PTFC v CRS: Match Thread and Post-Match Discussion

The Thorns’ first match of the Challenge Cup seems to be a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty sort of result.

Many of us saw it as a promising beginning. The Damned Courage didn’t run us off the pitch, several individual players – particularly young Bella Bixby and Morgan Weaver – had impressive debuts, and overall the play seemed fairly even.

Others of us saw some defensive breakdowns that were troubling for a unit that was a specific target of Front Office attention over the offseason, and yet another case of the Damned seeming to have the Thorns in their pocket one way or another.

Whatever our views, tomorrow the second match of the tournament pits the Chicago Red Stars, who lost their first match as well (to a sparky Washington Spirit led by a healthy – and lively – Rose Lavelle) and who will be looking for points with the same intensity as Portland.

Whether we look at the loss to Carolina as promising or disappointing, it revealed several issues that Coach Parsons and the squad will have to address if they want a result against the Red Stars.

The Backline

Defensively the Thorns conceded acres of space along both the touchlines. The 4-3-3 – or whatever the hell the Thorns were playing; at times it looked more like a 4-4-2 diamond and at times more like Parsons’ beloved 4-2-3-1 – requires fullbacks with blazing recovery speed. Both Klingenberg and Hubly, lovely people that they are, will never be confused with Dunn and Williams; the pace just isn’t there. On the second concession it was Madison Pogarch that was caught upfield, forcing Sauerbrunn to try and stop Mewis’ wide run and exposing ‘Brunn’s even more painful lack of pace.

Although Kelli Hubly did well enough at RB in the first half the backline seemed to stabilize when she went out for Westphal in the second, so perhaps we’ll see either Westphal or Gabby Seiler starting there tomorrow. What we do about Kling…I don’t know. Perhaps just hope that Rachel Hill doesn’t have the motor Mace or Mewis do.

With more pace and better coverage wide we will also have ninety minutes of match play between the Thorns centerbacks. Hopefully this will help them coordinate and organize the center of the backline better.

It seems clear that one big difference between the 2019 and 2020 Thorns defense is that the centerbacks roles are reversed. Until this season Menges was the “stay-home” centerback while Sonnett was the “roams-forward” one. With Sauerbrunn next to her Menges is now Sonnett and Sauerbrunn is Menges, and they will need to figure out how that works most quick smart.

The Frontline

Despite being notionally the Thorns’ center forward against The Damned Courage here’s what Christine Sinclair spent the morning doing:

That’s…I’m not sure what that is. Center mid? Whatever that heat map represents, it’s not a center forward.

Part of the issue is that all the Thorns forwards were starved for service. Rodriguez and Salem, who at one time or another were the defensive midfielders, had trouble pushing passes up to their front line. If you think Sinclair’s heat map looks troubling, here’s Marissa Everett’s:

That’s a picture of a player who barely got a sniff at the ball; OPTA credits Everett with eight actions over 54 minutes; no shots, four successful passes – all backpasses – two incomplete passes, one tackle for loss, and a ball recovery.

Her replacement, Weaver, had as many recorded actions in barely more than half the time, including two shots, one on goal.

If Portland wants the points they’re going to have to generate more attack than this against Chicago. Again, the experience against Carolina should help, along with what I hope is a different starting XI; replacing Everett and Lussi…

…with Weaver and Charley…

…made a significant and positive difference against The Damned.

So we go into Matchday Two; still, hopefully, safe and healthy, still looking for the first points of 2020.

We’ll meet in the comments in three…two…

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39 thoughts on “PTFC v CRS: Match Thread and Post-Match Discussion

