Thorns FC: Dry and Rocky Place

The weekend before last Thorns FC struggled through a tough loss.  Defensive lapses, scoring difficulties, and an…unhelpful, shall we say?…center referee handed the team a real stinker of a home defeat.

When it’s tough at home, what’s a team to do?

Road Trip!

Unfortunately, sometimes even those turn out…suboptimally.

This week is a ridiculous logjam of matches; Washington away last Saturday, FCKC here tomorrow, then at Seattle next Saturday.  I feel like there’s just too much to say in too short a time, so I’m going to try and keep this one simple.

Here are the major attacking events Thorns FC assembled at Maryland Soccerplex last Saturday:

17′ – Henry sees Sykes crossfield, makes the big switch.

Sykes looks in a good position to make a run to the byline…

…but instead holds up her run at the top corner of the 18 and crosses to Sinclair (with Horan dummying on the pass).

but Sinclair shoots weakly at Labbe’ who saves easily.

20-21′ – Sonnett long pass up the right flank, Kling run wins corner.  Henry CK goes to Horan, heads down and in, but Sonnett’s header inside the 6 is weak and easily cleared.

32′ – Raso chips in; Sykes arrives late but manages a nice drop to Sinclair.  Sinc’s poor drop to Henry loses possession (on the ensuing Washington attack Williams megs Menges and crosses in to Ordega who is cut down by Sonnett inside the 18 but no foul called!)

36′ – Menges pitches good long pass up to Henry who makes a crafty play to win a free kick about 25 yards out, but Horan heads ensuing setpiece harmlessly over.

37′ – Sinclair great lead pass to Raso cutting through Washington’s centerbacks but she’s unsupported and Johnson makes a great tackle to clear.

50′ – Nadim with a nice long ball up to Raso who has no help and is well covered; she’s tackled for loss.

57′ – Nadim with a strong left side run wins corner, but the ensuing corner is easily cleared.

60-61′ – Strong attacking sequence that includes great drop from Nadim to Sinclair but Sinc, again, has no passing options and shoots weakly right at Labbe’.  After Washington turnover on the clearance Raso again forces a corner with a driving flank run, but Long heads strongly but well wide.

77′ – Sinclair gets possession inside the 18 but without teammates, is swarmed, and the ball is cleared.

81′ – Good attacking sequence with Dagny and Raso exchanging passes, but only shot is a weak Dagny header cleared into touch.  Nadim is tackled for loss off the subsequent throw.

82′ – Dagny with nice cross-field pass to Horan, square for Nadim but her strong shot is blocked.

84′ – Good spell of Portland possession but Nadim is levelled by Labbe’ running onto Horan’s pretty through-ball.  Looked like a foul to me but no call (and the Thorns didn’t appeal for one…) so…probably not.

88′ – Dagny long pass up to Raso, her cross bounces all the way through to Horan.  Drops to Shim, Shim loops a cross into Nadim but her header is weak and Labbe’ collects.

91′ – Nadim’s strong run forces corner.  Good movement inside on the corner but cleared out to Shim, whose putback catches a Thorn offside.

Watching this live I thought that the Thorns had not put together much of anything going forward.  After reviewing the tape I have to change my mind.  Thorns FC did put together attacks, including the 14 listed above that got at least a sniff at goal.


Read the narratives.  Only eleven shots from all these attacks.  Only three on goal (the boxscore says that two were blocked, but the only one I saw was Nadim’s in the 82nd minute).  The only other two unquestionably on-goal shots I saw were Sinclair’s two sad little dribblers.

The pictures of the 17′ attack are pretty damning.  There’s no real movement.  There’s not a lot of “Horan passes in to Sinclair who picks out Sykes’ diagonal run and lays off for her” sort of thing.  Lots of “long ball to Raso”, “strong run forces corner”.  Direct.  Static.  Slow, easily anticipated, and easily defended.

