Thorns FC: Zzzzzzzz

The good thing about playing bad teams is that you beat them.

The bad thing about playing bad teams is that it’s often difficult to figure out what to make of that.

Sure, if you thrash Sky Blue FC 5-nil you’ve pretty much made the statement “We’re waaaaay better than Sky Blue FC”. Mind you, if you draw, or, worse, lose to Sky Blue FC, you’re kinda saying “Gee…we kinda suck right now.”

The problem comes when you go on the road and beat Sky Blue 0-1. Sure, you beat Sky Blue…but what are you saying? Did you barely beat them because you just had an unlucky night and nothing wanted to go in? Or did you barely beat them because you just weren’t really doing anything particularly outstanding?

I’ll be straight up with you; I haven’t the slightest fucking idea.

passing unfancy

Both teams tried to give the match away with piss-poor passing, and the Thorns actually won the race to the bottom; InStat has SBFC winning 72 to 64 percent, while Opta has the Joisey Goils up 66 to 54 percent. Here’s my own compilation of the Thorns’ Wall of Shame:

God, that’s ugly.

Yes, I know that Coach Parsons’ plan was to huck long balls downfield and then do the soccer equivalent of dump-and-rush and let his forwards and AMs dispossess Sky Blue’s backline and DMs. And against Sky Blue, who could barely string together three passes before coughing up the ball, that worked.

You try that shit against Chicago or North Carolina, or…wait, we tried that shit against Washington and got handed our asses. The Thorns won a grand total of 9 more challenges in Sky Blue’s defensive third – 49 to 40 for SBFC on the other end. If you dump-and-rush against a team that can actually pass? You’re gonna get killed.

Between the futility in front of goal and the “let’s-give-the-ball-away” contest if I’d have been a neutral viewer I’d have turned this one off at halftime and gone looking for some more quality sports entertainment, like pro cornhole.

Okay. Fine. Enough whining. Was there anything to like about this snoozer? Actually, I’d say that on the individual level there was quite a bit to like.

that old movie where the understudy becomes the star?

This match featured a debut start for Simone Charley, and what a start it was; Charley was all over the Sky Blue backline, tearing things up like…well, a good striker going after a Sky Blue backline!

Meanwhile, longtime frontline stalwart Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic was reduced to carrying water for the forwards and having a very rugged evening of it. Is this the part where Marc Parsons suddenly looks Charley in the face and cries “That’s it! I’m gonna make you a star!”?

Meanwhile, in the backline, Liz Ball came in for Ellie Carpenter and visibly Hulked out on the pitch, savaging every Jersey player that came close to her.

Who else?

Well, obviously the goalscorer, Midge Purce, who was InStat’s top rated player on the evening (which IMO simply shows that the tovariches put too much weight on goalscoring…). And Marissa Everett and Madison Pogarch did well in their professional debuts as regular-season players.

step by step

Here’s the thing, too; this was clearly a work-in-progress, and I saw progress on the pitch that night. These players will have about 6 to 8 weeks to play together, and as they do they’ll be able to work out stuff like this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

That’s a nice little attack, but the two attackers are too narrow. With practice these two will figure out that this will work better if they spread the field a skosh.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

And a bit later in the match that started to happen, with a little help from an unexpected direction.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Like a white-suited ninja, Liz Ball comes tear-assing up from deep right field and suddenly appears where no Liz Ball was only moments before.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

She just splits Imani Dorsey and Paige Monahagn – who had another in a long string of oopsies on the night – and Gabby Seiler slips a slide-rule pass into the charging Wrecking Ball.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Ball beats both her markers like dark blue drums and then drops a dime on Charley’s head, S.C. having snuck in behind everyone like another similarly-white-suited-ninja-like-person.

Didi Haracic is caught dead to rights, 0-1 Portland, right?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Nope.

Charley’s header rebounds off the post and SBFC survives for another ten minutes or so until Charley’s shoss deflects off Sarah Killion’s trapezius into Purce’s path and the Midginator finishes deftly and puts the poor sad shambling Jersey thing out of it’s misery.

