Thorns FC: Reigned On

It’s a short week with the Damned Courage tomorrow midday and this was – certainly for a neutral and even for me as a Thorns fan – an ugly, dreary match, so I’ll be brief.

The Thorns have got trouble.

Seattle was not a particularly good team Wednesday night. Here’s the Opta stats line:

SEAMATCH STATISTICSPOR
13Shots16
4Shots On Goal2
3Shots Blocked7
0Corners3
11Crosses20
5Offsides1
13Fouls11
2Yellow Cards0
0Red Cards0
317Total Passes450
64.4%Passing Accuracy74.2%
41.3%Possession58.7%
58Duels Won49
13Tackles Won9
2Saves3
32Clearances14

Outshot (tho not by much), outpossessed, gifting balls to Portland and getting stonked in their own penalty area…

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

…this was a match the Thorns had for the taking.

But they couldn’t.

Why?

Largely because of shit like this, a 60th minute play that begins with Emily Sonnett feeding Hayley Raso up the right channel, and Raso beats Steph Catley like a digeridoo, gets to the byline, and turns successfully to run at goal.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

You’ll note three things here, I hope:
1. The large amount of open greensward in front of Raso,
2. The three white jerseys over there in front of her and the goal, but,
3. The blue wall between the two.

Raso needs help. She’s got no angle, and she’s got Casey Murphy cutting off what little she might have.

Surely, one of her teammates (perhaps you, Lindsey Horan..?) will make a diagonal run towards the back post, dragging her defender with her, as two others (and yes, I’m looking at you, Midge Purce and Christine Sinclair) crash the front of goal or run into that open space, right?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Hell, maybe just you zip past your mark into that space, Horan, yeah?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Or…maybe instead you all just stand there like a bunch of fucking practice cones and let Raso do the work, eh?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Hmmm.

Okay, well, that didn’t work. Since standing around seems to be a Thorns thing in Tacoma, maybe try and pitch up a bunch of hopeful crosses and see if someone can stand around and get a head on one?

Image by NWSL in public domain

Hmm…

Image by NWSL iin public domain

Well…

Fuck.

I’m going to be brutal. The Thorns attack right now is just like it’s described on the box of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls; 100% sterile. There’s no buildup, there’s little communication and connection, and there’s no consistency in player understanding.

Obviously a lot of that is because Coach Parsons is trying to work the internationals back in, and the internationals are looking out of sorts.

But a lot of that is the “style” the team is playing. Other than the brief run of the Midgey and Charley Show we’ve seen a crap-ton of this all season; huck in long balls and crosses. Hope for some individual brilliance. Try dink-dink-boot-ball over and over and hope that the results will change.

And the problem with that is that 1) it doesn’t work, at least not consistently, unless the opponent helps make it work (see: Orlando), and it leaves you vulnerable to individual mistakes at the back, like this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

I have to be fair. This play started with a nifty little piece of work by a player I once said I never wanted to see in Thorns red again, Ifeoma Onumonu.

Iffy has been re-invented in the South Sound, and looked an order of magnitude better against her old club than she ever did here.

Much as I dislike his style, Vlatko Andonovski is an excellent technical coach, and anyone who could coach Onumonu out of her brutal first touch, well…chapeau, Vlatko, you magnificent bastard.

But the above screenshot isn’t about Onumonu brilliance. It’s about two Portland centerbacks leaving Rosie White as open as a 7-Eleven at one-thirty in the morning. WTF, Sonnet, Menges? You don’t bother to put a body on an opponent on the doorstep of your own goal?

Giving a good attacker like White that kind of room is so deadly that it’s almost punitive to drag A.D. Franch into the scolding, but her response to White gaining possession wasn’t terrific, either.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

The whole point of being the keeper is that you can use your hands.

I’ll be the first to agree that diving at White’s feet would have been exceptionally risky. As a keeper I got repeatedly kicked in the hands and arms (or the head, which explains a lot about how I am…). But flailing at the ball with her feet?

Well, we saw how well that worked. A dive might have nicked a road point here, so to my mind, it would have been worth a try.

After the dispiriting performance against Sky Blue at home the objective should have been a road point in Tacoma.

Now the Thorns have only a point from the last six, and have to face the Damned Courage with a dispiriting draw and a dreary loss behind them.

All we can do now is hope for a better tomorrow.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: 74%? That’s fine. The Thorns seem to have emerged from their “can’t complete a pass if there was money in it” phase.

But, as discussed above, it’s that final pass into the goalmouth or onto a rising Thorns head that’s still missing.

How Good Are The Thorns? – The xG Story. Here’s Henderson’s latest xG/goals matrices.

Images by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Looks like everyone’s pretty much settled into form. Top four are still NCC-Portland-Tacoma-Chicago, Houston and Utah still on the bubble, Washington looking troubled, and Sky Blue and Orlando tussling for the wooden spoon.

How much you wanna bet that places might change after this weekend, though?

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Player Ratings and Comments

Purce (67′ – +2/-3 : +0/-0 : +2/-3) It appears that the brief reign of Queen Midge is over, formally dethroned and executed by the rival queens in a minor league baseball stadium in the hustings of Tacoma. Purce was utterly useless against RFC

Which is not to say that she couldn’t return to glory; strikers are notorious for blowing hot and cold. But right now she’s as cold as can be.

Foord (23′ – +1/-1) And speaking of cold…

Raso (+5/-8 : +6/-9 : +11/-17) It’s always hard for me to go hard on Raso because she works her tail off, and I love that in a player. And a lot of her ineffectiveness was, as the screenshots above suggest, because she was getting little or no from her strike partners (Purce, in particular, seemed to have lost the simpatico they shared against Houston).

