Thorns FC: Didn’t

Thorns should’ve won. Didn’t.

~ Chris Henderson

Dunno about you, but I’m pretty chapped that Sky Blue FC ran out of Providence Park last Saturday with a point. The only question left seems to be why the rascals managed to take on one of the top two teams in the league and hold them to a 1-1 draw.

If you looked at the stats they were were brutally one-sided. Henderson was right; Portland should have won.

Here’s the Thorns versus SBFC xG charts.

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Here’s the InStat “key passes” chart:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Here’s the stats matrix from Opta:

PORMATCH STATISTICSNJ
19Shots8
3Shots On Goal2
5Shots Blocked1
4Corners4
19Crosses16
5Offsides3
7Fouls14
0Yellow Cards0
0Red Cards1
421Total Passes372
71.0%Passing Accuracy66.1%
52.8%Possession47.2%
64Duels Won64
9Tackles Won18
1Saves2
17Clearances37

Christ, that’s brutal. If you’d looked purely at the stats lines rather than the match report, you’d have been shocked that the Thorns hadn’t run as wild over the current holders of the wooden spoon as they had over Houston the previous weekend.

So what DID happen?

My compa Richard Hamje called this the perfect trap game in our podcast the other night, but I think the Thorns came out knowing they couldn’t overlook the wretched refuse of the teeming Earth that is Sky Blue.

Instead I think three separate issues collided into one big ol’ mess for the Thorns.

First…

Portland failed to convert their early chances.

By my records Thorns had eleven promising opportunities in the first half-hour and change (Sky Blue had eight during this time, though, which we’ll discuss in a bit). These included at least six terrific chances that produced a shot, including:

  • 1′ – Purce heads barely wide from a good Klingenberg cross
  • 8′ – Purce beats Lewandoswki but bangs her shot off the post with Sheridan beaten.
  • 17′ – Sinclair squares for Raso, whose shot is right at Sheridan.
  • 25′ – Foord shoots way over the crossbar.
  • 26′ – Ball runs at goal and delivers a great feed to Raso, who shoots wide left.
  • 34′ – Sinclair lobs up to Purce, who chips over the crossbar.
  • And then, at 38′, Ball feeds Raso, who is fouled inside the 18-yard box…

Okay, wait. Let’s stop there, because I want to go back and talk about those first thirty-four-odd minutes.

All those looks and what happens?

A post, three shots wide, one over, and a save.

Ugh. Over the full match the Thorns took nineteen shots total but put only three on goal, put up an xG of 3.6 but got only one goal.

That’s epic futility.

The Thorns forwards were the worst of the offenders. They took 16 of the 19 shots; Purce had 5, Raso 4, Lussi 3, Charley and Foord both had 2.

Of that they put a whopping total of 2 on frame; Charley had one, and Raso had the other.

The Thorns came out firing. They weren’t overlooking their opponent, but they couldn’t get the job done. This wasn’t Sky Blue being good in the back – they were good, but largely in midfield and up front – but Portland getting good looks and not converting them into goals

As the match wore on and the Thorns just couldn’t put a nail in Sky Blue I muttered to my Bride, “Goddamn it, we’re letting these tomato cans hang around waaaaay too long, and we’re probably gonna regret it.”

I hate being right like that.

But.

The Thorns finishing problems were compounded because there was a whole ‘nother problem on the field that evening, and his name was Mark Allatin.

So, second…

The center referee made a dog’s breakfast of this match.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

My fundamental attitude towards soccer officials is that they’re like weather, or the state of the pitch. They are what they are, and it’s pointless to blame or snivel about them. You deal with the match they give you, and move on.

But.

Allatin imposed himself on the match, in a way that affected the Thorns directly, and not in a good way. Probably not in the way you think he did, or the way I thought he did when I was watching the game, but still in a way that affected the final score, which is the thing officials are never supposed to do.

Initially I thought that Allatin had let too much rough play go, and surely the crowd at Providence Park thought so. But reviewing tackle after tackle watching the stream, I realized I was wrong. The Jersey Girls weren’t exceptionally rough, and on the bulk of their encounters with a Thorn Allatin got the calls right.

But he either missed, or called wrong, a handful of critical early encounters between Midge Purce and Gina Lewandoswki.

That began early, in the third or fourth minute, when Purce appeared to get pushed down going for a looping cross that Kailen Sheridan handled easily. The crowd saw a push on Purce, and got upset that it wasn’t called.

