Thorns FC: Lesson Learned?

Back when I was a mere slip of a ‘keeper, my coach took a slab of dimension lumber to drive a lesson into my thick head:

“Don’t ever.  Ever.  Screw around with the ball in front of your own goal.”

Boyfuckinghowdy did Adrianna Franch and her backline learn THAT little lesson the hard way last night.

Hopefully the U.S. WNT U-23 squad’s 1-2 win over Portland drove that home to Thorns FC like a damn 2 x 4 across the forehead.

I wasn’t particularly pleased with the lackadaisical way the Thorns passed the ball around the back against Chicago last weekend.  I wrote something to that effect about Adrianna Franch’s tendency to put the ball in play very close to her own goal:  “One thing I hope she doesn’t continue to do is play these little dink-clears to the CB right at the top of her 18; they always seem to come right back to her because the opposing F closes down almost immediately.”

Well, last night Franch was caught in possession in her own goalmouth in the second minute of play.  She was forced to clear out over her own endline for a corner kick.

And that was just the beginning.

Portland chose to push the midfield and forwards very high up the pitch, and rely largely on the fullbacks and wingers running up the touchlines as well as long balls pitched directly up to the forwards.  Without Heath (who wasn’t dressed for the second match in a row…) the U-23s had much more possession and control of the midfield than they should have by rights; when you come right down to it they’re a team of college all-stars playing established professionals.  But the U-23s were undaunted, and between their high pressure on Portland’s backline and what looked like either overconfidence or carelessness on the part of Portland’s defenders the Thorns turned over the ball in dangerous positions with disturbing regularity.

Indeed; between the 17th and 20th minutes Thorns FC was utterly under the cosh; Franch frantically boxed away one good effort while another went barely wide.  In the 22′ Klingenberg was wrongfooted by a looping cross that allowed her mark to slide a perfect cross to her unmarked teammate parked on the penalty spot.  Luckily for Portland the young international blasted her shot fifteen feet over the crossbar.

I don’t want to make it sound like the match was all U-23.  Thorns FC had the bulk of the possession (though not overwhelmingly; my estimate would be probably 55-45 to 60-40) and the advantage in shots 15-9 (tho shots-on-goal were only 6-5).  But the U-23s earned 7 corners to Portland’s 2, and I was a little surprised at how good the college all-stars looked compared to the pros.

Some of this may be missing some crucial pieces; Heath didn’t dress, neither did Horan.  Dagny wasn’t in the 18.  Nadim played only the final half-hour.  But some of this was the Thorns looking less composed, and less connected, than they did against Chicago.

Here’s my notes, for a quick look at the match:

2′ – Franch caught in possession on her goal line – no outlet – poor backpass forces her to give away CK.  Collected safely.

8′ – Herndon lovely long cross to Weber luriking back post.  Sweet headed finish, 1-0 Portland.

18′ – Portland gives up corner on ugly play in the 18.

19′ – Another corner; Franch desperate one-hand box away; Kling fell down covering long CK to far post.

22′ – Kling turned wrong side on long lead pass, allowed her mark to cross to unmarked teammate, blasted over bar; whew!

24′ – Kling great diagonal pass to Boureille, weak shot to keeper

30′ – Sinc great lead pass puts Weber in alone on GK, good shot blocked wide for CK.

35′ – Lots of iffy passing around Portland backline

39′ – Henry and Boureille combine to drop pass back to Franch under pressure; barely cleared away.

42′ – Long great pass to Sinclair, good shot but right at GK.

Halftime: Mostly PTFC, U-23 good spell 18-20′ (2 dangerous CK!), PTFC defenders looked disorganized.  Long and Henry switching up and back again.  Weber switched sides (?) after goal (started LF, moved to RF?)

47′ – Herndon and Hubly good take, pass to Sinclair, Sinc great pass to Long but no shot there, drops to Henry who blasts WAY over…

53′ – Menges solidly beat but Franch makes good save.

64′ – Boureille fouls U23 F in 18; Franch makes great save but Thorns don’t follow shot and Xiao (?) scores off rebounding ball.

68′ – Sonnett and Long crap passes across face of goal, Menges rescues PTFC with tough tackle.


Yeah.  That.

