Thorns FC: Family Game Night

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

When my son was little he was like a lot of little guys, busy and wriggly and hard to embrace. I loved him and he wanted love, but only on his terms. And as a dad, well, I had to be just fine with that.

One of his “love things” was that he wanted me and his mom to play games with him. Game-games, not outdoors or electronic games, games like Uno or Go Fish or Monopoly.

Ohmigod how that Boy loved Monopoly.

So our Act of Love was Family Game Night, and he almost always got to pick the game.

He always picked Monopoly.

So we’d set up the board, hand out the fake cash, pick the tokens (he was the scottie dog; NO one else could be the dog…) and we’d roll to see who went first, and…

Then I would be forcibly reminded that fucking Monopoly is the most boring game in the world.

It goes on forever, it’s just an endless round of dice rolls and money and those little cardboard title deeds, it’s about as exciting as watching paint dry, but because as much as the Boy loved Monopoly it was an endless tedious slog I endured it with a smile because I loved him and still do (even now that he’s a teenage gamer who hates Monopoly and seldom says more than three words to me).

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Last Sunday’s pointless Fall Series match against a viciously depleted Utah Royals reminded me forcefully of those Monopoly game nights.

We were watching because we love our Thorns.

But instead of tedious real estate deals there was lots of brutally bad passing, lots of pointless random running about, and almost no quality from Utah. The Thorns had some nice buildup but once in front of goal usually lacked the final pass or clinical finish; the best looks Portland got were from direct play that feasted on Utah’s awful backline but made for some ugly soccer.

The midfields pretty much fought to a draw; if anything, more play went through Utah’s midfield toward the Portland goal thanks to a certain gifted ex-Thorn rather than the other way around, but the slog in midfield was pretty sterile.

Someone – either the suspended Utah coach Harrington or Sunday’s coach LePeilbet – told the Royals to go after Raquel Rodriguez and Lindsay Horan, so every time one of them touched the ball a white shirt or three was on them. With Horan that’s seldom useful and it wasn’t Sunday; Horan simply used her usual quick touch to pass out of danger.

Rodriguez, on the other hand, was stifled until late in the match when Utah had to just stop forechecking to try and chase, so we never really got to see what she could do in her role in the rebuilding – as a creator for the forwards and midfield general.

Viewing the replay, if I’d have been a neutral I’d have turned it off at halftime, figuring I wouldn’t get to see Smith.

That would have been unfortunate, because Smith had a very positive effect on the Thorns’ game in the final twenty minutes or so.

Remember, the only reason for watching was to see how the Rebuildening was going, and especially Sophia Smith, the Chosen One whose incredible midichlorian count was going to redeem the Thorns striking corps and restore balance to the NWSL (and bring another star to Portland).

Well…I don’t know if we can say that quite yet, but some things happened that suggest there may be at least a little of Good Anakin in the making in the young striker.

Smith came on in the 69th minute and scored three minutes later. She had several other nice runs. She helped open up space for her teammates. She seems to have pace, intelligence, and a nice eye for open space and scoring chances; she’s got the “striker’s nose” for good looks at goal.

But…again, this was twenty minutes against a gassed, overwhelmed team that was defending like a U-14 rec league squad. It’s really difficult to say whether Smith and the Thorns can do this against the Damned Courage at full strength, and that’s the only measure that counts in the NWSL right now.

So the Thorns thoroughly bossed the hapless Royals, putting two more past them while keeping a pretty effortless clean sheet. Simone Charley created a nice goal all on her own, Lindsey Horan “created” a ridiculous “Diego-Valeri-embarrasses-Steve-Clark” goal on some brutal Utah errors, and the Thorns won their first game since the Miracle Quarterfinal without needing a god-touched performance from Britt Eckerstrom.

So I’m inclined to look on the bright side of life. Smith looks promising, the Thorns got a thumping win, and nobody caught the Plague.

And that’s just fine. You don’t always get to buy the Boardwalk. Sometimes you gotta throw up a little flophouse or three on Pennsylvania Avenue and hope for the best.

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

Player Ratings and Comments

Charley (69’- +8/-2 : +2/-1 : +10/-3) Si-money was her usual self last Sunday; active, pacey, persistent, and was finally rewarded for all that effort with a nice goal in the 34th minute that combined two very much “yeah, we’ve seen this before” kinds of things.

