Thorns FC: Well, okay then

Before the San Diego match this past weekend over at Stumptown I grumped;

“…talk about a perfect setup for yet another scoreless draw. Stoney set her club up to defend and counter but the counter sucks so hard even our porous defense might stand up. But short of an increasingly rare Smith wonderstrike I don’t see this XI generating much more than they did the last three games.”

So, of course, the Thorns came out and shot the cover off the ball:

Sitting in the sultry Shed through 84-plus scoreless minutes, though, I was all “yeah, okay, fine…they’re creating chances. How good are the chances? I wonder what the xG/post-shot xG ratio looks like..?”

Turns out…

…pretty goddamn good! In fact, damn near identical.

But more than a goal better than the actual score. The Thorns left a LOT of finishing on the pitch.

The woeful Wave? Ugh. Almost two xG, less than one goal based on actual shot quality, no goals. The post-Stoney slide continues, showing that while Stoney’s uglass defensive crouch was a problem, it wasn’t THE problem.

San Diego is…not quite a trashfire. They’re not Utah or Seattle. But they’re not effective going forward (hardly shocking given Alex Morgan’s 2024 form and Savannah McCaskill’s…well, form, period. Have I mentioned lately how little I respect McCaskill? Well, okay, then…wait. I don’t have enough bandwidth for that. She’s useless, let’s leave it at that) and their defending is only as good enough as their opponent is toothless. Chicago – hardly a goal-scoring machine – larruped them earlier in the week.

So given all the missed sitters and blasts-right-at-Kailen Sheridan it ended up neither the glum draw nor the xG-predicted goalfest, but a very end-to-end, sort of sloppy but entertaining home win.

Points. Pull ’em out of your butt by outworking a demoralized opponent? Fine!

Mind you, that shit ain’t gonna beat Orlando.

Short Passes

Neither side – as I think I mentioned – looked like killing it. San Diego outpassed Portland by a wide margin, 320 to 248, but both sides were sloppy, our 73% a skosh worse than their 76%. Matches the eye test; neither club was playing tika-taka. Spray and pray, long balls, bat it around the back.

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

Yep. Note that this match (as we’ll discuss in the comments) was the first one I’ve seen where both our Canadians Not Named Sinclair were tearing it up.

Here’s San Diego:

Harsh but fair. Morgan is not in France for a reason. Problem is, outside of Maria Sanchez, nobody else is stepping up, so the Wave has nothing. At least we’re firing away.

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
Utah (D)35
San Diego (W)30

Ummmmbetter (he says in his “well, ummm…” voice). Fifteen in both halves. This included a couple of real stinkers, though, both off the boot of Marie Muller, who horked up a nasty hairball in the 15th minute right in front of the Thorns’ 18-yard box that luckily San Diego couldn’t hang on to, either, and then passed right to Sanchez in the last minute of first half injury time, but Morgan could only head her nice cross wide.

The Biggest Loser Race was a three-way tie: Sophia Smith, Janine Beckie, and Jessie Fleming each gave away four times. Becky Sauerbrunn and Sam Coffey lost three and a half each, Hina Sugita, Reyna Reyes, and Muller three each. Everyone got to play; it was like the fucking Oprah Show: “YOU have a turnover and YOU have a turnover…

Corner Kicks

Five. All long, all in the second half.

50′FlemingLongCleared, recycled to Muller whose shot was blocked, recycled again but lost.
53′CoffeyLongOnto Sauerbrunn’s head but Sheridan had no problem catching the soft header.
59′CoffeyLongSheridan came out for the easy take.
72′CoffeyLongCleared over the byline.
73′FlemingLongCleared and turned over

Not much. The header was tame, and Muller shot into the scrum.


So here’s the problem.

I’ve tracked throw-ins through the season less the two matches (Chicago away and Houston) I was working in Alaska and out of reach of replays. I was ready, pencil sharpened, to keep the books on throws for this one, and here’s what I got instead:

And this:

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a NWSL match on “Prime Video” before, but if this is “prime” I’d hate to see what “select” looks like.

The Prime director was awful in general about cutting away from the whole field view during live play, but dead balls and throw-ins drove him utterly mad. The typical throw-in sequence included a couple shots of random players wandering around, a coach doing some coaching things, a couple more players, this time running as though the ball was in play, then, finally, a wide enough shot to see what the teams were doing.

I tried to keep records, but by the half hour I was done. Fuckit. Thanks, “Prime”. I see you’ve got the Bay FC game at the end of August. Sucks to be me, then.

