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Thorns FC: Sigh

Anya Button

I’m tired of writing “Forwards, score. Defense, don’t derp.” and I’ll bet you’re tired of reading it.

But I’m not sure what else to say.

You probably already know what happened in the 1-1 away draw to Houston. Our Tyler Nguyen described the events, and if you read the accounts, or watched the match, you know the Thorns spent all evening playing with the ball and going nowhere with it.

With almost 70% possession, creating 541 total passes to Houston’s 241, Thorns FC could only manage 1 goal from 4 total shots on goal. Here’s InStat’s diagram of the dangerous attacks Portland created from open play;

Image by InStat. Used by permission

Dominating possession in the first half, Thorns FC could only manage two shots from distance, several key passes that fizzled out or were cleared, and a tap-in goal that was the product of some weapons-grade defensive errors.

In the second half? Nothing but set-pieces; a Lindsey Horan header at 72’ that Jane Campbell fielded easily and another Horan header in the 80th minute that Van Wyk cleared off the goal-line.

So the Thorns didn’t score like Brazil. The defense? Well, the Portland defense wasn’t precisely catennacio-solid in Houston. There were way too many moments like this one.

Image from go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

But at least no individual Thorn made a disastrous error that led to a concession. Kyah Simon’s goal was a combination of too many Thorns caught going forward when a misplayed Horan pass was quickly turned back, and some clumsy marking by the outnumbered Portland backline.

Image by go90. Licensed under Fair Use.

Simon just has too many options. As it turned out, she took the simplest one - struck the ball at goal - and although Britt Eckerstrom got a finger to it, the ball ticked the inside of the far post.

I want to be optimistic. I want to believe that as the team develops a regular matchday XI and communication and interplay improves, the losses will become draws and the draws become wins. I want to know we’re going to see something less dreary than what I saw in Houston.

But right now, I’m just not sure how and when that’s going to happen.

Player Ratings and Comments

Crnogorcevic (+4/-11 : +4/-5 : +8/-16) Normally the player scoring the only goal in a 1-1 away draw should be a lock for Woman of the Match. To crown Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, however, would mean looking past the rest of her appalling night in Houston. InStat shows her turning the ball over 10 times, losing 16 of 18 challenges, and being successful in attack only 48% of the time, the lowest success rate on the team.

I’m very glad Crnogorcevic scored her first goal. I’m not glad that the rest of her evening was not as much worth celebrating.

Heath (64’ - +9/-7 : +2/-0 : +11/-7) Tobin Heath had a rough evening, including a nasty cleating in the Houston penalty area that referee Luis Guardia casually waved off.

Heath’s mad ball skills helped Portland hang onto the ball all night. Those skills didn’t help them threaten, or finish, however.

Here’s InStat’s possession statistics. Note the highlighted areas.

Image by InStat. Used by permission.

Portland brought the ball over the halfway line on more than three-quarters of its possessions - Houston could barely manage that 4 times in 10.

Almost half the time Portland worked the ball into the final third - Houston only did that about 1 time in 4.

But Portland getting into the penalty area?

Just barely over 15% of the time; Houston was almost as good getting the ball into that dangerous space. And - even given those opportunities - Portland couldn’t get a shot off; 10 shots out of 111 attacks, fewer shots than Houston managed from 70% less attacking opportunities.

Sinclair (+4/-2 : +5/-1 : +9/-3) Was Christine Sinclair still gassed from wrestling with Allie Long last weekend? Was she hating the Houston humidity with the heat of one thousand suns? Whatever the reason, Captain Sinc looked slow and out-of-touch Wednesday night, and that’s always a bad sign for Portland.

Lussi (26’ - +3/-1) Brought on late to provide fresh legs in place of a not-90-minutes-fit Heath, Tyler Lussi ran around the pitch a lot.

Purce (+7/-1 : +3/-3 : +10/-4) Midge Purce was bound to have a so-so game eventually. Purce went into a total of 15 individual duels; Keever fought her to a standstill (winning 5 of their 9 challenges) and she lost 4 of the remaining 6 challenges, as well. Not a strong factor in the attack, either, succeeding in only 67% of her actions; not bad, but not up to her usual standards.

