PTFC v WASH: Match thread and post-match discussion

Tonight the Portland Thorns face up to the Washington Spirit in the third match of the “group stage” of the Challenge Cup.

Washington is 1-1-0 with a goal differential of -1, having lost to the Damned Courage 2-nil and beat Chicago 2-1.

Portland is 0-1-1, also with a GD of -1, having lost to the Damned 2-1 and drawn Chicago without a goal on either side.

At this point I think we have to question whether Coach Parsons will be looking for points, or still be doing what it appears he has been doing in the first two matches; experimenting with rosters and formations and using these “group stage” games as preseason to evaluate his options once the matches really count.

As in the Chicago draw, the Thorns will be down a striker (Smith), a centerback (Sauerbrunn), and a keeper (Franch); Kat Reynolds has been upgraded to “questionable”, although with a leg injury and the turf pitch in the offing I wouldn’t be surprised if she, too, remained on the bench.

The Thorns Attack

The statistics are pretty damning.

In two matches Portland has fired 26 shots. Six of them (23%) have been on frame. None have gone through the frame. The Thorns have now scored a total of two goals over the past eight matches going back to Matchday 20 in 2019 (including the semifinal; that’s 0.25g/game) over which time the team has posted a 1-5-2 record.

Goalscoring was supposed to be and was the focus of the offseason rebuild. Unfortunately even though Weaver has been attacking aggressively and Horan has looked much better than her woeful 2019 the goals still haven’t come. I’m concerned that at this point the issue has started to lock the attackers’ heads. Sometimes the problem with not scoring is it gets stuck in your brain that you’re jinxed, that you can’t score, and that has a way of getting into your game; you fire off that shot a moment too soon, or hold the ball a millisecond too long, and it goes astray rather than into the net.

Other than finishing? Here is what appears to be an issue, as well; the pass completion/successful dribble chart from the Chicago game:

This was Chicago, mind, not The Damned Courage’s high press. This was a team that mostly sat deep and dumped long balls downfield. There was no real reason for Portland forwards not to be running into Chicago’s penalty area, but the only successful pass is Tyler Lussi (#34) in the 80th minute, which didn’t result in a shot.

The only other pass that made it into Chicago’s 18 was a Rodriguez (#11) long ball in the 88th minute…

…that was picked off.

So scoring is only part of the problem; the other is that nobody is making successful runs, and when they are nobody is threading passes to them.

Put them together and you get 0.25 goals a game, and that ain’t gonna feed the bulldog. Whatever else Parsons is experimenting with during his preseason there in Utah, goalscoring is the single biggest thing that hasn’t worked.

The Thorns Defense

Frankly, it’s difficult at this point to figure out what the strong and weak points of the backline are, other than that young Bella Bixby has done very well so far…

(depending on how you run the numbers, Bixby has allowed two goals on an xG of roughly 2.5 to 3, so roughly -0.5 to -1G/xG. To put that in context last season Franch’s xG/G ratio was -0.25 and Eckerstrom’s was +0.08, so Bixby is looking better than both at this point.)

…and the Damned Courage can still blow past our backline on pure speed, which if you’re surprised is like being shocked the sun rises in the east.

My other random defensive thoughts would be, in no particular order;

Westphal has looked much better than I had hoped. I had her pegged as “washed-up trade-makeweight” and she’s done as well at right back as anyone outside of Ellie Carpenter could have done, particularly in getting the ball up the pitch. I’m still curious to see if Parsons tries Seiler there, if she’s healthy.

Losing Sauerbrunn so quickly is a real issue. We need to see if she can be better than she was against The Damned, and now we won’t, or won’t until some time later in the month.

We conceded a crap-ton of space wide against Carolina, and paid for it. We did better against Chicago, but, well, Chicago.

And speaking of Chicago, here’s Washington’s attack against the Red Stars a week ago Saturday:

See all that green down the Chicago defensive left flank? That’s Ashley Hatch (#33) and Kumi Yokoyama (#17) having Casey Short for lunch.

Short isn’t my beau idee’ of a LB, but she’s got a damn sight more pace than Kling at the moment.

Just a morsel for thought…

I’ll see you in the comments.

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36 thoughts on “PTFC v WASH: Match thread and post-match discussion

  1. Thorns XI (notional 4-3-3):

    Bixby

    Kling-Menges-Hubly-Westphal

    Salem-Rodriguez-Horan

    Lussi-Sinc-Weaver

    Burke starting six rookies or first-year players and Lavelle on the bench for Washington at the start

    1. Looks like Sinclair was actually playing up as a “9” much of this last game, and that the Thorns were actually in a 4-3-3 for real this time? Seemed to help the offense (i.e., there actually was an offense) , but not sure if that has to do with the Thorns play, the system, or the opponent. Washington seemed slow on defense and Thorns were getting a lot more space, chances.

