Thorns FC: Ridet Caesar

Victor Hugo probably invented the phrase because he wanted to make a point about the Battle of Waterloo in Les Miserables, but it still makes a great Latin tag:

Ridet Caesar, Pompeius flebit.

“Caesar laughs, Pompey weeps.”

Last Wednesday night Caesar laughed, Pompey wept, and I laughed, too; laughed both from the pure joy of victory as well as the ridiculous lopsidedness of hanging four goals on the Houston Dash in less than half an hour.

Laughed with delight because finally I was seeing with my own eyes the Thorns doing the very thing I directed your eyes to watch the Damned Courage and Lynn Williams doing only ten days ago.

This:

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That’s just poetry on a field of plastic grass, Six players combining in one perfect moment; Emily Menges up to Lindsey Horan. One touch wide to Meghan Klingenberg. Kling up the touchline to Tobin Heath.

Heath, being Heath, throws in a cute little cut inside…but then stonks a gorgeous slide-rule pass to a streaking Midge Purce.

Purce draws Jane Campbell into one of the several brutal goalkeeping errors she made that game. Purce teases, holding the ball, dribbling left, the danger of her shot sirening Campbell into stranding herself far off her line.

Even more brutally, Amber Brooks and Allysha Chapman decide their roles are to be those cement lion statues people put in front of their driveways, retreating to stand uselessly in front of their own goal as Hayley Raso comes chugging up from midfield, Auntie Entity only with red hair ribbons instead of a chainmail bustier.

Then it’s that easy; Purce crosses, Raso finishes, and Houston is deader than a mackerel in the moonlight.

Goddamn it, that play is so beautiful that if it had red hair and twenty bucks I’d marry it.

With the caveat the Houston really stunk up the joint…

(And while we’re on the subject of “Wow, Houston really sucked!” I don’t recall the last time I saw a double sub before the half hour, but, hey, you’ve just conceded four in twenty-odd minutes, so you gotta do SOMEthing or just roll over and die.

It was unfortunate for the Dash that Kealia Ohai brought nothing – more than Kyah Simon, but Simon was flat-out awful – and Cece Kizer came on for Chris Nairn and not Kristie Mewis, who played the full ninety and InStat rated third-worst player on the pitch.)

…this was a half hour of utter brilliance and a whole match full of goodness from Portland. Remember back in June when everybody but me seemed to think the Thorns had dominated the Chicago Red Stars?

Well, even Eeyore here knows a back-alley beatdown when he sees it.

THIS was domination.

Remember me bitching last time about “dink-dink-boot”? How the Thorns were playing a metric ton of crap dump passes that just turned the ball over?

So, okay, here’s the Thorns in the opening minutes of the second half. Up four-nil, mind you, so if they’d simply passed the ball around their backfield it’d have been understandable.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Kling has taken a throw-in and squares the ball into to Horan, who one-touches it up to Heath.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Heath threads the ball upfield to Purce…but Purce has Prisock on her back and can’t turn. Problem?

No problem, because Heath is running the touchline and is open for the simple square pass. You’ll note that Horan is running to space inside, too, so Purce has a second option and Prisock can’t cover both.

And look upfield. Who’s there..?

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Oh, captain, my captain! Yep, it’s Sinc, and Heath zings a perfectly Tobinesque pass right up to her.

But that’s not all; now there’s three Thorns running into space, because Purce has turned, as well, and despite having five players around the ball Houston has too many options to defend.

This play went all the way back down and then up the pitch; Sinc dropped to Kling, who started a switch that went through Menges to Ball, who played 1-2 with Seiler before finding Raso running at goal. Raso, unfortunately, took a heavy touch and lost possession, but the entire sequence held the ball for over half a minute and kept Houston helpless during that time.

Portland did this all game. Here’s one from my notes;

The upside-down “T” is an A.D. Franch throw out to Horan. The ball then is passed all the way up to Heath along the left flank. She gets stripped, but Kling recovers and the passing continues all the way back to Menges; her long boot goes over the far byline for a Campbell goal kick. The entire sequence involves ten passes and chews almost a minute off the clock.

Campbell’s goal kick? Goes right to Menges in five seconds.

That’s domination, goddamn it.

