Summer Heat, Autumn Light

The NWSL Fall Classic (Fall Series, whatever they’re calling this thing…) schedule finally dropped. Sort of. We now know that the Thorns will play OL Reign here September 12, and Utah here September 20, and away at Utah 10/3, and Tacoma 10/10.

Frankly…ummm…well…okay.

It looks like the Thorns are going to be close to full strength. The latest photoshoot suggested that Sophia Smith is working out with the club, and that Horan and Sauerbrunn are, as well, so all three are likely to be match-fit in almost two weeks. Bixby, obviously, is still out post-op, and so far as I can tell Heath and Franch are not in the lineup, either.

(And merely as an aside…WTF happened to the frantic speculation over Heath’s supposed loan to Manchester United? The Twitterverse has gone utterly silent. I find it difficult, if not impossible, to believe that Heath (and Press, who was also named) could sneak into the UK without comment, or that MUFC would not announce a deal if one had been signed. So my presumption is that this thing, if it ever WAS a thing, broke up and sank somewhere. But I wonder if it ever really was anything, any more than the Dunn-to-Portland “deal” was ever really a thing?)

(Update 9/5: Apparently it IS a thing, and both Heath and Press are going to be Red Devils (does MU Women have the same nickname as the men? Or are they something different?) until May of 2021.

And then, I note in passing, it’s highly likely that the USWNT will be locked into preparations for the 2021 Olympics, meaning that Heath will be unavailable to Portland until midsummer at the earliest. Hmmm…)

Anyway, the “Fall Series” seems…kind of pointless to me.

I mean, I’m glad the league is getting the revenue. I hope that it’s done as safely as the bubble in Utah; a bunch of random games will be worse than pointless if some asymptomatic player sickens a dozen teammates or opponents.

But the games themselves? What’s there? This doesn’t “go anywhere”, there’s no progression; this isn’t anything like a “season”.

And, worse, the opponents provide no real competition for Portland; both OLR and Utah are shells, with many of their important pieces overseas or opting out.

So despite what appears to be a close-to-the-full-rebuild lineup playing for the Thorns, it’s going to be hard to assess how well the team has done with that rebuilding because the quality of the opposition is so sketchy.

Not that I won’t watch, mind.

But what it will tell us about the whole 2020 Project? I’m not sure.

Unless the Thorns look awful against these two temporarily-tomato-cans.

THEN?

Ouch.

Hopefully, though. Coach Parsons can use what we saw from our players in Utah in July to avoid such a brutally embarrassing outcome.

The things we did last summer

Here’s some unpleasant reading, from Chris Henderson’s Twitter feed:

That’s…not good.

That’s a team that generated a crap-ton of chances but couldn’t finish worth a goddamn lick. And that gave UP a crap-ton of good chances that their opponents either couldn’t finish, or, as in three of the four games of the group stage and the quarterfinal, were denied by monster goalkeeping.

I know we want to try and put the best gloss on the Challenge Cup we can, but the hard facts are that as a team, Portland;

1. Lost to NCC in a match that, honestly, should have been a worse defeat if not for Bixby,
2. Played to a scoreless draw against an utterly toothless Chicago who couldn’t even put a shot on goal,
3. Played a fairly decent 1-1 draw with Washington,
4. Played another scoreless draw with a fairly dire OLR,
5. Got a miracle win over NCC on a single well-crafted goal and a keeper gone mad, and
6. Went down quietly before Houston (who were the champs, so kind of understandable but still not really that great).

Were we the worst team in the tournament? In the group stage, definitely. Perhaps not by much…but enough. And in the knockouts? Certainly no better than third, and probably closer to fourth.

Sure, we can make excuses about missing players and injuries and bad luck. But a team has to do the absolute best they can with what they have, and the numbers show that we didn’t do that, at least not other than one game out of six.

The bottom line for me is how Utah showed how thin we are. If the starters are missing, or have a bad game, our reserves can’t carry the load…and in the small-roster world of the NWSL that’s critical. That kept the team in the hunt last season; Purce and Charley got huge in June with the Nats missing and kept the Thorns from tanking the season.