In the 90th minute A.D. Franch had a simple goal kick, your basic Soccer 101 clear out of the back.  For some inexplicable reason instead of belting it downfield she dinked the ball forward five yards, directly into the path of U-23 forward Sonia Smith, who walked the ball forward and clinically slotted it home under Adrianna’s arm for the win.

“Don’t ever.  Ever.  Screw around with the ball in front of your own goal.”

Well, shit.

Here’s the thing.  The amount of time that Thorns FC spent knocking the ball around the backline suggests that this wasn’t a player thing.  It suggests that Coach Parsons has trained the squad to do this.  And it’s working like a Trump Administration cabinet appointment.  If this WAS a player thing I hope Parsons ripped Franch and the backline a new one.  If it was a coaching decision I hope this match shoved a stake in its heart.

“Don’t ever.  Ever.  Screw around with the ball in front of your own goal.”

Got it, gals?  Y’with me on this, A.D.?

K.  On to player ratings

Wonkish: A brief explanation of the plus-minus rating (PMR) system.

Those of you familiar with this column can skip this, but I did player PMRs for this match, and I wanted to take a moment to explain for the coming season how this works.

First, let me give Richard Hamje of Riveting! credit; this is really his system, and I had adapted it because I like it.  I think it’s useful, for two reasons.

  1.  The overall number – “pluses” and “minuses” – gives you an idea how involved the player was in the match, and
  2.  The balance – “plus” compared to “minus” – gives you a sense for how successful a match the player had.

The basis of this is an – admittedly – subjective evaluation of the player’s actions on the pitch as either assisting (“plus”) or hindering (“minus”) the team’s effort.

Examples of pluses would include things like passes that put a teammate into a potentially advantageous position.  So little back-and-forth exchanges across the pitch?  Neither “plus” nor “minus”.  A long drop out of danger?  Nope.  A cross to the feet of a teammate up the far touchline?  Plus.

Included in “pluses” are: passes for advantage (including crosses); shots that force a difficult save/parry or corners; dangerous runs; goals (naturally!); tackles (including tackles for possession gained); good defensive positioning/play; clears; and saves (for ‘keepers).

“Minuses” include: passes that go directly to opponents (including passes into touch); shots well off-target; tackled for loss; poor defensive positioning/play; poor clears; concessions (for keepers).

The typical format for PMRs is: (time on pitch : first half +/- : second half +/- : match total +/-).  Note that if the player goes full time she will not have a “time on pitch” stat.

Are we good?  Okay, here we go.

Sinclair (72′ : +7/-3 : +4/-0 : +11/-3) – A solid match from Captian Sinc.  One thing I love about our captain is how consistently good she is.  She’s never gaudy, never in your face, but she’s always just the perfect Big-Boned Gal from Southern Alberta.  Tough, intelligent, creative, persistent…she’s the Total Package, and even in preseason she looks like the immortal that she is.  Oh, captain, my captain..!

Hubly (+10/-2 : +4/-0 : +14/-2) Young Kelli Hubly would be one of my candidates for Woman of the Match.  Terrific, solid outing from the walk-on from DePaul.  Aggressive and active but seldom wrong-footed, Hubly looks like a terrific option up front for Portland.  At this point she looks the best of the trialists to get an offer.

Weber (60′ : +9/-3 : +1/-3 : +10/-6)  Another good outing from Weber.  Tired in the second half, as her PMR shows before getting pulled for Flynn.  Dangerous down the flanks; speedy, incisive, and creative.  Great anticipation and terrific finish on the only Portland goal.

Flynn (30′: +4/-5)  Had some good looks, but too often caught in possession or made poor decisions; her minuses included three tackles for loss and two misdirected passes.  Didn’t look awful, but probably the least-impressive forward on the pitch last night.

Nadim (18′: +2/-3)  Another tough outing for Nadim.  Her three minuses were all “heavy touches” where she let a ball she should have controlled run out of her reach.  Of all the forwards Nadim looks the most in “preseason” form, possibly because of her injury.

