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Thorns FC: Just Like Watching Brazil

Kris Lattimore

Perhaps because Thorns FC now has a Brazilian player, last Saturday the club played like Brazil is supposed to play; “We conceded five? Não faz mal! We’ll score six!”

So you come to our house and score three, Seattle?

No problem, we’ll score two!



Yeah. You see what they did there. If you concede goals like Brazil you have to score them like Brazil, and despite a ridiculous number of attempts and a ton of great opportunities, Portland just couldn’t score enough to overcome another full match worth of backline oopsies.

Opportunities? Yes!

That was the “good news” from the Seattle match; the Thorns created chances by the bagful.

Here’s the InStat plot of the dangerous attacks just from open play; keep in mind that set-piece attempts are not included.

Image by InStat. Used by permission.

The thing to note here is the distance from goal most of these chances came from. Many from inside 18 yards, five from less than the distance to the penalty spot. Those are good chances. The expected goals (xG) calculation from the best of the attacks shown above looks like this;

0.583 (Mallory Weber, 18’) + 0.08 (Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic, 29’) + 0.26 (Crnogorcevic, 43’) + 0.81 (Tobin Heath, 50’) + 0.827 (Crnogorcevic, 55’) + 0.827 (Lindsey Horan, 70’) + 0.827 (Heath, 88’) = 4.21xG.

That’s not counting Horan’s 89th minute point-blank header or 90th minute near-post blast, both from set-pieces, both saved; both would have put the xG total close to five.

Coach Parsons was correct; the Thorns should have been up by three, if not at the half, at least by the final whistle.

Why weren’t they? First, because all but two of those shots didn’t go in. Some by chance, or just bad luck; off the crossbar (twice), driven over, or wide. Some were saved through the good work of Michelle Betos, who played a blinder.

Second, because as in the previous several matches - where, as Richard Farley wrote, “...multiple other things (had) broken down...things which put the team in a bad spot” - once again the Thorns broke down in back and gave up several cheap, easy goals.

The first goal was off a 36th minute corner kick, not terrifically well-defended in general and leading to a concession largely due to Britt Eckerstrom’s inexperience.

You can see as the ball comes in from the corner Eckerstrom has edged off her line towards the scrum of bodies in front of her.

Image by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use

That’s a young-keeper mistake. If Eckerstrom comes out late and hard she stands a chance that she might either 1) get up high and catch or box away, or 2) draw a foul, killing off the play. Inching off her line like a kid trying to sneak into the crowd at recess, all she’s going to do is get tangled in the melee.

Limage by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use

When Beverly Yanez gets her head to the ball, she doesn’t really do all that well with it. She doesn’t head the service powerfully down. The ball just sort of bounces off her head and flies straight and level at the goalmouth.

Image by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use. Inset, Kris Lattimore

This was actually worse than it looked from the west stands. Eckerstrom wasn’t just out of position, she’d been knocked around by the tussle in front of the goal and had already been taken out of the play.

After fighting back to 1-1 at 61’, the Thorns then gave up a penalty kick goal on a clumsy challenge from Crnogorcevic three minutes later. I have nothing much more to say about that other than Christine Sinclair and I think Karen Abt has a funny sense of what is and isn’t a penalty.

Then the Thorns fought back - again - to level at 2-2 in the 70th minute.

The Thorns’ final concession begins four minutes later, when Kat Reynolds horribly misplays a long Meghan Klingenberg cross.

What you are about to see is violently inept defending. Sensitive adults and impressionable children may wish to skip down to the end of the screenshots.

Ready? OK, so cue up the “Yakety Sax” score, and let’s take a look

Image by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use.

Not content with booting the pass, Reynolds then gets skinned and beat to the byline by Kawasumi, who puts in the cross to Jessica Fishlock running in unmarked to her right.

Image by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use.

Fishlock takes the ball just to the left of the penalty spot and surrounded by three Thorns. These appear to be casual sightseers, so amazed at the sight of a Welshwoman in a Seattle kit with a ball at her feet 12 yards from their own goal that none of the three can be bothered to close her down.

Fishlock has a ton of time and space to find Jodie Taylor at the top of the six-yard box.

Image by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use.

Now it’s Klingenberg’s turn to help over-egg this $h!t-souffle. She stabs and misses, toppling on her back like a tipped-over turtle, and Taylor only has Eckerstrom in front of her.

Eckerstrom makes her contribution to the disaster by going to ground too early.

Image by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use.

At this point all Taylor has to do is put the biscuit in the basket, and it’s 2-3 Seattle.

She takes the shot but Hubly arrives just in time to block the ball away for a corner.

Image by Lifetime. Licensed under Fair Use.

Whew! Danger past, right?


On the ensuing corner the Reign push the ball out to Rumi Utsugi at the top of the penalty area. Utsugi hits a simple skipping ball past Eckerstrom’s late dive for the match-winner.

If Portland had converted all those great chances we wouldn’t be talking about these embarrassing concessions. They didn’t convert, though, and if the Thorns aren’t going to score like Brazil, they’re going to have to start defending like Italy.

