Thorns FC: Good but not good enough

On paper or pixels it looks like it should have been a quick, one-sided, brutal beatdown.

The Portland Thorns went to Salt Lake City and outshot the Utah Royals 21-7, and put 6 on frame to Utah’s 3. They won 11 corners to Utah’s 5. Dagny Brynjarsdottir rattled a bullet of a header off the crossbar, and Lindsey Horan and Christine Sinclair had two pointblank headers on goal from within 4 yards.

The Thorns put in 29 crosses to Utah’s 11, and completed almost 77% of their more than 300 passes.

And lost, 1-nil.

Image by NWSL.com. Licensed under Fair Use.

Here’s the most infuriating graphic from the night, showing attempts on goal. On the left is this match, on the right from the Thorns match preceding this one, the home win over Chicago:

Images by NWSL.com

What gets me about these is they’re like some sort of horrible mirror-universe. Utah did to Portland what Portland did to Chicago; gave up opportunities but not goals. And Portland did to themselves what Chicago did; got plenty of opportunities and got absolutely not a goddamn thing from them.

Having drawn Utah twice this season, needing just a solid defensive road point, and having looked creative going forward and sturdy in back over the previous two matches, the Thorns turned up in SLC to put on a shambolic display of inept finishing and conceded a damn soft goal.

Emily Sonnett was a disciplinary mess and Coach Parsons capped things off with bizarre substitutions that managed to make the team less dangerous rather than more.

All Portland needed was decent competence; productive possession and solid defending to see out a road point so they could prepare for the Damned Courage on short rest.

You’d think the team that stonked Chicago and Washington could do that. And, yes, dammit – the Thorns were the better team on the night; got more and better shots, worked the ball better, had more of the run of play, created more and better opportunities.

And got absolutely nothing out of all of that but a long, silent plane ride back to Portland with a meeting with North Carolina tomorrow staring at them like a baleful destiny.

Image by NWSL.com. Licensed under Fair Use.

Well.

At least somebody was happy about this one.

Short Passes

Passing the Passing Test: 77% (per InStat via Chris Henderson), or 76.8% per OPTA. Decent, but, again, let’s look at the “significant” passes – the attacking passes and the passes to gain possession.

As with the last match, I only tracked passes that advanced the Thorns tactical position, or either gained (or lost) possession of a contested ball. Little crossfield passes not under pressure? Didn’t count ’em.

PlayerCompletedMissed
Purce11
Foord
Raso111
Lussi1
Heath111HCC1111
Sinclair1HH11H111H1111H
Brynjarsdottir111H111HH
Horan111H111111H1H1H
Carpenter11X1H11H
Reynolds
Sonnett11F11
Menges1
KlingenbergX11111111
FranchPGFGPPG1G1
Total:48 (6 headed)(54.4%)40 (8 headed) (45.5%)

Each “1” is a pass from and to a foot; each “H” is a headed pass, either to another head or to feet, divided into completed passes and those that went either directly to an opponent, or went into space and were picked up by a Utah player. I’ve added several new symbols: an “X” is a cross, a “C” is a corner kick, an “F” is a free kick, a “P” is a goalkeeper punt, and a “G” is a goal kick.

The total number of “attacking/significant” passes is similar to the last match against Chicago – 88 here, 89 against the Red Stars. But the completion percentage is nearly 10 percent lower, and you can see that while Sinclair’s and Horan’s Opta passing stats (76 and 81 percent, respectively) are padded by little dink passes and drops that I didn’t count.

Horan, in particular, misplayed a lot of “important” passes, which is not typical of her.

Interestingly, Heath’s completion percentage is listed by Opta as only 56%…but she completed 80% of her “significant” passes by my accounting. I’m not sure what that means, other than we’re using really different methods.

Klingenberg had a truly off night.

And, again, the headed passes were noticeably worse than the ones coming off feet. We seem to have issues with that.

Player Ratings and Comments

Purce (67’ – +6/-5 : +1/-1 : +7/-6) While I disagree with the InStat comrades – who rated Purce second-worst of all the players on the pitch – I won’t pretend that Midge Purce had a good evening. Perhaps her single worst moment was this:

Image by NWSL.com. Licensed under Fair Use.

With a perfectly placed 29th minute Ellie Carpenter cross skipping to her feet Purce reverted to her old Right-Side-Only-Midgey persona from last season and, instead of sticking out her left boot and simply redirecting the ball past an already-beaten Nicole Barnhart for the go-ahead goal, tried to force a right-footed shot that was never going to work.

This was the fourth, and last, terrific Portland opportunity within a span of seven minutes that began with Barnhart having to make a huge save off a Horan header in the 22nd minute. This was followed by:

  • A frantic scramble in the goalmouth in the 24th minute where Purce got her feet tangled over a slide-rule Hayley Raso cross and was unable to get a shot off. On the short clearance Horan blasted well over the crossbar, and
  • A 27th minute Tobin Heath corner that led to the Brynjarsdottir header mentioned above that skipped off the crossbar.

