fond of it, but the charm utterly eludes me.

  1. Just as we sometimes talk about Non-Penalty Goals, I think we need to add Non-Smith Woman of the Match (NS-WotM ?) to our lexicon.

    beyond the vaudevillian cane got it right that Seattle’s best opportunities came of of set pieces. What he didn’t mention was how many Seattle set pieces there were, many of them either soft fouls or non-fouls (aka dives).

    1. When you play Fishlock you have to be as cunning as a serpent when using your body on her, because you KNOW she’ll respond like the Human Stuka. Working the refs is part of what she does, and like the weather, a smart opponent has to keep that as part of the game plan

      So that those free kicks came off soft or worked calls is pretty much baked in to playing some teams and players, and the Reign is both of those. I’d guess our BVC blogger, like I do, assumes that as a prior. Seattle+set pieces = diving.

      It’s irritating, but it IS like weather; something a smart team factors in.

  2. I was listening to Tobin Heath talk about the game and she was raving about Moultrie being the best midfielder and not counting Smith, who Tobin says is in another dimension, was the the WOTM.
    Moultrie had a good game, but I thought a few others had better games. Your player ratings were the same as my subjective view. Tobin didn’t like that the coach had her on the wing because she feels she is the Thorns best midfielder. Makes me want to watch the whole game over again to see what I am missing. I know Moultrie has loads of potential, but to me she seems to be not a 90 minute player. She is way better in the midfield, Of course. But better than Coffey and Sugita, No! Is she better than Fleming? well right now probably.

    1. Moultrie has been playing well (I see she got a goal in Houston) – in her skillset. Which is very skewed towards one end of the pitch. She’s a versatile attacker, and is beginning to show some very impressive field vision.

      The best midfielder on the squad, tho? That’s Heath talking, another 90/10 attacking midfielder. If I had to pick the current Thorn whose game is most like Heath’s? It’d be Moultrie, so there you go; game recognize game.

      But in terms of “all-around” midfield work? Sugita, hands-down. Dangerous on both sides of the ball. Coffey is the consummate “#6”; lock-down defending, with a midfield general’s eye for the attacking pass.

      If I had to rank them – and fortunately I don’t and can appreciate them all for their qualities – I’d stack them: Sugita > Coffey/Moultrie > Fleming > Sinc > everyone else (largely because the N for the reserves is too small to really discriminate).

      So, no. You weren’t missing anything. It’s just Heath – a lopsidedly-attacking midfielder – fangirling over a similarly-lopsidedly-attacking midfielder.

  3. Last night Moultrie looked very good and Sam and Sugita seemed a little stymied in that crowed midfield. The Coach made another good decision in starting Moultrie over Fleming and then bringing Fleming in against Houston’s tired legs and fresh newbies. That worked!
    Also in the Seattle game, Tobin was raving about how amazing an International Ji Yo Sun was and I thought “well our Hina was even more amazing in that game.”
    I think what I am seeing from Gale is that the team is more flexible in their shape, he recognizes Sugita’s value, and he trusts more players. And, yes enthusiasm is contagious.

    1. Ji is a terrific midfielder, no argument.

      But how that jumps out from her play here last Saturday? I don’t see it.

      Which, in turn, raises the question; “How perceptive an analyst is Tobin Heath?”

      My issue with her when she played was always that she often seemed to lose sight of the bigger tactical picture in pursuit of her own objectives. Those would change somewhat over the years (tho they nearly always included breaking defenders’ ankles…) but she very often seemed more intent on whatever she could do as an individual, rather than what she could contribute to her squad’s success.

      Because of her skills, those individual efforts often DID contribute.

      But I wonder; how good a “student of the game” is she? How well does she see the “big picture”? Or, perhaps, does she tend to see the individual players for their individual skills, rather than what they’re doing for their teams…much like she saw her own efforts for their success, rather than what they did for her teams’ success?

      Anyway, I missed the Houston game, so I’ll have to see it on replay and then have a bit to say.

  4. If you want to watch it, the VAR review of week including the Seattle PK went up this morning. on YouTube. VAR did not do well here. They only focused on the behind the player angle where it looks it goes straight to the arm to see how far out the arm was stretched. Gave CR a second angle when asked, CR did ask did the ball not come off the foot first. VAR told him I don’t have that. Trusted their words over his eyes.

    1. The Laws are pretty clear. It’s an “offence” – that is, foul play that should be penalized if:
      1) “a player deliberately touches the ball with their hand/arm” In this case the ball DOES touch Huerta’s arm, but the contact is hardly deliberate, and is initiated by Linnehan’s shot rather than Huerta’s block. This case can’t be made.
      2) “touches the ball with their hand/arm when it has made their body unnaturally bigger”. This is perhaps the only makeable case for a foul here. Huerta’s arm IS extended…
      …but the law goes on to say “A player is considered to have made their body unnaturally bigger when the position of their hand/arm is not a consequence of, or justifiable by, the player’s body movement for that specific situation.” That is clearly NOT the case here. Huerta is turning to block the shot, and her arm is swinging as she does; it’s part of her natural body movement.

      So to me there’s no case here for the call but I’d disagree that VAR was 100% the villain here.

      The actions were reviewable; there WAS ball-to-hand contact, and that was worth a look. If I’d have been VAR I probably would have recommended that the CR review the footage to check if he’d missed something. But the CR could have stuck and SHOULD have stuck to his initial no-call. Between the two they screwed Seattle, and I don’t blame Harvey for being shirty about it.

      That said, the Reign kind of fell apart in injury time, and that’s on them. Losing 2-nil on a golazo and a crap penalty is one thing. Losing four-nil including two goals after 90? That’s a rout, and a beatdown, and I hope Harvey lit into her troops for that.


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