Thorns FC: Sacrifice

“To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift. “

~ Steve Prefontaine

Photo Credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

At about the 20th minute of this match I was already thinking about this column, and the image I had in mind for the header was a flaming dumpster. Because that’s how furious I was the the Thorns had manage to gift two goals to the shitshow that is Sky Blue FC and look well on their way to giving three points away in a match that should have been a stroll.

Well, PTFC played their way back into the game – with some help from some comedy defending from the hosts (did I mention that SBFC is kind of a shitshow?) – and nicked a road point.

Giving away the gift

But the ugly fact remains. The Thorns went to Yurcak Stadium in New Jersey and committed a string of individual and team errors (and, to be fair, was victimized by a terrific match from SBFC’s Carli Lloyd…) that allowed an opponent that had been goalless and point-less until that time to score two goals and get a point.

And a big reason was stuff like this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

I picked this sequence specifically because it didn’t produce a Sky Blue goal. But all the elements that contributed to both Portland’s concessions are on display here.

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

I think some of these issues are missing Emily Menges. EM is Portland’s best backline organizer, and without her I think the defenders often flail.

Still…these aren’t a bunch of clueless rookies here. Somebody in the screenshot above – either Boureille or Carpenter – should be making the decision to mark up tight on Dorsey.

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

As I said; this didn’t produce a chance.

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

But not because of solid Portland defending. The gaps and opportunities this sort of sloppy defending helped Lloyd ring up a brace, but…

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

…they didn’t just stop in the 20th minute. Portland had the same issues all match they did in Chicago, or late in the first match in Orlando; opponents are simply getting way too many good looks at Portland’s goal because of lax defending or poor marking combined with individual errors.

Mind you, Sky Blue didn’t exactly put on a defensive clinic their ownselves.

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

Couple of couple of things there. First, great service from Heath. Second, great hard work from Sinclair – not that we expect anything different. Third, smart run from Sonnett, who sees the open space in front of the goalmouth.

But…fourth, wow. Is that some awful defending, or what? No wonder these poor mooks are tussling with Orlando for the spot at the bottom of the table.

The Thorns’ offensive system requires each fullback to be able to push upfield in attack. But that means that the center backs and remaining fullback need to be aggressive and proactive closing down attackers. And that system is viciously unforgiving of individual mistakes.

Which Lloyd’s first goal was rich with, beginning with remarkably poor upfield tackling from Boureille and Brynjarsdottir

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

Rodriguez runs through both of them like water through a sieve.

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

One feature of this match was the Thorns’ repeated tendency to pinch in and cede vast space along the touchlines. Here both Lloyd on Reynolds’ side and Dorsey on Carpenter’s have gained positional advantage on their respective defenders.

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

And here they’ve put it to good use. This is a terrific run from Lloyd, but Reynolds makes her look even better by failing to anticipate that run or keep pace once it begins.

Image by Yahoo! Sports – licensed under Fair Use

Ouch.

gone girls

Now the World Cup interval begins; the U.S. internationals – meaning Heath, Sonnett, Horan, and Franch – will be missing from now until the end of June…unless the unexpected occurs and the US is knocked out early. I’m hearing that the Canadians – meaning Sinclair – will be called up before the next matchday, and it is likely that the Australians – Foord, Raso, and Carpenter – will join them before then, as well.

Andressinha may still rejoin the team in May – at least, Jamie Goldberg insists that the team is still making that claim – and will be needed badly. That’s a lot of power lost to the Big Show.

But the problems the first three matches have exposed aren’t really an issue of star power. They are individual players who should know better making goofy mistakes, and the team as a group fumbling their defensive shape.

Losing the internationals will make things more difficult for Portland’s attack. Which, in turn, will put an even heavier burden on the defense. Can the Thorns bear that burden?

We’re about to find out.

Photo Credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

player ratings and comments

Foord (+8/-3 : +6/-2 : +14/-5) There was a great deal of speculation after the Orlando match that Caitlin Foord had “broken through” the goal-drought that bugged her last season. Since then it’s apparent that nothing has broken, and she’s still working to find her NWSL shooting boots.

Did hard work upfront all match with some sweet passing – including the assist on Heath’s goal – aggressive forechecking, and intelligent runs. But the goals just haven’t come, and now won’t until after the Matildas are knocked out.