  2. After a back-and-forth quarter hour Portland took over and put the Spirit under the cosh for about twenty-five minutes of the last half hour. Rodriguez creating some lovely service to Horan finding space wide left, but the final pass or shot isn’t there.

    Horan missed a total fucking sitter in the 27th minute, running on to a Sinclair flick from Westphal’s cross in, but Horan slipped trying for the shot and dinked harmlessly across the goalmouth. Had another dangerous header in the 31st that was waved off for a foul. Lots of chances, no conversions…a sadly familiar tale.

    In the final five minutes or so Washington came alive, culminating in a nasty rising and bending Yokoyama shot that Bixby rose strong to turn around her far post.

    I”m a bit concerned that we haven’t finished – again – and now we’re looking at Lavelle and Hatch in the second half…

  3. Westphal and Hubly are doing a pretty job. But yeah now we have Rose and Hatch. This will be a bigger challenge for Hubly. Horan is a monster out there and Rocky is a strong presence.

  4. Hatch and Lavelle made a huge difference for Washington in the second half, but it was Portland that struck first, on a good Kling FK that Horan finished with a thumping header.

    Bixby had some brilliant work, after a 63rd minute Washington passing sequence – Sullivan to Sanchez and a brilliant slide-rule pass to put Hatch in 1v0, but Bixby shoots out her right hand and palms away for the corner. Brilliant save.

    Unfortunately the defense couldn’t hold on; in the 77th minute Washington won a corner, and Sanchez whipped a ridiculous backheel flick to Staab at the far side, who looped a header over Klingenberg to level.

    Horan – who was a monster all match – had a brilliant run in the 88th minute onto a sweet Rodriguez service but had to shoot from distance and Bledsoe dived across to turn it wide.

    Overall? Lots of energy. Some fine individual work, from Rodriguez, Horan, Bixby in particular. But the end result was a bit of a disappointment. The missed opportunities in the first half – as missed opportunities often do – came back to bite Portland in the ass.

  5. Ann Schatz just had Parsons on the Thorns FB page, and I thought he pretty much nailed it. He said something to the effect that the Thorns did three of the four “elements” of match performance well; defending, transition, and chance creation. But – the term he used was “lacked quality” – they stumbled in the fourth, finishing, and that, I think, sums it up. It was a well-played match in many respects…but the ultimate test is putting the ball through the goal, and when you add up all the great opportunities the Thorns wasted – Horan’s miss in the 27th, Sinc’s slip in the 47th – you finish those and by the final quarter hour it’s 3-nil and the game is out of reach.

    We’ll see if the team can build in this to lay a whipping on the hapless Reign next Monday.

  6. THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE THORNY AND THE ROSIE:

    The Good: Bella Bixby keeping us in games. Making the saves she should and more, Bella is my MVP for the Thorns so far for this tournament (Horan close 2nd).

    The Bad: Sinclair’s whiff on what looked like a sure goal embodies the lack of quality in final 3rd. Who is going to step up? Horan cant do it all.

    The Thorny: Po coming in off the bench and giving the ball away in dangerous areas. Ouch!

    The Rosie: After all the talk of who might play at right back, seeing Reynolds out on the field late in the 2nd half was my hot chocolate on a cold day. Maybe its just a nod to our glory days, but Ill take it.

    1. Definitely dunking on Po. She has struggled mightily with her defensive positioning (lack thereof) and passing quality (lack thereof). Remember when MP suggested she was an able replacement for Carpenter? We’ve got a l-o-o-o-o-o-o-ng time to wait for that to be true.

          1. The whole backline wasn’t exactly all over that goal, though, and Parsons had his fullbacks pushed way up, so I’m not sure if her positioning was her mistake or doing what she’d been told when Sauerbrunn got smoked on Mewis’ run.

            Not a great couple of games from her, though, for sure.