Look at the xG charts. First, Portland.

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Now Houston.

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

The Portland chart drives home the point that Campbell, for all that she made some real howlers, is still a fine keeper and proved that by making some terrific saves as well. Five shots on frame from within the eighteen-yard box, two from within the six, including that sweet Horan bike that would have been hands-down Goal of the Year had Campbell not gotten a hand to it and rattled it off her crossbar.

Her defenders failed her repeatedly, but Campbell wasn’t the problem.

A lot of individual Thorns had terrific games, and I’ll get to them in the player comments and ratings, but this was a terrific team effort from Portland. For the match, and, particularly, in the first half hour, when the Thorns looked as good as I’ve ever seen them; owned the flanks, passed to feet, and moved to space.

For the first time this season Kling and Heath worked the sort of partnership they had going last season – poor Haley Hanson was just steamrollered. Between them Purce and Raso pretty much ate Brooksie’s lunch and toyed with Prisock.

The midfield was terrific; Gabby Seiler was everywhere, buzzing around tackling-for-gain and disrupting what little attack Houston could manage. Horan was back to Greatness, and Christine Sinclair was doing all her usual heavy lifting.

The backline was solid, which was all they needed given Houston’s attacking woes.

So for me this wasn’t about four goals. I know the Thorns can score goals; they’d scored 26 this season before last Wednesday, second in the league behind the Damned Courage.

No, this was about ball control; passing, movement, communication. This was about match control; keeping the boot on Houston’s neck, never allowing them into the game. This was about being what a truly good team truly is; ruthless, brutal, efficient, and, yes – dominant.

Looks like the team took Parsons’ post-Utah admonition to heart and “was better”.

Nice to see, fun to watch, and good to sock three well-deserved points in the bank.

I know just how you feel, Kling.

Image by Portland Thorns on Facebook

Short passes

Passing the Passing Test? 81.5%. Sweet.

Plus…

PortlandHouston
507Total Passes401
81.5%Passing Accuracy70.8%
56.3%Possession43.7%

Like I said: domination.

How Good Are The Thorns? – The xG Story. The last two xG/goals matrices.

Image by Chris Henderson of Twitter

No real change; Portland gains a trifle, and Houston gets hammered (I’m sure you’re shocked). This was before Tacoma’s 4-nil shellacking from Chicago, so I’m betting those two swap places by Monday.

Player Ratings and Comments

Purce (62′ – +13/-5 : +3/-1 : +16/-4) Redemption from a sterile night in Salt Lake City, Purce had everything in the first half; pace, creativity, vision, patience…two assists, and should have had a goal in the 58th minute that was waived off for a purported handball.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

That’s not a handball. The goal should have counted.

This, on the other hand…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Notice where the white sock is? That’s Brooks getting the ball cleanly, outside the edge of the penalty area. The contact..?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…happens outside the stripe, too.

Sorry, that wasn’t a penalty. Let’s just call it “the referee giveth and the referee taketh away”, then?

Purce was running out of gas in the second half, so the substitution was warranted. But the sub exposes the same issues we’re been talking about here for some time; the lack of depth in the Thorns’ strikers, which brings us to…

Foord (28′ – +3/-2) Her 67th minute miss drove home the ugly fact that Caitlin Foord is still struggling to score. If she were a winger or a midfielder that’d be just a nuisance. Since she’s a forward that’s a damn deadly problem. Clearly the team still sees her as an option, but the contrast between her and Tyler Lussi couldn’t have been greater than in this match, where they two forwards came on at the same time and Lussi tore up the pitch while Foord sort of bumbled around doing pretty much nothing in particular.

The problem being, of course, that after Purce and Raso there’s only Lussi, Crnogorcevic, and Foord, and two of those three haven’t been really worth a lick this season as strikers, and I’m not sure how that changes before next season. Right now Lussi is the only option off the bench, and that’s worrisome.

Raso (62′ – +6/-2 : +1/-3 : +7/-5) It seems freakish to say that the Thorns player with the brace wasn’t the Woman of the Match, but…other than bagging a couple of tap-ins Raso didn’t actually do that much of note, and she was fading even more badly than Purce was in the second half. Not awful, not even bad, actually sorta good…but just “sorta”, on an evening when her teammates were utterly lit. Terrific first half hour, decent second half hour, and that’s all she needed to do, so that’s fine.

