Thorns FC: Felt like Work

Lemme start with this: there was nothing fundamentally wrong with the Thorns’ 1-nil win over The Damned Courage.

First because beating the Damned is like punching bigots and Nazis; it’s never wrong. You can whip ’em easy, you can squeak by them, doesn’t matter; kicking Carolina in the pants is always good no matter how you do it.

The funnest thing about it is that you can be as big a jerk as you want, let your combative freak flag fly or be a hot soccer mess, and because your opponent is such a heel here in Portland you still won’t ever look or have to feel bad before your fans. There’s never anything bad that happens to Carolina that’s not good.

Second because, well, that’s kind of the point, innit? Winning games is the job, and after falling in Orlando the Thorns needed to get back to work.

So, yeah; smoke, horns, songs, happiness…it’s all good.

But…holy Hell did that one feel like…100 minutes of “not much fun”.

That evening mostly felt like work.

All because of this:

Here’s Henderson’s context:

Take out the penalty – and PKs are always damn near 1.0 xG – and the Thorns created about 0.4 goals. Meanwhile Carolina was doing fuck-all, too; about the same and worse actually shooting; post-shot xG of zero? Yeah, that’s The Damned on the road this year – scored 3, conceded 14. God, they suck.

The ION announcers’ stats person had both clubs with less than a quarter-goal’s xG at halftime (Portland 0.24, Carolina 0.2) and at 96′ (less the PK at about 1.0) Portland with only about 0.11 more (total 1.34), Carolina with another 0.26 (total 0.46) – and that included a 90th minute corner that produced a Pickett header which came within the width of the near post to equalizing.

It was 100+ minutes of gawdawful fucking slog, two teams set up to prevent any sort of attacking soccer, between Portland’s 4-2-3-1…

…to The Damned’s weird 3-4-2-1:

I dunno how other fans felt, but even walking out with the points in my pocket it felt to me like damn near two hours of…

Plus it ended with Sophia Smith on red – so out for Seattle away – and Sam Coffey in a walking boot.

So I’ll take the points and run like a thief.

But…fuckdoo, man. This one was rough. Let’s not do that again, K?

Short Passes

Both sides passed fairly well; OPTA says each squad completed about 79%, and the overall pass numbers were fairly close.

Here’s our “vaudevillian cane” blogger andre carlisle’s takes on all this:

That Smith xG comment is a bit ingenuous. Smith made a good run through the Carolina backline, but her shot was tame and right at Casey Murphy. I’m not sure what the post-shot xG was, but it had to have been close to zero,

We’ll get there in the comments, but there’s a lot of blue there, reflecting the lack of useful passing other than Marie Muller and Olivia Moultrie. Worth noting that despite being largely marked out of the match Smith wasn’t feeding her teammates. That’s becoming an issue.

Here’s The Damned:

Kind of the same problem as Portland; lots of blue passing, meaning little in the way of offensive value. Lots of passing, little result. This whole match in graphic form. Ugh.

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
Houston (W)21
Orlando (L)28
North Carolina (W)27

The Tidy Times of The Ken Era continue. Fifteen turnovers on the first half, 12 in the second. The closest anyone had to a real horror was Sam Coffey in the third minute, who passed directly to a blue shirt about 25 yards from her own goal. Coffey is Coffey, though, and she ran down the lucky recipient and stole it back.

Janine Beckie and Nicole Payne were the Biggest Losers with four-and-a-half turnovers each (remember if the loss is due to errors on both passer and receiver they both get half a turnover). Sugita was uncharacteristically poor again, losing four. Smith booted two-and-a-half away but nobody else coughed up more than two.

Corner Kicks

Five, three first half, two second. All sorta-long into the box but with a couple of low “line-drive” serves that actually worked really well.

9′CoffeyLongLine drive to the near post. Looked like a rehearsed play; Sauerbrunn crashed to meet it and her header missed barely wide. Good idea.
32′CoffeyLongRight to Murphy who claimed easily.
33′CoffeyLongAnother near-post line drive, this time to Beckie. She tapped back out to Moultrie, whose turn was just a bit too short and so the resulting shot was wide.
64′MoultrieLongOver everyone to the back post and cleared
81′MoultrieLongBack post again, but this time Smith recycled the clearance to Beckie, but her headed shot was wide right.

Both the “line drive” plays looked promising; ‘Brunn’s in particular came damn close. I don’t think that’ll work regularly – opposing coaches now know to look for it – but I think it’s a good club to keep in the bag.


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

The two sides took 45 throws between them; Carolina with 26 (13 first half, 13 second), Portland with 19, only 6 in the first half.