We’re exactly one-quarter of the way through the season and still inside the top four, if barely, level on points with Orlando.

It’s well past time to stop derping on defense and conceding comedy goals.

Defense wins championships, remember?

Player Ratings and Comments

Weber (45’ - +5/-4) For all the useful things Weber did Saturday, it’s very difficult for me to get past her 18th minute miss. After a brilliant steal, all alone on Betos with the goal gaping in front of her, deeper than a well and wider than a church door, all Weber could do was clank her shot off the crossbar.

Given that opportunity, in that game state – with Seattle controlling early possession and threatening to score – Weber had to bury that shot, put her team up a goal, and force the visitors to chase the game.

You know I’ve been frustrated with the Thorns forwards’ lack of scoring, but this was perhaps the single most frustrating moment of the season to date. I don’t know whether this is the point where Weber needs to try and play through whatever yips she’s having or whether she needs to sit. If Coach Parsons wants to keep playing two forwards – and I’m not sure he does, given how much better the team looks with Heath on the pitch – he’s got a tough decision to make.

Crnogorcevic (+10/-1 : +3/-3 : +13/-4) A difficult outing for Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic; lots of hard work with little to show for it. And she did work hard; making intelligent runs and threading accurate passes, especially in the first half. She looked less incisive in the second half, suggesting that concerns about her fitness may not have been misplaced.

The numbers suggest that while both Portland forwards worked hard Saturday they didn’t get much out of that effort; InStat shows both Weber and Crnogorcevic in the low 50% range for successful attacking actions and Crnogorcevic in particular coughed up the ball a lot, more than anyone else on the team. Both were less effective going forward than any of the midfielders.

Image by InStat. Used by permission

It’s good that Portland has found ways to score without their strikers. It’s not good that Portland has had to find ways to score without their strikers. I still like what I see in Crnogorcevic, but, like all the other forwards, she needs to contribute more to the scoresheet.

Sinclair (+5/-1 : +9/-2 : +14/-3) The Portland midfielders fought with their Seattle counterparts all match, and in the middle of that war Christine Sinclair spent a lot of time tussling with Allie Long. “Sinclair vs Long” was an epic bout, and, unfortunately for Portland, not in Sinc’s favor; Long won 7 of their 12 individual battles. That was just part of Sinclair’s tough day at the office; InStat reports that she lost 13 of her 28 challenges, including a surprising 55% of her duels in the air and almost 60% in attack.

Once again, the addition of Heath seemed to help Sinclair lift her game, and Sinc provided much of the quality of the Thorns’ late match push. But Sinclair’s frustration in her battle with Long, and Long’s monster performance, was a good distillation of the Thorns’ unsuccessful day.

Heath (45’ - +7/-7) I’ve started to get used to the disparity between Heath’s impact on the match and her PMR. That’s because Heath is a fountain of soccer overflowing with plays; clever plays, brilliant plays, over-ambitious plays, and sometimes outright poor plays. “Harry” Heath never seems to stop and worry about “doing the right thing”; she would rather do something and then see if it works out right. The result is that Heath ends up becoming an even mix of pluses and minuses on paper, but on the pitch becomes a source of great energy that lights up her teammates.

Once again, Heath’s work sparked her team’s attack. Unfortunately, she can’t also play fullback or center back, so she couldn’t prevent her teammates conceding faster than she could help them score.

Horan (+9/-4 : +14/-3 : +25/-7) Woman of the Match. All the usual Horan positives; intelligence, pace, fierce determination. Brilliantly headed effort to chip Betos on Portland’s second goal, and a total of four great chances altogether. She must be kicking herself for shanking her 55th minute shot off the crossbar. Terrific work, and not Horan’s fault that her team came up just short.

Boureille (45’ - +4/-4) Like Sinclair, struggled with Seattle’s midfield. Unlike Sinclair, didn’t get the benefit of Heath and a furious second half to look better. Boureille struggled with her positioning against Seattle. While she did well when she was able to catch a Seattle player – she won all her duels – she didn’t catch them often enough; 9 overall challenges compared to Sinclair’s 25, Horan’s 35, and Purce’s 13. For a player who’s supposed to be holding down the back of the midfield, that’s not a good number. Successful going forward – 86% of her attacking actions succeeded – but not so much tracking back.

Purce (+11/-5 : +12/-4 : +23/-9) Midge Purce is turning out to be the best thing to come out of Boston since the bean and the cod. She had some trouble connecting her passes Saturday – only 65% went to a teammate – but she made up for that with some terrific attacking runs and incisive crosses, including a 72nd minute frozen rope that Heath barely missed poking right in on goal.

I really love what Purce is doing. What I’d like to see her doing more of, though, is providing assists to her forwards. This is as much the forwards’ issue as Purce’s, however, so without some changes up front I don’t see how Purce can make it happen herself.

