Thorns FC: Wait. What?

Every time I open the NWSL website it keeps insisting that the Thorns played the Utah Royals to a scoreless draw here last Friday.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

And every time I dimly remember something like that. But with Dog as my witness, I can’t for the life of me remember what the hell happened.

So between Monday and this morning I went back and replayed the stream and, sure enough, there it was.

Damn.

That sucker was just as drab the second time as it must have been the first. Twenty minutes after I shut down the laptop I had to look at my notes to remember the thing, it was such a snore.

The club and some of the coverage has tried to spin the sucker as a rock-like defensive gut check.

One problem with that is that Utah took only seven shots and put only four on goal. The Royals only managed half as many attacks that reached into the 18-yard box – 12, to Portland’s 23 – and less than three-quarters that pushed up into the final third; 35 to 48 for the Thorns. While both teams crafted enough chances to put up xG numbers over 1 – 1.69 for Portland, 1.1 for Utah – neither could score, and, frankly, neither came particularly close.

The other problem was this sort of stuff:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

The play starts with Makenzy Doniak driving up the left touchline against Elizabeth Ball. Wrecking Ball had a great evening, but this wasn’t her moment. Doniak beats her to the byline and crosses into the Portland penalty area.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

The cross doesn’t have a ton of pace on it, and Brynjarsdottir is close enough to lunge at it and knock it over the endline. She doesn’t, and the ball rolls through…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…to Katie Stengal, who’s snuck in behind Celeste Boureille’s ballwatching and nicks the ball just as Kat Reynolds arrives to try and tackle it away from her.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Reynolds’ tackle misses, but she’s between Stengal and the goal, so the Utah midfielder drops to A-Rod who’s lurking behind her without a red shirt in her pocket.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Luckily for Portland Rodriguez’s crappy night continued; she dinked a pointless little bloop that rolled close enough to Britt Eckerstrom for her to drop on it and end the danger.

The most frustrating part is that I expected this match to be epic. A real rock fight, with two of the top three teams going at each other mercilessly from whistle to whistle.

Instead the attacks were so undisciplined and unfocused that the defenses didn’t really need to be insanely good. The attackers just continually bollixed themselves.

Don’t believe me? Here’s the numbers from my tape review of last Friday evening.

“Attack fail” means that the attack broke down because of an unforced error; a bad pass or a poor shot. “Defensive win” means what you’d think – a tackle or press that resulted in a turnover and ended the attack. A “dangerous attack” mean that the attack resulted in a shot on goal, forced either a save or a block, or earned a corner or dangerous free kick.

Both teams were offensively sterile in the first half, Utah spectacularly so. Not only did the Royals manage less than 44% of Portland’s total attacks, their 82% self-created failure rate was the worst of the entire match.

Both teams stepped up their games in the second, Utah more – much more – than Portland. The Thorns managed only a single truly dangerous attack – Purce’s 64th minute shot that went barely wide left – in the entire period.

So it wasn’t just me and it wasn’t just appearances. Last Friday was an offensive race to the bottom and both teams won – and lost.

Lost, because the Washington Spirit couldn’t find a goal last weekend, either, so the evening offered the Thorns a chance to jump into a first-place tie on points with the league leaders.

And the Thorns just couldn’t pull together enough firepower to seize that chance.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook

player ratings and comments

Charley (65′ – +4/-6 : +4/-0 : +8/-6) Last Friday was the first time I saw Simone Charley really stymied since the departure of the internationals. She had been marked tightly in Cary the week before, but Utah absolutely blanketed her, and she was unable to run or pass her way out of that smothering coverage. Her touch was off, as well; four of her six fist-half minuses were for heavy touches that ran right to a white shirt.

Her issues included the first comprehensive failure of her partnership with Midge Purce; the two connected dangerously only once, just before Charley came off for Tyler Lussi. Hopefully this was just an off night for the showrunners of the Midgey and Charley Power Hour.

Lussi (25′ – +3/-0) Another lackluster outing for Lussi. What made it more painful was watching Mallory Weber in a Utah kit being dangerous for most of the second half.

After last Friday I’m not sure the Thorns Front Office made the wrong choice of which reserve forward to keep and which to release.

But I’m not sure they made the right one, either.

Purce (+7/-1 : +8/-2 : +15/-3) Couldn’t find a strike partner to replace Charley, and couldn’t get her shots on target when she did get a good look. Friday evening saw all of the things that Midge Purce does well; shifty runs, aggressive attacking, smart passing, and tough tackling, but she just couldn’t make the goal happen.

I’m beginning to get concerned that the rest of the league is beginning to “figure out” the Purce-Charley Connection and has devised tactics to shut them down. We’ll see over the next couple of weeks if that is, indeed, happening.