Thorns FC didn’t have anything truly dangerous going forward in the entire first half outside of Raso’s 37th minute run, and we’ll talk about that in the PMRs, but you’ll note that half the “significant” attacks are in the last half hour, after Parsons subs off one of his DMs for an attacker and almost a quarter – four – are in the last 8 minutes when he throws on another midfielder and pulls one of his FBs.

And on defense, well…

Emily Menges actually didn’t have the worst day of the Portland defenders (ummm…that’d be you, Sonnett…) but when she was bad she was really, really bad.  Here’s one of her lowlights; where she completely forgets that if you go for an “all-or-nothing” play and get “nothing”, well…

…things can get truly ugly in a big ol’ hurry.

And so they did.

I’m not sure why but Thorns FC has looked worse over the past two matches than they have in the season to date.  I find it hard to believe that it was principally the opposition.  Sky Blue has only recently improved from a poor start and Boston is 10th in the league.  But something is wrong with the Thorns right at the moment.  The defense, the Wall of 2016, is looking fragile and fallible, and the attack, which even without the Magic Heath Elixir is rich in talented players like Horan, Long, Henry, Sinclair, Nadim, and Klingenberg and should be as tactically fertile as the Willamette Valley, is a dry and rocky place on which goals can find no purchase.


Player ratings and PMRs:

Sinclair (+4/-3 : +4/-7 : +8/-10)  Worst match of the season to date for Christine; looked out-of-sorts all game.  Poor shots and a surprisingly large number of poor passes.  Not sure what happened, but Sinc looked old and slow in Maryland.

Sykes (45′ – +3/-4) Her ineffectiveness confirmed by her yanking at halftime for Nadim; primary reason (along with Sinclair’s troubles) for the impotence going forward in the first 45′.  Puzzling and surprising regression after her decent debut here against Boston.  No SOG and several shockingly poor passes for loss after the half hour probably helped her to the bench.

Nadim (45′ – +12/-5)  The uptick in attacking after her substitution (and the flaccid attack here against SBFC with her out of the 18) shows how important Nadia is to the Thorns’ frontline.  All her usual intelligent fierceness attacking and defending, reminding us yet again why Afghanistan is called “The Grave of Empires”.  Try invading a place with thousands of Nadims – armed with automatic weapons – and see what happens.

This is one match that I honestly think doesn’t really deserve a “Woman of the Match”.  The team as a team was not particularly good.  But if I had to pick, I’d have to pick Nadia; great work, and we’re going to miss the heck out of her soon when she leaves for the Euros.

Raso (+8/-5 : +12/-5 : +20/-10)  A somewhat mixed bag from Hayley.  Lots of good, including her usual brilliant runs.  Tired in the last half hour; some shockingly bad giveaways including a turnover in the defensive third at 52′ that could have been much worse had Williams put a better shot on frame.  Overall, though, a relatively good outing in an otherwise subpar night for Thorns FC except for, as always, her bizarre and troubling inability or unwillingness to shoot at goal.  WTF?  Were you frightened by a goal as a child or something, Hayley?  Shoot, girl, shoot!

Horan (+9/-6 : +10/-4 : +19/-10)  Similar to Raso; lots of good work with some moments of surprisingly poor play but, still, the most active and useful of the midfielders for the full match (see the Henry comment, below).

Henry (64′ – +13/-6: +1/-1 : +14/-7)  Her coming-off clearly owed a lot to needing another attacker, but in this case I’m not sure that Parsons pulled the right DM.  Her touches suggest that she seemed to fade in the second half but I think that has more to do with Washington playing around her as the stronger of the two DMs.  Excellent first half, best peak performance of the midfield.  Possibly saving her for Wednesday?

Dagny (26′ – +6/-1)  Good to see you, Kærasta!  Short shift, but a good one, including that lovely pass in at 72′.  Hope to see you back in form soon.