  1. I posted this yesterday but it is more apropos here. Plus Sauerbrunn and Smith will not be playing. Davidson is questionable and Colprico is out.
    This is my speculation only but if we see more than 45 minutes of Horan it will be a surprise. With Smith not playing I guess it will be the quartet we saw Saturday plus maybe the UCLA Anika Rodriquez (a forward that scored 15 goals for the Bruins). Autumn Smithers is also a forward from Notre Dame I am hoping Gabby is available to play.
    I watched Chicago vs the Spirit and the Spirit were definitely the more creative team. Rose LaVelle, oh man is she good! Ashley Hatch is a Lynn Williams type player and she was scorching Chicago. Sanchez has speed, but needs to get used to the fact she is playing with players that are as good as she is. I am happy we took Weaver with that second pick. I think she is as fast and much stronger.
    Arin Wright was not playing (just had a baby) and Chicago defense missed her missed her and Davidson (nursing an injury); that is a huge hole in the defense. Both Wright and Davidson have the legs to handle Hatch. I think when Kealia Watt gets used to the team she will help the Chicago attack a lot. But Nagasato did not have her usual excellent game and great service she supplied Kerr last year.
    Chicago will present a tough test for the Thorns, but they are not as good as they were last year. Duh… no Sam Kerr, but not just that they seem like a team adjusting to a new identity. We will see.

    1. Couple of thoughts here:
      1) Losing ‘Brunn so early is ridiculously unlucky and a real issue for the defense. The only real value of this thing is for getting the team match minutes, and we lose Sauerbrunn after 90? That sucks.
      2) Smithers is rostered as a defender and played MF for USF, so I’m assuming she’s a DM. I suspect we’ll see Salem at DM, though, and Rodriguez seems to be playing some sort of 6/8 thing.
      3) A-Rod seems more like an AM than a true goalscorer, if her PAC-12 highlight reel is any indication.

      It’s unfortunate that the injuries and the absence of Heath has made the Thorns’ XI so makeshift. We’re not really getting a look at what this team should be when it’s at full strength.

  2. Thanks for the great analysis and data, John. It’s reassuring/eye-opening to compare the data to what we think we saw in the game. Based on that heat map, the theoretical switch for Sinclair to the “6” position you had opined about before wouldn’t be a stretch for her, since she’s already playing there so much- as long as she’s announced as the center-forward in the pregame lineup, maybe she’d be happy- she’s practically playing DM anyway.
    Q: you mentioned OPTA; would you recommend them as a source of complete player stats/analytics? Are they a subscription service avail to all?

    1. Problem with that is then we need SOMEbody to crash the box; if Sinc isn’t going to do it, that leaves it to Horan, and we’ve already BTDT in ’18. It’d be nice to have an actual #9 for a change.

      OPTA – so far as I know – is providing the stats at the NWSL website. They’re not providing depth stats at all, but will give you some idea of the general performance of the teams and players. They DO sell data packages but are insanely spendy.

      InStat provided some excellent work when I was at Stumptown in ’18, but their packages are also out of reach for the casual fan.

      1. John, any change you could supply the jersey numbers when showing a heat map with more than two? I know very few of the players’ numbers. I thought maybe I could tell Lussi and Everett in the heat map by which map tilted left and which right, but they’re both all over the place.

        In case anyone else needs them:
        34 – Lussi
        40 – Everett

        22 – Weaver
        38 – Charley

  3. 3-5-2:

    Bella Bixby

    Boureille-Smithers-Pogarch-Klingenberg- Westphal

    Sinclair-Ogle-Horan

    Charley-Weaver

    Freakish XI. I have no idea what to expect from this.

  4. Love seeing Charley and Weaver making things happen out there. Emily Ogle sighting is fun. And Boureille apparently decided if Sinclair wasn’t going to play CF, she would…

  5. Is it just me or does Horan look more fit? more spring in her step?
    OTOH, i’m sorry to say it, but just watching Sinclair run makes MY joints hurt- she looks like she’s in pain out there.
    the defensive lineup surprised me- thought we’d see Seiler and/or Nally as more natural fits at CB- maybe they’re not ready afterall, if the team would rather have Westphal and Pogarch out of position (though what a great break for Autumn Smithers! )

    1. I remember reading somewhere that the 37-year is the far-end nadir for elite-level male team sport athletes. Sure, there are a few outliers, and PEDs change the calculus too, but there is a demonstrable dropoff in terms of athleticism and performance at age 37. I once did a semi-deep dive after hearing this claim, and it holds up very well in baseball and, especially, basketball. I’m not sure about football or hockey, although it’s possible to elongate a hockey career by several years simply playing on the 2nd or 3rd line and taking fewer shifts.

      Why do I bring this up?