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%
San Diego

Oh, and the other thing about “Prime”?

The replays don’t show up on NWSL+ or the “Prime” site. I had to look up my old pal El Profe for this one.

You suck, “Prime”.

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith (+6/-4 : +10/-3 : +16/-7) Normally those sort of PMR numbers would be a Woman of the Match lock. But in this case I’m going to hold off on Smith. Yes, she worked hard, yes, she got looks.

But. In attack she was predictable when she had power and weak when she had finesse. You note she’s invisible on Henderson’s xG plot.

And in defense…well, San Diego had only three genuinely good chances.

In the 62nd minute Mya Jones put in a rifled cross that caught Muller ballwatching as Sanchez came steaming up behind and then right past her…

but luckily Sanchez missed wide right.

In the 83rd minute McCaskill crossed into the box; the ball fell to substitute Melanie Barcenas inside the penalty spot, but…

…Shelby Hogan shot a hand up and blocked Barcenas’ shot over the bar.

The third dangerous moment came in the 38th minute (and, it’s worth noting that San Diego had done nothing of value in front of Portland’s goal up to that point…) when Makenzie Doniak crossed into the box.

The cross sort of floated over several heads to land in front of a charging Sanchez, who toe-poked the ball diagonally past Hogan at the goal.

Fortunately for Portland Morgan made one of her many poor decisions and, instead of simply standing her ground and letting the ball roll (where I think it was heading…) into the net…

…or shielding off Portland defenders, she moved forward and tapped the ball in which – since Morgan was in an offside position when Sanchez shot – made it offside and no-goal.

But who was supposed to be marking Sanchez?

Smith. She’s visible pulling out of the coverage just as Sanchez goes in hard for the ball.

I get it. Smith isn’t a defender. She’s not getting paid to wrestle with opposing forwards over crosses. Still. You gotta go hard every minute, and Smith usually does, leaving it all on the pitch, at both ends, for 90+.

This wasn’t like her, and it bugged me.

Sinclair (75′ – +6/-4 : +2/-1 : +8/-5) I didn’t think starting Granny in the 90-degree heat would be a very good idea and it wasn’t, really. She can still provide a tidy ball now and then, but as a forward she was utterly nerfed, creating two shots; a soft header right to Sheridan in the 28th minute, and heading over the crossbar late in first half injury time.

Throw in her limited range that forced her midfielders to cover their assignments and hers and, well…

D’Aquila (15′ – +4/-0) The raw numbers suggest another timid D’Aquila shift, except one of them is the only Thorns – hell, the only, period – goal.

That’s great. That’s also something we’ve seen before, and it proved to be false dawn.

I really like D’Aquila’s attitude and workrate. It’d be great if the club could find a way to use her as the poacher she seems to be.

Fleming (89′ – +6/-1 : +6/-0 : +12/-1) So if I had to pick a WotM it’d be between Fleming – who was as good as I’ve seen her this season – and Hogan, who purely saved two points off Barcenas.

The one thing that I’d like to see more of, though, is more facile and productive communication between Fleming and her teammates, Smith in particular. Go back up and look at the passing chart. Lots of interchange between Fleming and Sinc, Muller, and Coffey, but Smith..?

So this was good. I think Fleming can be better.

Dias (1′ – +0/-1) Normally I’d shrug off a short, unproductive shift like this as a “no rating”, but within thirty seconds Ana Dias had collected a dumb yellow card and I thought that deserved a mention.

Beckie (+6/-3 : +6/-2 : +12/-5) Another legitimate WotM candidate, including the assist. Huge miss in the 10th minute that could have put San Diego on their heels (mind you, Fleming missed a gimme putt in the second minute, so “bad miss” wasn’t disqualifying for WotM in this game).

Coffey (+3/-0 :+8/-2 : +11/-2) After a nearly-invisible first half Coffey came out with her hair on fire in the second, tearing down whatever buildup San Diego tried on. Nice work.

Sugita (+2/-0 : +4/-0 : +6/-0) Very much a minor key. Not sure why, other than Ken seems to want her tracking back a lot; she’s kind of a hybrid 6/8 with Coffey while Fleming goes forward. I still like what Hina-san brings, but she seems stuck doing grunt work.

Reyes (+6/-2 : +3/-3 : +9/-5) San Diego had so little going forward that it’s hard to find a real reason to single out any Portland defenders. Reyes was solid in general and didn’t make any horrific errors, so, fine.

Sauerbrunn (+1/-1 : +3/-2 : +4/-3) If the fullbacks had the evening off the centerbacks could have pulled out the pinochle deck and played a couple of hands.