Lussi (28′ – +8/-0) Has become enough of a super-sub to justify a trial as a starter, but to do that you have to push Purce and Raso out of the way, and right now that’s hard to see. But if Raso doesn’t return to form soon…

Terrific work on both sides of the ball, although the scorer was justified on the fifth goal; her shot was off-target, and it was Campbell’s arm that put the ball in the net. Tough luck, because Lussi deserved more for her effort.

Heath (+10/-2 : +10/-4 : +20/-6) Did you notice the part where I said “two assists” in the Purce comment? That’s because although the scorer gave Heath the credit on the 12th minute goal it was Purce flying in to break up the Houston defense that created the easy finish for Raso.

But that’s fine, because Heath did more than enough creating to have a legitimate shot at WotM. Nice to see her doing all the regular Tobin things – luckily we’re playing Sky Blue next, because she’ll be gone for the August 3rd match, dammit.

Sinclair (+5/-1 : +6/-2 : +11/-3) Jane Campbell doesn’t often get beat by penalty takers, but the Greatest of All Time is no ordinary penalty taker. Other than the goal, well…this is what Sinc is now; a relentless toiler in the vinyards of midfield. She defends, she distributes, she goes forward when she sees an opening. She is still the heart of the Thorns, but now instead of the open-carried-on-the-outside-of-the-chest/Sacred-Heart-of-Jesus sort of heart, she’s the quiet and secret heart, beating relentlessly under the skin of the team.

Did I mention lately how much I love Sinc?

Yeah, well.

Horan (+12/-4 : +15/-5 : +25/-9) Woman of the Match. (InStat agrees; highest Index of all players: for what it’s worth, the next four are, in descending order; Heath-Seiler-Purce-Klingenberg).

Deadly in the air, efficient on the ground, and a constant danger in front of goal – I wish to hell that 32nd minute bicycle had gone in – and all the Great Horan attributes. Hell of a fine game from the Great One.

Seiler (68′ – +12/-1 : +4/-0 : +16/-1) La Pericola – “The Danger” – has become a ball-winning monster of the Thorns midfield. Seven of her pluses are tackles-for-gain, while two more are for hawking loose balls. I really want to see her alongside Horan regularly, because right now Seiler is playing like Henry at her best, and I’m curious to see if that’s a feature or a bug. Wednesday night it was a feature, though, and one of the headline acts. Terrific work.

Andressinha (22′ – +2/-1) I thought this was an odd substitution. Up by four, why put an attacking midfielder in for Seiler, who’s been scorching it as the 6? You’ve got Brynjarsdottir on the bench, why not her, instead?

As it was, the Brazilian did very little, not because she wasn’t working hard, or playing well, but simply because the game state didn’t really benefit from her skillset. I’d make a bad joke about being tired out from the wedding night here, except I’m genuinely baffled at why a brasiliera instead of an ice matron? Coach Parsons, a little help here?

Ball (+7/-5 : +4/-1 : +11/-6) Freed from the menace of Christen Press, Liz Ball had room to go forward, and used it to good effect. Sturdy in defense, too – her 57th minute tackle to strip Ohai was a piece of work. Good match from Ball; not shocking, but her best work in a while.

Sonnett (+8/-0 : +3/-2 : +11/-2) Generally fine work; lots of room to push up in the first half, but pinned back more in the second and made one of her odd rookie mistakes in the 55th minute when she squared a pass to Houston that fortunately for her the Dash made a mess of. Much better, already looking more comfortable than last week.

Menges (+2/-2 : +4/-4 : +6/-6) Still not the same Great Wall Emily, and I’m not sure why. Not awful, but little un-Menges like goofs. Caught ballwatching on a long pass to Kizer in the 46th minute. Passing straight to Mewis in the 52nd. Odd stuff like that. I wish I knew what was wrong, but she’s still not 100%, and with some badass opponents coming up in August we’re going to need 150%.

Klingenberg (+7/-3 : +3/-3 : +10/-6) As noted above, should have had an assist in the 58th minute, and otherwise did good work both providing service and defending. Could have gotten badly smoked in the 56th minute when Ohai’s cross sailed over her, but Huerta made hash of the shot and Franch got big to knock away.