But Utah showed us the opposite – with the big names gone, our roleplayers weren’t able to keep things close enough to nick points where we needed to.

So what I want is for our FO to avoid the mistakes of 2017-2019, and to keep shaking the bushes to find players who CAN do that.

I don’t think we’re doooomed…but I think we’re going to have a hard time in the post-Plague league if we don’t get proactive now, continue chasing signings, continue the rebuild and even going further, like looking for a Sinc-replacement and a Menges-replacement and a Kling-replacement and a Heath-replacement (we got Franch covered…).

In short…we got a LOT of work still to do. And the place to start is by not making excuses for Utah. Let’s accept we were not-good and move on to do better this fall.

Speaking of work to do, here’s the collective InStat Index for the team over the six-match run:

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

Quick reminder: the InStat “Index” is one of those “magic stats” that are hard to really explain. When I got InStat data back in 2018 I tried to get the tovarische to explain exactly how they derived their magic number and got something that sounded like your drunk uncle explaining how the transporter in “Star Trek” worked.

So it’s not a “pure” stat, and based on what I understand of it can be shaded and gimmicked – for one thing, it over-rates goalkeepers quite badly – and has to be considered as more of a subjective than an objective metric.

But it has some value as a relative assessment of performance. The rule of thumb for turning the “Index” numbers into a performance review is pretty much as follows:
150 and below: anything below 150 is not a very good outing. Anything close to 100 is dire.
150 to 170 is “decent”, an average player having an average match,
170 to 200 is “good”. Above 185 or so is “very good”,
200 to 300? 200 to 250 is one hell of a match. Anything over 250 is a monster.
300 and above? That’s fucking superhuman, and is indicative of an dominating performance.

So how did our Muscovites see the Thorns in Utah? Let’s break it down individually, but, first, let’s do some sorting by average (or mean):

No real surprises there, right? The Good?

Well, Eckerstrom at the top obviously because of her huge quarterfinal (and because InStat’s Index tends to grossly over-value goalkeepers). Right below her all the familiar stalwarts – Horan, Sinclair, Menges – but also some less familiar names. How about you, Westphal?

(And I’d like to point you to the “median” value column. “Median” is a good statistic to use to evaluate a dataset affected by outliers, like Horan’s is here.

Horan’s average gets a huge boost from her immense outing against Washington; take away that and her average drops into the high 180s. Westphal, on the other hand, never had a game that big, but was solidly “outstanding” for all six matches. Her average and median are identical in the 200s, showing how consistently fine she was, and is also solidly above Horan’s median, reminding us of the level at which she was playing.

So, again; you go, Westphal – you tore it up in Zion.)

And Kelli Hubly! She looked good to me in Utah and apparently to the boys in Moscow, too; hell of a fine body of work for someone who was supposed to be no more than a journeywoman…

Bella Bixby takes a hit for her concessions against The Damned on Matchday 1, which I think is a trifle harsh, because otherwise she’s right there behind Eckerstrom with an average of 196.

The Average?

Below them, a mix of veteran role-players like Salem and Kat Reynolds (“Kren”) and promising youngsters, Ogle and Pogarch, doing pretty much what they were supposed to do; doing decent jobs and playing decent games.

Celeste Boureille had a decent run until the semifinal – without that 148 her average is 172, which put her solidly in the middle of the average-pack – but was what she’s supposed to be, generally-steady veteran depth. She’s currently in France on loan, though, so she won’t be here to help out.

Rodriguez‘s evaluation comes as a bit of a surprise to me. I thought she generally did quite well in Utah, but the tovarisches disagree. She is only credited with one truly outstanding game, the quarterfinal, though she’s rated close to 200 against Washington on Matchday 3. But they rate her in the barely-better-than-good-170s against the Reign and Chicago, and her work in the other two matches is quite average.

