Thorns FC: Ten minutes

Coming off ninety minutes of fuck-all in Seattle the challenge facing the Thorns was to do better – at least “do better enough” – to see off the improbably-given-last-season-league-leading Kansas City Current.

That “better” lasted about half an hour.

In hindsight it was kind of surprising the holdout lasted that long, because from the opening whistle this was happening;

That’s Bia Zaneratto wide open down the east touchline, with Janine Beckie sucked forward and Nicole Payne tucked inside wrestling with Temwa Chawinga.

On the other wing Michelle Cooper was doing the same thing to Marie Muller.

Again and again…

…until finally the Current scored off a free Chawinga header…

…and a Lo’eau LaBonta flick-on…

…and then the skies opened up and for the next ten minutes the shit rain began to fall.

Seven minutes later Stine Ballisanger knocked in a loose ball inside the six-yard-box to put the visitors up two. Three minutes after that LaBonta ran onto a short clearance outside the box and launched a rocket past Shelby Hogan and it was 0-3 and the game was over.

Each side added a goal after that, but the real end came with – as the announcers kept repeating – the “three goals in ten minutes”.

The result made clear which club – right now, anyway – is a Shield threat and which one is going to need an insane amount of fortunate breaks just to make it out of the quarterfinal.

We’re just not as good as Kansas City. We’re not as good as Orlando. The standings suggest that we’re not as good as Washington or Gotham, either.

And the result made clear why.

We have one dependable weapon – Smith – and a small group of “almosts” up front. Here’s Henderson’s xG plot to make that clear:

Smith’s goal is damn near half the club’s xG, and Izzy D’Aquila’s 45th minute strike that forced a big save out of Adrianna Franch is the rest of the half. After the Chawinga dagger to open the second half Kansas City could sit back on four goals and the Thorns had no way to break them down.

The midfield lacks organization and definition. Players are being forced into roles – like Meghan Klingenberg as a #6 and Hina Sugita as a #8 – that suit them badly. A lot of this is losing Coffey and Moultrie to injury, sure. But a lot is also not finding a way to use players strengths, such as Jessie Fleming’s – as broken down over at Stumptown today – to tune the midfield engine and make it work together.

The backline lacks direction as a unit and continues to make lethal individual errors. Look back up at screenshots on the first LaBonta goal.

That’s Kelli Hubly who’s doubling up with Payne to smother LaBonta rather than mark Chawinga. Once it’s obvious that Chawinga is going to receive the cross Hubly leaves LaBonta – who eludes Payne for the flick-on goal because she’s clever and gets position, not because of Payne’s fuckup – but too late to prevent the free header to LaBonta and the concession.

I don’t mean to pick on Hubly; everyone else in back had their moments. Becky Sauerbrunn utterly failed to move to Chawinga on the fourth KC goal. Payne and Muller were repeatedly skinned by Cooper and Rodriguez.

Put all those together?

This was an eminently fair result, a completely solid team beating an incomplete, flawed one.

Can Coach Ken and company change that before playoff time?

A bit. Maybe. Hopefully. There were some important pieces missing last weekend; Olivia Moultrie, Morgan Weaver, Sam Coffey for most of this one (and why risk her re-injuring herself bringing her on down by four, coach? Why even..?).

There are some players who seem capable of stepping up a bit; Janine Beckie, Jessie Fleming, D’Aquila, Payton Linnehan, Ana Dias. We’ve seen some good moments from each one, but not quite good enough or sustained long enough.

There need to be some clever tactical ideas to bring more options into attack, and more sturdiness into the defense. The midfield needs a better division of labor and better connection front and rear.

But at the moment?

We’re fifth of the top five, nine points adrift, and that’s pretty much who we are.

Short Passes

Portland outpassed Kansas City 400 to 333, and completed 84% to KCC’s 79%. That looks good but is massively skewed by the Current sitting deep and letting the Thorns knock the ball harmlessly back and forth.

Here’s our “vaudevillian cane” blogger andre carlisle:

He’s right; the real issue were dangerous turnovers, often in midfield, and we’ll get there.

Here’s The Current:

Yep. That’s pretty much ballgame.