Crnogorcevic (68′ – +2/-5 : +2/-0 : +4/-5) Not a great shift from AMC, and her first half in particular was a welter of lost balls and getting tackled for loss. Should have buried her 37th minute shot instead of skying it over the bar (InStat credited Portland with over 3 xG, and this was surely a 0.8xG attempt…)

Also forced to track back a bunch, and while she did decently enough defending that’s a big ask for a forward and probably has something to do with her attacking sterility.

Purce (22′ – +3/-4) For the second match in a row Midge Purce entered midway through the second half with the score tied. For the second match in a row she didn’t really have much impact; indeed, this time she couldn’t draw a penalty, making her contribution even more muted. Here’s her stat sheet:

Image from NWSL.com in public domain

Completed five of seven passes (the green box-and-arrow icons; red are incomplete attempts). But particularly disappointing are the three tackles for loss (the red triangles); one of Purce’s strengths last season was taking defenders on and beating them off the dribble. This season she hasn’t been consistently successful other than the run in Chicago. Will need to step up now.

Sinclair (+8/-0 : +5/-1 : +13/-1) All the usual good work from Captain Sinclair, in particular the terrific fight through and square to Sonnett for the assist on the first Portland goal. Will be desperately missed.

Heath (+7/-2 : +6/-4 : +13/-6) Tough for me to decide between her and Sinc, but I have to give her Woman of the Match between her hard work and the delightfully rude backheel goal. Great run in the 60th minute that could have produced another but for a pretty cynical foul. Did have a poor miss in the 47th, but easily forgivable given her body of work.

Boureille (+6/-8 : +6/-5 : +12/-13) Frustrating. Overall Cee Bee didn’t have a terrible day. But her horrific backpass was directly responsible for Sky Blue’s second, and that’s a hard hill to get over. Lots of good work shutting down the midfield passing lanes, making recoveries, and tackling for gain, but as my old drill sergeant used to remind us, one awshit cancels a thousand attaboys, and that was a goddamn enormous awshit.

Brynjarsdottir (78′ – +10/-3 : +2/-2 : +12/-5) My impression of Dagny during matchday was that she was making similar mistakes to those Boureille was, missing tackles and giving away bad passes. In fact, she was having a solid match both offensively and defensively. Faded late in the match, possibly from lingering fitness issues, but in general did as well as any of her teammates.

Seiler (12′ – no rating) There are “no rating” occasions that really are “no rating”, outings where the match doesn’t give the player any chance to get involved. This isn’t one of those. Instead, Seiler didn’t really do a good job of reading Sky Blue and getting stuck into her opponents, who ran or passed around her. I wonder if Seiler is like Angela Salem, who seemed to need minutes to play well?

And, speaking of that, where IS Salem? She hasn’t even made the 18 yet, and she’s going to have to be involved now that the internationals are gone. Or…not? Who knows with this club’s personnel management, which is a riddle wrapped in an enigma inside a mystery.

Carpenter (+7/-4 : +4/-3 : +11/-7) Not a terrific outing other than some good passing. Positionally suspect a number of times, and didn’t really control her wide area defensively. Parsons could be heard shouting at her to get forward on several occasions, so presumably that accounts for defensive miscues like her 63rd minute disappearance that allowed Imani Dorsey to blow into the top of the Thorns’ penalty area and drop off for Lloyd to bang a shot off the far post with Franch well beaten.

Yike.

Reynolds (+3/-3 : +2/-1 : +5/-4) Roasted to a turn by Lloyd’s 6th minute run, and guilty of several other poor defensive decisions that decent work over the rest of the match didn’t really offset. Needs to be better, especially now that the internationals aren’t there to pull back goals that her defensive unit concedes.

Sonnett (+4/-3 : +3/-5 : +7/-8) Funny sort of day for the working half of the Great Wall of Emily. Scored a tap-in goal that she produced by making an intelligent run into space let vacant by utter crap defending, so that’s huge. But other than that was…not terrific at her primary job description, defending. Sonnet had a very here-and-there afternoon. Terrific interception in the 81st minute to pick off a McCaskill cross…but then let Lloyd get goal-side of her two minutes later and was bailed out by Lloyd taking her run too close to the byline and closing off the goalmouth.

