Thorns FC: Tonk

So remember how the game against Utah was a kind of ugly slog, like playing Monopoly with the kid?

Wednesday’s hit-and-run win over Tacoma was more like a game of Tonk; high-scoring, fast, and exciting, and fun for the players that tonked out first…which would be Christine “hat trick” Sinclair & Co.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook (Craig Mitchelldyer)

I want to be quick about going over this match, because we have Utah – again – tomorrow. But I also want to make sure I call out the Thorns for their putting together a hell of a fine team effort against a Tacoma that, despite their depleted roster, put together a damn good show.

Tacoma came out in a 4-3-3 and were obviously planning to shut down the midfield, force the Thorns to play outside or over the top, and nick a goal on the counter. They were organized to a faretheewell and much as I hate to admit it Allie Long is one helluva good midfield organizer.

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

That was Tacoma Wednesday night, strung together like big white chains. Here’s Portland trying to play through the middle in the 4th minute:

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Everybody’s marked except Lussi…you’d think. But by the time Rodriguez’s pass gets there?

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Cox has stepped in to her, Long is coming to help, Charley is surrounded, Rodriguez now has two bodies on her, and everybody else is being slack-marked so even if Lussi fights through the tackle, which she didn’t, she’s got nothing.

The Thorns we saw in Utah back in July wouldn’t have been able to beat this smothering high press; they’d have fumbled and fiddled their way to a scoreless draw or, worse, given up the crap goal to the counter that Utah was counting on.

This Thorns team held their spacing and kept themselves organized. They remained patient and worked the ball. They didn’t give Utah good looks (most of the time, and we’ll talk about that when we get to the player ratings…). And they kept pushing up until, finally, in the 40th minute, the lightning struck and it was 1-nil:

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Then a clumsy foul by Taylor Smith knocked Simone Charley down inside the box and gave Sinc her brace with the PK and put the Thorns up by two.

Then early in the second half Simone Charley delivered a perfect cross into Raquel Rodriguez unmarked at the penalty spot and this happened:

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

My favorite part of that? Other than that it’s an amazingly gorgeous golazo, that is?

Supposedly Rodriguez screamed GOLAZO!!!! as she struck it.

That’s fucking made of 100% awesome.

After Bethany Balcer pulled one back the Trouble Twins, Lindsey Horan and Sinclair, made the fourth goal out of pure want-to; Horan ran the ball into the top of the box and squared to Sinc, who simply ran through the heart of the Tacoma defense and slotted under a charging Betos to stick in the dagger.

Image by Thorns FC on Facebook (Craig Mitchelldyer)

There were a lot of fine individual performances from the Thorns, which is good.

But what warms my heart like a great big hug is that this was the first time in a long time – since some time back in mid-2019, in fact – that I’ve seen a solid, outstanding, 90-minute-plus Thorns team performance.

And here’s the thing;

Individual excellence, individual performances, win awards.

Team excellence and team performance?

Win championships.

SHORT PASSES

Passing the Passing Test: 83%. Nice.

The only thing to remember about that is this stat is always grossly padded with pointless little to-and-fro dinks and backpasses. Announcer Kaylyn Kyle gave Angela Salem a lot of love for her passing and how well the Thorns connected through her. Which was true…to a point.

That point being that a lot of those passes were those little dinks. The “final pass”, the decisive through-ball or set-up for the assist? Those are the passes that count.

THAT pass still isn’t quite there. Things were better than against Utah. But that part of the Thorns game still needs work

Okay, remember: only dangerous attacking and possession-gain (or -loss) passes count. A “1” is a pass to and from feet. “L” is a long pass, “H” a headed one, “F” a free kick, “X” a cross. For goalkeepers “GK” is a goal kick, “P” is a punt, and otherwise they are rated like the field players Got it? Let’s go.

PlayerCompletedMissed
CharleyX1
Smith
LussiXXXX
Weaver
Salem1LHLHL111
Ogle1
Sinclair1LLH11111XL1
Horan11L111HLLH1
Rodriguez11H1L
Westphal1LXH1
PogarchH1L1L
Menges111LL1LL
Sauerbrunn1L1
Hubly11
Klingenberg11LL1H1LHXHLFL1LLX
EckerstromLL

The big surprise for me was Klingenberg; she’s usually productive and quite clinical, but against Tacoma she was productive and kind of all over the place. I think it was probably a one-off, but let’s keep an eye on her tomorrow.

Oh. And the damn corner kicks…

For some reason Coach Parsons has instructed the team to play everything short. Why, when we have players in the box line Charley and Sinclair and Horan, I have no fucking idea.

But against Tacoma we took 11 corners. Of those seven of the first nine – and seven total – went short. Of those short corners we generated only a single off-target shot.

I’m fine with short corners as an option, to change up the delivery, and to keep the defense honest.

But all the time? I don’t think that’s going to be very successful.