      While I have no desire to make any claims – broad or narrow – about the physiology of male v. female atheletes, I do want to note that our our dear Captain is now 37. She’s been slowing down for a while, and I don’t think a bounceback year is likely. She’s still has a ton of knowledge, craftiness, and leadership skills… but, well, Father Time and Mother Nature are undefeated. It may take them a while to win, but eventually they do.

      1. I think we may have the same issues with Sinc that the Timbers have with Diego Valeri. Both are beloved veterans, both are difficult or nearly impossible to move off the roster unless they’re willing to go, and both are at the near-terminal phases of their careers; too slow, or nearly too slow, to keep up with the rest of the league.

        And I’m not sure what happens. Rodriguez seems to be the “next Sinclair”, but she can’t take that spot if Sinc is still here and still wants to play. I hope she’ll see that problem…but I’m not sure.

        1. I kind of minimized when you said move Sinc to the 6. I thought all we needed was her lack of pace at the position to go with Sauerbruun, but I’m starting to warm to that position if she’s game. I just don’t see Parsons doing it

          Front 3 – Weaver, Smith, Charley
          Mid 3 – Horan, Rodriguez, Sinclair
          Back 4 – Kling, Menges, Sauerbruun, and the cast of 1000s at RB which can include either CelBee or Seiler (my preference is Seiler)

          That’s not bad

        2. What compounds the problem is that not only is Sinclair keeping one of the future key pieces off the field, but her limitations require the team to use a whole different formation, because the player waiting to take her place is not likely a CM with great soccer smarts but little foot speed.

          1. And yet, if we need her to take a PK or if she can put in one of those crafty goals she specializes in, that’s reason enough to have her out there.

          2. She’s still one of our top 5 players. She might have flaws that cause some to minimize her capabilities, but she deserves to be out there and is a net positive

          3. The problem is only a problem if Sinc is unwilling to accept that she has become the reserve who comes in to see out the win or take that PK. And that’s a hard thing for a player who’s been a lock to start for decades to accept; not many can do that, and I’m not sure Sinc can, either.

            There’s also the problem with the small-roster world of the NWSL. In a different league Sinc could hang on as a specialty sub. Here? No; the club can’t afford passengers.

            I want the Sinclair Era to end gracefully, and I hope it does. But the precedents aren’t promising; not many players know when to hang ’em up…

          4. I look at the current roster and I don’t see the urgency to have anyone out there instead of her. I think if she were willing to do the 6, it really makes roster balance better.

            4-3-3 if we were at full strength now

            Left Wing- Heath, Charley
            Striker- Smith, Lussi
            Right Wing – Weaver, Charley, Everett

            OMF- Horan, Rodriguez
            CMF -Rodriguez, Bourielle, Ogle
            DMF – Sinclair, Salem

            LFB – Klingenberg, Pogarch
            LCB – Sauerbruun, Reynolds
            RCB – Menges, Hubly
            RFB – Seiler, Westphal

            Goalie – Franch, Bixby, Eckerstrom

            You still have international slots to improve the team as well.

  6. I don’t think the Thorns participation in the COVID Cup is about winning the thing. I think it’s using the opportunity for competitive play and training to get a look at some players, formations, etc., either to keep around, leave unprotected in expansion, or facilitate trades.

    As we have discussed here and elsewhere ad nauseum, the wheels of this offseason fell off after the deals for Rocky, Bruun, Smith, and Weaver. We never bagged those 1-2 vaunted internationals, we lost Raso and Carpenter, Tobin and Franch are sitting this one out, and it looks like Bruun might be out too.

    The situation reminds me of what the Brooklyn Nets are facing as they head into the NBA Plague-Offs. Who wouldn’t prefer to see Durant, Irving, Jordan, Dinwiddie, and Co? However, there are now opportunities for meaningful minutes for players who have a chance to show what they can do, and the club can then make roster decisions and player acquisitions toward the next season.

    While I am saddened to lose the 2020 season altogether and all that entails — which includes losing a year of Horan’s prime and moving Sinc and Kling one year closer to retirement — I think this is the right strategy. Parsons is playing with house money right now, so let’s try to enjoy this for what it is rather than lament what might have been and did not transpire.

