Thorns FC: Let’s Score Some Goals!

“Everything is great! Let’s score some goals!”

~ Mark Parsons, about 3:15pm, 6/2/19

Image from Thorns FC on Facebook. Photo credit: Craig Mitchelldyer

Did the Portland Thorns dominate the visiting Chicago Red Stars last Sunday afternoon?

Leo Baudhuin of Stumptown Footy certainly saw that; Thorns dominate Red Stars in home opener was the headline of the STF match report. At the NWSL website Jacquiline Purdy said the Thorns “…roll in home opener”.

Even my podcast partner Richard Hamje saw it. Discussing the match afterwards, he wrote: “In person, it looked pretty dominant. Chicago were hanging their heads by the 75th (minute).”

Since, in the words of Popeye the Sailor, I yam what I yam, I’m going to mildly disagree. I saw a good solid match, but “domination”? Not for the full ninety, no.

fifty shades of match play: breakdown

Yes. The Thorns bossed the Red Stars for the first half.

Here’s how I broke the match down in terms of which team was more aggressive, had more possession, or was better at controlling the state of play:

0-17′   Portland
17-27′ Even
27-35′ Portland
35-49′ Even
———–Halftime
45-47′ Portland
47-59′ Chicago
59-63′ Portland
63-72′ Chicago
73-75′ Even
75-81′ Chicago
82-84 Injury
85′      Portland
86-93′  Chicago
93′      Portland
93-95′  Even

Breaking it down even further, the match play looked like this:

0-45+4’ – All Portland, with some long spells of 50-50 even play.

Portland pretty much ran the table in the first quarter hour. About 17-18’ Chicago got a couple of half-chances, and it went back-and-forth from then until the Purce strikes, when Portland took control between 27-35′.

From then just back-and-forth, with pretty much nothing strong for either team to the end of the half.

Comment: This was the “dominance” I think a lot of people saw, and came away seeing. But in the second half the game state changed; Dames pushed Wright upfield and went to a 3-5-2, and suddenly it was Chicago applying most of the pressure.

45-90+5’ – Right after the restart Purce served to Charley in the 46th minute; great play but Charley’s header went wide, and then Chicago goes on a tear for 11 solid minutes – 48′ to 59′, putting in six major attacks including the Wright crossbar miss. Portland has absolutely nothing.

Finally a couple of turnovers and a foul gave Portland another couple of looks between 59-63′, but they weren’t particularly dangerous; the best was a strong run in the 60th minute, but Purce was dispossessed by a strong tackle by Short inside the Chicago penalty area without a shot.

Then it was mostly Chicago going forward from 63′ to 81′; Portland countered, but the only real threat that came out of it was Purce’s cute little shoss in the 65th. There’s also a short stretch of 50-50 ball in the 73rd to 75th minutes.

Then it’s all Chicago from 75’ to the Dagny injury at 82’, including a genuinely dangerous attack in the 79th minute that started when Sharples beat Ball and served into the box; it banged around and culminated in a Nagasato close-range shot that AMC blocked out to Colaprico; her long cross was cleared by Menges.

Dagny goes down from 82-84′, then Short fouled and gave Kling the free kick that resulted in the Everett strike at 85′.

From there, though, it’s all Chicago from 86-93′, including a massive Klingenberg block in the 87th with Eckerstrom sprawling, and then a huge Eck take where she came off her line and picked up the ball off Nagasato’s feet in the 90th.

Boureille picked up a loose ball in the 93rd minute, made a nice run and cross, but Everett fires 10 feet over the bar, and then it’s pretty much nothing from either team until the final whistle.

Conclusion: So Portland wins the first half, and doesn’t-lose the second, adding a nice against-the-run-of-play goal. That’s fine. That’s a good solid win. Dominance? Meh. Give me three goals and three points and you can keep your dominance.

xG

Here’s another way to look at this “dominant” question; the expected goals for this match. Here’s Portland’s shot chart:

Image from Chris Henderson on Twitter

The goals are obvious, the black dots are shots on-frame, the x’s are off-target shots. Okay? So the xG for this shot pattern is 2.6.