Crnogorcevic (84′ – +3/-7 : +5.-1 : +8/-8) Troubling. I’ve been an AMC supporter this season for the hard work she’s put in doing the hard graft supporting the frontline while defending the top of midfield. But at some point she has to justify her reputation as a forward, and her shooting has been appalling. Her conversion rate is only 10%.

AMC is still working hard, but at same time work has to produce results. She needs to begin to show some more quality if she’s going to justify what the Thorns have invested in her.

Everett (6′ – +1/-1) Worked hard in her limited time but with little to show for it. Not her fault; at that point the Royals were all over Portland, and Everett did what she could to slow the rush.

Boureille (+4/-7 : +2/-4 : +6/-11) A combination of poor passing and indifferent positioning made Friday not one of Cee Bee’s better nights. And then there was this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

A penalty in the 29th minute would have likely shipped all three points to Utah. Cee Bee was damn lucky that this foul began outside the 18-yard perimeter, because otherwise she’s a dead woman walking for the rest of that evening.

Brynjarsdottir (+3/-2 : +7/-2 : +10/-4) I’m really uncertain what to say about Dagny’s Friday. She worked hard and won numerous midfield challenges early in the match, but the effect was only to push the Utah attack out to the wings and leave Dagny stranded, chasing white shirts whenever she could reach them.

That made her ineffective until the second half, when Utah started pressing forward across the pitch and brought Royals back into Dagny’s wheelhouse, where she resumed dispossessing them.

So when she could do her job, she did it well. But she couldn’t do her job for a big chunk of the match.

Hubly (77′ – +11/-5 : +0/-0 : +11/-5) Perhaps the most lopsided PMR I’ve ever seen. Kelli Hubly tore up the Royals all over the pitch in the first half then completely disappeared in the second. Fatigue? Lapse of concentration? I have no idea, but she was a defensive force for a big chunk of the match, and then when she was pulled off the Royals began to hammer at the gates. I don’t think that was causation, but the correlation is a little worrying.

Worth noting that all her minuses are for long passes that went astray or crosses that went nowhere.

Pogarch (13′ – +1/-3) Better than her PMR suggests; unfortunate to come on just as the Thorns went under the cosh. Madison Pogarch actually did relatively well given the game state.

Ball (+11/-5 : +4/-1 : +15/-6) One of the few Portland players – and perhaps the only defender – who completed her long passes consistently. Not perfect; four of her five first half minuses are for mishit passes, but better than many of her teammates. Her solid defending was critical on a night when a lot of attacks came down the flanks.

Reynolds (+1/-1 : +1/-1 : +2/-2) Didn’t screw up. didn’t do anything terrific, either. Worked hard but not much to show for it. I’m not sure what else to say, other than helped to keep the clean sheet, and perhaps that’s enough.

Seiler (+9/-3 : +6/-2 : +15/-5) Terrific work from Gabby Seiler; oddly, perhaps the best I’ve seen from her, and in the middle of one of the most “meh” Thorns matches of the season to date.

Lots of intelligent aggression, excellent passing, and tough defending. I’m giving her my Woman of the Match because, although Kling posted a higher positive PMR, Seiler is in her first season as a professional. Very well done.

Klingenberg (+10/-4 : +7/-6 : +17/-10) Almost all over her minuses – 8 of 10 – are for mishit passes or crosses. A very mixed bag for Kling; lots of good work defending and passing mixed in with some missed tackles and turnovers. Bottom line is that she and her fellow defenders kept a clean sheet, and that’s always a good thing. But not on the same high she was early in the season, and I wonder if that’s not the sort of fatigue that comes with getting your 31-year-old legs hammered day after day?

Still playing well enough to keep me respectful, if not quite the word-eating pace of the first four games.

Eckerstrom (+0/-0 : +2/-0 : +2/-0) Untroubled throughout the match, and did what she needed to when she had to. Perfectly decent outing, although getting the fourth highest rating from InStat (behind Barnhart, Seiler, and Utah’s defender Gabby Vincent – see the pattern there..?) just emphasizes how much the Index system overrates and the PMR system underates goalkeepers.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons – Meh.

I know I’ve said this before, but when the players can’t figure out how to unlock an opponent, or stop the enemy’s attack, it’s the coach’s job to figure out how to make his team effective. For me a coach should never consider a home draw acceptable, and especially one as meek as this one was.

The Thorns still haven’t regained 70% passing, either, which is largely due to the brutal long passing that is obviously a design, not happenstance.

This is on the coaching staff, and as the boss, it’s on Coach Parsons.

I’m not arguing for a #ParsonsOut two-stick. But after an underwhelming display in Cary and this sterile slog I think the coach needs to sit down and do some hard thinking of how he’s going to take the team to Houston and…

Image by Houston Dynamo/Dash

…kick some furry orange tail all over the goddamn place.

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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