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Thorns FC: Midterm Grades - The Forwards

Nikita Taparia

We’re not quite at the halfway point of the Thorns’ 2018 campaign, but we’re close enough that it’s worth looking back over the first half of the Thorns’ season and handing out some midterm grades.

Over the coming week, I’ll do that for each of the Thorns three positional units, beginning here with the forwards.

Individual Report Cards

Portland has five players who have played either exclusively, or primarily, at forward. These players have two goals and one assist between them.

Bennett Dewan

Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic has one of the goals and the assist, but they’re in return for taking 46% of all the forwards’ shots. What’s good is that she put 66% of those shots on goal. What isn’t is she only converted 8.3% of those shots into goals.

What was expected of her this season? Crnogorcevic was signed after the beginning of the season to replace injured Australian striker Caitlin Foord—the implication being that her role would be to score the goals Foord had been expected to score.

Coach Parsons said that “...her ability to create and score will be a great addition to our roster.” This suggests that the club expected Crnogorcevic’s role to be a mix of her national team form—where she was primarily a striker—and her form with her Bundesliga clubs, where she was more of a provider who could occasionally score.

Has she met those expectations? Yes and no. Crnogorcevic is the most productive of the forwards. The table below provides her PMRs and the Index rating assigned to her by InStat.

Technical note: how to read the tables

The three columns under the player’s name display the plus, minus, and net PMR ratings, and compare them to the team’s average net PMR. The metric to watch is the player’s net rating relative to the team’s. A player with a higher net than the average had a good match, or at least a better match than her teammates.

The last two columns display the player’s InStat Index, and compares it to the team’s average. The criteria here are the same as the PMRs; a higher Index than the team average indicates a player having a good match.

Note also that InStat began providing match data beginning on Matchday 3, so the missing data for Matchdays 1 and 2 are an artifact of InStat’s late arrival. Note that InStat tends to low-rate substitutes somewhat, so matches where the player was subbed in are highlighted in yellow.

Are we good on the tables? Okay, good; back to grading.

Both InStat and I generally rated Crnogorcevic’s work at or above the team’s average performance. She has provided the most consistently dangerous attack of any of the Thorns forwards. So to that degree, she has fulfilled the team’s expectation of her.

However, Crnogorcevic hasn’t consistently turned attack into goals, and she still needs to do that to be considered a success.

Grade: B-minus

Comments: “I enjoy having this student in class, she’s a very hard worker and team player. Needs to concentrate a bit more on completing assignments efficiently and completely, but shows great promise.”

Nikita Taparia

Ellie Carpenter has the other goal, and nicked it on one of only two shots, both on goal.

What was expected of her this season? Carpenter was signed in February as an attacking fullback. Parsons’ assessment was that she had “...strong technical ability with an attacking attitude that will add to our play out of the back.”

Despite the Thorns’ intent to push her upfield, Carpenter was not considered a goal-scorer for her club or national teams, scoring only two goals in 33 games for her two club sides and a single goal in 21 games for the Matildas. My suspicion is that the original intent was for her to bookend with Klingenberg and play similarly, moving the ball up the right touchline and providing service from the flanks.

Has she met those expectations? In a sense, yes. But instead of attacking out of the back, Carpenter was thrown into the front line when the rostered forwards proved underwhelming.

Carpenter’s ratings suggest as a forward she generally does better starting than coming off the bench. She is still struggling with her position, alternating between above-average play and bouts of ineffectiveness.

It’s difficult to assess which form Carpenter will carry into the second half of the season; like Crnogorcevic, she looks promising but needs to turn that promise into accomplishment.

Grade: B (as a pure striker; A-minus overall for her adaptability)

Comments: “I can’t say enough about Carpenter’s willingness to help out however she can. A great student will always find a way to overcome unexpected obstacles and that’s what she’s doing. Keep up the good work!”

Bennett Dewan

Tyler Lussi has appeared the least of any of the Thorns’ forwards; only 240 minutes over 7 matches, the last three of them as a late match substitute. She has no goals or assists, and is credited with 6 shots, 3 on goal.

What was expected of her this season? An improvement on her kinda-meh 2017. I had some reservations about Lussi’s work last season, in particular because she did so little to establish herself;

“She did well in her appearances in 2017. But she also didn’t establish herself as a utility player like Weber did, and as a pure striker her conversion rate was painfully low. She disappeared after her suspension. After half a season with the club she is still almost pure “prospect”.”

Has she met those expectations? No. I haven’t seen anything from her this season that changes my earlier opinion. Her upsides are energy and pace, her downsides pretty much every other thing that defines “striker”. She also had some truly awful games so far this season, against Washington on Matchday 4 and Orlando on Matchday 8. Instat also rates her poorly for a third match, Houston away on Matchday 7.

So in a season where the Thorns have desperately needed a standout forward, Lussi has not been able to take the step up and be that.