Player Ratings and Comments

Charley (66′ – +5/-1 : +3/-1 : +8/-1) Didn’t get her goal but not for lack of trying, and as discussed above, her service in on the Rodriguez golazo was a thing of beauty. Earned the PK for Sinclair, and was generally an active nuisance to Tacoma’s backline all evening.

Weaver (24′ – +7/-3) Morgan Weaver had an interesting night. She was very busy, and had several good runs. Somehow the connections weren’t quite there, though, and while she created a number of dangerous opportunities could quite turn them into goals. But so long as she keeps creating those opportunities I suspect the goals will come

Lussi (53′ – +3/-6 : +1/-0 : +4/-6) Tyler Lussi’s chance in the 45th minute was the most Tyler Lussi thing I’ve ever seen. Lurking unmarked at the back post, a flicked-on Klingenberg cross dropped on her foot. Betos was scrambling. The far side of the goal was wide open. All Lussi had to do was put a boot through it and there was her goal.

She shanked it four feet wide of the near post.

I’m not sure what’s wrong, but at this point I’m not sure it’s not mental; I think the yips have gotten into Lussi’s head, and now she’s fighting against herself. That’s immensely frustrating, and I’m sure she is.

I respect her hard work. But in the small roster world of the NWSL a forward has to convert, and she. Just. Can’t.

Smith (37′ – +8/-6) I’ve read a lot – and heard from the announcers say a lot during the match – about how the Thorns were suddenly more exciting and dangerous once Smith came on.

I’m not so sure.

Here’s what she actually did:
1) Seven minutes after she came on Smith had a strong right-side run in the 60th minute that produced a direct shot that Betos deflected out for a corner. It was a powerful shot, but Smith had no support and Betos was able to cut down the angle and give her nothing.
2) Three minutes later Sinclair fed her a good through ball, she had another direct run and another shot right at Betos.
3) She took a long shot in the 80th that forced a good full-stretch save from Betos and earned a corner kick.
4) Rodriguez fed her in the 83rd minute, and she shot directly at Betos, who had to block out for another corner.
5) Possibly her best chance came in the 85th minute, where Betos pushed Horan’s headed cross out over the byline just seconds before Smith crashed the far post. If Betos hadn’t gotten the touch I think Smith would have scored.
6) Weaver fed her a nice cross in the 87th minute, but Smith just kind of dribbled around the top of the box until she was tackled for loss.

So Smith had one really good chance of beating Betos, the 85th minute one.

The others were fun and exciting, but I thought they were actually less crafty than her work against Utah; Wednesday night she put a lot of the sort of direct attempts on goal that would have probably have worked against a college keeper but that Betos is a veteran pro and had that stuff well covered.

And don’t forget, Long was yanked in the 64th, and after that Tacoma’s defense dropped a level, too.

Smith’s a hell of a player, and she had a good match. But I also think we want her to be The Chosen One, so it’s tempting to see her as the straw that always stirs the drink. But the drink was already fizzing quite nicely Wednesday night when Smith came on, and I think it’s okay to say simply “Smith had a good shift” because that’s what she did.

Salem (84′ – +1/-2 : +3/-3 : +4/-5) Angela Salem had another weird night. She did well in general (tho her passing is still not on – three of her five minuses are for crappy passes that went straight to a white shirt). But she didn’t do that much; Tacoma played a lot of long balls and wide to Spencer, so Salem tended to just do a lot of patrolling and cleanup. She’s fine at that, but I’d like to see her against the real nasty midfield crashers like Fishlock or Mewis and see how well she does.

Ogle (6′ – +3/-1) Short minutes, but Emily Ogle had a couple of nice ball recoveries in her short time.

Sinclair (+8/-1 : +8/-0 : +16/-1) Looked like the Sinclair of her Youth; I wish we could give her this kind of rest all the time. Obviously Woman of the Match, and wonderful to see her happy smile again.

Her tussle with Allie Long over the first hour was epic. I’d like to think that as Sinc was trudging down the steps of the Morrison Street gate in her street clothes, showered and tired and ready for a drink and a lounge, that the tall figure leaning against the lamppost outside unfolded into her old teammate. Who stood there for a long moment, nodded once slowly to acknowledge her former captain’s big night, and then walked away.

I’m sure Long doesn’t roll that way but I’d like to imagine the two old comrades giving each other their due.

Horan (+9/-4 : +7/-1 : +16/-5) The Great Horan.

Rodriguez (+5/-2 : +5/-1 : +10/-3) Good work on both sides of the ball, and of course the spectacular goal.

I’d like to see her shoot more, along with continuing the good defensive work and the service; clearly she can score, but she won’t convert any of the shots she won’t take.

Westphal (53′ – +4/-1 : +0/-0 : +4/-1) Westphal provided some nice service in Utah back in July, but this was the second game in a row where she wasn’t really able to get forward and connect with her passes. I’m not sure if this is her, or her teammates, or simply the game state. But Wednesday it wasn’t really a problem, since Klingenberg was bombing in the passes and crosses, Sinclair was on a rampage, and Horan was Great. But I’d like to see Westphal look more like she did back in July.