But I think Allatin got that one right. Look at the first part of the replay below. There’s contact, but it’s hard to be sure that Purce isn’t selling it, and Sheridan takes the ball easily. I don’t think there’s anything there

But then, in the 31st minute, Purce’s run into the box is ended by a pretty obvious Lewandowski shove.

Here they are:

Images by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Like I said; I don’t see enough of the first collision to make a call. It could be a foul. But it could also be an attacker going to ground quickly on a marginal push.

The second? That’s a penalty. From the motions of the players it’s obvious that Lewandowski shoves Purce down with her right hand. Even if Purce embellishes the contact…that’s got to be a spot kick.

But the two encounters togther, and the no-calls, have produced a lot of Portland fan comments that 1) Sky Blue was a brute squad, and 2) the center referee was biased against Portland.

I can tell you this for sure; I watched this damn game a ton, and Sky Blue was not thugging it up. There were some individual bad fouls (Pierre-Louis, in particular, was out of control late in the match) but no systematic, Vlatkoesque attempt to thug the Thorns out of the match.

And Allatin was not biased; his calls were generally even so long as he was calling just the ordinary fouls.

But…his big problem is that 1) he was bad in the way indecisive referees are bad, and 2) he was wrong on a small number of critical calls.

A good official knows what to look for to determine if a tackle was foul, and, if so, to what degree. Their standards are clear. They establish quickly what those standards will be, and the players can adjust their play to the referee’s standards.

Allatin’s did not. He didn’t whistle the early push/collision/whatever-it-was on Purce and I think because he got booed for it he decided that he wasn’t “going to be influenced by the crowd”.

Since he didn’t have an objective standard for fouls in the area and was fussing about the crowd reaction to the early non-call he missed – or, worse chose not to call – the 31st minute foul that really was a penalty.

So now he’s got the crowd furious and the teams confused and frustrated and then he gave a crap makeup penalty call on the 38th minute Raso collision that wasn’t really a clear penalty, or even much of a close call for one.

And, my guess is, after that Allatin was so gitched up – the crowd was roaring, the Thorns were furious (and he probably got so much crap from Sky Blue about the makeup penalty call) – that he stopped making serious calls at all on serious fouls.

He just let’ em play. And they – and especially Sky Blue, who had good reason to disrupt the Thorns and not let them dictate the flow of the match – did just that. And then, of course, Pierre-Louise came on and went wild.

That’s what always happens when an official has no real clear, consistent standards for violent conduct. Since everything is up-in-the-air, nobody knows what he’s going to call or let go, every player has to decide what’s card-worthy and what’s not …it ends up with stuff like this – the foul on Purce in the 85th minute…

Images by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…a dangerous high-speed tackle from behind – that doesn’t even get whistled.

Does Imani Dorsey get ball? Sure. Does she then hack down Purce from behind? Also sure. That’s either a yellow and a PK – if she doesn’t get the ball – or a straight red if she does.

And so, much as I hate whingeing about officiating, I think the Thorns had a point.

Allatin messed up this match, and his issues hurt the Thorns worse than Sky Blue simply because the Jersey Girls were fine with a draw and could get more benefit from physical play than Portland could.

Portland needed to win, Portland was having trouble putting together strings of passes in attack under Sky Blue’s press, and Allatin’s decisions – or lack of same – on a small handful of critical plays were therefore able to hurt them badly.

But the thing to remember is that, along with the other two problems, third and finally…

Sky Blue played very well, and Portland didn’t – at least not where it counted.

Sky Blue was terrific in midfield, pressing the Thorns relentlessly and breaking up their attack. The Thorns, on the other hand, were all in pieces; Sinclair was having an off night, Seiler was running around like a madwoman trying to cut people off so she couldn’t do much attacking, and Brynjarsdottir wasn’t able to move or pass around her opponents. As much as the Thorns suffered from can’t-shoot-on-frame-itis they were also hampered by the Jerseyites playing tough forechecking defense and breaking up a lot of attacks early.

And up front Sky Blue was moving the ball around like a boss. Here they are in the 58th minute. Caprice Dydasco has the ball along the west touchline, and squares a tidy pass to Sarah Killion arriving from midfield.

Look at all the space around Killion. Where’s her marker? Where’s the Thorns midfielders?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Free to pick her target, Killion plays a neat ball forward to a running Liz Eddy, who has toasted Meghan Klingenberg. Kling doesn’t have the pace to recover and Eddy takes the ball all the way to the byline.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Eddy is spoiled for choice, because the Thorns still aren’t pressing anyone anywhere. She’s got Dydasco for the drop, and two players, including Skroski, running into the penalty area in front of her.