Sorry, comrades, but we might have to agree to disagree on that one.

Sauerbrunn has only a single data point, so for overall assessment in Utah her lonely Index is kind of useless.

Seiler is at the low range for a starter but not really for a player just returning to the pitch after a severe injury, and Smithers, like Sauerbrunn, really doesn’t have enough of a data file.

Weaver‘s numbers don’t look great but are appropriate for what she is; a rookie. She gets a big 200-plus-bump from her poacher’s goal in the quarterfinal but was completely useless in the semifinal and in the group stage wobbled up and down around the slightly-better-than-replacement-level-line, ranging from ” really meh” (against The Damned on Matchday 1) to “not bad!” against the Spirit two games later.

That’s a rookie and a rookie forward, at that: inconsistent, streaky, bouncing up and down. I think I said something about how she looked promising in Utah but mostly just that – promise. She hasn’t really shown that she can consistently fulfill that promise…yet.

At the bottom?

No surprise here, either, given all the chances and the failure to score from them; all the other forwards.

Simone Charley, in particular, did quite poorly in Utah, only evading the red lantern by her fluke goal on Matchday 1. Both Lussi and Everett also look very, very mediocre by these Russian lights.

So.

What needs to happen before the middle of September to end up looking better in Portland in September than we did in Utah in July? Well…

  1. Smith needs to get healthy and play up to her hype, because Lussi, Charley, and Everett ain’t getting it done, and Weaver needs the help,
  2. Rodriguez needs to do more of what she does when she’s on; we need her to be as good as she can be, consistently, rather than on-and-off,
  3. We need better play from the DMs – either Salem, Seiler, or Boureille, or some combination of all three, and
  4. The players who showed well in Utah need to keep doing well here in Portland.

I sure wish we were playing better opponents. But, lacking that, we need to play well as a team, like a team who’s rebuilding is working successfully. In Utah we had to be content with individual success.

Now we need to show we can play well – as a team.

Comments?

Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

22 thoughts on “Summer Heat, Autumn Light

  1. Im far less into this series than I was the cup. It seems like it would have been easy to take the winner of each bubble group (and 1 wild card) to have playoffs and make this thing mean something. A missed opportunity.

    As far the roster goes, Im even less enthused.

    1. If I was a player or a coach and you came and told me “Oh, yeah, you’re gonna play three games and the one who has the most points goes to the playoffs” the top of my head would fly off with rage. That would be even more ridiculous than the youth soccer “everyone makes the playoffs” thing we did in Utah.

      No, if this was to be an actual league-and-playoff season it’d have to be longer than three games. So it’s either a three-game exhibition thing, or they need to actually play a season. There’s no way you make this into a season of three games and a “postseason”

      I’m actually enthused to see how OUR roster works assuming it’s at full strength less Heath. I think the tools are there, if Parsons has learned from 2019 and Utah.

      (…and as an aside…have we seen the last of Heath in a Thorns kit? She seems less than enthused about the team and the league…)

      What’s frustrating is the opposition seems pretty flimsy. So if we look awesome, is it us being good, or them being bad?

      Or, worse, what if THEY look good and WE look bad..?

      1. The Equalizer is reporting again today (September 4) that Heath and Press are finalizing season-long deals with Man U.

        Given that the FAWSL runs September through May, and that the Olympics would happen sometime after that, I wonder whether we would see Tobin in a Thorns kit at all in 2021. The COVID precarity here in the States only complicates matters.

        1. I’ve been wondering if Heath is just kind of ready for new horizons. She hasn’t seemed all that interested in the domestic league or her NWSL club since the end of 2019.

