Thorns FC: Utter Rubbish


Before my hip went bad I played keeper for a basement-league co-ed recreational soccer team in Portland.

You can imagine what the quality of our play was like.

I had a centerback that played in front of me who had been a decent amateur defender before his wheels had gone, but even then, as he tried hopelessly to contain the disaster in my penalty area, he retained a fine sense of defensive positioning and tactics; he knew how the game was supposed to be played and he had a keen appreciation of the difference between that and how we actually played.

So when, for all his hard graft, we would ship yet another goal Ed would typically look around at the wreckage of the defense strewn all about him, make what I always suspected was a very Scottish noise through his nose, and growl;

“Well.  That was utter rubbish.”

Portland Thorns FC lost Wednesday night 2-1 to a pair of late Boston goals.

After going up on a Weimer strike in the 52nd minute the Thorns defense left Lianne Sanderson unmarked in their own 18 fifteen minutes later and she slotted the ball past a charging LeBlanc to even the match.

A draw would still have seen PTFC through to the playoffs, but shambolic defending descended on PTFC again in the 84th minute, when Heather O’Reilly ran onto a nicely weighted long ball and from there had an uncontested run at goal, and converted it handily.

Add to that a knee injury to Alex Morgan and you had an evening that was pretty thoroughly utter rubbish.

Portland has manage to back into the playoffs only because the woeful Washington Spirit defeated the Chicago Red Stars in a freakish 1-0 match – terminated in the 81st minute after long electrical storm delays, if you can believe that.  Only in the NWSL…

We here in Portland should not be celebrating this.

Given the shambolic defending on display at Dilboy Stadium tonight the Thorns would be lucky to prevent three U-12s and their parents from putting four past Karina LeBlanc if they were to meet in the semifinal.  Recreating their ugly mistakes in the loss to FCKC last Sunday the Thorns backline had another series of appalling breakdowns tonight and lost a match that the team should have won or at least drawn.

What will happen next week in Rochester I have no idea, but if current form holds nothing good.

Coach Parlow Cone’s contributed her inexplicable player selections and substitutions to the troubles Wednesday night.

Starting Ramirez for Dougherty might have made some sense had the defensive problems we’ve seen been largely on the flank rather than through Kat Williamson in centerback.  But what the heck was going on with her match substitutions?  Wetzel for Foxhoven at the hour might have made some sort of sense had it stiffened the defense; that it did not – both Boston goals went in after the sub – calls it into question.

But Ellertson for Shim at 85 minutes, down a goal and needing the equalizer?

I honestly don’t know what else to say other than, well…

I had hoped that the Thorns would rally in Boston after the wretched display last Sunday.  I had hoped that Rachel Beuhler would woodshed her defenders and make them swear a blood-oath to give up their firstborns rather than ship another soft goal between the kickoff tonight and the final whistle in Tukwila.

I had hoped the Coach Parlow Cone would have devised tactical plans for the last three matches so cunning that Boston, Western New York, and Seattle would each end up in turn standing in a stymied huddle in midfield at the final whistle wondering what the Girls in Red had done to them.

Instead this team is a mess right now, sliding towards the playoffs in the worst possible condition.

I want to be hopeful.  I want to continue to believe that this and last Sunday were just hiccups.  I want to believe that the Thorns will regroup, charge into Rochester and slap the Flash around, storm into Tukwila and hammer the Reign, and from there roar into the playoffs with a shout.

But back in the day I wanted to believe that my team could win Co-ed Rec League IV.

And that turned out to be just utter rubbish, too.

15 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Utter Rubbish

  1. I’ve been of the opinion that CPC has been really a mess as a coach. She doesn’t seem to direct the game, makes bad decisions in subs and the team rarely seems to come back from halftime with anything new to add.
    I’m not sure if she is a dynamo in training (the only remaining potential contribution?) but even if she was, is that enough?


    Here we are, skidding (barrel rolling?) into the playoffs and I have to ask myself, even if we do well, do we look for a new coach? What do you think? Say we win this season in spite of the coaching, do we keep her?

    1. Here’s what I think – I hate to keep bringing this back up, but (at least for me) the parallel here is John Spencer.

      Spence seemed like a great guy and the players (at least those willing to go on record) seemed to love him. A lot of Timbers fans all kept seeing the same problematic signs – the antiquated tactics poorly suited to his players, the seemingly random substitutions, the inability to adjust to opponents’ tactics – and just didn’t want to accept that this engaging, funny, likeable guy was just not a very good head coach. He was just very obviously over his head tactically and technically.