And here’s Chicago’s:

Image from Chris Henderson on Twitter

The xG from this shot pattern? 2.4

So the two teams were within a fraction of each other’s goal-scoring potential (other than the huge number of wasted long-distance Chicago misses…), but Portland finished and Chicago didn’t.

okay, then, gloomy gus. what did it all really mean?

What really jumped out from this match were two things, one “good”, one not-so-good.

The good thing is that my worries about the Thorns backup and reserve players were overheated. Some of the “left-behinders”, like Midge Purce and Simone Charley, are turning out to be in terrific form. Some are simply adequate to the demands of the World Cup interval. But all of them are filling in well enough to keep the team from collapsing in the manner that the 2015 edition did for Paul Riley.

The not-good thing, on the other hand, isn’t my worry but for Chicago’s fans and players. I thought that the Thorns would be hammered by losing so many internationals, but it’s looking increasingly like the teams with the problems are Chicago, Seattle, and Houston. But Chicago has looked particularly awful without Samantha Kerr, and did here last Sunday.

When you get 27 shots in the match but put only 5 on target and get no goals? Come away with 10 blocked shots, 10 corners to zero, 25 crosses to 8, 60% possession to 40%, 71% passing to 57%, hit the crossbar twice… and get bupkis? You’re doing a crap-ton of work and getting nothing out of it. That should worry you, Coach Dames. You’ve got some real issues there.

But, hey – not my problem!

player ratings and comments

Charley (78′ – +11/-6 : +6/-0 : +17/-6) What can I say that this doesn’t?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

I was beating the drum for her last preseason. I loved what she brought, and wanted to see more. I loved her this preseason; she was my “this-year’s-Farrelly”, the player I thought had the potential for breakout if given the chance.

And now here she is. I’ve played this tape of her run, that sick little cutback, and the cross on Purce’s second goal a dozen times because I love it so much I could marry it. It’s all there; pace, touch, vision, technical and tactical skill…the whole package.

This is just made of awesome. Purce was WotM, but I loved this match from Simone Charley all to pieces.

Everett (12′ – +2/-1) It was heartwarming to see her score in, what, her 13th professional minute of play? What would have even more awesome would have been a brace in 23 minutes – I wonder if any NWSL player has done that as a substitute? I’ll bet that record would have stood a loooooong time.

Other than that all she had to do was see out the win, and she did that. So just fine.

Purce (68′ – +14/-3 : +8/-2 : +22/-5) Obviously Woman of the Match. Her +22 is the highest positive rating, and her net +17 is the highest net PMR of any Thorn so far this season. Pure, concentrated brilliance.

Lussi (22′ – +0/-1) Surprisingly muted, almost no rating. Obviously came on at a time when 1) the Thorns were getting the worse of the match, and 2) her team was in a deeper block protecting a lead, but still not even much defensively.

Crnogorcevic (+6/-1 : +8/-2 : +14/-3) Now that the Midgey and Charley Show is a box office smash I’m reading a fair amount of criticism of the Swiss Miss. I think that’s misplaced, and here’s a good example of why I think that: her role in Purce’s 27th minute goal.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

This play starts with Wrecking Ball – who didn’t really have a terrific match, but we’ll talk about that in a bit – sliding in and dispossessing Arin Wright. The ball goes to Charley, who drops it to AMC and then turns to burn upfield.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

AMC, in turn, slots a slide-rule pass to the running Charley, whilst in the background was see the Midgenator lurking along Chicago’s backline.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Purce has drifted in, so when Charley plays her through all she has to do is run off Katie Naughton’s shoulder onto the gorgeous through ball. Notice, however, AMC coming up in support.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Another tiny fragment of Purce perfection; the little touch she takes with her right foot to poke the ball past Boyd and into space.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

And the finish, 1-nil Thorns. But see who’s following up the shot, like a good forward? Yep. AMC.

That’s a great team goal. Yes, Charley creates with the pass and Purce finishes, but the buildup needs Ball and AMC and Charley and Purce to make it work. They do, and it does, and that’s what AMC is bringing, game in and game out.

Coach Parsons has asked her to drop deeper and carry more of the defensive load now that Purce and Charley are tearing up the opponent’s 18-yard box. And, frankly, AMC was never who many people thought she was, dazzled by her glittering international form where she could feast on the Montenegros and Andorras rather than her club form which showed her to be more a provider than pure striker.