First, Horan picks out a teammate downfield and drops a dime on her; which Horan totally did, and was doing all match, so yeah, been-there, done-that.

But Charley was pretty well covered by Maemone, and the play could easily have ended with a poke away or a tackle. It was Charley herself that took a sweet touch forward, pulled Maemone, and then cut the ball back inside, where Kate del Fava was waiting for her.

Charley just spun del Fava like a top with another nice touch and slotted past Abby Smith for the matchwinner.

Now if you remember from 2019, Charley does this all the time; runs under long rainbows and onto through balls and touches up the ball nicely; remember the game against Chicago back in June 2019, her assist on Purce’s second goal? Yep. That. She did the same sort of thing in the W-League all winter, too. But Portland has never been able to use her like this consistently, and it’s worth noting that this play was only successful the one time.

But do that one time every match?

Let’s do that.

Smith (21’ – +4/-0) I want to break down Smith’s 72nd minute goal for what is says about this game more than what is says about Smith.

 The play actually started in the 71st minute, when our Rodriguez finally made the kind of right-side attacking run that produced the quarterfinal goal in Utah back in July. She took advantage of a brutal defensive positioning error by del Fava to shake herself clear and slotted a nice cross into our Smith, whose shot was pushed out by their Smith for a corner.

(I say “our” and “their” because both teams had one of each. We had a Rodriguez (Raquel) and a Smith (Sophia), theirs were Amy and Abby. Just to make it hard on a writer doing the match report.)

The corner got cleared out to Utah’s deep left corner, where Diallo took possession easily and looked to push the ball upfield.

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

But inexplicably (brainfart? lost a boot?) she passed directly out to Meghan Klingenberg along the east touchline. Kling took a touch and looked into the box for a target.

Here’s where I mention my favorite defending no-no. Where are practically all the Utah defenders looking?

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

At the ball. That’s right; there’s something like four or five Utah players inside their own penalty area, and not a damn one is even head-checking to see where the Portland players are. Every damn one of them is ballwatching.

I give credit to Smith for drifting into the open space. But Jesus wept, how hard is it to stick to your mark? There’s enough defenders there to start a pinochle tournament, and not one of them is within arm’s reach of Smith.

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

So when Kling puts the ball on her head, and Smith executes what really is a lovely header, there’s no hope once the ball is headed towards the goal. It’s two goals down, Utah, and now you’re really hosed.

Smith had several other nice moments, including a dangerous run in the 80th minute that forced Utah’s Bowen to clear Sinclair’s cross right off Smith’s foot to prevent what would have been a pointblank shot, and another 90th minute run that forced a similar good tackle from our former Wrecking Liz Ball.

So a fine debut from Smith, and promise for the future.

Let’s see if we can use her to do this sort of stuff in Cary next season.

Lussi (86’ – +5/-3 : +1/-1 : +6/-4) Continuing her run of play from the Challenge Cup, Tyler Lussi worked hard for almost all match and had absolutely nothing to show for it. I’m not sure why not; she seems like an intelligent player with a terrific workrate. But she seems to have Caitlin Foord Syndrome; she just can’t seem to translate that into goals, and I’m not sure what the Thorns can do about, or with, that.

Everett (4’ – no rating) Y’know what’s embarrassing? Until I watched the tape I had no idea Everett was even on the pitch. And I’m not sure who that’s more embarrassing for, her or me.

Sinclair (+5/-2 : +4/-4 : +9/-6) Workwomanlike match from Cap’n Sinclair without any particular thing to recommend it; frankly, Sinc seemed to have very little impact on the match until Smith’s entry (which is another point in Smith’s favor).

In the 77th minute Utah’s keeper made yet another ugly gaffe; her clearance went pretty much directly to Sinclair. Smith had also come pretty far off her line – far enough for a classic Sinclair long chip into the net. Instead, Sinc’s shot was well wide left. You could see from her reaction – squatting on the pitch with her head in her hands – that Sinc knew that she should have, and in her glory would have, put that sucker away.

That’s…unsettling.