Purce worked her tail off, but was ice cold, and that in itself took a lot of the steam out of Portland’s attack, because…

Foord (23’ – +1/-3) This season there’s no depth to the Thorns attack. The midfield isn’t stepping up as they did last season, and behind Purce and Raso there’s…Foord.

It’s hard for me to say this, because I think she’s really doing what she can; Foord isn’t jakin’ it, or not working hard. But she’s simply deadweight at this point. She can’t score, and looks unlikely to score, and there are other players who can do the other things she does who can, like Tyler Lussi.

I see no reason for Foord to sub in before Lussi, and that decision was among the more peculiar moves Coach Parsons made in Utah.

Raso (87’ – +5/-3 : +7/-2 : +12/-5) This had to have been as frustrating for Raso as it was for those of us watching her. She did a lot of her usual good work; incisive runs, good passes and crosses, and forechecking tackles. But she got only two real looks at the goal, between the 39th and 40th minutes, and fluffed both shots.

But that was the Thorns in Utah writ small; lots of good work, lots of creativity, lots of opportunities…and nothing at the end.

Lussi (3’ – +3/-1) See the Foord comment above. After Lussi’s Miracle in the Orlando match Mark Parsons made an observation that he wouldn’t again make the mistake of letting Lussi linger on the bench until the last moment.

Since then he has done just exactly that, and I’m not sure why. Does Lussi make snide remarks about his wardrobe? Does she snap towels at Crnogorcevic in the shower? What? What does it take to see her get more time that Foord, for fuck’s sake?

She had no chance, in her tiny outing with her team down a player, to make a miracle again but she tried as hard as she always does. Sorry, Tee El…just not your or your side’s night.

Sinclair (+8/-5 : +5/-3 : +13/-8) When Sinclair has a net +5 you know she’s not having a good night, and she wasn’t. I’m not sure I agree with InStat, who rated her dead last, but Sinc wasn’t effective, and that in itself is a big tell that this wasn’t going to be Portland’s evening. Robbed by Barnhart on her 40th minute header off a corner kick, but otherwise didn’t get a good look all evening.

Heath (+8/-4 : +3/-2 : +11/-6) Heath’s 56% Opta pass completion and her net +5 are kind of the story of her night; just not good enough. Lots of her usual hard work, but not much to show for it. What was especially frustrating was her inability to get a shot off after her 5th minute run was picked off by Barnhart.

Last season she, Sinclair, and Horan had the ability to find goals when and where the forwards couldn’t. This season? That’s not happening, and opponents must be seeing that. Stifle Purce and Charley and Raso and you’re good, because the midfielders won’t make you pay. That’s a problem for Portland and that’s how the Thorns are going to have trouble bagging a third star if it continues.

Horan (+10/-6 : +7/-1 : +17/-6) I always have a tough time picking a Woman of the Match after these debacles, but if there was one it was Horan. Several great opportunities and lots of good work on both sides of the ball. Her single minus was for her idiotic 78th minute yellow card getting payback on Alex Rodriguez. That was dumb but doesn’t cancel out her other fine work. It’s hard to call this purely Great Horan – she didn’t make magic – but it was pretty damn near Great.

Brynjarsdottir (+3/-4 : +9/-0 : +12/-4) Woulda-coulda-shoulda…had Dagny gotten up six inches higher…had she gotten her head just a fraction more over the ball…had the precession of the Earth’s axis been a micrometer less…

Well, all that didn’t happen.

There’s a lot of speculation in the fanbase about Brynjarsdottir vs Seiler vs Boureille. I don’t think that there’s anything there. Dagny is doing decent work as DM. Perhaps not was good as Seiler was doing, but not discreditable, either. The Thorns have some player issues this season, but I really don’t think that DM is one of them, and I don’t think it was in Utah, either.

Carpenter (75’ – +4/-8 : +2/-5 : +6/-13) On the other hand, let’s talk fullbacks.

Ellie Carpenter had a perfectly dreadful shift in Utah. Christen Press ate her lunch, including the drink, the bag of chips, and the brownie she’d brought for dessert. Now Press is a hell of a player and Carpenter isn’t the first fullback she’s toasted, but Carpenter’s bad evening made things exponentially harder for her backline since Utah’s Rodriguez was also running wild, and the combination was lethal.

I don’t think that this was an indictment of Carpenter. One poor outing does not a problem make. But tomorrow North Carolina is coming in and compared to the Damned Courage you can time Utah with a sundial. If Carpenter can’t improve her pace and defensive anticipation from her performance in Rio Tinto the Thorns are in for a long, long evening Wednesday.

Reynolds (15’ – +3/-1) Kat Reynolds was just fine against the Royals.

That’s not the issue.