Franch (+2/-1 : +2/-0 : +4/-1) Good take in the 20th minute, and two strong saves in the 48th and 56th minutes; otherwise not really tested.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Coach Parsons – Hard to fault a gaffer whose team kicks their opponents’ asses 4-nil, and so the coach pretty much gets nothing but big props from me for this one. The Andressinha sub bugs me, but that’s ridiculous micro-level nitpicking.

Now the Thorns have ten days off, and Sky Blue as a reward for their laziness.

But…after that, the deluge; after Sky Blue Tacoma away, then the Damned Courage, Washington, and Chicago at home, all in the month of August. In September a trip to Utah, the Damned Courage and Houston here, then away to Tacoma, and finally Washington here on the last day of the regular season.

Six points separate the top five; eight the top six. There’s just no room for error anymore.

Since we started with one, I’ll finish with another Latin tag, this one for Coach Parsons:

“…militibus cupidinem pugnandi convenire, duces providendo, consultando, cunctatione saepius quam temeritate prodesse.

“Eagerness for battle becomes the soldiers, but generals serve the cause by forethought, by counsel, by thoughtfulness more oftener than by haste. “

~ Tacitus

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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4 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Ridet Caesar

  1. Great column again John. After the game I was trying to figure out who was the WOTM and like you, even though Raso had a brace, she was not at the top of my list. I voted for her for goal of the week because it was perfect team goal. But for WOTM so many other choices. If Gabby Seiler continues to play like this we can definitely start to call her little Henry. Amandine made it look easy, whereas you can really see Gabby is going all out 110%. Like Raso, her hustle is really impressive and fun to watch.
    Yes, Foord is in a bit of a post WWC funk. She was better before the break and I expect her to snap out of it soon. I think she broke into professional ball as a winger or fullback, so she is not like Purse, Raso or Lussi. What she brings to the attack is that she is strong on the ball and unlike most forwards will give it up to another player with a better shot at the goal. AMC is similar in that she doesn’t have that selfish DNA that a forward really needs. Not that our other forwards are selfish because I really like the Thorn’s emphasis on quality shots, this is an efficient group.

    1. I wish I was more sure about Foord. I haven’t really seen what I thought I’d see from her, but I’m not sure why. It could be that she’s just “blocked”, the way Raso was two years ago until she finally scored and broke her duck. I hope she can figure it out, because I know a lot of the team’s hopes were loaded on her.

      1. Re Foord:
        Her subpar play isn’t a club-vs-country thing either, as apparently it has become for Alex Morgan, since Foord does well in the W-League. Is it that the level of defense is just that bit higher in NWSL? that she hasn’t clicked as well with her teammates? that she’s in a foreign country/culture and it’s affecting her play?

        I’m sure she, and everyone else on the team and in the stands, would like the answer. I too am still hoping she finds her scoring boots, and soon.

        1. What I can’t figure out is what she’s “doing wrong”; she works hard, she gets herself into dangerous positions, she gets open for feeds…but then things just go sideways. She shanks her shot, or dithers too long and gets tackled for loss, or just can’t seem to figure out how to turn on the ball and get an attempt on frame.

          Here’s the thing; going back to February 2018, when Foord was signed here’s what I wrote:

          “Foord doesn’t seem to be a big scoring threat; in 46 matches over three seasons with Sky Blue she took a total of 16 shots and put 5 on target without scoring. Her form in the W-League is better (20 goals over a little over 100 matches) so she’s not entirely without striking skills, but her primary tools are a winger’s; very high workrate, pacey on and off the ball, a skillful dribbler, and an accurate passer.”

          (from https://www.rivetingpdx.com/2019/01/16/thorns-fc-lets-talk-about-forwards/)

          So maybe what we’re seeing isn’t a bug but a feature. Maybe trying to play Foord as a central striker isn’t playing to her strengths. Maybe her W-League stats are an artifact of the sorts of crap defending we saw there, and she’d be better off playing outside right to Heath’s outside left. Maybe trying to shoehorn her into the top of the 18 just frustrates her and plays against her skillset.

          We’ll have to see.

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