          2. Yes, Westphal has really outshined Pogarch this tourney. Westphal looks confident with the ball, and competent in defending- a pleasant surprise. Kudos to Parsons for going to go get her when it looked like she was a bust. To be fair to Pogarch, though, she’s been playing out of position a lot, because Parsons is keeping Klingenberg in the lineup at LB. Though, if Klingenberg is staying in the lineup anyway, then maybe it’s just as well that Pogarch gets some more time to develop behind her- i really like her hustle, speed, tenacity, but her passing (and maybe positioning, depending on who’s fault that is) isn’t good so far

  7. Yes speaking of Reynolds she showed some excellent acceleration back there. Westphal has done well and the back line has managed despite all the various juggling of personnel. It was great to see Gabby make an appearance too.
    The Reign is a team that I have not watched and I am mystified by how bad they seem to be playing. There are quality players, but maybe getting used to a new coach and some new faces. But yes I am feeling confident. It is looking like we have one favorite (Carolina) and four contenders (Portland, Washington, Chicago and Houston). The Dash are a really salty team with Shea Groom, Rachel Daly and Katie Stengle, look out for them!

    1. The Dash have become really fun to watch. I’m happy to see that Groom has gained enough control of her play to the point that I can enjoy her passion and energy without constant anxiety that she’s going to seriously injure someone. She and Daly make an explosive pairing. And Kristie Mewis, after all but disappearing for years, is looking like a baller again.

      The Reign is a puzzle. I don’t know much about Benstiti, but I wonder if he will ever be effective in a league made up of so many independent-minded and outspoken women. I’d like to see him tell Michelle Betos or Rosie White that they need to lose weight. What little I have heard about his coaching is all technical stuff – nothing on teamwork or team culture, although the Reign have always prided themselves on being a family.

  8. I saw a tweet from Katelyn Best
    “Man I think I worry a little about Lindsey Horan. This team relies on her to an insane degree and I’m not sure it’s good for either of them.”
    You know there is something to that. Not so much when Tobin is on the field. But even with Sinc out there Lindsey is dominating all stats. I hope Rocky and Becky s can take some of the pressure off. But that comment really unsettled me. She is so important. I made a comment somewhere else about Horan being a Lauren Holiday type figure on this team and we remember how ordinary KC was without her.

    1. To be blunt, I think that is why they sold out to get Sophia Smith, Morgan Weaver, and Rocky Rodriguez. I believe that they are Horan’s support function as they get more acclimated with Smith being the most important (I believe she is a USWNT starter in the future)

      1. Also … my perspective is Sophia Smith is one of the top 3 players on our roster and would love to see her play. We are really missing her on the pitch. If healthy, I believe she is our top scoring option even though she’s a rookie

    2. Right now that’s definitely the case. Stop Horan and you stop Portland (or Horan has an off day and it stops Portland…).

      I think that the plan is that Weaver, Smith, Rodriguez, and several of the veterans including Heath, Sinc, Seiler, Menges, ‘Brunn…are all there to create a team that perhaps functions with Horan as one of the primary weapons but has more than one tine to the fork; Smith and Weaver being the most obvious two others.

      At the moment we have no idea how this plan will look like in action, or whether it will work, particularly against the Damned Courage. The plans we had for 2018 and 2019 didn’t, and the acquisitions we made for those plans – Andressinha, AMC, Foord – were wasted.

      Will this one work better? Hell if I know. Let’s hope so, though. I’m getting damned sick and tired of getting whipped by the damned Damned Courage.

      1. No idea and comparing Smith to the failed internationals is a little bit of hyperbole. Smith’s talent level to me suggests a player who easily develops into a top level scorer and I do think Weaver is a very intriguing supporting piece designed to create space for Smith. It’s tough to gauge where you stand when you are likely missing your 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best position players right now.

        Smith and Weaver are designed to create pressure and pace. I want to see how teams handle that.

        My hope is Dahlkemper gets selected and Erceg gets poached by PSG or OL.

        1. Why is that hyperbole? Foord was and is a successful international forward no less than Weaver is and was a successful NCAA forward. AMC was and is a successful international forward no less than Smith is and was a successful NCAA forward. If anything, the difference is that both Foord and AMC were proven successes at the professional and senior international levels, and neither Smith nor Weaver are either one. Instead, I’d suggest that it’s a very similar situation.

          Smith and Weaver are planned to create GOALS, just like AMC and Foord were (since that’s the bottom line for forwards – “pressure and pace” are nice, goals are the payoff), and the two internationals failed to do that consistently enough.

          Can the young rooks succeed? I sure as hell hope so. Because Tacoma and Carolina (and to a very large extent, Utah) handled us very thoroughly last season, and Carolina the seasons before that.

          It’s unfortunate that we can’t tell from this tournament whether the addition of Smith and Weaver up front, Rodriguez in midfield, and Westphal and Sauerbrunn on defense will help change that dynamic. I know that’s the PLAN…but we’ve been watching plans fail since the 2017 Final.