Why isn’t someone in a red kit closing down on Eddy? Why is Kling running inside to where Menges is already cutting off the square pass? I have no idea, but if their intent is to block off the long cross…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…it’s a complete fail, because Eddy slots a ball that goes all the way through and out the other side of Portland’s penalty area! Luckily for Portland Lewandowski couldn’t get a touch on the ball and Raso was at the far end, and not Dorsey.

Why am I showing you this?

Because this was a dress rehearsal for the 69th minute, when Eddy does the exact same fucking thing

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…but Dorsey WAS there and hit a seeing-eye shot that nicked the road point.

Letting your opponent in behind you and bash crosses through your penalty area once may be happenstance.

Twice? That’s a mistake.

There’s everything in that play I’d rather have seen from Portland that night; patience, buildup, bodies inside the box moving to space…dammit, that’s good soccer.

Meanwhile, what was Portland doing? Stuff like this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Compounding the decent defending from their opponents, Portland’s attack suffered from some iffy choices and some poor decisions.

This isn’t a good decision by Raso and the attack dies in the corner; Purce is blanketed and can’t connect with Foord, who doesn’t find space. Portland did a lot of that Saturday; hucking pointless passes to players blanketed by defenders, or dribbling away into the corners (and, yes, I’m looking at you, Purce…). Poking around the 18 and failing to find a shot. Remember; nineteen shots, three on frame.

So all the statistical dominance came to nothing, because wooden spoon be damned, Sky Blue played over the heads last Saturday, Portland didn’t – and couldn’t finish when they did – Allatin was a hot mess on several big plays, and between the three of them the two teams split the points.

Dammit, that’s frustrating.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Player Ratings and Comments

Purce (88′ – +10/-4 : +2/-3 : +12/-7) I’m very divided on Midge Purce’s night against SBFC. On the one had, no other player was as badly impacted by Allatin’s problems. On the other, when she DID get an open chance she bottled it more often than not. Three of her five shots were off-target, the other two were blocked. Purce was perhaps the least effective of the Thorns forwards at working with her teammates; she seemed to dribble into trouble because she didn’t look for a pass. Not really a great outing.

Unsurprisingly she was beat by the end of the match, both from fatigue and from taking a pounding. While Sky Blue wasn’t brutal in general, Purce was the one that took most of their force. Hopefully she’s not badly injured from Dorsey’s hack.

Charley (2′ – +3/-0) Simone Charley had what may well have been the most exciting seven minutes of soccer I’ve ever seen; she had two terrific chances in that time, terrific as in “as close as anyone else on her team had had in the preceding 88 minutes”.

The first an 89th minute header that Jane Campbell had to practically stand on her head to save, and then again in the 95th minute when she spanked a nasty shot that Campbell had to get down quickly to stop. That’s a hell of a seven minutes by anyone’s standards, but for a player who may have seen the pitch for the last time this season? That’s made of awesome.

Raso (+11/-4 : +8/-7 : +20/-11) Like Purce, a Thorns forward who had a night of extremes. Earned the penalty, did lots of great attacking and was all over the Sky Blue backline being dangerous all evening…but also made some very poor decisions that cost her and the team, things like the 58th minute solo run that ended up in a wasted shot well wide of the goal.

Also faded badly in the second half. I think Dorsey was her mark, too, meaning that she was culpable at least in part on conceding the equalizer.

Foord (65′ – +4/-5 : +4/-3 : +8/-8) For Raso and Purce the Sky Blue match was a matter of extremes; topgallant delight matched with keelson despair. Foord. on the other hand, sort of puttered around doing a little good here and making a little error there.

She was utterly sterile in front of goal which is perhaps the worst judgement you can make about a striker. I’m not sure at this point what to do with her. If she’s going to start she needs to start scoring. If not…well, why is she here? She’s a lot of contract to sit on the bench, but at this point I’d start Lussi over her.

Lussi (25′ – +1/-2) And speaking of Lussi…not really her night. No worse than Foord, overall, but not the supersub she needed to be at that point. Another Thorn that had a not-really-awful-yet-really not-good-enough sort of match.

Sinclair (+5/-5 : +3/-3 : +8/-8) A painfully pedestrian performance from the captain, and certainly part of the problem that Portland had over the match. Sinc’s passing eye was largely out – her passing earned her 6 “pluses” and 7 “minuses”. Converted the penalty nicely, but other than that not really at the top of her game.