Henry (+10/-5 : +12/-2 : +22/-7)  Another viable candidate for Woman of the Match.  Effective on both sides of the ball; her “pluses” for the first half, for example, include six critical passes, two tackles (one for gain), a run, and an interception.  Good effort off the right post in the 83′; not her fault, should have had teammates following the shot (as they should have on the U23 PK and didn’t there, either…)

Herndon (60′ : +6/-1 : +2/-1 : +8/-3)  A good match from young Ashley.  Parsons seems to have directed her to play very far forward; she seemed to play as a striker as often as not.  Despite that, she didn’t put an attempt on frame; improvement there would be good.  Don’t know if she impressed enough to get signed, especially with the number of returning veterans, but a solid outing.

Long (+5/-3 : +11/-2 : +16/-5)  A tale of two halves for Allie.  Spent a lot of time tracking back in the first half; her “pluses” include a tackle and four passes.  In the second half she was up and down the pitch; five critical passes, an important clear, two possession-gains, two important tackles, and a block.  That said, she wasn’t as effective as she should have been, either striking at goal or providing service.  She looks to need some time to sort out her relationships with Henry and her teammates, both in front and behind her.

Shim (30′ : +1/-4)  Not a particularly good outing for Mana, probably because she had little other support in midfield.  Her passing, in particular, was off-target more often than not.  Definitely the most “preseason” looking of the midfielders who played last night.

Klingenberg (60′ : +6/-7 : +2/-0 : +8/-7)  Up-and-down night for Kling.  Some good passing, some random.  Some good positioning, some derps.  I’d like to blame this on preseason form, but this is very much like the Klingenberg of late 2016; some good work mixed with some “why the hell are you subsidized?” stuff.

Menges (76′: +2/-2 : +3/-3 : +5/-5) Uncharacteristically off night for Em.  Not “off” in the dumpster-fire-off sense, just not her usually solid form.  Occasional unusually poor passing around the back and defensive positional errors.  Preseason issues?  Probably.  Not really worried.  She’ll shake it off.

Sonnett (+5/-6 : +3/-3 : +8/-9) Also not a terrific outing for the other half of the Great Wall of Emily.  Problems included slow decisionmaking – Sonnett got caught and stripped of possession a LOT – and poor passing.  Again, I’m guessing this is just a case of slow to shake off the rust.

Boureille (+11/-5 : +7/-4 : +18/-9) A very good match from Celeste, on both sides of the ball.  Runs, passes, clears, defensive stops, tackles…CB the RB did it all.  Her only real black mark came from the PK-foul at 64′ because it wasn’t really needed; she was shepherding the U23 forward towards the endline.  Should have stayed in her feet, but sometimes life kicks you in the crotch when you least expect it.

Johnson (30′ : +6/-2) Decent outing from KJ, including a great lead pass to Flynn that should have done better.  Just glad to see her back on the pitch and looking good.

Cox (14′ : +1/-3) No real impact on the match, not even as depth.

Franch (+2/-6 : +1/-3 : +3/-9) Horrible.  Just horrible.  Poor judgement, poor passing, horrible clears, inadequate communication with her backline.  Forced into desperation far too often by awful distribution or nightmarish backpassing.  Two decent saves don’t cancel out the horrific concession for the loss.  All I can hope is that the whole team viciously snapped her with rolled up towels in the post-match showers until she howled her contrition and promised to do better.

Coach Parsons: The Thorns really should have controlled this match.  I’m not sure whether the awful passing around the backline was because the players didn’t take their opponents seriously or because that was how they had done it in practice.  But even for preseason that crap has to stop and stop now.  I watched the Chicago v. Houston match before the Thorns game and Chicago with Press is a different team than the Chicago we saw this past weekend.  Try that weak shit on Press and get fed your own entrails.  Just sayin’, Coach.  You have one more try to get that straightened out.

Still early days.  But there are clearly some kinks in the system that need to be worked out, and not having Heath and Horan and Dagny don’t help.  That may not change this coming weekend, with international dates approaching and the probability that the national team players will have to be gone.

But…until then sufficient unto the day are the derps thereof, and the Thorns have three days to work those derps out before seeing Houston this Saturday.

Until then, remember…

“Don’t ever.  Ever.  Screw around with the ball in front of your own goal.”

14 Comments Thorns FC: Lesson Learned?

  1. Debbi McNiven

    I cringed every time the ball was passed back to Franch. I cringed every time she dinked it out to one of her defenders. I don’t want to spend the season cringing. Hopefully these issues will get resolved soon, or it’s going to be a very long year. I’m also through with the Allie Long at CB experiment. She’s an attacking mid; let her attack.
    On a more positive note, Celeste Boureille has looked much better this year. Good on her.