    If Bixby looks like the real deal, then we might be able to afford losing a GK in expansion or even through setting up a trade!

    If we finish the COVID Cup low on the table, we get a higher draft pick! Also, the sooner they get out of Utah, the less COVID risk for our Thorns!

    If we can give Seiler more time to recover from her ACL injury, great!

    If we can elongate Bruun’s career by not playing meaningless minutes, also great!

    If we can develop some attractive pieces either to keep or include in trades, even more great!

    And if Parsons can develop some different formations and combinations to force NCC to work harder when we play them again, well, that’s perhaps best of all!

  7. There was a lot to like in this match, including several young players and newcomers who did well.

    That said…we couldn’t hang a goal on one of the weakest teams in this tournament. We’re still very obviously chasing and not catching the Damned Courage…and in sport, coming in second is being the First Loser.

    Now…that said, it’s increasingly obvious that Parsons is using the first three games to be his preseason for evaluating individual performance. I think the thing is to be patient and see what happens in the knockouts. If the squad 1) doesn’t solidify, and 2) doesn’t do well…then we have problems. But if they do? That’s a promising omen for 2021.

    1. That 2015 draft really made the Courage the Courage. Dahlkamper, Mewis, Williams, and Daniels all in one draft. Debhina is an incredible international and being able to parlay Ashley Hatch into Crystal Dunn was big time. I would not understate Lynn Williams’s importance to that team

      I’ve been critical of Chicago because I felt they could have done that in this draft with 4,5, and 6 this year. How would they look with 3 top players from this draft?

      Next years draft is super deep, but lacks star power once you get past Macario unless underclassmen come out or Alessia Russo is in the draft (which would be a surprise). Louisville is ending up with Macario, so we’ll see how it plays out.

      Pickett, Fox, and DaMelo are solid players, but I don’t think I rate them over what Chicago could have gotten in this draft. The only argument you can make is maybe they trade a pick for an exposed player. Maybe they will be able to protect a few young prospects they wouldn’t have been able to, but at some point you have to hit.

      Portland took their shot with this draft

      Washington took their shot with last years draft.

  8. Let’s be honest … this was an ugly execution game with a lot of missed opportunities, but I was impressed with the effort.

    Morgan Weaver … you see a lot of little things that make you think that she could be a very good scorer at the NWSL level. Size, athleticism are the two that stick out … but pacing herself to be onside for the CelBee pass is something you can’t necessarily teach. I like her athleticism and instincts

    Sophia Smith – PLEASE get healthy. For as good as Charley and Weaver are, Smith is the future face of the franchise

    Simone Charley … IMO, she’s played her way onto the protected list. Good pace. Good effort. Still not the most refined player, but you see some Jessica McDonald parallels with her.

    Bella Bixby … The Equalizer guys said she’s played her way onto Louisville. I hate to say this, but if we can protect only two USWNT players … there is a chance she is playing Adrianna French onto Louisville. Horan is the obvious protect. Becky and Sinc are at the end and have ties to Portland (I.E. full time homes). It is going to come down to Franch and Heath. Bella looks pretty damn good, but I could see either Franch on Lousville or Rory Dames getting Louisville to take Heath / trade for her.

    Emily Ogle … I loved what I saw from the former Penn State standout. Defense, pace. She’s not a star, but I can say that she’s solid replacement level play. You need those players on the roster.

    Celeste Bourielle … can we please move her to the back line. She’s a good midfielder, but her passes when she doesn’t have time to set leave something to be desired. The solid overall play is noticeable

    Rocky Rodriguez … Obvious upgrade from last year, but she did turn the ball over too much for my liking in game 1. She needs to be aggressive like we saw in game 2. If she is, I believe she will be a major asset for us. Also, Sky Blue … WTF on playing Purce back deep?

    Maddie Pogarch / Christine Westphal … Both are playing better than I anticipated. Westphal can definitely control the ball and play make.

    1. Obviously the Equalizer folks aren’t paying attention to the fact that Bixby is fully homegrown – from Milwaukie, played at OSU, etc. She’s not going anywhere.

      It’s going to come down to Franch or Eck, and whether Louisville wants a big name and fan favorite to sell tickets but who is often not available OR a very solid keeper increasingly on Franch’s level who will be available for every match.