Ugh. Having to watch Sky Blue or Orlando should only be paid work; they shouldn’t be allowed to charge admission, but you should get a couple of bucks just for showing up. Having to watch both of them? There’s got to be something in the Hague or Geneva Conventions against that. Day-um these teams are bad.

So that’s what I mean; it’s really hard to tell whether Thorns v2.0, the Thorns-Without-The-Stars, is a good team, a really good team, a barely-one-goal-better-than-Sky-Blue team, or what.

I’ll tellya what, though. Next weekend we face a Red Stars that’s hurting from a home loss to Washington. We beat those wenches?

It’s game on.

player ratings and comments

Charley (79′- +11/-6 : +8/-4 : +19/-10) Everything I wanted to see from Charley – everything I saw in preseason and liked about Charley – only with a goal gone begging. Active, intelligent, aggressive, mobile. Has to clean up her passing! But otherwise, a terrific match from the Eternal Trialist.

Everett (11′ – +3/-0) Wonderful run to get herself down to the near post for a vicious shot off Pogarch’s cross that forced a huge save out of Haracic. Looked great in limited minutes.

Lussi (59′ – +7/-5 : +0/-0 : +7/-5) Started well, other than her usual “where-the-fuck-is-the-goal?” off-target header in the 11th minute; c’mon, Tee El, you’re a striker! Strikers strike at goal! but then completely disappeared before the hour mark. Dunno what happened, but if she can string together two halves like her first 45′ AND get her attempts on frame? Then she’s going to be deadly.

Purce (31′ – +7/-3) I actually liked Charley’s headed post more than Purce’s goal; the goal was a nice finish but the buildup was pure junkball compared to the gorgeous sequence shown above. Purce did have a brilliant run in the 89th minute that truly was quality and was only stopped by Haracic playing out of her mind. And I have to say – this was the first time I’ve seen Purce that I didn’t notice her left foot as an issue, so perhaps she’s got that worked out.

Crnogorcevic (+4/-4 : +2/-4 : +6/-8) Rough night for AMC, forced deep into the outside midfield to play defense. Had one sweet backheel to Kling in the 41st minute balanced against a ton of crap longballs. She also had one great chance, on the rebound off Charley’s header, that she plopped weakly in a probably-shocked-Haracic’s lap. So overall not really a great night.

Brynjarsdottir (+5/-6 : +4/-4 : +9/-10) How you feel about her evening depends on how you feel about lost possession. InStat rates her third-best player in the pitch behind Purce and Ball, and she did good work in midfield locking down Dorsey and cutting off McCaskill.

On the other hand, eight of her ten minuses are for garbage long lobs that went to a blue shirt, so had Eckerstrom been a trifle slower off her line in the 70th minute, or getting down on Lewandowsky’s header in the 89th we might be talking about how wasteful Dagny was in possession rather than her solid midfield defense.

Also very hard to tell how effective she was at DM when Sky Blue was having trouble passing around a set of practice cones. We’ll see how she does in the next couple of matches.

Seiler (+3/-4 : +5/-1 : +8/-5) Sturdy. Competent midfield defense, some good passing going forward…what’s not to like? Well played, Seiler.

Salem (74′ – +8/-5 : +3/-3 : +11/-8) Like Seiler – solid defensively, with a bit of attacking flair – but with a trifle better passing. Salem did seem to fade a bit in the second half, and the Pogarch sub was cleverly done.

Pogarch (16′ – +5/-2) I’ve mentioned her brilliant cross in the 80th minute, but Master Po was in fine blind-monk-fu style in the final quarter hour to see out the match. Along with Everett, an excellent introduction to regular NWSL play.

Klingenberg (+10/-9 : +5/-2 : +15/-11) I don’t want to jinx her, but the past two matches have been a trifle less high-flying for Kling; had similar problems controlling her passing, especially her long passing, and I hope that was just the effect of the long road trip and the return to her own duvet and kitchenette will spring her back into her first-four-games-form.

Menges (+10/-2 : +7/-2 : +17/-4) You know that part in the monster movie where you have to go through the dark road through the creepy woods and you know the monster is going to jump out and just kill you dead any moment?

