Thorns FC: Cold Open

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

As the final regular season match of 2019 it was an epic letdown on the scale of the last episode of Game of Thrones.

As entrance to the playoffs it was stone-cold .

But y’know what?

I really don’t want to go in depth over the dreary scoreless draw the Thorns played out against Washington last Saturday. I’ve already had to watch the damn thing twice and, trust me, it didn’t get any more entertaining the second time, either.

Instead, let’s just enjoy this little gem of Thorns build-up brilliance that happened in the 87th minute.

I didn’t screencap the first bit, but this all starts with Kat Reynolds gaining possession and clearing the ball long out of the back. Christine Sinclair finds something left in those tired legs to run under it, goes up, and purely beats hell out of Samantha Staab and Tori Huster to claim it.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Sinc knocks the ball down to Tobin Heath, who takes off upfield in what the British sporting press would probably call a “mazy run” but is really just another day at the office for Tobin Fucking Heath.

Here’s the thing about this – look at the Spirit defenders, particularly Dorian Bailey. What the fuck is she doing there? Midge Purce is tear-assing up the right channel, and Bailey is completely fixated on Heath despite Bailey having a Bayley Feist fronting Heath up.

Sinc’s coming along for the ride, too, but Purce is the danger woman and nobody in the Spirit defense is paying attention.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

That’s sorta what The Notorious TFH gives you; the ability to mesmerize a defense like cobras watching Rikki-tikki-tavi dance the hootchie-koo.

By the time Heath crosses into the penalty area all four white shirts have collapsed towards her; first a mongoose, now a neutron star?

Damn.

I know she’s awesome, but…damn.

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

One of the things about Heath that drives me kinda nuts sometimes is her selfishness, or, perhaps better expressed as “extreme self-confidence”. She often seems utterly convinced that there is no defender – or group of defenders – she can’t take off the dribble. That often leads her into dead ends and defensive pockets where she gets pantsed and loses possession.

Not this time. Heath slides a sweet little pass out wide to Purce, who takes the quick dart at goal, shoots, and…

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

…skies that sucker way the freaking hell over the bar and into Row ZZZ.

And that, my friends, is why I really don’t want to go back over this turkey. That, in the course of fifteen seconds, was the whole goddamn ninety-three minutes writ small.

Facing an opponent who had absolutely nothing to play for – and were playing like it – Portland owned everything about the Spirit. Outshot them 18 to 5 (6 to 1 on goal), outpassed them 509 to 406, created 6 chances to none, held 55 percent of the possession to 44 percent.

Portland bossed this match in every respect.

Except goals.

Here’s the xG charts, first, Portland:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

…and Washington:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Washington’s blank is totally expected, but Portland? No goals from an xG over two? Almost three?

That’s ridiculous, and so for me that’s the only real takeaway from this match, the only analysis worth bothering with.

Confronted with an opponent who was playing poorly but not bunkering – the possession was dead even at halftime; Washington had nothing going forward but not because they were in a shell – the Thorns were utterly unable to either consistently create good chances in the first half or consistently finish the ones they created in the second half.

And that’s been the story of the end of the Thorns season. One goal in 450 minutes of play, shut out over four of the last five…that’s not a good way to back into the playoffs.

Sinc says that they’re saving up goals for the knockouts, and I sure as hell hope that’s true.

Because otherwise it’s going to be a short, ugly post-season.

SHORT PASSES

Passing the Passing Test: 82%. Nice.

The only thing about that is this stat is grossly padded with pointless little to-and-fro dinks and backpasses. In the discussion and comments about this match I read a lot of love for Andressinha’s and Ogle’s passing and how well the Thorns connected. Which was true…to a point.

That point being the “final pass”, the decisive through-ball or set-up for the assist.

THAT pass wasn’t there.

Okay, remember: only dangerous attacking and possession-gain (or -loss) passes count. A “1” is a pass to and from feet. “L” is a long pass, “H” a headed one, “C” a corner kick, “F” a free kick, “X” a cross. Got it? Let’s go.