        1. Or trade in order to protect others, accumulate assets, and/or move up in the draft, etc.

          I think we’ve seen the last of AD here. I don’t get the sense that that’s true of Tobin.

          1. We will likely only be able to protect 10 players and at most two national players.

            1. Horan
            2. Heath or Franch

            3. Smith
            4. Weaver
            5. Rodriguez
            6. Menges
            7. Charley
            8. Bixby
            9. Seiler

            My perspective is we protect Bixby whether we keep Franch or not with the 10th player being one of the following 4:

            Pogarch
            Lussi
            Bouirielle
            Ogle

    2. The goalkeeper situation is troubling because we have TOO many good options.

      Franch is still a fine keeper, and she is probably the best pure shot-stopper on the roster.
      Eckerstrom has improved a LOT; she’s not quite at the level Franch is yet, but she’s getting VERY close.
      Bixby has had a hell of a tournament so far; she’s allowed 2 goals on an xG of something like 2.5-3, so she’s easily exceeding expectations.

      Who do we keep..? Ugh. Ask me an easy one…

      1. Hopefully we trade one of them for a player we need more. I’d vote for Eckerstrom; she’s been a very good backup for a long time and deserves a shot at being a #1 keeper somewhere. I don’t think that’s going to happen here while Franch is around.

        Along the same lines, I’ve been wondering if Bixby is in the shop window lately. The coaches have seen how good she is, and now everyone else is seeing it too.

        1. Also, how much credit can we give Angerer for our having three starter-quality keepers here? Presumably they weren’t always starter-quality….

          1. In my comment about her in the post-2019 series I wrote: “It’s worthwhile to note that both her keepers are among the better at the position in the league; both are solid starting-quality players. There’s not much more you can ask of a keeper coach than that.”…and now it looks like all THREE of her keepers are that good. So hoch, hoch, die Kaiserin!

        2. If Bixby continues to look as good as she has, I’d consider dealing either Eck or Franch as much or more than I would her; she’s shockingly young to be that composed and technically competent, and as such has the potential to provide years of quality goalkeeping…

          1. Houston would be a target. They have no national league players and you probably could get a pick or a player. Megan Oyster for Franch is pretty one sided for Houston, but she’d be a good pickup for them.

            I wonder if Chicago is going to use their first round picks to protect or re-acquire their players

        1. When you have a keeper who’s starting quality and can’t get starts? That can be troubling; that player, if she has any ambitions at all, is going to want to play, and the potential for some locker room troubles begin. The notion of having three starting quality keepers seems terrific…until you have them and can’t play them all…

  9. Is it possible the Thorns fell backwards into playing this perfectly? Trail33″s projected protected list makes perfect sense, and it shows a real drop off right at the 10th player. Remaining Federated players likely too old to make sense for an expansion pick. If Carpenter hadn’t left, it would have set up perfectly. By not signing the “1-2 international players” (if that was ever a real thing) this year, that avoids having to pay, then protect them for what turned into a wasted year. Instead, we get to give the youngsters some playing time to see what we’ve got already, and voila, maybe we don’t really need to pay big bucks for a Diani-type of striker.

    1. The interesting question is if LA gets a franchise this year. If that’s the case, I would expect both Press to push to be there. Would Heath as well?

      I’ve seen a lot of season videos with Tobin that look like she spends most of it in LA. Would she want to finish her career there?

      I’d rather have Carpenter and Diani, but when you go two deep down there … it would make the decision harder.

    2. We really don’t know 1) whether there will be expansion…or a league…by April 2021. The way the Plague is spreading? We’re going to be lucky not to ALL be locked indoors by September, or too busy going to our grandparents’ funerals (or our own, but, whatever…).

      And 2) what the rules will be if expansion happens.

      And 3) whether any or all of these players will still be here and be healthy.

      So, as fun as it is to speculate, I don’t think there’s any way to have more than a SWAG at how expansion might go.

        1. Oh, me neither. It’s a fun drinking-game sort of thing. But my guess is that we won’t know if we’re anywhere close to the mark until – and let’s hope it IS “until” – it happens…

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