Horan (+9/-3 : +9/-4 : +18/-7) You wouldn’t call your sister “The Great Sissy” for beating up small kids in an alley, and it’s hard for me to call this a Great Horan performance given the utter helplessness of the Royals. But, that said, this was a hell of a fine match from Horan. Bagged the ridiculous goal, assisted on another, and damn near on a third (the Smith 90th minute run). So sort of a More Than Usually Good Horan, and given the circumstances, that’s just fine.

Rodriguez (+3/-6 : 9/-4 : +12/-10) Despite her PMR, I thought this was not quite such a mixed bag from Rodriguez.

For one, as mentioned above, Utah was clearly keying on her; she never had any time or space to get open (of her ten minuses, five are for being tackled for loss).

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

For another, when – stop me if you’ve heard this before – Smith came on Rodriguez was suddenly making an impact.

That said, she was sloppy in possession; her other minuses were for passes that went directly to a white shirt.

Not a bad match. But Rodriguez isn’t here to have “not bad” matches. She’s here to create attack by feeding the strikers, and that’s only happening sporadically. For the Thorns attack to become consistently dangerous, Rodriguez needs to be more consistently clinical.

But half the magic isn’t magic. Add Smith and Weaver and Rodriguez (and Horan…) together? Then we may see some magic.

Salem (70’ – +4/-4 : +1/-2 : +5/-6) The beneficiary from Utah’s obsession with Rodriguez was Angela Salem, who could have set up a camp chair and a little table and had a nice mojito and watched the match on her phone last Sunday. She had foolish amounts of space and time to pick out targets, so it was not to her credit that while 4 of her 5 pluses are for complete passes 5 of her 6 minuses are for poor passes that turned the ball over, and she didn’t have a single key pass while Kling and Horan were diming teammates left and right.

I like Salem in general, but I thought she did little in this match to earn the effusive praise she was getting from announcer Kaylyn Kyle. She was decent, but unspectacular, and given the lack of attention she got from Utah she should have been fucking Sam Mewis.

Seiler (20’ – no rating) If Salem was unspectacular Seiler was invisible. What’s kind of frustrating about that is that between the 76th and 89th minutes Utah was able to spend quite a bit of time holding and moving the ball at the top of Portland’s penalty area, and that’s where Seiler should have been operating. Admittedly, it’s hard to shut a player of Vero Boquete’s quality down entirely. But I think Seiler should have at least been visible trying, and she wasn’t.

Westphal (45’ – +4/-6) Westphal’s PMR is a bit misleading, because as a fullback her primary responsibility is defending, and her pluses are all defensive. On the other hand, modern fullbacks are also supposed to provide service (and one of ours was…) and 5 of her 6 minuses are for really poor passes. Westphal also benefited from not having Vero coming at her backline, so her performance has to be judged as such in comparison to…

Pogarch (45’ – +3/-6) As we saw in Utah and in 2019, Madison Pogarch has tons and tons of speed. Now she needs to convert several pounds of that speed into some better defensive skills, because her defending in the second half against an admittedly desperate Utah chasing the game led by one of the game’s great midfielders was pretty dire, including an appalling 69th minute “clearance” that went right to Diallo. Diallo ran into the Portland defense and, as they collapsed onto her, crossed to Arielle Ship whose shot produced the only real save Eckerstrom had to make. Diallo had Pogarch’s number all game; in the 51st minute she just flat blew past her but the resulting shot was poor so that Eck saved easily.

I’ve been told that 1) Pogarch really is a skilled defender, and 2) that her natural position is left fullback. Right now Westphal looks to me like the natural RB for the Thorns, and if so, and this was simply Coach Parsons wanting to give the rook some more minutes? Fine.

But, still. Pogarch can cut down on the avoidable errors, and as she gains experience, she should.

Menges (+4/-4 : +0/-1 : +4/-5) Interestingly, Emily Menges’ PMRs suggest a rather muted outing last Sunday. Interesting because with the replacement of Sonnett with Sauerbrunn Menges has become the Sonnett-centerback, roaming forward, while ‘Brunn is the Menges-centerback, staying home. So you’d think that Menges, with her experience and pace, would have been involved in a lot of notable defensive work in front of Portland’s goal what with Utah needing to make up three concessions.

Instead, she wasn’t particularly, and I suspect that a lot of that was because Portland was gang-defending and doing a lot of forechecking, so that Menges didn’t have to make a bunch of outstanding individual plays.