Long (+3/-5 : +4/-6 : +7/-11)  Long, like Sinclair, played her worst match of 2017 in Maryland.  Obviously her worst blunder was the tackle-for-loss that led directly to the Ordega goal, but lots of other wretched work, including five passes directly to a red shirt and some awful positioning.  Can’t really do better than to call her “generally useless all night”.  Not a typical night for Allie, obviously, who looked frustrated by her own inability.

Shim (8′- +1/-3)  No real impact, but at that point PTFC was desperate and Mana didn’t provide anything like the precision or aggression that was needed; you’ll note that her contributions to the late attacks were pretty much negative.

Boureille (82′ – +6/-5 : +8/-4 : +14/-9)  Good work from Celeste, who looked the best of the defenders on a rough night.  Most of her “minuses” (6 of 9) were long passes that couldn’t connect but were often the only recourse with the stymied Thorns midfield.

Menges (+11/-7 : +7/-9 : +18/-16)  Don’t let her positive total fool you; Menges-Emily had a pretty dire night in Maryland.  Had a crucial clear at 24′, but combined that with brutal play like the Williams megging as well as being partially culpable on both the concession as well as Solaun’s left-post strike that could easily have made the game 2-nil.  And we saw the 73′ derp.  Yikes, Emily.  Do you need a hug or something?  This is NOT the Great Wall Emily, and I really, really, really want that Emily back.

Sonnett (+5/-4 : +4/-9 : +9/-13)  If there was an image Sonnett-Emily left us from this one it was watching her frantically, and helplessly, scramble back turning left-right-left-again as Ordega blew past her to score.  Poor performance, both as an individual player and as a part of a centerback partnership, on a night of lots of other mediocre-to-poor performances.

Klingenberg (+8/-7 : +2/-3 : +10/-10)  Meh.  I’d like to be more excited about Kling’s performance – it was more even and better balanced than her bizarre split-personality work in the previous match – except that being “meh” is not where you’re supposed to be as an international player.  Not awful, not great, and definitely not what she should be getting all that lovely USSF cash for.  Needs to be better.

Franch (+1/-0 : +2/-1 : +3/-1)  Not at fault on the concession, a terrific hammer-strike from Ordega, and with a huge save at 9′ off Solaun.

Because Franch’s distribution has taken so much stick this season I kept track of her clearances and the outcomes.  For the record:

Franch took a total of 19 goal kicks, punts, or clearances.

Of these 10 were won, either directly or after some pinging-about, by Portland.

Of the 9 that were lost, two didn’t result in any directly dangerous action – one went directly into touch, one was at the end of the match.

Of the remaining seven…four resulted in Washington possession but no dangerous attacking actions (i.e. the ball went either backwards from the spot of possession or was just booted around randomly for over 1 minute without giving the Spirit any advantage).

Three did go directly forward.  Only one of these, however, resulted in an attempt on goal within 1 minute of the clearance.

So, at least for this match, the chance of Franch’s distribution resulting directly (within 1 minute of playing time of the clearance) in a dangerous opponent opportunity is approximately 0.052, or 5.2% of the time.  Not worth the screaming fantods, in my utterly-unhumble opinion.

Coach Parsons – Well…

Not good, obviously.  Two losses in a row, including an ugly home loss?  That can’t be good.

That said, Parsons was visibly working to solve the “where the fuck is the attack?” problem all night.  His substitutions, other than Shim, appeared to have immediate and positive effects (tho, as noted, I’d have pulled off Long instead of Henry).  Parsons can’t help Sinclair put some boot behind her shot, or prevent Labbe’ from levelling Nadim, or find the Inner Beast inside Horan every match.  I’m going to give him credit for seeing what was going wrong and doing what he could at the moment to try and solve it.

That said…this team needs an infusion of aggression and attacking flair.  I’m not sure if it comes from player coaching, or lineup changes, or tactical innovations, or some combination of all the above.  But Thorns FC has two important matches coming up, tomorrow and Saturday, and needs to take four points from the two, at the very least.

And if you don’t score, you can’t win.

So, Marc.  So, Thorns.

Figure it out.