Andressinha (45’ – +7/-2) Great in all aspects of the game; won 70% of her individual duels, completed 81% of her passes, succeeded 78% of the time in attacking actions. Given what she’s shown us in limited minutes, given the way opponents are throwing bodies at Horan to try and pin her back deep, and given the inability of Boureille to break Horan out of that pressure, I think it’s worth trying the Brazilian for a full match. Unless she’s not fit, Andressinha needs to start this Wednesday in Houston.

Klingenberg (+2/-2 : +5/-2 : +7/-5) Klingenberg didn’t have any truly epic fails – that was Reynolds and Sonnett – but she was almost invisible in the first half. She came to life in the second, having another one of those “Bad Kling/Good Kling” days.

Once she woke up, though, she delivered some gorgeous crosses and passes, and made some effective runs, especially in the five minutes before Portland’s second goal. Here’s my notes:

65’ – Kling great run, cross blocked away.

67’ – Andressinha terrific through ball, Kling’s cross cleared for CK

68’ – Kling pretty service but Sinclair offside.

70’ – Purce long switch to Heath, forward to Kling, cross to Crnogorcevic headed wide, recycled out to Sonnett. Sonnett pass up to Kling, drops dime on Horan, header over Betos, 2-2!

That’s good stuff. I just wish we’d get a full 90 minutes of that from you, Kling.

Hubly (+6/-6 : +4/-3 : +10/-9) Her PMR is deceptive; Kelli Hubly had a decent match. InStat makes it clear that she owned Yanez (winning 4 of their 5 meetings) and Taylor (winning 7 of 9). She even beat Long once, the only Thorn who came out the better for their encounter with La Blanquita.

Throw in Hubly’s goal-line clear on that 74th minute mess and that’s a pretty impressive match for someone who wasn’t playing professionally anywhere six months ago. InStat rates her as the second best Thorns defender behind Sonnett, the fourth best Thorn overall, and I’d agree - Hubly had a very good day.

Sonnett (+5/-2 : +6/-3 : +11/-5) Oh, dear, dear me. Emily Sonnett, what can I say? Remember my description of the Thorns’ defense in Utah; “Eighty-nine minutes of comfort, sixty seconds of terror”?

Yeah, that.

You play a solid match, you score the first equalizer, by the middle of the second half you’re well on your way to looking like having a cover-of-the-program matchday.

And then, in the 73rd minute, you do one of those “step on the ball, trip and fall over” things that make you cover your eyes when your kid does it in her U-12 rec-league match at Overlook Park.

On one of the comment threads discussing the last match I made an offhand remark about how the Thorns’ defense “coughs up at least one disgusting hairball per match”. This was one of several Saturday but the worst single individual one, and the only reason Sonnett didn’t get punished worse is because after Taylor swooped down and hawked that ball, the Englishwoman tamely poked her shot straight at Eckerstrom.

It’s hard to look past that to put the rest of Sonnett’s good work in perspective. She did do good work for much of the match, but one fail cancels out a whole lot of attagirls and that was an epic fail.

Reynolds (+5/-2 : +2/-5 : +7/-7) For the second match in a row, Kat Reynolds made an appalling error that led to a goal. Not directly, like her giveaway to Amy Rodriguez in Utah, but here the initial mistake was worse because Reynolds was under absolutely no pressure. There was no reason Reynolds shouldn’t have calmly collected that cross. Yes, she needed a lot of help to turn that into a match-loser, but the initial error that kicked off the train-wreck was eminently preventable.

As you’d expect from that and her PMR, Reynolds didn’t have a great day. Her InStat Index of 148 is only beaten out by Megan Oyster’s 138 in the race for what Chris Henderson likes to call the “Ballon d’Nope”; the least effective player on the pitch.

Eckerstrom (+3/-3 : +0/-2 : +3/-5) Eckerstrom didn’t do well on the first Seattle goal, as discussed above, and probably should have done better on the Utsugi match-winner. Had some issues controlling her backline, too; in the 30th minute Hubly made a dangerous play out of clearing a harmless roller that Eckerstrom could easily have picked up.

Unfortunately for Eckerstrom, her shortcomings, while not in themselves remarkable for a young keeper with limited first team minutes, were highlighted by Betos’ playing out of her mind at the other end of the pitch.

Coach Parsons: Different match, same problems; the forwards aren’t scoring and the backline is making some awful mistakes. Mind you, Parsons is also dealing with the same issues he’s had to fight all season; critical players are injured, the team has had to pull together a matchday eleven filled out with former reserves and recent returnees. These problems have to be hindering Parsons’ ability to make changes. He’s tried Tyler Lussi and Ifeoma Onumonu and hasn’t had any more success breaking the duck. He doesn’t have any better options in back, and short of going mad and training his backs with a shock-collar I don’t see how he can prevent Sonnett tripping over the ball or Reynolds forgetting how to play a simple cross-field pass.

On Wednesday, the Thorns travel to Houston. Outside of Sky Blue, the Dash are the league’s most reliable points-dispenser. Having gone 0-1-2 over the last three matches, Thorns FC needs a thumping road win to get the club back on track, and Houston is the very sort of place to get that.

Forwards, score. Defenders, don’t derp. Thorns, let’s get three on the road.