Throughout the NWSL Fall Series, Portland Thorns FC and many of the team’s players have improved dramatically. In the NWSL Challenge Cup, the Thorns struggled offensively and only scored three goals in six matches. Portland now has a chance to win the Fall Series and has scored eight goals in three matches.
Simone Charley has looked like a completely different player in the Fall Series than she was in 2019 or even the Challenge Cup. Charley played her first minutes with the Thorns in the 2019 season. She played 11 matches (six starts) and clocked 496 minutes. Charley did not score in her first season but did provide two assists and made seven key passes.
Charley went to the W-League to play for Canberra United in the 2019-20 season. There she played 11 matches and started to get her feet under her, scoring five goals and adding an assist.
Charley has featured in all nine of the Thorns’ matches this year. In the Challenge Cup she scored her first NWSL goal, poking home a Lindsey Horan header that came back off the bar in a 2-1 loss to the North Carolina Courage. Throughout the rest of the Challenge Cup she contributed one key pass, took seven (unblocked) shots and had a pass accuracy of 65%.
The Thorns striker keeps improving with more game time. Charley has been an under-the-radar offensive contributor in the Fall Series. Her passing accuracy has improved to 75% and she has made two key passes. But more importantly, she has a newfound confidence in her dribbling ability, which has helped her contribute to three of the Thorns’ eight goals.
In the Fall Series, Charley has looked a lot more confident with her feet. She is taking on more players one-on-one and creating danger. In the series she has completed three of her 11 attempted dribbles.
Statistically speaking, she completed most of her dribbles in the two matches against the Utah Royals. At Providence Park she completed two of four dribbles against the Royals. In the 35th minute, Charley received the ball while alone in attack. Instead of holding the ball up and waiting for players to join her, she went straight at the defense.
Her confidence in her dribbling ability has clearly grown in the weeks between the Challenge Cup and the Fall Series. I doubt she would have made this run given the same opportunity in the knockout competition. But Charley went on an incredible slaloming run. She bobbed in and around two Utah defenders and capped it all off with a neat left-footed finish.
Charley has been a menace for opposing defenses since that goal. In the 55th minute of the same match she dribbled the ball down the right side and cut past her defender. Despite slipping, she put in a decent ball that was meant for Christine Sinclair.
During the Thorns’ third match of the Fall Series, Charley completed one of four dribbles against Utah. She took her defender on, beat her and got off a shot that did not trouble the keeper. Despite completing zero of her three attempted dribbles against the OL Reign, it was by far her most influential match.
Near the end of the first half, Sinclair played a through ball to Charley. The striker wasn’t ready to run on to the pass that would have put her on goal. She ran down the ball which took her wide on the left. She drove into the box with a few step-overs and was quickly hacked down. The referee blew the whistle for a penalty kick and Sinclair scored her second goal of the night.
Charley and the Thorns weren’t finished. In the 57th minute, Charley received the ball on the left and with one touch fired an inch-perfect cross to Rocky Rodriguez. Rodriguez scored a stunning volley for her first goal with the Thorns. Charley recorded the assist.
Charley is not a player that scores tons of goals. That does not mean she is not a quality striker. Her ability to take players on not only creates space for herself, but she creates space for others by forcing defenders to double or triple-team her. Her runs at pace also create space in the midfield and she can serve as a direct option if Portland is pinned back.
The more time Charley gets on the pitch the more confident and better she will become. Her dribbling ability has improved greatly already and her finishing and passing in the final third will continue to get better as well. Charley has been impressive throughout the Fall Series and offers something different than the Thorns’ other strikers. Having strikers that thrive in different environments and have different styles of play help diversify the team. It also allows Parsons to select strikers based on his tactics and how the Thorns will look to punish their opposition. Charley adds another dimension to the Thorns.