And the bottom line is that the Menges-led backline still kept a clean sheet, so overall she has to be considered to have had a decent match.

Hubly (62’ – +6/-3 : +1/-1 : +7/-4) Kelli Hubly, like Menges, wasn’t racing about making incredible defensive plays Sunday. And her passing had the same issues the rest of her team did – she had three “plus” passes and four “minus” ones, so more of her long boots out of the back went astray than connected.

But, like Menges, she combined with her unit to keep the Royals down and the sheet clean, and that’s a centerback’s job. So well done, Hubly.

Sauerbrunn (28’ – +4/-0) Good shift…but I think it’s a tribute to how good Hubly has become that I didn’t notice the Portland backline get visibly better when Sauerbrunn, one of the game’s finest centerbacks, replaced her.

Klingenberg (+10/-4 : +9/-0 : +19/-4) My pick for Woman of the Match; terrific on defense, relentless in attack, gorgeous service on the Smith goal, just all-around a hell of a game from Kling. I’m still eating those words from last season, Kling; you’re still killing it out there.

Eckerstrom: (+0/-0 : +1/-0 : +1/-0) Utterly untroubled. Good save off the Ship attempt, otherwise a slow day at the office thanks largely to her midfield and defense, and that’s just fine.

Coach Parsons: When your team wins by three unanswered goals it’s hard not to give the coach some props. Sunday’s game was so brutally unequal, though, it’s hard to say how much.

The real important question that Parsons needs to answer is “has your rebuilding succeeded?” Certainly with Smith’s debut performance that portion of the question looks like a promisingly-good answer.

But Utah was a pretty softball question. We won’t know the real answer until we see the whole Rebuildening on the pitch together – which means Weaver healthy and Smith and Sauerbrunn going the full 90 – against a serious opponent, which means Washington or Tacoma or particularly Carolina at full strength.

That’s when we’ll play the Game of Thrones, and if the answer is right we’ll win.

If not, we’ll die.

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use.

But we’re not going to have that this fall. We’ve got the hollow shells of Utah and Tacoma, instead.  

So just like on family game night; because we love our Thorns we’re going to have to play a fuck-ton of goddamn Monopoly.

Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

11 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Family Game Night

  1. Thanks for your insights, John.
    Although handily beating a team that’s a dumpster fire doesn’t prove much, it does show that the Thorns don’t belong in the same dumpster. And, I would argue, they looked like a team that is ready to improve drastically with more playing time together. It’s definitely too bad they don’t get to play against better competition any time in the near future. One of many things that are too bad at the moment.

    1. I feel like a real curmudgeon because I’m not sunnier about a three-goal win. A LOT of that is having to watch it again; the first time it was all like: “Hey! Nice! We got three goals!” The second time it was: “Jesus there’s a LOT of shit passing in this game. Can anyone actually get a shot on goal? C’mon, do SOMEthing…”

      I’d certainly LIKE to think that the Thorns will look better than that with more practice and more minutes. I sure hope so.

      1. Really looking looking forward to your review of the Wednesday game. Will you bring us back to earth with a searing (some may say sourpuss) analysis? Or did the dazzling display of our GOAT captain warm those cockles? 😄 Also would like to hear what you think about Rocky. Sounds like Parsons has courted her for years and we gave up Purse AND a good draft pick for her. Is she all that and a bag of chips? Finally, why aren’t we starting our rookies? Nursing them back from injury still? Seems to me they should be getting as many minutes as possible.

  2. Can’t tell if you’re joking about Diallo losing a boot, and I’m running off the memory of one of the glamour-shot replays the Thorns social accounts posted, but I think she really did lose a boot on that turnover.

    1. I think she did, too. If you blow up the first screencap in the sequence you can see a little white dot next to the side-stripe of the 18-yard box; I think that’s her boot.