Still, Raso is one of the many Thorns internationals who is still struggling to find her feet here again, and the team needs her to find them, and fast.

Heath (+5/-5 : +1/-6 : +6/-11) Quite simply the worst match I’ve seen from Tobin Heath in a long, long time.

And, yes, there was this:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

In order of increasing importance: 1) yes, I think it was a foul, 2) yes, that’s on the center referee – Teresa was being very Vlatkoesque and thugging Heath to take her out of the match, and it worked, thanks SO much, Danielle Chesky, and 3) If the Thorns had scored from the run of play – which they didn’t and, frankly, didn’t ever look much like doing – this wouldn’t have mattered.

So a frustrating night for Heath, and even more for her team.

Sinclair (+4/-2 : +2/-6 : +6/-8) Another poor night for the captain. Although she did well to get on a fine Klingenberg cross in the 80th minute and headed barely wide, in general Sinc didn’t really create much danger, and her passing was sparse and uncharacteristically poor.

It seems like this is a meme; every season we go through this point where Sinc has a bit of a slump and we wonder – is this it? Is this really the end, or the beginning of the end, for our legend? And every time Sinc has recovered and returned to form.

Let’s hope that that happens this time, too. I want Sinc to retire after a wonderful, legendary-worthy season, full of smiles and tears and happy goodbyes.

Horan (+1/-2 : +2/-6 : +3/-8) Pretty much the definition of “un-great”. Another Nat struggling with league form, and I’m not sure why. If she ever needs to re-discover her greatness, though, it’ll be tomorrow against the Damned Courage.

Seiler (+1/-3 : +2/-3 : +3/-6) Struggled, especially against Allie Long who was having a damn fine match. But decent defensively overall, Gabby Seiler’s issues were passing – all six of her minuses are for giveaways. As with Raso, though, a lot of that had to do with teammates failing to move to space and forcing Seiler to pass into traffic.

Ball (75′ – +8/-3 : +2/-4 : +10/-7) In a decent evening Liz Ball’s slip and fall as she tried too hard to dispossess Onumonu in the 55th minute stands out in retrospect as a critical error. Which is unfortunate, since Ball did well against Iffy overall on an evening when Onumonu was running wild, including a sweet 10th minute steal that should have led to more.

Tough, unlucky night for Ball and the defense in general.

Reynolds (15′ – +1/-0) The only reason I can explain this substitution is the 1) Ball must have been tiring (certainly her second half PMR suggests that), and 2) Parsons trusts Kat Reynolds more than Ball to hold down the right side of the three-back. Still, I expected to see something more aggressive, and this is where, I think, the loss of Carpenter hurt the squad.

Decent shift for Reynolds, just nothing spectacular.

Sonnett (+1/-1 : +5/-2 : +6/-3) I called her out on the whole failed-to-body-up-on-White thing, but otherwise both Emilies had a decent night, Sonnett, in particular, helping out with the attack in the second half as the Thorns had to chase.

My suspicion that the World Cup really hammered the Nats seems to be supported by Sonnett’s relative effectiveness contrasted to the players who got minutes in France. She looks fresh and more-like-her-old-self, while Horan and Heath (and Sinclair and Foord and Raso) look frustrated and gassed and out-of-sorts.

Menges (+3/-3 : +1/-1 : +4/-4) Same things here as for Sonnett, with the caveat that Menges stayed home more than her partner.

It’s worth noting that the “great Wall of Emily” is looked decidedly tottery this season. In his preview writeup of the match Leo Baudhuin wrote: “The Thorns have conceded seven goals in their last five games, a worrying statistic for a team that pride themselves on their stingy defense.”

To which I can do little better than my reply in the comments section of that piece:

“Not stingy this season.

The trope of the Thorns defense as a steel curtain dates to 2017, when Menges was healthy and Franch had a career year. This season the GA numbers are prefectly meh; 19, same as Chicago. Christ, SkyFuckingBlue has 19GA. We don’t have a stingy defense this season. Better than Orlando and Houston but that’s a damn low bar.

Our gaudy GD is entirely on our scoring, and a hell of a lot of that involves ringing up 4 on both Chicago and Orlando and 5 on Houston.

If this squad is priding itself on its defending that’s an Orlando-level of pride…”

Klingenberg (82 – +1/-4 : +10/-3 : +14/-7) From marginally involved in the first half Klingenberg came alive in the second, including the terrific run and service in the 80th minute that could well have equalized had Sinc been a little luckier. Still unsure why she was lifted.

Brynjarsdottir (8′ – no rating) The Reynolds sub is at least understandable given the switch to the three-back set, and the Foord sub kinda-sorta because Purce was a trainwreck. But this? You need attack and Kling is doing well and you’ve got Andressinha on the bench, and instead you send in Dagny for Kling? Ummm…that would be why, coach?

Unsurprisingly, the Thorns got little or nothing out of this switch.

Franch (+1/-0 : +0/-1 : +1/-1) I’ve given A.D. a little stick for not diving at White’s feet, but I won’t pretend I would have had the courage to do that, either. Other than that and making a good strong take in the 18th minute, not much tested.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Coach Parsons – As discussed above, I think Parsons lost the substitution game. Certainly, his subs did nothing significant to improve the team’s looks at goal.

Overall I’ve been fairly lenient on the coach because I thought that he had set up the attack to run as best he could configure it. Now it’s time to look at the chart of failed crosses and useless long balls and ask; since this isn’t working except against the tomato cans, perhaps it’s time to reconfigure the attack.

Of course, this is possibly the worst time to have to re-invent the Thorns; there’s nothing but monsters ahead in August and September, and the road gets nothing but rougher and the climb steeper from the shores of the South Soud.

Beginning tomorrow.

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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