PlayerCompletedMissed
Sinclair111H11111X11
HeathC1CF1111111FXFL1F
Andressinha111H1XXLH
Horan11H1H11111L1
Ogle1HHLL
BrynjarsdottirH
Foord
BallL1XXXXHX
PurceXX
Reynolds11LXLL
SonnettLLHLLLLH
MengesLLL111L
Klingenberg11L11XL1HLXX1
FranchP

Andressinha’s 83% completion belies that when it counted – when she needed to feed an attacking teammate or gain possession – she only connected a third of the time. Ogle was even less precise, hitting her teammate once in five tries.

Again…that was the story of the match and in many ways the story of the closing month of the Thorns’ season. The team hasn’t played badly (other than the horrific Destruction by Army Group Damned) but the decent-play hasn’t been productive of goals or – because when you can’t score a single defensive lapse kills you – wins.

The other troubled Thorn was Emily Menges, who threw away a bunch of passes at really bad times (which we’ll discuss in the comments section). Lindsey Horan and Meghan Klingenberg were pretty meh, although when they hit, they hit hard – both had some nice dimes – and Liz Ball’s crossing eye was completely out, which isn’t ideal for a wingback.

Any good news here?

Well, Sinclair and – rather surprisingly, Heath – were terrific, and Emily Sonnett did some sweet long passing.

Like the match itself; there’s not a lot to hate there.

But not a lot to love, either.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

PLAYER RATINGS AND COMMENTS

(What the heck is a PMR? Player ratings explained)

Sinclair (+4/-5 : +2/-3 : +6/-8) Our captain is not having a good late season. I’m not sure if it’s fatigue, or age, or lingering malaise from the World Cup, or nagging little injuries, or some combination of all the above. But whatever it is, Sinc looks tired and out of step.

She’s still got a touch of magic in her, as the screencaps showed, but that’s being swarmed by her lack of pace and frustrating disconnection with her teammates. I hope she has a wellspring of goodness left inside, because in less than a week we’re gonna need hell out of it, and her.

Heath (+4/-0 : +5/-3 : +9/-3) Had perhaps the best, and certainly the prettiest, opportunity of the match when her 84th minute shot was curling into the far top corner for what would have been the matchwinner but for Aubrey Bledsoe’s fingers. Sweet, sweet shot, and a reminder that Heath used to do that sort of stuff (“stand in the wall and look pretty”, remember?) all the time.

Her connection with her teammates ticked up in this one nicely…although one thing that’s sort of frustrating is that her service on setpieces used to be deadly. We were Queens of the Dead Ball; “Mark Lindsey Horan on setpieces!” fearful defenders would cry as the Two Horsewomen of the Apocalypse – Horan and Sonnett – would ride down on (and leap above) them.

Wonder what happened to that?

Andressinha (+2/-5 : +4/-4 : +6/-9) Meh.

Andressinha had a couple of decent cracks at goal, but her frailty was exposed by center referee Dadkho’s fondness for rough play. Our Brazilian is no Debinha; she gets knocked off the ball far too easily and did here. As discussed above, her passing was accurate – until it counted.

I’m far from convinced that Andressinha has no role here. But whatever that role is, Coach Parsons hasn’t found it, and the Thorns’ current system exposes her weaknesses without playing to her strengths.

Ogle (64’ – +4/-4 : +4/-2 : +8/-6) Emily Ogle’s first professional start was a decent one, and the young midfielder held her own against professionals like Andi Sullivan, which is a hell of a note. Tough tackler and decent marker, Ogle is hard-nosed on the ground but needs to work on her positioning in the air, a critical skill for a DM.

Brynjarsdottir (26’ – no rating) Was it the broken nose, or the Batman Beyond facemask? Because Dagny was on the pitch for damn near a half hour and did pretty much nothing. Kind of shocking taken out of context but that was well in keeping with the rest of this dreary thing.

Horan (78’ – +4/-8 : +10/-3 : +14/-11) Solid defensively but in attack, a tale of two halves: in the first, careless in possession and inaccurate both passing and shooting; in the second, ballwinning and passing to feet.