      Finally, after pretty much sinking the team to basement level his failings became so obvious that Paulson really had no choice but to replace him. But he managed to produce some historically awful results before that.

      I’ve been teetering on the fence for a while now about CPC. She seems to share a LOT of Spencerian qualities. She seems poor at reading the game, meaning both that her lineups and tactics are seldom tailored to her opponents (indeed; she seldom seems to really THINK about her opponents – how the hell do you leave Lauren (Cheney) Holliday unmarked if you take ten seconds to think about “who on FCKC is likely to hurt us?”) and her substitutions seldom seem to make sense in the context of the game. She has been unable to work out the backline problems, and her attack still suffers from ugly predictability that the rest of the league has figured out and can pretty much stop whenever they want to. Only the addition of Tobin Heath has helped improve the midfield; CPC hadn’t really managed to find a workable solution there, either.

      But the OTHER huge Spencer problem was that he was unable to learn. He kept losing and coming back and butting his team’s head against the Great Wall of Lose in the same way. That’s where I can’t just throw CPC under the bus just yet.

      Right now, given the tiny rosters, the hasty formation of the league, and her inexperience, she hasn’t really had the opportunity to show any sort of real learning. What we’ve seen so far has been less than impressive, but might just be a rookie coach confronted by too much too soon and having trouble adapting on the fly.

      This off-season, though…for me, that will be the crux of the biscuit. During that time CPC will have all the time in the world to go over the roster, suggest changes to the front office, rework the team into the shape she wants it, get all her players on board (?? – assuming that the Foxhoven statement really meant that the team has factional problems that are contributing to the form on the pitch…).

      So I’m saying; even if Thorns FC bombs out of the semifinal – and the team’s current form makes that look perilously likely – I’d be willing to give her the off-season and the early part of next season to try and fix this thing.

      But if the same problems appear NEXT season?

      I’m Merrit? She’s gone.

      1. I tend to agree. Maybe I’m pessimistic in expecting CPC to have shown more evidence that she’s learning anything. She does have some limitations but I don’t think that completely explains her poor decisions. She’s not even saying the right things. I’d like to be as generous as you are but I’m not as optimistic. I’d love to be wrong though.

    2. CPC isn’t showing signs of progress. The team is showing signs of degeneration. I’m increasingly #CPCOut, but don’t want to be alarmist. I’m worried that her husband’s job with the Timbers makes things awkward, and that makes me feel like a sexist ass. So it goes.

      1. I want to think that Paulson & Co learned the right lessons from the Spencer debacle. We’ll have to see.

        And, for what it’s worth, I DO think that CPC has shown that she CAN make intelligent moves when she has to. That’s why I’m not ready to jump on the #CPCOut float just yet.

        After the first match at FCKC she saw that the midfield she’d hoped to rely on – led by Kerr and Long – was hopelessly overrun and stymied by the better-organized KC midfielders. Long looked overtasked, Kerr, just adrift. CPC reacted by moving Sinclair back into the midfield. I give her props for that; it wasn’t a popular decision at the time, but I think it helped stabilize the midfield until Tobin Heath arrived. That was a pretty smart move.

        And I think that she is working from very much behind the power curve. She had barely six weeks or so from the first practice until the league opener, and since then it’s been one thing after another; Edwards’ injury, the misfit between Sinclair and Morgan, the long wait for Heath, now Morgan’s injury. Plus if Foxhoven’s comments after the last FCKC loss have any import she’s dealing with some sort of internal rift within the team.

        ((((WARNING: Purely Unjustified Speculation Ahead! One thing that made me wonder about Foxhoven’s remarks was whether there’s some grumbling about the national team players from the “others”. The league has been remarkably close about salary information but what little we know suggests that the non-federation-sponsored players aren’t making a hell of a lot. The national teamers, while not making Cristiano Ronaldo-level bank, see to be doing OK. So how must that feel for players like Foxhoven and Shim, who are scoring and making game-breaking plays, to see Christine Sinclair stymied in front of goal yet making two, six, ten times what they are? To see Tobin Heath stroll in and collect a relatively big paycheck while they’re still working their asses off for relative chump change.

        And when she was Cindy Parlow CPC was “one of them”. Could that be a problem between her and the non-national team players, or could it be complicating her efforts to unite the team?

        I honestly have no idea…but I can’t help wondering.))))

        Anyway…I guess all I’m saying is that at this point, from where I’m standing under the Shed, things don’t look good for her but I do see how the situation is stacked against her. I wouldn’t fight hard to convince Paulson to keep her if he found that Tony DiCicco wanted to come out of retirement to coach the Thorns. But right now I’m not sure if there’s a “better option”.