Brynjarsdottir (+5/-1 : +5/-1 : +10/-2) The problem in the Thorns midfield when Horan is missing and Sinclair is out of sorts is that it leaves Seiler, who is busy locking down the back door, and either Dagny – who is a solid defender but hasn’t really found her passing touch yet – or Andressinha – who is an excellent playmaker and distributor but lacks the Icelandic steel tracking back. The question then is always whether the opponent (or game state) needs more defense or more attack.

Coach Parsons seems to have decided to go with more defense, but when his forwards were misfiring and Sinclair was out of sorts that meant that there was nobody else to take over the control of the midfield and run the attack. Normally against Sky Blue that wouldn’t have been a problem. But give up a soft goal late have problems scoring and it is, and so it was.

Seiler (+8/-1 : +5/-1 : +13/-2) A very solid might from Gabby Seiler, who has all but locked up the “Sinead Farelly Best Unexpected Star Player” Award for 2019. Tough as nails, this gal, and did her best; not her fault the backline couldn’t keep Eddy under control.

Ball (84′ – +11/-5 : +3/-5 : +14/-10) My pick for Woman of the Match – InStat agrees, rating her the top Thorn on the pitch. Tough in defense, and clever passing forward. Did good work shutting Paige Monaghan down and controlling the right touchline.

Andressina (6′ – no rating)

Reynolds (+2/-2 : +1/-2 : +3/-4) A generally competent sort of evening from Kat Reynolds, stayed home and helped lock down the back for 88-some minutes, but also has to take some responsibility for the inability to deal with the Eddy crosses that eventually produced the goal.

Menges (+5/-2 : +8/-1 : +13/-3) Did good work roaming forward and cutting out Sky Blue attacks, as well as defending – with the same caveat as for Reynolds. But both centerbacks had to deal with a Sky Blue that was able to push up nearly without forechecking pressure, so it’s hard to be too hard on the backline for the concession.

Klingenberg (+2/-5 : +6/-3 : +8/-8) Forward passing was her strength, losing track of Eddy her weakness; the result was that for the first time this season Klingenberg had a match where her net PMR wasn’t positive. That’s frustrating, because overall on the match Kling was solid, but Eddy’s runs were a huge problem and Klingenberg has to take responsibility for those.

Eckerstrom (+0/-1 : +1.-1 : +1/-2) It looked like she was screened on the concession, but also beaten by Lewandowski in the 67th. Made a good save off Monaghan in the 92nd minute, and otherwise not seriously tested. Kind of a wash for Eckerstrom, in what may have been her final start of 2019.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Coach Parsons – Much as it was hard not to give the coach credit for stomping Houston last week it’s hard not to lay some of the responsibility for the home draw to the league’s worst team on him this past weekend.

The coach wasn’t responsible for Purce and Raso not finishing their chances, or for the Thorns midfield not controlling their opponents, or the defense letting Eddy get in behind them and boot crosses through their penalty area.

But he also saw that his team was being outplayed, that the attacks were crude and impatient, that the visitors press was working and his own team was sagging back and letting Sky Blue have far too much time and space…and didn’t figure out how to solve those problems.

Call this one a draw for the gaffer, as well, then.

Well, it’s too late now to do anything but regret the lost opportunity; on Wednesday the Thorns have to travel to Tacoma and beat the Reign, and then return to Portland for the Damned Courage on Sunday.

Between those two it’s going to be five days of bloody war, and the survivors are likely to be the last two standing come October.

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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3 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Didn’t

  1. Great analysis. I can always feel it when the Thorns are having an off night. Its like a train coming at you that you cant seem to stop. Usually starting with missed calls and missed opportunities they dont seem to be able to recover from as the game wears on. In the end every player tries to be a hero, rather than showing patience in the attack needed to break down an opponent. If history is any indication, we will continue to drop points before making a late season surge.

    1. I hope not. The table is so tight that a couple of bad defeats could drop us below the red line. Let’s not do that.

      I’m hoping that the end of the WC cycle will let the team regroup and shake out a steady starting XI that will be able to play a bit more consistently. The roster upheaval has been an issue for coordination and communication, I think, more than any other factor.

  2. “The coach wasn’t responsible for … the defense letting Eddy get in behind them and boot crosses through their penalty area.”

    Not sure I agree with this. If it had happened once, okay. But it happened twice, to deadly point-dropping effect, and it happened because of poor defensive organization. Yes Kling lost Eddy and bears a good deal of responsibility, but the team *can’t* be set up to have that happen twice in a game with no backup plan in place. To me a good bit of the defensive breakdown on those plays is on Parsons.

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