That must be the feeling opposing forwards get when they approach Menges’ sector of the Thorns penalty area.

But check this out:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

This is where Menges is pushing up, both to crush enemy attacks and to start Portland’s; ten yards on the wrong side of the center stripe. That’s insane, but that’s where she is right now. Get some, Menges.

Reynolds (+5/-2 : +5/-1 : +10/-3) Not flashy, just solid, but, again…Sky Blue. Kat Reynolds did own McCaskill several times, including a couple of stonings in the 49th and 53rd minutes, which warmed my heart.

Ball (+11/-5 : +8/-2 : +19/-7) The Wrecking Ball was a madwoman all night, from byline to byline and everywhere in between. My pick for Woman of the Match just because she sits on the bench, like, forever, and suddenly starts and becomes this insane berserker that just destroys everything in her path, and that’s crazy awesome.

Eckerstrom (+2/-0 : +2/-1 : +4/-1) Huge takes in the 44th and 46th minutes, massive saves in the 70th and 89th, pretty much the definition of safe hands, Eck was terrific in Yurcak, and helped lock in the three points.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Coach Parsons – Well, better than Maryland, that’s for damn sure.

Still not sure if this apparent love affair for hoof-and-hope and counterattacking is going to work against better teams. I know for a fact it won’t work against North Carolina when they’re at full gas because we’ve tried it and it failed. It didn’t work in Washington last week. I wish I was sure that Parsons has more clubs in the bag than this, because so far I’m unconfident…

Props for the subs; all three were effective, and at least two of the players that came off were visibly tiring.

Three points on the road are good. Even Sky-Blue-points – they all count the same. So there’s that.

But now those days are past; only two of the remaining 18 fixtures are against the Jersey Tire Fire and the Orlando Flaming Dumpsters.

Now the fun really begins.

postscript: jersey blues

The part where I was talking about Sky Blue paying to get people to come see them?

Image from Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

I was only kidding. Kidding!

But when you look at this, suddenly it’s not funny anymore.

Places like Orlando and New Jersey need to succeed. We can’t afford more Bostons and Kansas Cities. That empty stand is just so sad and lonely it makes me feel sorry for Sky Blue and want to cuddle them and tell them “There, there…” except there’s no real good way to feel better about that. That’s a bad, bad sign.

The league really needs to start looking hard at ways to help franchises like this. Sometimes it’s easy to forget how good we have it in Portland…until you look up in the stands and see something like this.

John Lawes

Soccer-obsessive. Stats geek. Thorns supporter. Former Slide Rule Pass and Stumptown Footy Thorns beat writer. One of those people who's "often mistaken but never wrong"...

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8 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Zzzzzzzz

  1. Some of the poor passing we can lay at Parsons’s feet. He clearly asked his players to hoof it long, so hoof it long they did — and that leads to lousy passing success rates. You need only 1-2 of those long balls to succeed to make it all worthwhile. And against Sky Blue, just getting the ball up to their defending end of the field was good, since they were so inept at passing out of their end that we generated chances just from having the ball up there. Indeed, our goal came right after a long ball from Ball.

    Pogarch’s passing percentage (30.8% of 13 attempts) really surprises me, both in the number of attempts — she just wasn’t on for that long — and also for the poor success rate. Granted, forwards make passes in a much more difficult part of the field than defenders, but that’s still a low success rate. She was, however, trying to put the ball into the box a lot, so that explains and excuses a lot of it — connecting even one of those dangerous passes could give us a real chance at goal. Overall I was pretty impressed by her, especially for someone playing her very first game.

    Thanks for pointing out Ball’s game. I saw her involved a lot and doing good things, but didn’t quite realize it was at the +19/-7 level. That’s pretty much Menges-level, a high compliment indeed.

    1. Wrecking Ball was a monster, and while I can’t think she’s going to continue to play at that level forever – and, Sky Blue – it was fun to watch.

      Here’s the thing. I don’t think that this dump-and-rush Portland is playing is a tactic, because that’s how we’ve played all season. And since we’ve played against the two dumpster fires in the league 66% of the time the results haven’t been awful – as you note, if you get one long ball past the enemy backline (AND your forward can put the biscuit in the basket coughFoordcough…) you’re golden.