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
Seattle (D)26
Kansas City (L)35

Nineteen first half, 16 in the second. A nasty uptick, and it included howlers like Kling’s tackle for loss in the 14th minute, followed by another brutal stripping in the 37th that led to the second concession. Muller coughed up a real hairball in the 40th minute that helped lead to the third.

KCC didn’t really need to press after their fourth goal, but Sheva horked up a dangerously heavy touch in the 65th minute.

Kling was the Biggest Loser with six including, as noted, some real stinkers. Payne lost four and a half, Smith three and a half, and Fleming and Sheva both lost three each.

Corner Kicks

Four, two in each half. One short.

3′MullerShort…to Sugita, who began a walk around the box. Ended up on Hubly’s head and from there out for a goal kick.
46′MullerLongOnto Beckie’s head this time, but off target again.
68′MullerLongInto the scrum and cleared away.
76′MullerLongBounced through the box to Smith, whose shot was easily blocked.

Not much. The headers were both well wide, and Smith’s shot wasn’t dangerous.


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

The two sides took 39 throws between them; Kansas City with 22 (7 first half, 15 second), Portland with 17, only 7 in the first half. Worth noting that 15 of the 39 throws came after the 80th minute as Kansas City was killing off the game.

Of Portland’s throws 12 (70.7%) resulted in an improvement in Portland’s tactical position. The other five (29.3%) was poorly taken and went against Portland. No neutral throws, and the camera cutaways weren’t so long as to miss the outcome.

Kansas City gained from 16 (72.7%) and lost on 6 (27.3%). No neutral or missed throws there.

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%
Kansas City70.7%29.3%72.7%27.3%

No real separation there, tho worth noting that Portland’s throw-in success was down markedly from the previous two matches, which tracks; poor opponents, successful throw-ins, good opponent, not so much.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+4/-2 : +4/-2 : +8/-4) Well…

…yeah, kinda like that.

D’Aquila (68′ – +5/-0 : +2/-2 : +7/-2) Had the best chance outside of Smith’s goal, but that just drives home the point that if you stop Smith you stop the Thorns. There’s no real alternatives. I hope that getting Morgan Weaver back will change that…but it didn’t when she was playing early in the season.

As we discussed; this squad can beat the cans. But the good sides? We’re struggling, and the one-dimensional attack is one big reason…

Sinclair (22′ – no rating) …while the lack of quality depth is another.

Beckie (45′ – +6/-6) Worked hard for little effect, hence the halftime exit.

Linnehan (45′ – +3/-0) Came on for Beckie behind a massive hill and couldn’t really help climb it. Not her fault.

Fleming (45′ – +7/-5) Kind of the same-same as Beckie; some good, some not-so-good (lots of stray passes) and came off at halftime as Ken searched for ideas.

Sheva (45′ – +1/-1) But found none here, unsurprisingly.

Klingenberg (68′ – +3/-5 : +0/-0 : +3/-5) Fought hard but utterly unequal to the task; repeatedly stripped or turned over – all her minuses are for either tackles-for-loss or passes to a white shirt – and couldn’t provide much either defending or going forward. Hard to watch given her history here, but again drives home how shallow the roster pool is. Behind Coffey? There’s only desperation.

Coffey (22′ – +1/-0) The only reason I can think of was to test the leg. No other real reason to risk injury other than to stop a rout and KCC was already sitting deep.

Sugita (+9/-0 : +1/-0 : +10/-0) I can’t see picking a Woman of the Match for this turkey, but if I did it’d be Hina-san. Did all she could; not her fault the Current are just a better complete side right now.

Payne (77′ – +3/-4 : +3/-0 : +6/-4) Had her hands (and feet and everything else) full fighting with Chawinga and I mean fighting; the Malawian is a horse, and the center referee let her muscle her defenders around. Must have come off feeling like she’d gone ten rounds with a front-end loader.

Reyes (13′ – +1/-3) Reyes is more of a pure defender than Payne, so coming in behind a three-goal deficit there was little she could add, and didn’t.