Andressinha (66’ - +7/-1 : +3/-1 : +10/-2) If I had to pick a Woman of the Match I would choose the Brazilian. Completed 92% of her passes (45 of 49) including a gorgeous lead pass in the 50th minute that found Purce just offside. A beast on defense, winning 10 of 13 challenges, including owning Simon, 4-0. A fine night for Andressinha.

Horan (+9/-6 : +5/-5 : +16/-11) A very mixed sort of night for Horan, as illustrated by her PMR. Ten of her 16 pluses are for passes, including beautiful lead passes to Crnogorcevic in the 46th and 80th minutes. But 6 of her 11 minuses are also for passes, including the mishit long ball that started the Houston goal sequence.

Horan’s InStat Index number (196) is the second-highest on the Thorns behind Andressinha’s 203. This is also higher than any Houston player - Veronica Latsko is the highest rated at only 186 - which either illustrates a weakness of the metric, or the extent to which Horan and Portland were dominant in all aspects of the match except the result.

Boureille (24’ - +1/-2) Not a factor.

Klingenberg (+6/-6 : +6/-3 : +12/-9) Had some tough moments in defense, especially dealing with Latsko. Curiously, not heavily involved in the Thorns’ first half attack-o-palooza but suddenly began providing fine set-piece service in the second, dropping corner kicks and free kicks onto her teammates’ heads.

Hubly (71’ - +6/-2 : +0/-2 : +6/-4) Faded late in the match after some good work in the first half. Much like her teammates, Kelli Hubly had a very “meh” sort of match; not awful, just not good enough to beat three points out of the Dash.

Sonnett (+2/-2 : +2/-4 : +4/-6) InStat’s Index has Emily Sonnet at 180, tied for fourth-best Thorn. I thought Sonnett had a patchy night in Houston, beginning with a 12th minute howler where she was caught woolgathering by a Rachel Daly run that Eckerstrom had to race out to kill off. Made some good tackles, and was especially effective in attack - InStat has her with an 87% success rate in attack, which may be a big factor in her high Index - but Sonnett was also a big part of the looseness in back which gave Houston more of the match than they should have had.

I think my frustration is that while Sonnett is generally good, I want her to be better; I want her to pull her backline together into the sort of shape it was at the end of last season. Unfortunately, that may require the other Emily’s return.

Reynolds (+0/-2 : +0/-2 : +0/-4) Kat Reynolds owned Rachel Daly all night, going 4-0 in challenges against her. She didn’t fare as well against Nichelle Prince, however, losing 5 of 8. Her PMR is a trifle deceptive; Reynolds wasn’t bad so much as she was “not terrific”; she didn’t do anything particularly significant and made a couple of poor passes (her two first-half minuses) and some late-match defensive errors. As with Sonnett, I think Reynolds’ muted numbers reflect her team’s dour night.

Carpenter (19’ - +2/-1) Not a factor.

Eckerstrom (+1/-0 : +6/-0 : +7/-0) Britt Eckerstrom had a terrific night despite the scoreline. Her furious rush off her line saved a sure concession in the 12th minute, and she did terrific work in the second half as Houston surged forward; a tough-as-nails lunge to box away in the 55th minute, brilliant saves in the 62nd and 66th minutes, and two critical takes, one in the 80th on a looping ball off a Houston corner, and again in the 93rd on a long Daly cross. Well played, Eck.

Coach Parsons: My biggest concern about this match is I think Parsons’ substitutions didn’t work. Heath’s relief was likely a fitness issue, I get that, but Lussi was ineffective, and neither Carpenter for Hubly nor Boureille for Andressinha added any spark to a team that was looking out of ideas and out of gas.

Mind you, I’m not saying that I would have had a better plan (other than to wonder out loud what the heck Elizabeth Ball is doing taking up a roster spot) given the short turnaround from Seattle and with Orlando coming in this weekend.

Three points from four matches, though. That’s not sustainable. And Orlando returns this coming weekend with Marta on the pitch and, surely, a debt to repay. This would be a good time for the coach to do some magic, and the team to play like unicorns dancing on rainbows.