    1. jdlawes

      Parsons seems to want a lot of movement in back this season; fullbacks up, DMs back, backline going from 4 to 3 (in attack) to 5 when defending. If that works I’m fine with Long or Henry dropping in to a third CB position. It didn’t seem to constrain Allie much from going forward when she did. But…this loafing around in back needs to stop now. It’s a terrible bad habit even if well executed and it’s not being well executed.

      If she continues her current form Celeste Boureille is a lock for my “2017 Sinead Farrelly Most Improved Player” award. She’s looking terrific this spring.

  2. nate

    They screwed around with the ball in the back like this last year too sometimes. And the USWNT does it all the damn time. I get not wanting to just lump in forward, but when the other team is pressing that hard and high, you’ve got to either bring a few more players back to help in possession so you can get out with short, quick passes or yes, lump it forward because there are open players up the pitch. Parsons also had his weak-side players practically with a foot on the sideline where they were only available for the longest of switches (which functionally removed them from the equation). It makes sense to want to keep your width, but when the other team is pressing like that and the open players are only available via long, high (slow) passes, they have plenty of time to recover. Glad we’ve got the preseason to work on this, but a hard, high press should not completely befuddle a coach or experienced players like this. Hopefully we’ll see some smarter positioning and possession on Saturday, and maybe even a ball or two over the top.

    1. John Lawes

      I’m curious to see if the situation improves with the return of Heath and Horan. I thought that Parsons conceded WAY too much of the midfield to the U23s; even more than he did to Chicago. Without any sort of possession through midfield it’s easy for a pressing opponent to pin the wideouts against the touchline and react to cover the long switch, as you point out. Giving the backs more options inside – as Heath and Horan could provide – might change that dynamic.

      And I don’t want to sound like I’m saying “push it up immediately”; there’s a time and place for using passes around the backline to probe for openings. BUT…if you’re gonna do that the passes have to be quick, accurate, and the receiving player has to move to the ball, not stand there and give her marker a big flashing sign that says “I’m going to get possession, come and close me down!”

      Saturday will depend a LOT, I think, on international callups. I’m hoping that they won’t come until Monday, but a bunch of national teams have friendlies coming up this next week. If the teams are at full strength, though…yeah. It will be good to see if the lesson taught so painfully Wednesday night has been learned.

    2. John Lawes

      Re: “the return of Heath and Horan”…Caitlin Murray is reporting that both players are out with injuries, so unfortunately we’re unlikely to see them Saturday. Hopefully their rehab gets them to the pitch by mid-April, tho…

  3. Timber Dave

    The mistakes Franch is making are mental ones, which hopefully Angerer can help her with. Not to say they are necessarily *easy* to fix — maintaining concentration for 90 minutes without a break is hard — but there is hope. If the problems were ball-skill ones I’d be more worried.

    I’ve seen this happen with other keepers taking on a new starting position in a league: they’re a bit too lackadaisical with the ball.* It might be something about the higher speed of play, or perhaps not focusing on the right thing, like that forward there lurking to poach the ball, due to early jitters. In other cases it’s been correctable, as hopefully it will be with Franch. In any case I’m glad we’re finding out in pre-season games.

    * In fact, I believe keeper slacking not long ago helped the Timbers win an MLS Cup.

    1. John Lawes

      Another thing with Franch is that she has a history of mental lapses in the early part of the season. I ripped her for giving up a soft goal against Houston in this same tournament last season. She went on to have a solid 2016, filling in for Betos during her shoulder injury and putting up better stats during that six-game run. So we’ll have to see how she looks when the games mean something.

