Thorns FC: Road points and soccer, according to SGT Harris

My Basic Training drill sergeant, SFC Harris, had a very practical approach to life, and that carried over into his outlook on military tasks.  He was always willing to let us try something a little different from what the manuals specified to see if it would work.

“If it’s stupid and it works,” he’d comment, “it’s not stupid.”

For about 90 minutes of the away game in Houston the Portland Thorns’ attack looked pretty damn dull, tepid and, well…stupid.  Then at 90+change Lindsey Horan lined up over a free kick and struck a stunner for the 1-1 equalizer and that suddenly it wasn’t stupid.

But with North Carolina coming in this next Saturday Thorns FC’s gonna have to get a lot smarter most quick smart.  What worked against Houston ain’t gonna work against the league leaders.

Leaving the attack alone for a moment, the Thorns’ defense is gonna have to stop doing stuff like this:

That’s just inexcusable.  That’s rec league defending, and if Daly and Beckie punished Thorns FC for it what do you think Williams and McDonald and Mewis and Doniak and Zerboni are gonna do?  I’ll give you a hint; it’s gonna look like this:

Allie Long is hugely culpable for this mess, but neither Sonnett nor Boureille cover themselves with glory.  And this was just the 8th minute.  Houston had good opportunities in the 17th, 23rd, 26th, 63rd, 72nd, and 87th minutes, as well.

And in the 71st…

I’m not a huge Carli Lloyd fan.  I think she plays borderline dirty and has some stereotypically-wasteful-striker-habits.  But when she’s on, she’s on, and she was a hell of a nuisance last Saturday night.

But this isn’t just Lloyd being on; this is damn near the entire Thorns midfield and both centerbacks acting like they’d never even seen, much less played, a game of soccer before.  This is “shambolic defending” as defined in Webster’s Unabridged.

I’ve heard some grumbling about A.D. Franch’s tendency to come off her line.  Well, here’s a perfect example of how you come off your line on a break.  A.D.’s got no chance here unless she can stone Prince.  She’s a trifle lucky in that Prince is greedy and takes an extra touch to try and go to her right, hoping that Franch will – as she did on the first Kerr goal in Portland – flop early.

She doesn’t

That’s some great stuff right there from Franch.  But first half her team has to derp and let Houston – who was up a goal at this point and had been sitting on the match for damn near an hour, remember – run through the heart of the team.

So.  Let’s learn this lesson and look better here this coming weekend, right, defense?

Now.  The attack.

Thorns FC had nearly 60% of the possession in Houston.  But, as anyone who watched can tell you, probably two-thirds of that was harmless dinking around the defensive half; up and back, side-to-side, up and back.  It wasn’t fun to watch and it didn’t work, either.  Houston stayed very disciplined and was happy to let Portland waste time and energy playing kickabout.

Here’s what the attack DID generate:

12′ – Horan puts a good lead pass up to Sykes, drop to Sinclair but weak shot easily saved.

15′ – Sinclair drops out to Klingenberg who drives on from the left; her shot is blocked a close range.

28′ – Long flicks Shim’s long pass up to Raso but Hayley shoots way over.

34′ – Sinclair pounces on a poor Houston clear; her rising shot would have gone under the crossbar but Campbell makes a great save.

36′ – Sinclair puts a good pass through to Sykes, but her left-side shot is well saved.

50′ – Sykes can’t settle Raso’s great cross but drops to Sinclair who drops to Horan; Lindsey shoots far over.

60-61′ – Good spell of possession.  Sinc’s 60′ shot is blocked, but the ball falls to Portland.  Long out to Kling, Kling to Sinclair, Sinclair to Sykes, Sykes crosses in to Sinclair at the top of the 18; Sinc squares to Long but her decent low shot is saved.

67′ – Lussi makes a strong run into the 18 and appears to be fouled but no call.

73′ – Sonnett good long pass to Weber who flicks on to herself, but Lussi can’t control her cross, drops out to Sinclair.  Sinclair drops to Long whose shot is deflected out for a corner – no shots from two subsequent CKs.

81′ – Horan with a good cross in to Lussi; lovely control in tight space and shot, blocked out for CK, but corner cleared.

91′ – Horan buries free kick, 1-1 Portland.

The expected goals chart for this match looks like this:

Interestingly, the two “best” opportunities per the xG formula were Sinclair’s 34th minute shot – which was an excellent attempt that required Campbell to work hard to save – and Lussi’s 81st minute blocked shot.  Horan’s goal is an outlier, but, again, remember; if it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid.  And Horan’s goal worked like a charm for the point on the road.

Road points are good, no matter how you get them.  But in the past 5 matches Thorns FC is 1-3-1, and the problems that have emerged in all four of the five outside the home win over FCKC asserted themselves here; slow, often predictable and defendable, attacking, and moments of horrific defending.  That’s not going to cut it if PTFC wants to be in the top four come October 1.