But she’s doing what she’s been asked to do well, very well, working for her team, and I wish more people would recognize that.

Brynjardottir (+14/-3 / +6/-6 : +20/-9) Dagny was an utter beast in the air, winning something like 17 of her 19 aerial challenges. Bossed the top of midfield on both sides of the ball. Perhaps not exactly Henry-esque…but damn close and good enough on the day. Well played.

Salem (43′ – +8/-3) On the way to her second consecutive fine outing, this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

It’s not three days later and we still have no word, but non-contact knee injuries are often collateral ligaments, and that could be season-ending. Hoping we hear better news.

Boureille (47′ – +1/-0 : +4/-1 : +5/-1) Always a little scary coming on as an emergency/injury sub, but Cee Bee was her usual steady, reliable self.

Seiler (+3/-1 : +3/-1 : +6/-2) Steady in a deeper role than against Sky Blue, Seiler was what she needed to be; solid and dependable. Her minuses are both for stray passes; no defensive issues.

Ball (+4/-5 : +0/-5 : +4/-10) A very disappointing match from Ball, especially after her performance in New Jersey. Roasted to a turn several times in the second half and nowhere near as effective going forward or tackling. Hopefully just an off day for Ball.

Reynolds (+5/-3 : +2/-3 : +7/-6) Had a very “Kat Reynolds” sort of afternoon; nothing horrible, nothing brilliant (though a lovely long pass in the 23rd minute that Purce couldn’t turn on), just patient and steady on defense. That’s what was needed, and that’s what she brought.

Menges (+7/-5 : +6/-2 : +13/-7) All over the pitch, tackling, intercepting, and distributing. Credit to EM for keeping her backline organized when the Thorns were under the cosh in the middle of the second half, and for helping keep the clean sheet. Damn fine work.

Klingenberg (+4/-1 : +5/-3 : +9/-4) Huge block in the 87th minute, and a cheeky little free kick to set up Everett, so well done on both ends. Cooled off a trifle from her red-hot first-four-games-form, but still playing better than she has in years. I’m still eating, Kling…

Eckerstrom (+0/-0 : +5/-0 : +5/-0) That’s so goalkeeping; for forty-five minutes you loll about scratching your butt and wondering what to make for dinner, and then suddenly you’re playing like an utter madwoman, making huge takes in the 49th, 58th, 72nd , and 90th minutes and boxing clear a dangerous cross in the 80th. And you keep your clean sheet and get your second win in a row. Nice.

Coach Parsons – Hard to argue with a shutout win.

I think this match says more about Mark Parsons’ long-term vision than his matchday management. Sure, his gameplan was fine and his subs effective. But it’s hard to tell how much of this was his own team’s efficiency and how much was Chicago being hopeless in front of goal without Kerr.

But what was clearly on display was his skill as an assessor of player quality and team building. Nowhere on the pitch was evidence of Portland players struggling the way Johnson and Vasconcelos and Wright and Colaprico were struggling. This is not just a group of good players; the Thorns are now, even without their international stars, a solid team, a good team.

That’s a hell of an accomplishment, coach. Let’s keep it up.

Now we wait through the ridiculous week-long “World Cup Break” before seeing two teams that worry me a bit; a North Carolina that is regaining some form and composure, and a Utah that has looked good this season until running into Washington last weekend – but who will enjoy a sweet bit of Sky Blue points-dispensing the week before coming here.

Can the Thorns dominate in Cary, and against Utah here?

I’ll take some domination with a side of points, yes, please.

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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2 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Let’s Score Some Goals!

  1. Purce was my WOTM too, but it was a close competition with Charley and also Menges. It’s great to see players stepping up like this.

    Minor note: In real time on the first goal I thought Purce had blown it after rounding the keeper when she took one extra little step before shooting. It looked like she had narrowed her angle too much by letting the ball run just a tad farther, and also that she had let a defender recover enough to make a goal-line block. Happily I was wrong on both counts: Purce got the shot angle just fine, thank you, probably BECAUSE she’d taken that extra time to aim her shot, and hit it soon enough that the defender could do nothing more than bash the ball into the goal. Well done.

    1. That was fun to watch just because both players put on such a skills-drill show. We haven’t had that kind of attacking flair since Heath got called up.

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