  3. Great post John! Your comments always bring a smile to my face. I agree Pogarch is probably best posted on the left side and to learn at the feet of Klingenberg who is so underrated. If Madison could just use her speed the way Carpenter did. Elli was fast, way before she was a good right back, but her speed made people respect her. I think one day Carpenter will be one of the best and Pogarch might be the Kling of the future.
    I don’t think Gabby Seiler is back to 100%, because she was much better than she has looked this year and I liked what I saw before her injury.
    And Vero, what a treasure! Correct me if I am wrong but that term Slide Rule Pass that you invented must have been inspired by Vero. I remember my first slide rule, such an elegant instrument and later I bought a more expensive one that I have to this day. I was just glad that the calculator came along so I could just look at my slide rule.
    Back to the Thorns, yes the competition was in disarray but there were lots of interesting things that happened in that game and I feel very sanguine about the future.

    1. To give credit where it’s due, I think the term “slide rule pass” is as old as, well, the slide rule.

      I honestly don’t know about this team. I WANT to think that all the pieces are there, and all it’ll take is some tinkering and time and everything will suddenly be working like a mechanical ass-kicker.

      I worry that it won’t, and right now we just don’t have opposition that’s good enough to really smoke-test us to know which is which.

  4. [Oops, accidentally entered that one before it was ready.]

    Random comments:
    * Hubly did an admirable job on defense, and kudos to her for that. The passing improved when Sauerbrunn came on, however, and it seemed like the defending grew less desperate (despite Utah’s *increase* in desperation).

    * “Simone Charley created a nice goal all on her own.”
    Can we take a moment to appreciate the quality of Horan’s balls over the top? Not only does she put them on a dime, she does so with backspin. This (a) makes the ball drop sooner after it has gone over the defenders, making it harder for the goalkeeper to reach, and (b) makes the ball not skid forward after landing, also keeping it out of the goalkeeper’s clutches and potentially making it easier to control. [BTW, Valeri does this too.] Horan, with her immense ball control quality, does this kind of long ball at least as well as anyone else in the league, and possibly better.

    * Charley also dealt with the pass perfectly, first using her body to shield away her defender, then doing the Messi-like moves, including the pass-the-ball-into-the-goal, to score. Nice work.

    * I like Kaylyn Kyle as an announcer, despite her odd love for Angela Salem’s play, SO much more than Aly Wagner it’s not even close. I no longer feel the occasional need to turn the sound off.

    * The term “slide rule pass” might be only as old as the pass. Slide rules are probably older, having been invented in the early 1600s (around when Napier discovered logarithms), while soccer, despite deep roots, dates from only the late 1800s.

    * Vero is a unicorn out there. She’s so much better than her teammates that you can’t miss her. I’m glad she’s won some major trophies (UCL, various leagues) in her day.

    1. Hmmm. Okay, coupla thoughts;

      Hubly v ‘Brunn passing; Opta shows Hubly with 46 of 53 complete (86.8%), Brunn with 10 of 12 (83%). Don’t see a big advantage for Brunn there. Neither one is shown with a “key pass” (Horan, OTOH, had four…). Brunn is a great player, but I’m not sure she’s shown us anything that really makes me say “Gee, I want her on the pitch rather then Hubly”. For one thing, Utah had their best chance of the match five minutes AFTER Brunn came on, after Hubly helped keep the shoulders pinned to the mat the whole first half…

      Horan: four “key passes”, so yes. Mind you, Kling had six in this match, so…

      Charley: She’s been doing this for a while, and has struggled to get anything out of it other than midsummer last season. If this means she’s finding her mojo? I’m thrilled with that.

      Kyle: Yeah, I liked her, too.

      Slipsticks: I think the real explosion comes in the 20th Century, though; by the Teens and Twenties the slide rule is kind of the symbol of the engineer, so my guess is that the term came into vogue some time in the first twenty or thirty years of the last century…

      Vero: Sadly, I think she’s pretty frustrated with the chaos around her. She was clearly PISSED Sunday. I saw way too much of that here in 2015. I’m sorry to see it again…

  5. Timber Dave thanks for the information on the slide rule. That makes sense how else could one easily handle logarithms? I wonder how the Chinese did logs on the abacus?
    Yes I prefer Kyle to Wagner. Sometimes Wagner gets it but her insistence that the Thorns were better without Henry on the field was like Really?!?
    A good example of Horan’s ability to make her forward passes kind of hang and backspin was the pass to Raso against Orlando in the 2017 semi-final. The way that ball landed really confused Harris, it didn’t travel forward it almost stopped and ribbons was able to chip the confused Harris.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.