          1. Whuuuuut?

            AMC and Foord weren’t “prospects”; they were established professionals with good c.v.s when they were signed. The FO got those c.v.s wrong, mind you, but to equate a couple of promising kids with veteran internationals? THAT’s hyperbole. Well, no, actually…that’s just kind of silly.

            Both rookies are promising. But that’s really ALL they are now, is promise. And my point remains; the FO read the skillsets of several established veteran internationals wrong between 2017 and 2020. That doesn’t reassure that they’ve read the skillsets of completely untried young players right.

            Not saying they HAVEN’T…just that recent player personnel moves don’t exactly inspire blind faith in this FO to figure out how to actually use these promising youngsters and give them the team around them they’ll need to succeed at the professional level.

          2. What I’m suggesting is when I read your takes, you don’t really differentiate between caliber of prospect or failure. It’s kind of like this perpetual “the front office screwed up with x player, so I won’t have blind faith take.”

            This front office brought in Horan, Henry, among other good decisions. It isn’t about blind faith. It’s about pointing out a negative that happened and trying to extrapolate.

            AMC was a fringe player in Europe and while Foord was highly regarded, she isn’t anywhere near what Smith is regarded as.

            Tell me why you think they will fail based on what you’ve seen on the player. I can easily tell you why I think they’ll succeed and the potential issues that could create failure, but it’s basically stereotyping a decision by comparing it to an unrelated decision.

          3. Sometimes I re-read what I say and the tone isn’t right. I respect your knowledge a ton and enjoy the conversations with a fan as passionate as you are John. Just want to hear your opinions on why a player may succeed or fail based on the player rather than a historical signing base. It isn’t frustration. It’s just I think the discussions could go to a better place.

  9. I agree with you about those three might be the answer. Rocky has been great and Weaver is all I thought she would be and she will only get better. We could say Smith is untested, but we saw her in 2017 against us and she was close to unstoppable. So yes there are answers and I need to stop hyperventilating. Rocky mentioned in an interview that the connections have been fantastic in practice and when that happens in a real game, well Wow! I also don’t want Horan to be less the Great Horan, just looking forward to more heroes.

    1. I’m not sure how we get better in the back line at this point.

      I’ve been a little disappointed in Lussi and Pogarch. I feel both have NWSL talent, but they really haven’t reached out and grabbed this opportunity other than Lussi being good enough defensively that I think she might be a fullback option.

      I like Weaver. I’m not sure why she’s giving up some of the opportunities she has passing the ball up in a situations where I know her shot would be more useful, but the speed and pace are creating opportunities.

      The defense over the part two games has been particularly better outside of the occasional screw up in assignment

      1. I think the idea is to pair a healthy Sauerbrunn and Menges inside of a pair of (as-yet-unknown-signings) speedy fullbacks with a solid DM (Seiler? signing?) and Rodriguez-as-ballwinner sitting over them.

        The reality, with ‘Brunn injured, and Westphal and Kling doing what they can, and Seiler just coming off rehab? Yeah, I’m not sure how that gets better, either. Individual errors gave up goals against Carolina, Chicago was just sad, and the defending WAS better against Washington, though it’s damn good Bixby has been playing out of her mind, because she still had to stone Hatch to hang on to the point.

        I think there WAS a plan, but losing Raso and Seiler, and the COVID-closure of the international transfer window hammered it pretty flat…

        1. …and having Ellie Carpenter fly the coop so soon after signing a new contract can’t have helped. The FO undoubtedly thought, “She signed a new contract for several years. We don’t have to worry about her anymore.” Then, whoosh.

          1. Yep. That had to be an unpleasant shock, and I think the FO is still trying to figure out how to deal with it…

  10. Question of the day:

    If you are Parsons, do you go all in against the Reign on Monday to avoid the Damned in the first round or do you rest your starters knowing you will have to play them to win the tournament anyway?

    If its me, Im all in against the Reign. I dont wanna go home with zero wins, and that is a possibility if we finish last.

    1. You also go all in because the time for fiddling is over. We need to have the first-choice XI out there to get them playing together at least one game before we reach the knockouts.

    2. The thing is maybe Chicago lose against the Utah Royals, there game is Sunday night and ours is Monday morning. If that happens we know we are 7th place with a loss or a draw. If we win we can end up in that mess of teams currently on 4 points.

      If Chicago get even a point out their game then we field a 1st team roster. If Chicago lose I hope our roster is (first names)

      Bella

      Autumn Anika Madison Meaghan

      Simone Emily-O. Britt

      Marissa Celeste Kelli

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