Obaze (45′ – +1/-0)
Nally (45′ – +2/-1) Like most longtime/hardcore fans Nally’s appearance after the interval sent a shiver of fear down my neck, not easy to do on a sullenly hot evening. And as if to prove our fears Morgan skinned her within a minute of the restart, cranking a shot that forced a good save out of Hogan.

Then Nally settled down, the innate futility that is the San Diego “attack” reasserted itself, and the remainder of the Thorns defensive match went out quietly.

Muller (75′ – +4/-4 : +5/-1 : +9/-5) Lots of good, spiked with some real “WTF?” stuff. Overall I’d rather have her out there than not, given her skillset. It’d be nice to see fewer derps, tho.

Payne (15′ – no rating)

Hogan (+2/-0 : +2/-0 : +4/-0) We’ve mentioned the saves. Shelby Hogan also came out strong in the 18th and 35th minute to take balls out of the air. Hell of a damn good match.

Oh, and a couple of matches ago Richard (I think) mentioned the weird thing that Hogan seems to do a lot; when she takes a high cross or shot she tear-asses up to the front of her penalty area looking like she wants to start a quick move upfield…but never does. She ends up standing around for some time before bowling out short or launching a long kick.

I thought I’d keep an eye on that, and, sure enough…

…okay, well, that kind of makes the “why” of these things pretty clear.

Coach Gale: Hmmm.

Since I’ve already said that “three points are three points” I kinda have to hand Coach Ken the props.


That wasn’t much of a statement. Got the points, so, good. But…

I don’t wish the man ill, but my thought hasn’t changed. This club needs work, and enough so that sooner is better.

Now we have over a month before league play resumes, and that should open a window to get a new head coach in place and begin the process. I’d like to restart the season with someone other than Coach Ken in the technical box.

Nothing personal, man. Strictly business.

Programming Note: So apparently there’s something called the “Summer Cup” that’s going to fill the hole blown in the league schedule by the Olympics. It includes the NWSL Left-Behinders as well as six LigaMX Feminil clubs.

I have no real interest in this thing, but I’ll probably post something about it because it’s here and we’re in it, sorta. Hard to tell what it will be. The Mexican clubs are in their offseason and ours are strip-mined of talent. Could be serious NWSL After Dark, could be meh, could be Amateur Night.

What’s the general level of interest in this thing?

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

9 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Well, okay then

  1. Thanks John for the write up. I was eager to get your impressions player ratings especially for Fleming, I saw it again on Prime. That was the best I have seen her. Both her and Beckie work really hard, I would like to see them both score but I love their work rate. I would have to give Hogan WOTM but Jessie was impressive.

    1. So…I’m still kinda “yes and no” on both Canadians. Yes, they had “good games”; active, creative, making good choices and doing the right things. As individuals, they did, indeed, impress me.

      But, no…somehow their work in the context of the team is still less than the sum of its parts. Somehow all that still seems to result in a sort of formless mush. The Wave is defensively sound, granted, and Girma pretty much stoned Smith which, since Smith is 96.5% of Portland’s scoring, meant that all those half-chances went nowhere.

      But – I know I keep banging this drum but it’s my drum, so – most of the time soccer is the team-y-est of team sports. It’s exceedingly rare that one or two players can seize a match and make it bend to their wills. The rest of the time it takes a village of players to raise a win, and that’s on 1) the manager to set them up tactically, and 2) the players to develop a rapport and execute the tactics.

      With this squad that happens only sporadically. They CAN play good soccer, we’ve seen it. But mostly it’s “boot it around then pitch it up to Smith, she’ll figure it out…”, so even when good games like Fleming’s and Beckie’s against San Diego happen, the result seems to be diffused and blunted by the overall lack of structure and squad interplay.

      That’s why I harp on the gaffer. That piece needs to drop most quick smart. There’s quality here – albeit less than there should be; the Nallys and Dias’s and Provenzanos still take up valuable roster space – but it isn’t being used to its potential. That’s on the field boss, and we’ve had three “meh” ones in a row, and more if you, like I do, think less of Parsons post-2017 performance.

      So, yes and no…

      1. Actually Pep Guardiola is being criticized now because he is not using Haaland in a way that maximizes his talent. And Ferguson was accused of not managing Beckham and Rooney well. The coach coaches and the players play, No matter how good the coach is if the players don’t play well, like the USWNT did in the World Cup it is the coaches fault. But good teams like Spain and Riley’s Courage have succeeded on game pitch, but that was talent overriding a bad coach.
        I hope a new coach solves all the problems. We will just have to see.