Still, not really a great outing for last season’s MVP. For the Thorns to have a chance at the third star Horan needs to find greatness in Chicago and then Cary. These sorts of Meh Horan games aren’t going to feed the bulldog.

Foord (12’ – +1/-0) I can find absolutely nothing to say about Caitlin Foord’s almost-quarter-hour except to contrast it with Midge Purce’s, and that comparison reeeeally doesn’t look good for Foord.

Ball (75’ – +5/-0 : +0/-2 : +5/-2) The point of a 5-3-2 is for the wingbacks to 1) tear up and down the touchlines wreaking havoc, and 2) provide serviceable defense while providing deadly service for the ACM and the forwards. In this attacking setup Liz Ball was almost totally untroubled by Washington pressure, so she spent most of the match forward of the midfield stripe, and, yet, was unable to pick out attackers to connect with or was unable to connect with them when they did pop up inside the box.

Let me emphasize that I don’t think this was a failing on Ball’s part, other than it’s a team-wide issue and has been for some time. The crossing just isn’t working, and it’s not on any individual but a problem of the wingers and forwards combined not…combining. It’s frustrating, it’s too late to fix, and I hope the coaching staff has this high on the list of things to fix this offseason.

Purce (15’ – +5/-1) What does it say about this Thorns team, and the match they played, that my Woman of the Match played a total of fifteen minutes?

But that’s how it was; the match can be divided into B.P. and A.P.

Before Purce the Thorns had only three decent looks, only one of them a really “good look”; the 39th minute corner mentioned earlier (Good Look #1), and a three-minute flurry at the beginning of the second half, including two Andressinha shots (one blocked, one deflected wide) in the 49th minute, a 50th minute Heath shot that produced a recycled corner kick that Sonnett heel-flicked wide in the 51st minute.

After Purce;

76’ Purce attacks Bledsoe in possession and nearly strips her.

78’ Purce strong right-side run, but well defended; tackled away and cleared

82’ Purce right-side run, good cross but the ball runs cleanly through the box; nobody there.

84’ The Heath almost-golazo (Good Look #2)

85’ Purce collects a gorgeous Klingenberg long ball and is brought down by Bailey (Good Look #3). Here’s the screenshot:

Image by Yahoo! Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

I think there’s a legitimate penalty shout there, but I also think that before she chunders Purce Bailey toe-pokes the ball away, and too far for Purce to have run back onto.

As a partisan I’d have liked Dadkho to have made the call but trying to be objective I can see why he didn’t. I think this one is genuinely arguable.

87’ The sequence we started off with, Good Look #4. One good look in the first 75 minutes, three in the final quarter hour? That’s a pretty damn effective shift.

I’d have loved to see Purce bury that last one, but to be fair, it was a tough angle with Bledsoe coming out hard, and even had it been on frame it wasn’t a gimme.

But it should have been on frame.

Reynolds (+2/-1 : +5/-0 : +7/-1) The most Kat-Reynolds-y Kat Reynolds match imaginable. Nothing flashy, nothing spectacular, just solid defending and decent passing. Well played, Ms. Reynolds.

Sonnett (+4/-2 : +3/-3 : +7/-5) Some nice long passing and no major brainfarts, so overall a good outing for the Sonnett half of the Wall.

Menges (+5/-2 : +3/-6 : +8/-8) The only explanation I have is that Good Kling/Bad Kling transmogrified herself into Bad Menges in the second half, because I have no other way to rationalize the usually sturdiest Thorns defender doing goofy shit like tripping over the ball in the 65th minute and gifting possession to Ashley Hatch, or passing directly to Logarzo in the 86th minute, all within thirty yards of her own goal. Those errors in any professional player would be surprising, in Menges it’s like going into the dining room and finding Miss Manners slurping peas off her knife.

I have no idea what the hell happened, but let’s not do this in Chicago, hey?