Grade: D

Comments: “I’d really like to see more from Lussi. She puts in the effort, but she doesn’t seem to grasp the concept of her assignments as often as a student with her background should. Remember this; hard work without understanding only substitutes motion for direction.”

Nikita Taparia

Mallory Weber has seen almost as much field time as Crnogorcevic, but, like Lussi, has no goals from her 5 shots, probably because only 1 was on frame, and no assists. Weber’s half-season is most troubling for how it has deteriorated from a promising start.

What was expected of her this season? Like Lussi, a step up from utility bench player and spot-starter to solid starting forward. Initially that looked to be happening; Weber had three decent matches to begin the season, including an excellent outing against Orlando here on Matchday 3.

Has she met those expectations? No. After the good start the quality of her play and her impact on the match dropped off steadily.

In the home game here on Matchday 4 her net PMR was +3, but she had a total of 19 significant actions and her InStat Index was slightly above the team average.

By Matchday 5, she was still heavily involved - her plus/minus total was still 19 - but her net PMR was down to +1 and her Index slightly below the team average.

On Matchday 6, she was not doing much of note; her plus/minus was only +5/-4, and her Index was a full 10 points under the team average.

Since Matchday 8, Weber has been out of the XI.

Grade: C-minus

Comments: “I’ve been disappointed with Weber’s progress this semester. Her earlier work shows she’s capable of doing better than she’s doing right now. Hopefully she will get the opportunity to do that later in the year.”

Bennett Dewan

Ifeoma Onumonu has taken 6 shots over 311 minutes scattered through 8 matches, four as a late substitute. She has put 3 shots on target without scoring. She has no credited assists, although her run did draw a penalty against Washington on Matchday 4.

Onumonu’s strength is her pace; she’s blazing fast. Her weaknesses are “everything else”; in particular, her first touch is brutal and she seems unable to figure out how to run into space rather than into traffic.

What was expected of her this season? Next to nothing. After her rookie season in Boston last year, Onumonu was still considered raw, well behind her draft-class peer Midge Purce. She was an afterthought in the Boston dispersal draft. I was baffled by the pick at the time and guessed she was trade bait, or depth, or a conversion project.

Has she met those expectations? They were a pretty low bar, but Onumonu has failed to clear them. Both her PMR and Index show that Onumonu has had only one decent outing so far, her shift in the last half hour against Orlando on Matchday 4. Other than that and the Washington penalty her play has been dominated by her tactical futility and goalscoring sterility.

Grade: F

Comments: “This student is a lovely person with a wonderful personality. She is not, however, meeting the benchmarks for her grade level.”

The Forwards as a Group

The charts below provide collective plots for the Thorns forwards’ first half-season. First, the net PMRs. Note that the red line is the team’s average net PMR.

The forwards’ net PMRs are all over the place compared to the team net, especially Crnogorcevic’s. The story this tells me is of a fragmented striking corps, unable to find any sort of consistency. None of the strikers ratings are consistently outstanding, and their trend lines break off, stop and start, like a forward trapped against the touchline, desperately trying to find room to create something.

One thing about this I find specially intriguing is that, unlike the study I did after 2017, neither the forwards’ individual nor the team’s PMRs seem to do a good job tracking with wins and losses.

The forwards are just all over the shop, while the team rating for the opening day shutout against North Carolina is only slightly lower than the wild rumpus win in Chicago the following week. The win against Orlando on Matchday 3 produces only a slightly better team net PMR than the home draw to Washington the following week. The collective rating for the team in the home loss to Seattle is actually higher than the away win over Washington on Matchday 9.

The Instat Index chart shows more volatility than my PMRs, and the players’ Indices generally appear to track less closely to the team average than the PMRs do. The guys at InStat also didn’t like Crnogorcevic as much as I did and rated Carpenter as much further above (or below) the team mean.

But InStat’s Indices show a similar disconnection between high average values and match results shown in the PMRs; the loss to Seattle produced higher average team ratings than the draws to Washington and Utah and an average close to the Orlando win on Matchday 2.

My guess is this reflects 1) the strength of the opposition, and 2) the way the early part of the season has been going.

Portland won matches where the Thorns as a whole didn’t play all that well (Orlando on Matchday 3, Washington on Matchday 9), and lost matches where the team was decent but the opponent was better (North Carolina on Matchday 1) or individual Thorns derped and gave away goals (Seattle on Matchday 6, Orlando on Matchday 8).

So the teams beating Portland - Orlando, Seattle, and North Carolina - are just that good. The Thorns can play well against them and still lose. And sometimes individual mistakes are fatal and cost points.

But another possibility is that, as frustrating as the forwards have been so far, perhaps the team’s most serious issues aren’t up front.

We’ll talk about that some more in the next installment, where we’ll discuss and hand out grades to the midfielders.