Of Portland’s throws 17 (89.4%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. That’s terrific, and credit to both Muller and Payne for being tactically clever. Worth noting that almost half (8 of 17) were “forward” (zones 7 or 8) throws, which we’ve been advised are usually not as successful as throws to the rear or straight in laterally. One (5.2%) was poorly taken and went against Portland. The other wasn’t observed as the camera cut away before the throw.

Carolina gained from 15 of 26 (57.6%) and lost on 7 (26.9%). Three were either “neutral” or were lost to camera cutaways to someone eating cotton candy.

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%

So, Carolina was as dire from the touchline as they were everywhere else.

That said, what’s kind of interesting is that they have one of those “long throw” weapons, Kayleigh Kurtz. She hucked two monsters; into the box in the 84th minute, and then damn near half the length of the pitch six minutes later. Both were successful. I’m not sure why Coach Nahas doesn’t use her more. As we’ve discussed, that long throw is a hell of a useful tool.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (90 – +8/-3 : +7/-3 : +15/-6) Slotted the spot-kick tidily and was her usual forceful self, though Smith has developed a worrying tendency to pick up the hero-ball burden her coaches have laid on her. She often bulls into coverage…

…rather than using her teammates. In her defense, that’s often because they lack her pace and, as the screenshot shows are as often as not UN-useable.

But that, in turn, is an indictment of her coaching, who need to find ways to pull the forwards into a dangerous unit and not be just “Smith and the others”.

Okay. Now…this?

Was just not bright.

I honestly don’t think Smith was timewasting or shithousing here. I think she just wasn’t thinking that it looked like that, and that Danielle Chesky was carrying the whistle, and Chesky’s ridiculous about cards. Anyone who would let Denise O’Sullivan go for over an hour doing this shit…

…before hauling out yellow could be counted on to do just about any goddamn thing.

So Smith got a second yellow on the bench because 1) she’d got one for timewasting earlier, 2) Chesky, and 3) she looked like she was timewasting/trolling and Chesky was damn sure going to card that.

So unless an appeal succeeds Smith is out for Seattle away.

D’Aquila (12′ – +3/-0) Composed, disciplined, and saw off the Damned, so that’s just fine.

Moultrie (+5/-0 : +4/-1 : +9/-1) Olivia Moultrie was kind of the poster kid for this match. Solid game, got the points, didn’t put a foot wrong, but…think back; do you recall her doing anything of note? Can you come up with a “wow!” Moultrie moment?

I really like this player. She’s developing into a valuable starting-quality forward. I’d just like to see something…more. Bigger. Star-quality.

If that never happens? She’s still a hell of a good player. But…

Fleming (90′ – +2/-1 : +3/-1 : +5/-2) Moultrie is young, and has just started on a professional and (possibly) international career. Stops-and-starts, leaps and plateaus, those are to be expected in such a player.

Jessie Fleming has no such excuse. As we discussed, she’s a veteran international. She should have a positive impact on almost every match she enters.

Instead we get this…this replacement level, squad-player output damn near constantly. I’m not sure why, but I am sure that Fleming is getting paid more than the Thorns are getting out of her. That needs to change, or it’s time to look at alternatives.

Olivia Wade-Katoa (12′ – no rating)

Linnehan (66′ – +8/-2 : +3/-0 : +11/-2) Excellent on both sides of the ball in the first half, faded in the second, so the sub – as much as it worried me – was warranted. This player is having a damn fine rookie season in a season with a lot of damn fine rookies. Well done.

Sinclair (24′ – +5/-0) Credit where it’s due; hell of a solid defensive shift spiced with her now-signature flick headers.

Coffey (35′ – +3/-2) We can only hope the boot was a precaution.

Beckie (55′ – +3/-1 : +3/-1 : +6/-2) Like Fleming, it seems like Janine Beckie should be…more.

But last Saturday she was “enough” when the club needed an emergency #6. So that’s fine.

Sugita (+6/-2 : +2/-3 : +8/-5) Needed again at the double pivot, so couldn’t add as much going forward, AND the club was set up to clog the midfield and slow things down, so, there.

There’s a gajillion loveable things about Hina-san, but her funny friendship with Sinclair may be one of the most loveable. I have no idea what brought the slender midfielder from northern Kyushu and the big forward from southern British Columbia together, but they clearly enjoy the heck out of it and it’s heartwarming to see.

Muller (+4/-3 : +11/-2 : +15/-5) My pick for Woman of the Match. Tireless – utterly ditched her “late match struggle” tag – pacey, clever, and dangerous. With both Payne and Reyna Reyes pinned back Coach Ken needed a double shift of attack from his other fullback, and got it.