  2. Interesting statistics. Thanks for presenting the median, another way to reduce the impact of one extraordinary game is the geomean. The geometric mean is used for particulate pollution because one dust storm can make the dust pollution mean look more dire than it really is.
    My other figure of merit is what did I think subjectively of everyone’s outings and the above statistics lined up with how I felt about the players relative performances. I wondered if my surprise about Westphal and Hubly may have caused me to think they were better than they were. But the objective stats said nope, they had great games. I didn’t remember Horan playing that bad against Chicago, but they do have good midfield, well so do the Courage but Horan really seemed to take the Washington Spirit and Andi Sullivan apart.
    I am really hoping to see Sophia Smith play in the upcoming games. At her best she will create problems for both Utah and Seattle’s back lines. Morgan Weaver could be the beneficiary. It lo0oks like the MU deal for Press and Heath is going through. But Chelsea, Wow! Sam Kerr and Pernile Harder and then there is Beth England who has been playing fantastic.

  3. Slight point of order: the Fall Series is supposed to include 4 games for each team, not 3. Home and away with each of the other two teams in the “pod”

    1. The math seems weird, but once you brought it up, I see it: POR: OLR home & away (2), UTA home and away (2), OLR: UTA home and away (2), and everybody’s played home-and-home once.

      Times three pods, 18 matches.

      1. Everyone’s favorite solution to figuring out something like this is to turn it into an algebra problem and run all the permutations, Right?

        Pod 1

        A hosts B

        A hosts C

        B hosts A

        B Hosts C

        C Hosts A

        C hosts B

        As you see 6 games above everyone gets to play 4 games.

        Takes these 6 games in each of the 3 pods you get the 18 games in total.

  4. We have a full schedule

    2 days before kickoff. Have the link handy so you oy can remember to watch which game where.

    https://www.nwslsoccer.com/news/article/nwsl-announces-remaining-2020-fall-series-schedule-and-cbs-broadcast-talent

    Saturday, Sept. 5 1:00 PM Segra Field Washington Spirit Sky Blue FC
    CBS & CBS ALL ACCESS

    Friday, Sept. 11 7:00 PM Sahlen’s Stadium NC Courage Houston Dash
    TWITCH

    Saturday, Sept. 12 12:00 PM Segra Field Washington Spirit Chicago Red Stars TWITCH

    Saturday, Sept. 12 3:30 PM Providence Park Portland Thorns FC OL Reign
    CBS & CBS ALL ACCESS

    Saturday, Sept. 19 1:00 PM Sahlen’s Stadium NC Courage Orlando Pride
    CBS & CBS ALL ACCESS

    Sunday, Sept. 20 1:00 PM SeatGeek Stadium Chicago Red Stars Sky Blue FC CBS ALL ACCESS

    Sunday, Sept. 20 3:00 PM Providence Park Portland Thorns FC Utah Royals FC TWITCH

    Saturday, Sept. 26 1:00 PM SeatGeek Stadium Chicago Red Stars Washington Spirit
    CBS & CBS ALL ACCESS

    Saturday, Sept. 26 3:30 PM Rio Tinto Stadium Utah Royals FC OL Reign
    CBS ALL ACCESS

    Saturday, Sept. 26 8:30 PM BBVA Stadium Houston Dash Orlando Pride
    TWITCH

    Saturday, Oct. 3 12:30 PM Montclair State Sky Blue FC Washington Spirit
    TWITCH

    Saturday, Oct. 3 10:00 PM Rio Tinto Stadium Utah Royals FC Portland Thorns FC
    CBSSN

    Sunday, Oct. 4 7:00 PM BBVA Stadium Houston Dash North Carolina Courage TWITCH

    Friday, Oct. 9 5:00 PM Osceola County Stadium Orlando Pride Houston Dash CBSSN

    Saturday, Oct. 10 12:30 PM Montclair State Sky Blue FC Chicago Red Stars
    CBS ALL ACCESS

    Saturday, Oct. 10 8:00 PM Cheney Stadium OL Reign Portland Thorns FC
    TWITCH

    Saturday, Oct. 17 4:00 PM Exploria Stadium Orlando Pride North Carolina Courage
    CBS & CBS ALL ACCESS

    Saturday, Oct. 17 8:00 PM Cheney Stadium OL Reign Utah Royals FC
    CBS ALL ACCESS

  5. I think they are going to run future pods as well if these work OK. This is a test case.

    With regards to median or average on 6 data points …. it really doesn’t say much. The average score of your 3rd and 4th game Vs the average score of 6 games. Maybe after 10 games, you can start looking at it.