Pogarch (37′ – +5/-5) Sweet long pass up to Horan in the 85th minute to start that sequence that could easily have been a Smith goal. Other than that much better in back, and several other nice forward passes.

Menges (+3/-3 : +2/-1 : +5/-4) Solid, unspectacular…a very Menges sort of outing. Huge tackle off Sofia Huerta in the 43rd minute to break up a dangerous play.

Sauerbrunn (45′ – +7/-0) ‘Brunn had a fun moment in the 35th minute, when she tackled the ball off Balcer’s feet and scampered upfield with it. The Tacoma defense finally closed her down, so she passed off to Horan (who eventually pushed the ball up to Charley whose cross rolled through) but ‘Brunn followed the play and was damn close to the cross. Damn close.

Hubly (45′ – +10/-1) When she took over in the second half Hubly had an easier job, up by two goals, but she also had more action because Tacoma was chasing, and she defended well. Not at fault on the concession (Sinclair was marking Balcer, surprisingly…) and just another fine outing from Hubly.

Klingenberg (+6/-4 : +2/-4 : +8/-8) Kling had a good night in general, but, oh my, the passing! Four of her eight minuses were reeeeally bad passes. She had lots of great service, as always, but was surprisingly off-target going forward. Troubled by Spencer all night, too, but generally handled her well until Spencer finally got through in the heavy pressure before the Tacoma goal in the 70th minute

Eckerstrom (+1/-1 : +3/-0 : +4/-1) So this happened in the 5th minute:

Image by Twitch/CBS Sports. Licensed under Fair Use

Eckerstrom made another terrific save off Spencer in the 65th minute, and a third off Huerta in the 70th. Couldn’t really do anything about the concession; Balcer went right up over Sinc and slammed home from pointblank range.

We still don’t know who the #1 keeper on the depth chart is, and Eck isn’t making that any easier.

Coach Parsons: Parsons likes to talk about “Thorns football”. At this point I think it’s hard to say what that is. Is it the futility we saw in July? The direct play we saw against Utah two weekends ago?

Or was it this?

Because if it was?

I want to see more of that.

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8 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Tonk

  1. On Sinclair’s goal Horan just ran by Smith and it looked like Smith just slowed down. Smith has a lot of skills and speed but seems to log off some times. The most notable was in her last USWNT appearance when she pulled up on her marks break away and JE pulled her before the end of the first half. And then in this game on the penalty, like you said a clumsy foul. A real beauty of a penalty kick by Sinc though.
    The yellow card on Kling hurt because I think she was missed in the Utah game, she holds the ball and her absence was noticeable. Pogarch wasn’t bad but if Tizzara King had scored on the late shot off the woodwork that slip would have been costly.

    1. I kinda get the “yellow card accumulation” thing as a simulacrum of the way it works in a lot of tournament knock-out rounds, but, ugh. Glad the Utah still has some scoring issues and Pogarch was better defensively against the Royals, but her failure to close down King could, as you point out, been disastrous.

  2. A really fun read John, thank you. Love the image of Allie Long appearing in the glow of the streetlight. I keep hearing that we are relatively intact (minus Heath) and are doing well against depleted teams – so our successes are tempered. But, in truth, we are a depleted team in that we are missing at least 1, possibly 3, international superstars that were supposed to be coming our way. So, assuming they work out post-Covid, we will be stronger next year too. I noticed a couple times that Smith clearly didn’t know where she was supposed to go. Not surprising given that these have been her first minutes on the pitch w/ Thorns but I wonder if the “logging off” episodes are unfamiliarity & will go away. Anyway, yr thoughts about who we’ll lose to Racing & who won’t get signed (eg Lussi)?

    1. I’m not sure that we can count the mystery internationals as part of our losses. I’m not sure who they were, even assuming that we ever came close to signing them. The recent defections to Europe point up the degree to which so many players are getting tired of working for pocket change. We’d have had a hard time, I think, signing some genuinely big names.

      Smith is still a very, very green rookie. It’s worth recalling that. As I said, we really want her to be the Chosen One, so it’s important to remember that she’s going to make rookie mistakes. As John Wade points out, though, he was talking about THEIR Smith…

      I honestly have NO idea what the expansion draft is going to look like, and even moreso given the appalling Plague situation. Right now I wouldn’t re-sign Lussi, tho, unless she was the best of the other options. She’s a smart, hard-working player…but I think she’s honestly cursed or something.

  3. Roses, Just in case the Smith in my post I was referring to being “logged off” was Seattle’s Taylor Smith. Our Smith,as John said, had a good shift. Against Utah on Saturday our Sophia Smith had more of a rookies shift. But still I am really excited by what she brings.

      1. Indeed, I was having a hard time seeing when Sophia Smith logged off on that play. (She wasn’t on the field yet, was she?) Taylor Smith makes a lot more sense. Sophia Smith, Taylor Smith, Abby Smith…. Is every team officially allotted one Smith?

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