Sauerbrunn (+2/-2 : +1/-0 : +3/-2) Carolina was so utterly useless that the centerbacks could have taken the night off and The Damned could be down at the Park right now still trying to score and failing:

Hubly (+8/-2 : +1/-0 : +9/-2) I give her a lot of stick, but when Hubs is on point she’s good, and she was against the Damned. Shabash, Hubly!

Payne (66′ – +4/-2 : +1/-1 : +5/-3) I don’t have much to add from the various comments about her I’ve made above. Solid match, but a poor opponent so hard to be objective.

Reyes (24′ – +2/-0) Nothing remarkable, nothing awful. Good solid half-hour-ish seeing off The Damned.

Hogan (+1/-1 : +0/-1 : +1/-1) Untroubled.

I’m reading lots more love for Shelby Hogan since the win streak. Which is fine, since she has been doing better. That said…her “goals prevented” per 90 minutes numbers are still solidly average:

I think Hogan is a decent starting keeper. But I suspect that a lot of the people who are praising her for her awesomeness now were dumping on her in April, so…

Coach Gale:

Well, you beat the Damned (good!) and got off the Losing Train (good!). How much was you, how much was dumb luck (the Williams foul was superbly stupid, stomping on a player who had already passed the ball back out of the penalty area), and how much was a poor opponent? Hard to say.

Now you and the squad have to travel north to That Place Which Will Always Be The Klink to play the woeful Reign who, as shit as they are, will be thirsting for Portland blood. And you are the one who will have to answer the resulting question:

Without Sophia Smith…who will be the hero who drives the stake into the heart of the Dark Queen?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Felt like Work

  1. This is going to be a really good test for the Thorns. Its a game where just about every player is going to have to step up their game in order to compensate for the losses of Smith and Coffey (and Weaver). Even with those players out, we should have enough to win the game, but you are absolutely correct that the Reign are going to really want this one.
    I’m really curious to see how Gale chooses his forwards. I would like to see both Linnehan and Beckie on the field, and I’m not sure who I want to see in the striker position. Sinclair is the likely choice, but I’m liking her at the end of the game to close it out. Neither D’Aquila nor Diaz has shown much, but their speed seems to match the wings and could be useful on the counter attacks. I would probably go with D’Aquila but Diaz would be fine. The rest of the lineup writes itself in unless Obaze is healthy, though I suppose the Reyes/Payne position has become a tossup.

    1. It felt like both teams strategy was to slow the others attack. Thus the slog feeling of the match. NC was doing it with hard fouls and it came back to bite them. Soph seemed to be in a mood (not passing, off on shots). Maybe fatigue? Heck of a way to get a day off. Either way, they need to find her some help in the attack.

      1. Both Gale and Nahas set up their formations and tactics to maximize defense. But what didn’t help is that neither club figured out a workaround.

    2. I’m…not sure about that.

      The test, that is. Seattle is reeeeeally dire right now. I kind of feel that if Ken can put 11 warm bodies out on the Klink he’s got a better-than-even chance of winning.

      The center forward replacement is going to be a kind of “whatever”. D’Aquila and Dias are sort of a tossup at this point simply because neither is Smith, and the attack is still pretty much “Smith and the others”…

  2. I never felt like the Thorns would lose to the Courage because there just didn’t seem to be an attack, but then the Thorn’s attack was pretty sterile as well, despite having Smith.
    I really feel like the Thorns miss Weaver, despite her poor scoring before the injury, she adds a dynamism even when she isn’t scoring. I like Linnehan because she is quick, good on the ball and I think pretty composed when she has a shot on goal. The chaos that Weaver provides both offensively and defensively is something not there with Linnehan. With both Morgan and Müller on the left side Thorn’s opponents are going to want to go elsewhere. When Morgan comes back the Thorns will have four pacey attackers in Weaver, Smith and Linnehan/Beckie.
    Damn, I hope Coffey’s injury is not too serious!
    I agree D’Aquila looked fine in this game and I expect we will see her at the 9, but probably not at the start of the game. I expect he will go with Sinclair for 60.

    1. I had this one pegged as a scoreless draw.

      I don’t see Weaver as a game-breaker unless she comes back more efficient than she was before the injury. She put up big numbers in KC and against Gotham and Racing and her team got one point. She didn’t actually do much to break down opponents because she had reverted to her crude form of earlier seasons. Frankly Linnehan has been a better Weaver than Weaver had been this year.

      And when Weaver comes off the DL Linnehan will go back to the bench, so that doesn’t really help.

      I’d like Ken to figure out how to work both of them in, but I don’t see how.


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