The question is that, down a point, on the road, with Carpenter flailing defensively but at least pushing the ball up…is a defensive sub really the move you want, Coach? And with 20/20 hindsight the decision looks even worse after Sonnett’s ejection, because you then have only one sub left and even though you need attacking horsepower you can’t throw Lussi and Charley on together and hope for lightning to strike.

Sonnett (77’ – +4/-2 : +1/-4 : +5/-6) Jesus wept.

It’s one thing to give Becky Sauerbrunn enough space to ring up her first goal ever for Utah. It’s entirely another for getting smoked by Press in the 61st minute and getting cautioned for being too handsy…

Image by NWSL.com. Licensed under Fair Use.

…so then doing the exact same fucking thing to ARod sixteen minutes later!

Image by NWSL.com. Licensed under Fair Use.

Seriously? WTF did you think was going to happen?

I know I rag on Sonnett for brainfarts, but, sweet marie, this is the most goldfish-brained thing I’ve ever seen her do. You’re killing me, Sonnett, and now your backline has to scramble to replace you against the Damned Courage that will be all over them like leather on an Italian loafer.

This was a huge stake in your own team’s heart, and I hope the coach flayed you for it. Once may be a mistake, but twice..? That’s just thoughtless. A seasoned defender should know how to knock a charging opponent off the ball without turning it into professional wrestling.

Image by NWSL.com. Licensed under Fair Use.

Menges (+6/-8 : +5/-4 : +8/-6) Huge block on a Katie Stengal shot in the 57th minute and a generally strong outing from the Menges half of the Wall.

Klingenberg (+6/-8 : +3/-2 : +9/-10) A mixture of strong defending and goofs, pinpoint passes and crosses and random longballs. Partly at fault on the concession, giving Press way too much space to pick out Sauerbrunn, but robbing Stengal in the 35th minute and stealing the ball off LaBonta’s foot in the 46th kinda makes that come out in the wash.

I wonder if Kling is cooling off from her torrid start just because she’s no longer a slip of a girl and it’s been a long, hard season? I know I get pretty whacked after a long week of work, and I don’t have ARod climbing up my butt like a tailgaiting Oregon City redneck with a jacked-up F350 and a 3% sticker in the window behind the gunrack.

Franch (+0/-2 : +2/-0 : +2/-2) I’m really not sure whether I should have faulted A.D. Franch for the concession, but it looked to me like she got a poor start on the shot and then her dive wasn’t strong. Brunn’s shot wasn’t particularly pacey, and I can’t help but think a quicker jump and a stronger dive couldn’t have turned it around the post. Franch did dive strongly to save a nasty Press effort in the 58th minute, so not an awful night, but one of those goalkeeper games where you have one little mistake and everybody remembers it.

Ouch.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons – It’s hard to fault the gaffer’s game plan, given how much better Portland looked than Utah. The loss was a tough loss, but it’s hard to say that the coach didn’t bring the Thorns to Utah ready to win this game. But the substitutions…

Foord made the attack less potent, Reynolds was a wash given that Carpenter was at least providing attack, and Lussi was too late, so this was another of those matches where Parsons’ subs left me scratching my head. Certainly they didn’t help, and that’s kind of the point. So Parsons loses the Game of Subs along with the match itself.

Damn.

There’s no point in belaboring this one further. It was a damn hard loss at a damn bad time for a damn hard loss, but now the team and the coach need to get their heads turned around to win the season series from the Damned Courage.

If ever there was a genuine six-pointer it’s this one. The winner of this match is very likely to win the Shield and, thus, the homefield semifinal.

And if it’s NCC then the defending champions will get to play all their playoff games at home, and that will be a very, very, very bad thing for everyone else.

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: Good but not good enough

  1. Thanks for another post with your usual insightful and entertaining analysis. I was almost afraid to read this one because I thought you were going to ream the team for their mistakes while not giving enough credit for quite a bit of good play. I should have known better. This was as balanced an assessment as I could have hoped for.

    1. I won’t kid you; I WAS frustrated with the team. The quality of play actually made it MORE frustrating; to have all those good looks and get nothing? That’s punitive. It makes a mockery of the term “good play” in the sense that all that quality wasn’t “good” for the only true measure of worth in sports, the win and the three points.

      The bottom line, though, was that tonight will be the bookend for this match. If the Thorns can find a way to do what they have tremendous trouble doing – defeat North Carolina at full strength – this loss can and, to my mind, will be redeemed.

      If tonight is a loss, or, worse, a blowout loss like the 2018 Final?

      We may look back on this loss as a turning point in the season, and not in a good way.

      But we’ll see in about five hours. I’m crossing everything I CAN cross…

  2. If only a blowout like the 2018 Final were the bad end of the spectrum.
    Actually, I’m afraid this was my fault. I have a grand-niece I’ve taken to a number of Thorns games, and she’s never seen them lose, or even draw I think. Unfortunately I didn’t fetch her down from college in Tacoma for this game. Too bad it was a school night.

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