Hubly (+1/-3 : +3/-3 : +4/-6) We’ve discussed her role in the first concession. Made the same error earlier, giving Zanaretto a free header that luckily Bia hit straight at Hogan. Lacked the opportunity for more derps in the second half, fortunately for her.

I’m reading but not seeing where Hubs is cutting out the mistakes. Seems like the same Hubly to me.

Sauerbrunn (+2/-1 : +1/-1 : +3/-2) Got pantsed on the Chawinga goal, and looked less than sturdy otherwise. Hard to see individual upsides to a thrashing like this one, but…

Muller (+8/-4 : +4/-2 : +12/-6) …Muller was the best of the backline in general. Part of that was that Cooper attacked her side mercilessly and forced a lot of heroism from Muller. As good as Muller was, though, the bottom line is that Cooper won that matchup. No shame, because Cooper was damn good. But for her team to do better Muller will need to figure out how to deal with that.

Hogan (+3/-1 : +1/-0 : +4/-2) Huge save off Cooper in the 49th minute or this one could have been worse, hard as it is to believe. Not really at fault on the concessions; the first two were on her defenders, the LaBonta brace was a rocket. Might have stonewalled Chawinga, but at that point..?

I’m sure she doesn’t feel that way, but Hogan did a decent job. Her club was just whipped by a better side.

Coach Ken: Well, the magic has kinda run out on the Ken Show.

It was fun thumping the tomato cans, but Orlando and now Kansas City brought the Thorns back to reality. Injuries exposed the lack of roster depth, and cleverer opposing managers exposed the lack of defensive discipline and paucity of attacking options.

I can’t really say it better than I did over at Stumptown:

“(This match) says some hard things about what we are; a flawed team that’s several players and a head coach below the league’s top step. I’m guessing we finish above the red line but barring a three-game tear or lucky streak get knocked out short of the star.

The rest of this season? Let’s enjoy the wins we get, hope for the best, and see what happens. Who knows? Maybe the lightning will strike the way it did in 2017…”

Yeah. That’s pretty much where I am right now.


John Lawes
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6 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Ten minutes

  1. As I said over on Stumptown, I am where you are. This team is no better than fifth and if somehow they can make the semi-finals that would be BBQ sauce for this group. But ,Yes, enjoy the wins when they come. I don’t see any useful acquisitions mid season, because the internationals playing in Europe will want to stay there. Manchester United is really dumping all over their women’s team, but the internationals playing there that could help us like Mallard (France), Garcia (Spain), Miyazawa (Japan) and dare I say it Jayde Riviere (Canada) will stay in the UK or on the Continent. So the Thorns are who they are now; we love them but they won’t win the Championship or the Shield, without some incredible luck.

    1. It’s weird; this is both liberating and depressing. Liberating to accept that, yeah, this is who we are and barring a miracle we’re not getting another star so let’s just enjoy the roadside attractions on the way. Depressing because, well, the same.

      I don’t have a ton of confidence that even if those players ARE available our current FO could track them down and sign them. Muller was a good sign, but Fleming wasn’t. It’ll be interesting to see if anyone does turn up in the midseason window, tho…

  2. Agreed it feels like 5th place is who we are this year, with the hope that maybe we can climb to 4th. But I don’t see us catching Orlando, KC, or Gotham, unless one of those has major injury issues – and “major” for Orlando or KC could be just one player, Banda or Chawinga respectively.

    Also I think Coffey played a bit here as part of her injury recovery process. Players coming back from minor injury typically play 20-30 minutes their first game back, 45-60 in their second and maybe third, and then 80-90. Hopefully Sam will now be on to game two of that progression. She wouldn’t have played if the medical team thought she was at risk of aggravating the injury in her bit of time on the field.

  3. Agree there will be a few more wins to enjoy, but gosh darn, how do you enjoy watching this? This is hardly a team. It is more a collection of players attempting to feed the superstar, asking her to bag one or two, and maybe win or draw. The last three managers have imposed nothing in terms of disciplined, organized play. It should be a surprise to no one the Thorns have the look, feel, and competence of the CWNT.

    1. Because there are so real skills here. The lack of tactical nous is irking, yes, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There’s a solid base if the FO can find someone with the vision to build on it.


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