Things need to change, and this coming weekend would be a good time to change them.  If it’s stupid and it works it’s not stupid, yes.

But as SFC Harris used to gently remind us; smarter is better.


Player ratings and PMRs –

Sinclair (+7/-2 : +8/-2 : +15/-4)  Woman of the Match.  Tough night, but worked tirelessly and made her teammates better, as usual.

Raso (84′ – +5/-5 : +5/-2 : +10/-7)  Mixed her usual strong runs and good crosses with some truly awful passing and attempts to force crosses into a packed defense for loss of possession.  Telling stat is that she had 2 shots, both on goal, in 84 minutes…the same as Tyler Lussi had in 45 minutes.  C’mon, Hayley…you’ve proved you can score.  Put a boot through it, woman!

Sykes (65′ – +3/-9 : +2/-2 : +5/-11)  Dreadful first half – her passing and touch were particularly atrocious.  Better in the second, but obviously Parsons didn’t see her as “better enough” to keep her on the pitch chasing the game.  Still not really sure of her quality; the first-half Sykes looked below-replacement-level.  Needs to lift her game if she’s to start against Carolina.

Shim (45′ – +2/-3) “Shim, who-oa, Shim, who-oa…she is the $%!%$ wahini, she swam here from Hawaii…”  Another very Takaesque outing.

Lussi (45′ – +5/-3)  A very good shift from young Lussi; aggressive and effective.  Early days, however, so let’s give her credit for a good half and wait and see how she develops with time…but a very promising debut.

Weber (25′ – +2/-0)  Decent shift.

Herndon (16′ +0/-0)  Little impact on the match.

Horan (+6/-11 : +8/-3 : +14/-14)  Like Sykes, awful in the first 45 minutes, combining amateurish giveaways with poor passing.  Much improved in the second half, and a terrific goal.  My issue with Horan isn’t that she’s not good.  She is.  But she can be better, much better, as we saw in Boston and, unfortunately, haven’t much since.

Long (+6/-4 : +3/-4 : +9/-8)  Another in a string of “meh” from Allie, and the team needs her to be a lot better than meh.  Not sure if her sterility stems from having to toil thanklessly in back, or fatigue, or a knock, or if it’s a mental attitude thing…but she’s not helping the team the way she should be right now.

Klingenberg (+4/-5 : +7/-4 : +11/-9)  Kling’s lack of foot speed is a dangerous gamble for Thorns FC.  Parsons’ system requires that she get up the touchline…but her increasingly obvious lack of celerity means that if she does she has to be split-second decisive in tracking back, and she isn’t always.  Caught upfield several times in Houston, most notably on the Beckie goal.

Someone, perhaps Parsons, needs to help her out with this.  Clearly she either doesn’t recognize how much speed she’s lost or doesn’t know how to adjust to it.  But positional nous and anticipation can help her, if she will work on that, or Parsons might move her up to a true winger and try someone else at LB.  Either way, her occasional tardiness in getting back is more than occasionally troublesome.

Menges (+8/-4 : +3/-3 : +11/-7)  Another decent match from Menges-Emily.  Had a couple of fairly awful derps as shown above, but in general was the better of the centerbacks.

Sonnett (+4/-4 : +3/-4 : +7/-8)  Sigh.  Not horrible…but not that good, either.  Visibly awful defensive positioning or technical errors in the 8th, 17th, 23rd, 39th, 63rd, 71st, and 72 minutes.  I’ve begged, I’ve pleaded, now I’m commanding; be better, Emily.  Be better.

Boureille (+4/-5 : +6/-5 : +10/-10)  As her PMR shows; some good, some not-so-good.  Decent passing forward but too often tried to force the ball where it wasn’t going to go and lost it.  Couple of nice defensive stops, misfooted a couple of times, most notably in the Beckie goal.

Franch (+4/-0 : +2/-0 : +6/-0)  As noted, huge on the 71′ Prince stop.  Several other good saves.  Not at fault on the concession.

Interestingly, all of her clearances (that I could see, anyway) were short directly out to her backs.  On the one hand, this was great in preventing loss of possession.  On the other hand, it definitely slowed the pace going forward, and chasing a match from inside the first ten minutes…that might have backfired.  So I guess this is a “your mileage may vary” sort of thing.

Coach Parsons – Got the road point, and credit to Parsons for sticking with his patient tactical scheme even late in the match when things looked nervy.  Good halftime move to bring on Lussi, tho the other substitutions were fairly much a wash.

Still…the team is still showing the frailties we’ve seen all season.  Parsons knows, I’m sure, that he needs to deal with these frailties…but I’m not sure how he does, or even how he can; he’s got a small roster, lots of injuries, and now three regulars out for a month with the monster from Cary arriving in less than a week.

I sure hope he thinks of something brilliant.