Klingenberg (+3/-2 : +8/-3 : +11/-5) Like Ball, Kling was nearly untroubled by near-goal defensive responsibility, so she was able to hawk balls near midfield and, when her team started going forward in the second half, she was suddenly all over the place dropping passes onto people including, as mentioned above, the achingly-pretty connection to Purce in the 85th minute.

Overall? Fine match.

Franch (+1/-0 : +0/-0 : +1/-0) Could have taken the night off; Washington was utterly incapable. The girls should have given Ashley Hatch the clean-sheet roses, instead.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Parsons – I stand by what I said earlier; the coach has one job now. He needs to figure out how to beat The Damned. If the Thorns can go to Cary and beat Carolina they can damn sure go to Chicago and beat the Red Stars.

At this point, however, I’m not sure how the hell the Thorns are going to do that. The attack still looks as futile as it did in Utah, or in Tacoma, or against the Dash and the Spirit. And these aren’t teams that have the sorts of attacking weapons that Chicago and The Damned have.

So the real questions are:

1) can Parsons figure out where the goals will come from in just over a week, show the team where they are, and then help the players haul them out and use them to win two straight matches in open play?

And, if not 2) can this season’s Thorns play 120 minutes of lock-down, full-on, total-madwoman defense and then go through on penalties?

My fragile optimism means I want to believe he and they can do either, or both.

My natural pessimism is triggered by the poor run up to the semifinal.

My hopes, and fears, won’t mean a thing.

What will, will be decided this Sunday on the pitch in Chicago.

I’ll be back here after that.

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: Cold Open

  1. Thanks for the great analysis John. I am a bit more of a cup half full person than you are. The score was terrible, but I saw a dominant performance particularly in the second half. Of course the Thorn’s should have scored, but there was some nice soccer. I like Ogle’s game a lot, but as you pointed out her air game is weak and an area for improvement. She is not tall, but then neither is Raso and she is Tasmanian Devil when it comes air battles.
    I also think the face protection worn my Dagny affected her breathing more than her heading, because I think she scored a header for Iceland last week. But that has to be more than a hassle to wear one of those.
    What is the nature of Celeste’s injury? I can’t help thinking she would be valuable out there. Last year she was playing when Horan had that fantastic year and deserves some credit for that. Do you think the league finally has book on Horan? She is being so much better marked and the goalies are playing her smarter.
    I am not real confident for the game in Chicago, but as a cup half-full person my take away for this season will be great start in the first third, good play by the left behinders in the second third, and then a disappointing last third. I am looking forward to next year. Why? well I am an optimist. Go Thorns!!!

    1. I think I made it fairly clear that the Thorns were far the better team on the pitch. Christ, they created enough chances to have – had they finished them – scored almost three goals!

      I love to see creative play…but there has to be a point to it. Good play needs to get results, or it’s just pretty.

      A broken nose hurts like a sonofabitch, and so I’m not surprised that Dagny had a muted game. But Horan…I’m not sure. She hasn’t been poor, just not playing at the level she reached last season. I think it’s her, rather than her opponents, but WHAT it is about her? I really don’t know.

      Cee Bee is behind Horan and Sinc and Dagny on the depth chart, so even if she’s healthy we’re unlikely to see much of her. Frankly, her skillset is probably about the same as Dagny’s only Brynjarsdottir is more dangerous going forward.

      I think we can handle the Red Stars IF we can figure out how to make a goal or three. The backline has done a good job locking down Kerr and Nagisato the last couple of games. But we have to score; I don’t think we want to go to PKs, and if we can’t they can go through with just a fluky crap goal…

    1. We’ve got to create them, first, and as discussed in the piece, we played an utterly disinterested Spirit and created only one – two, if you’re being generous – really decent chance in 75 minutes. Chicago isn’t going to be nearly that generous.

      And, yes…THEN we have to finish, and that hasn’t been coming, either.

      I want to believe that this team has some sort of fifth gear that’s just been waiting for the playoffs to kick in. I want to think that we CAN score twice in Chicago despite having scored only once over the past five games.

      And maybe it’ll happen. I hope it does.

      But hope is not a plan.

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