Photo Credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

Could actually have been worse; she wasn’t marking Sarah Killion when Lloyd’s shot pinged off the goalpost in the 63rd minute, but luckily the ball went wide of Killion and no harm done.

So, yes; yet another outing where a player who should be a rock in the backline was just sort of all over the place. Of all the internationals the Thorns will lose over the next month or so I think Sonnett is the most “replaceable”. If Menges is back on the pitch by Matchday 4, if Seiler or Reynolds steps up big, the Thorns might not see a dip in their defensive form over the World Cup break.

Klingenberg (+6/-1 : +7/-3 : +13/-4) Kling continues her terrific spring, minimizing her defensive miscues while providing hellacious attacking goodness. Did get skinned in the 70th minute by Savannah McCaskill but otherwise held down her flank respectably given her offensive duties. I don’t fault her for getting caught upfield on the first Lloyd goal; she was taking part in what had been until then a productive attack.

Franch (+2/-1 : +2/-1 : +4/-2) Difficult to fault on the concessions; the first was deflected past her by Sonnett’s lunge, the second was a horrifying 1v0 that Franch did well to get a fist to and force Lloyd to collect. Also had a good take in the 52nd minute on a ball that Reynolds let Lloyd run through to, and a strong save in the 73rd off a Dorsey shot. Solid match for A.D.’s international sendoff.

Photo Credit: Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons: Hard to asses. The concessions were a mixture of organizational failure – which is a coaching issue – and individual goofs, which aren’t. The goals were a combination of pretty team play, which Parsons gets credit for, and insanely awesome individual effort – Sinc’s teeing up Sonnett and Heath’s crazy backheel – that aren’t really a coaching thing.

The overall defensive troubles do seem like something that Parsons should be solving. The degree to which his solution involves “Get Emily Menges healthy!” is difficult for me to assess, but three games into the season the issues remain.

And now FIFA has thrown Parsons another wrench, and we will get to see if he can duck it, or, better, use it to adjust the Thorns to take advantage of other clubs’ international-player losses. After this weekend’s bye the Thorns get another whack at this year’s flaming dumpster Orlando.

Can they repeat Matchday One’s beatdown without the players that made their goals? We can only hope…

John Lawes

I've been writing about Thorns FC ever since the inaugural season - first at Slide Rule Pass, and then at Stumptown Footy - and have been a fan and player of the game for a couple of decades.

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4 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Sacrifice

  1. John, I thought the same as you. In the first half I was keeping track of “Dagny smites” moments and then after the second goal by Carly I was ready to quit watching the game. In the second half I could concentrate but she didn’t seem very… mmm in it. I’m glad the objective evidence she had a decent game cancels my subjective impression that she was not herself.
    I have been worried about the heavy travel on younger less experience players because of not having a home game until June. But for Dagny it has to be super hard with a toddler to leave behind

    1. Add to that the difficulty of recovering from pregnancy; I can’t imagine anything harder on the human body outside of a high-speed auto accident or something similar. I’m not surprised she may still be working into full fitness.

      What was the most frustrating part about re-watching this match was how it DIDN’T confirm my initial impressions of utter confusion and defensive collapse in the first twenty minutes. Sky Blue really IS a bad team, and they didn’t play particularly well in the opening part of the first half.

      Instead they took advantage of some marginal gains from Portland’s sketchy defending, and then the combination of Lloyd hulking out and individual errors from Thorns – Cee Bee, Dagny, Reynolds, and Sonnett on the first, Cee Bee on the second – blew up in Portland’s collective face and shipped two goals.

      So if the Thorns had simply tightened up on defense in general, and avoided those goofs, they could very probably have run off with a two-goal away win. We’ll never know.

      Now they have a much bigger hill to climb. Without the internationals the goals will be much harder to come by, so every concession is a potential loss that must be prevented to the degree possible. Can they do that? Riley’s 2015 squad couldn’t. Parsons’ 2015 Washington could, sorta.

      Hang on. This could be a real exciting ride.

    1. Wait…she was in school? Okay, that’s kind of odd. She’s knocked around the biz forever and is on contract with Peregrine; you’d think she’d have been here before the season kicked off.

      But…opaque. That’s been the story with this team and contracts and player personnel since 2013.

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