    I look at average as the quality of play with a higher standard deviation to outline the consistency.

    InStat is great for discussion, but you could get 5 coaches watching the same play and come with a different rating. Have they published what the scoring methodology is?

    I didn’t think Bella Bixby’s game was similar to Tyler Lussi’s in that first Courage game. I also thought Rocky and Lindsey were dominating the middle of the field in the Chicago game yet Sinclair is the highest rated of the 3?

    1. As I think I mentioned in the post, the whole “Index” methodology is, as the saying about sufficiently advanced technology goes, “indistinguishable from magic” – meaning that I don’t entirely buy it. For one thing, it’s way too easy on ‘keepers, and tends to weigh heavily on individual events; your highlighting the first Courage match brings that into the spotlight. Bixby had two unfortunate concessions that were, IMO, something like 80-90% on her defenders – but because the way the InStat gang rates ‘keepers, she gets hammered for them in a way that makes her look as useless as Lussi was in that match.

      As far as the Chicago match, while I’m willing to give Sinclair credit for some hard work – her passing went forward more often than Horan’s did, but to rate her over Horan (65% completion to 90%? 2S/0SOG to 4S/2SOG? Ridiculous!). Sinc did do more than Rodriguez, though, who was not particularly effective.

      But overall I’m not sure it’s anywhere near realistic to say that we “dominated” the midfield. For there to be “domination” there kinda needs someone to be dominated, and Chicago just flat out didn’t show up for that game. In the sense that Rodriguez and Horan pretty much filled the space Chicago gave up without a struggle? Yeah, well, you could call that “domination”, I guess…

      Still, I think the overall trends were validated by what we saw on the pitch, and what needs to happen for this little four-match series.

      1. I view instat as the equivalent of John Hollinger’s PER stat in basketball. It shows some interesting trends, but is deeply flawed. A statistician should be able to come up with a better mode like they have in baseball and basketball.

        That said, our ineffectiveness in scoring with good opportunities is an issue, It’s why Parsons is telling Weaver to be more selfish, because ultimately she was our only forward based threat. I am super excited to see what Sophia Smith does

        1. What I saw was that Weaver didn’t have many good opportunities to BE more selfish. She was usually cut off or shut down before she had a good look at goal, but I don’t think that’s a problem or a long-term issue because that’s very much a “young forward moves up a level” thing – the move or moves that got you a pointblank shot in U-17 are ineffective at U-23. You up your game and find that at the pro level you’re back to banging on the door…she’ll figure it out (I hope)

          With Smith I’m intrigued to see what happens not so much what she does but to see if Smith can work effectively with the whole team to make the Thorns more dangerous in front of goal. I know she’s skilled. What I need to see if her skills will translate into team wins.

          Look at Kerr; great striker? Hellyes! Great enough to drag Chicago up to the top step of the podium? No.

          And the Index is a crude and blunt instrument, absolutely, but that’s the problem with trying to assess the individual value of players in this very-much-a-team-sport.

          Baseball? You’re kidding me, right? Almost everything baseball players DO is individual and every single action is a setpiece that begins when the pitcher goes into the windup. To develop statistical analyses from baseball is about as hard as planting weeds. That sabermetrics developed in baseball is no surprise at all. Almost anyone with an Excel spreadsheet can calculate things like WAR because the information is overwhelmingly out there. That’s not apples and oranges, that’s more like apples and humpback whales.

          Basketball is a little more fluid, but it’s also a lot smaller, both in physical dimensions and team size. It’s also much less fluid than soccer, with well-defined setpiece breaks after every score.

          So, no, no statistician will “…be able to come up with a better mode” for soccer with anything like the assessment methods available for things like pro cycling or baseball because the nature of the sports themselves are just so vastly different and the resulting assessment tools for soccer are always going to be much more subjective than for the other sports.