        1. I’m kind of intrigued by this: “…good teams like Spain and Riley’s Courage have succeeded on game pitch, but that was talent overriding a bad coach.” because while I’m not very familiar with the Furia Roja I’m VERY familiar with Paul Riley (spit!) and I’d say that take couldn’t be less accurate.

          Riley’s NWSL career can be sharply divided: his tenure here (2014-2015) and his work with the club that started as Western New York (2016) and then moved to Cary as the North Carolina Courage.

          And in both cases Riley had very similar plans. His tactical approach depended on speed and relentless fitness. He demanded 90+ full gas from his players, and the idea was to use a triangle-passing, fast-breaking midfield (in Cary he always preferred a 4-4-2 diamond) feeding blazing fast forwards. Shoot, shoot, shoot, quantity first. Pepper the opponent with shots until one goes in.

          Here he inherited an older team of established stars like Morgan and Sinclair and Buehler. I have no idea of the personality fit, but professionally his “we’re scrappy underdogs who train 24/7!!” was a massive loser with the big names who had just won the league with a novice manager who was reputed to just “hand out the orange slices”. He tried several schemes to build the roster he wanted and couldn’t. Finally he did so poorly – in 2015 – he got canned.

          And, as we know, got hired by WNY. There he DID get the roster he wanted. He created the fast, hungry squad that would “play what the coach coached”. And it worked like a mechanical ass-kicker; he won three out of four titles between 2016 and 2019, and, frankly, should have won the fourth except we got revenge for the 2016 Semifinal thugging. He is the single winningest coach in NWSL history.

          He’s also a total shit. But that’s him, not his record.

          So Riley in this league is the other way around from your example. His post-Thorns teams didn’t succeed despite him, but because of him. No, it’s the Riley Thorns that proof the rule; here he couldn’t get his roster and couldn’t get buy-in from the players who were here. He coached…but his players wouldn’t play his way.

          Our situation is that we don’t have a coach that “coaches” and haven’t since Parsons, really, and he was kinda hit-or-miss. We’ve had buckets of on-field talent, but seldom have we had a “thorns style” because we haven’t really had a gaffer with that kind of vision who ALSO had a squad that was bought in.

          That really needs to change, and soon.

          1. I have a hard time calling Riley a good coach, but you put it right he had tactics that worked and when he had players that bought in; well he was successful, even though he was a POS.

  2. I’ve come to like Hogan more and more. She’s big, which means her motions don’t look fast, but by the eye test she’s been getting better and better all year. In part I’m becoming a fan because she’s so much better than Bixby at coming out to claim balls; so often Bixby would retreat to the goalmouth on an opponent’s long ball when she could easily have beaten the attacker to the ball and prevented a dangerous chance. In this game Hogan kept out 0.97 post-shot xG, which IIUC means she did about a goal better than an average keeper. And we have 4 clean sheets in the last 5 games (though clean sheets have a lot to do with the *entire* defense, not just goalkeeper, and also the one non-shutout was KC’s 4-goal drubbing).

    It’s a moot point, I suppose, after the Mackenzie Arnold news, though Hogan will still be needed during the Olympics and as a backup afterwards.

    1. I’m baffled by the Arnold signing. She looks like a fairly average keeper ( FBRef’s comps for her are keepers like Launay or Proulx; okay, internationals, yeah, but kind of “somewhere in the pack” kind of international. She’s not Campbell or Endler or Murphy, that’s for damn sure.

      Arnold finished third from the bottom (15th of 18) for keepers with enough minutes to be rated in the 23/24 WSL season based on the “Prevented Goals per 90′” stat; she let in -0.20 more than predicted by her xGa per ’90’, total of -4.27 prevented goals for 2023/24 WSL season.

      Not sure how that’s a huge upgrade.

      1. We have 5 GK’s on the roster now in Hogan, Bixby, Alvarado, Asman, and Kozal. What role is a 6th GK going to fill, regardless of who they are? Is spending money on GK’s the best option?

        Be nice if there was an indication of what direction management was taking the team.

        1. I think this was the kind of thing that an undisciplined novice GM does; this keeper is a shiny object, she looks like a big name signing so the club grabbed her regardless of the overall roster needs, so, no, this isn’t the best option.

          The simple answer is that there won’t be six keepers in a little while. Several will be released – sold, traded, waived – and others will be loaned like Asman is now. My guess is Arnold is the FO’s starter, so we’ll just have to see if she’s better than her metrics.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.