      And her only problems so far have been related to this derpy loafing-around-the-backline passing that’s as much on her teammates as on her. As far as positioning, anticipation, and shot-stopping she’s been fine. I’m not worried about her, but I want to see a whole lot less of the lazy-passing-across-our-goal thing…

  4. nicole (@endubs_rn)

    Something I was really looking forward to this season was Boureille in the MF after her strong season in w league.. but not at the expense of the player I thought who had one of the most under-recognized seasons in 2016, Katherine Reynolds. Did I miss something about an injury to Reynolds or did Parsons move Boureille to right back because of a crowded mf and Reynolds is out? If so, that Reynolds would be out over Kling makes me laugh/cry. I think Boureille is a better choice than Shim in the center or Nadim on the wing in mf anyway. Just curious if this is coach’s choice or necessity due to injuries.
    I’m not sure how much I want to talk about Franch. Part of me wants to see Eckerstrom v Houston to see if she’s any more confident with her feet while the other part of me wants to see Franch come out and show that it was just first two match nerves and do much better. It’s simply not good enough these days (and *especially* in a 3-back!) to be a great shot stopper but sketchy with your feet. It’s why I’m so down on Bouhaddi when people talk about her as world class. World class shot stopper, sure, but when your poor play frequently causes you to need to make world class saves or just generally puts more pressure on your defense rather than less, you lose my vote. Hell, it was the biggest criticism of Angerer too (forgive me!). I’m certainly not even putting Franch on Bouhaddi’s level but I think you get my point. At this age, I’d hope she truly is better with her feet than she’s shown in the last two matches. Otherwise, we need to change something whether it be to instruct to only play back to her in dire situations and she simply clears the ball or figure out whether Eckerstrom will do any better.

    1. jdlawes

      I had a long comment on Celeste over at Stumptown Footy, but to give you the tl:dr version Boureille was a very average to slightly-better-than-average midfielder in 2016. Her PMRs over her four appearances ranged from +7 (Thorns 2016 average was +5) to -2.

      She looks SO much better at RB she’s like a different player. I don’t have a clue of what Parsons wants, but if nothing else this gives him two great options at that position. Unfortunately I don’t see a similar situation at LB; despite what I see as her obvious and increasing shortcomings Kling has that spot locked for the foreseeable future.

      As noted, clearance and playing with the ball at their feet has been an issue for Thorns keepers since KK. Michelle was not great and neither as you correctly diagnose was Angerer. This is obviously a coaching problem rather than an individual one.

      That said, Franch was solid in 2016. She’s also not great with her feet…but she’s not as bad as she was Wednesday. As I mentioned in the comment above, she has a history of starting slow in preseason. I’d suggest we wait and see how she shapes in late April before castigating her as needing to be yanked. Eckerstrom has been in a position to start and didn’t. I suspect there’s a reason for that, or, at least, enough of one to give Franch more time.

    2. jdlawes

      Midfield…(re: your comment about Boureille over Shim or Nadim) Now that’s a good discussion.

      The real bottom line is that at full strength there’s no place for Celeste other than depth: late match sub or spot starts. Heath, Horan, Henry, Dagny is over her as depth and possibly KJ, too. And when you get to that point it’s hard to argue that 17′ of Boureille gets you more than 17′ of Shim.

      But if she becomes an option at D/M rather than just MF? That’s huge. That can make a difference between Celeste as a luxury and Celeste as in the 18.

      1. nicole (@endubs_rn)

        Ugh. I wrote a really long response last night during the match (since I couldn’t watch due to being at work) but I guess it got lost in the netherworld. Suffice it to say that I know it’s early and hiccups are to be expected but still hope that coaches are working hard on something that has been a problem. Since I wasn’t able to watch last night’s match yet, I can’t speak to Eckerstrom’s performance but I’ve seen mostly positives though I don’t know how much she was tested and how much she was asked to use her feet. As my response was long, I’m sure I yammered on about some other stuff about the other players discussed but I’ll move along and just say Bring on the regular season! Go Thorns!

        1. John Lawes

          Eckerstrom looked perfectly fine. She benefited hugely from Parsons’ apparent direction to the backline to quit booting around back to her (and to her to clear out long rather than try to put little dinks out to her CBs. That, and Houston was as depleted as Portland and didn’t press high the way the U-23s did.

          She wasn’t really tested much. The Daly goal was an unsaveable wonderstrike. Eck did box away a couple of corners and she collected everything she should have. She has safe hands.

          Her kicking game was kinda meh; she’s got more leg than Franch and can consistently sail the ball out a bit further. But I’m increasingly unconvinced that really matters. She lost possession on three of six goal or free kicks and all three punts, but that didn’t really turn around and bite the Thorns in the butt. I’m beginning to think that keeper kicks are sort of like how you put the ball in play in pinball; not really tactically significant (unless you completely goof it up as A.D. did Wednesday…)

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