  6. My post may be too late, but there it is, I can barely remember what day it is, I think the league had to give the teams some kind of competitive time on the turf – this was it. Not great, but better than nothin’. I am so excited/v worried about Smith. We have a lot of eggs in that basket and, in many ways, she may be the panacea for our scoring ills. What worries me is how injury-laden she seems to be. Apparently she got hurt at the U20 Concacaf Tourney where, as far as I can tell, she only played a few minutes as a sub in an early round ( like against Santa Lucia where US won 9-0). How did she get hurt? And so very hurt that she couldn’t play 6 months later in the Cup? When I did a search all that comes up is her devastating injury in 2018. Hm…….. I would also love to know what international signings were on the table….

    1. I’m a bit worried about her durability, too, but we’ll have to see how she runs out this Saturday. What I WANT to see is her make the entire attack look better; offer Rodriguez opportunities to do that slick passing she showed glimpses of with Horan and Weaver, open space for the other attackers – take pressure off Sinc, open up opportunities for and combine with Weaver, partner with Horan.

      The bottom line is that the entire team needs to look better than they did in Utah; the forwards need to finish, the midfield needs to control the center of the pitch, and the backline needs to shut down opponents before they get good looks at goal. I’m not worried about Eckerstrom.

      As for the internationals…yeah, me, too. And whether there’s any sort of quiet negotiation still going on that might lead to something once we’ve got this damn Plague better in hand.

  7. Appears the FAWSL is fast emerging as the consensus best WoSo league in terms of quality of competition and salaries to be had.
    If that’s the case, there’d be very limited scenarios for “international signings” for NWSL clubs in general, let alone the West-coast, 10hour flight to Europe, Thorns , right? Maybe 2nd tier players who can’t make the big league rosters there?

    Else, i wouldn’t expect any big names to sign here, even after the Plague has run its course.
    Hoping the NWSL can work some marketing magic and turn this reality around…

    1. I watched the Arsenal-West Ham game today, and it was an utter shitshow, like watching a big kid beat down a little kid in a playground and take all her money.

      Plus NBC broke away at the twentieth minute for a massive commercial break and missed the first two goals.

      So I won’t pretend I’m excited. The NWSL has it’s weak points, but that sort of one-sided curbstomping is pretty unusual.

  8. Emily Menges wrote a great piece on the Thorn’s web page on the Challenge Cup and beyond.
    https://www.timbers.com/post/2020/09/10/reflections-nwsl-challenge-cup-and-beyond-journal-thorns-defender-emily-menges
    It was an interesting look inside the bubble and the adjustments players had to make to their normal routines. Things were kind of weird at times.
    Speaking of weird, the game we have been looking forward to has been rescheduled to Tuesday the 15th at 7 PM on Twitch. That makes sense given the rotten air quality we have right now.
    Just how many ways can 2020 go sideways, now we have practically the whole Western United States dealing with fires, evacuations and folks losing their homes. What an awful year!

  9. https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/15/media/paramount-cbs-all-access-viacomcbs/index.html

    Early 2021 CBS All Access will become Paramount+.

    I don’t think the name change will increase their market greatly as no one knows what paramount owns, at least I don’t. They aren’t disney and they aren’t HBO . Adding a plus to their name is not going to get what they want, increased marketshare. Mayne they get. AaT&T a free year for this “new” streaming service.

    Maybe a new app, likely a new increased l fee structure for the larger library, and exactly what Comcast did when they became Xfinity.

    Besides Star Trek can you name another piece of Intellectual Property that Paramount owns? I can’t off the top of my head.

    Best of luck to this new name. Let us see if this Pphoenix can raise again from the ashes.

  10. Has anyone in their entire history of watching soccer ever seen a more wide open header when the defending team has 7 defenders and their goal keeper inside the 18 yard box? Good to see Smith get her first goal as a Thorn but that was some shambolic defending of a corner.

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