      BUT…if you play teams that 1) can defend decently, and 2) pass out of the back adequately you may find – as we did against Chicago and Washington – that all you’re doing is killing off your attack. If you can drop those dimes and your long boots go right to the opposition? Same-same.

      So I’d feel a lot less nervous if I’d seen Parsons run something different for a change. I’m not asking for 90 minutes of Thorns-taka. But some sign that the Thorns CAN play the ball on the ground and through the midfield? That’d be reassuring, and I haven’t seen it this season.

      1. Maybe it’s Parsons’s strategy for the World Cup break. He knows that NO team is going to be particularly good for the next month, so Route One might well work for us. For now, anyway — he’ll definitely want to play differently (“better”) when the internationals return.

        Would we have done better playing long ball against Washington and Chicago if they were missing all their internationals too? With their current complement of players, can they take advantage of us giving up possession so easily, play out of the back, and stomp us the way they did earlier this season? Perhaps we’ll start to find out this weekend in our home opener against Chicago.

        1. But we DID play a lot of long ball against Washington (and badly – the Thorns passing was barely out of the fifties to low sixties until late in the match, when Washington dropped into a low block). And it didn’t work there. We’ve been playing direct for much of the season; I honestly don’t think it’s a tactic for a particular opponent – it’s what Parsons has the team doing.

          And when it’s working – when Kling is diming people and the forwards and AMs are picking off passes and dispossessing people deep in the attack zone – it’s doing well. But – it was working against Orlando and Sky Blue!

          I didn’t think much of Chicago in their loss to Washington; it was like losing Kerr took the starch out of them. I suspect our left-behinders will match up well with theirs. It’s Utah and Washington that worry me now, with possibly Tacoma and (maybe) NCC in the second tier. So I’m hoping for a good result this weekend and next…but the third week in June will be an interesting test.

  2. Yes Ball was really a wrecking ball out there. I remember last year somebody who had seen her in college said she is fantastic and I am thinking “well that was college, this is the Pros. But she really was amazing, even when she was beat she didn’t stay beat.
    Everett in her short time on the field seemed so confident, maybe even over confident, but that’s really not a problem for a forward, more dangerous in a defender.
    One thing is becoming clear after this week, of the my top four teams: NC, Chicago, Portland and Utah; NC and Chicago seem to be the most damaged by the WC break. Portland is in pretty good shape and Utah is in great shape. They may have lost Vero for a couple of weeks. They have the Spirit and Sky Blue coming up so we will see.
    North Carolina will probably get healthy again after playing Orlando this weekend then face Portland at their place. Chicago will have their hands full with the Thorns , then it looks like they have a very long break.
    In general, I am feeling pretty positive about this group of replacements.

    1. I think you need to add Washington into that group. They’re tearing it up since the WC departures. And I’m kind of skeptical about Chicago; they looked pretty lost this past weekend against the Spirit without Kerr. I think we’ll know more after the coming weekend, tho.

      I liked a lot of what I saw in Jersey but – I know I’m beating this drum a lot, but…Sky Blue. If you pit your U-23s against your U-14s they’re all going to look like Marta in her prime. That really was the level of difference there; the collective InStat indices were 201 for Portland to 178 for SBFC. To give you an idea, that +23 net differential matches the best game of the season to date (Orlando on Matchday 1) and is also the lowest collective Index for a Thorns opponent so far. Sky Blue really were that bad.

      Did I like a lot of what I saw? Hell, yes. Am I waiting to see how well this group does against NCC, Utah, Chicago, and Washington? Yep. That’s a whole ‘nother nutroll.

  3. Washington has not suffered as bad as Portland, Seattle, NC and Chicago and in fact I would argue that as much as I think of Rose LaVelle, she really has not been that important to Washington. With Sullivan playing like everybody expected her to, Washington might need to be in the elite five. Really a lot depends on the condition of Pugh and Rose when they return. They are a talented team. Or maybe they belong in the second tier with Houston and Seattle. Chicago should be fine after this weekend I think they are getting an extended break to contemplate life without Sam Kerr and Julie Ertz.

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