  2. Sometimes I feel like the organization isn’t taking this season as seriously as the supporters in the stands are. When is the last time you heard our GM say anything about this team? The COO?

    I think that most of the players take this league seriously but I also feel like we have a collection of players and not a team.

    1. I’m not sure how engaged Paulson is with the Thorns – clearly not as much as with the Timbers. At the same time I think he’s learning to keep his mouth shut, or at least not Twitter his foot in it. Right now for him to step in would be to step into some pretty dirty water. And Gavin? Ugh…this is a perfect #GWOut situation, so I think Gavin is smart to keep his head down.

      As for the overall team morale, I have a REALLY hard time trying to figure this team out. Without information from practices all we have is the games and the post-match pressers, and everyone knows by know to mouth all the platitudes. But on the pitch it’s difficult to tell how well the team gels. The long ball that CPC has them playing makes the sort of close communication and team cooperation they’d need if they were playing a possession game immaterial. I agree that we don’t play long ball WELL, though, and that may be a team cohesion issue…

      Whatever the problems are, I really thought after the last Sky Blue match here that they were on the way to being solved, only to see the wheels come off against FCKC and now this mess. Now there’s 16 days to get them figured out or enter the playoffs on a four-game losing streak…

  3. What the FCKC!

    (had to. it’s friday. you guys gave me the idea in the first place.)

    I agree with everyone. The Thorns started out looking fantastic. I remember thinking during game 1 or 2, “this is porterball with the women, and I’m watching 2 of the best talents in the world right here at home. what a fun season it’s going to be.” Possession based, pass-happy, with a purpose.

    As the season wore on it became obvious we were resorting to long balling baby horse. The first sign of pressure, hoof the ball up to horse. No pressure? Look up and if MorganBacon (these are loving ‘nomers, in case you don’t know me) makes eye contact, lob one over! Alex will get it! Alex gets everything!

    I really am leaning towards CPC being a big piece of the dysfunction. Our ladies are GREAT. We have 3 of the top 10 female players in the WORLD in Christine (#1), Alex (#3,4, or 5) and Heath (somewhere in there). Our ladies have fun together, bantering & posting fun photos, from what we can see. Karina is amazing on and off the field.

    How do we take a gift horse like this and not come out with something prettier?!?! It is insulting that the “Bad news bears” teams that faced adversity starting with the draft are actually toe-to-toeing us and lately beating the snot out of us in most columns on the spreadsheet.

    1. I generally agree with your observations with one exception; I’m not sure whether the Thorns ever really managed to play one-touch Thorn-taka soccer for more than an occasional fortuitous combination or three. I think the Route 1 was the Plan B after Sky Blue showed the rest of the league that if you shut down the Thorns midfield you shut off the Big Two. It wasn’t a feature, it was the result of the bug in midfield.

      I honestly thought that the arrival of Heath was key to solving that problem, and the midfield HAS looked better with her on the wing. Unfortunately, this improvement has coincided with the self-destruct detonating in back. We just can’t stop anyone else from scoring anymore, and that’s what’s killing us now.

      And let’s not kid ourselves; there’s a fair amount of parity in this league (other than the woeful Spirit). I wouldn’t call them “bad news bears” (other than Washington). I just think many of the other teams took longer to sort themselves out than we did, largely because they needed to play AS teams. We had Beuhler in back and the two stars up front, so we managed to club the other bottom-dwelling teams in the early season while they were still getting organized.

      If I had to pick a turning point I’d point to the Sky Blue home loss back in May. Before that we were 4-0-1. Since then we have gone 6-3-6, and of our wins only two were to teams in the top half of the table; the freakish 4-3 home win over FCKC (which could easily have gone the other way) and the 3-1 home win over Sky Blue, which was the last time we’ve beaten anyone.

      1. I agree that we’ve never really seen the tika taka like game that was intimated. In all fairness to CPC, Porter is having to adjust to midfield play not going quite as well as he might like as well, though I think the causes are different. If Heath starts getting hacked at the way Valeri and Nagbe do then CPC will have that problem as well. Moving Sinclair in there was a good move. She’s solid enough to whether assaults as well. She’s not quite on the level of Heath in terms of creativity but her passing accuracy is pretty good. Other players have to make the right moves though, and they have to read each other. We do have some injuries and there isn’t a lot of depth, but the players aren’t making much progress in reading each other. Defensive lapses can be partially attributed to miscommunication as well. We’ve been outclassed in a couple of places, and some players have also shown some poor individual judgement, problems that are difficult to deal with on a small roster. As has been repeatedly noted, they’re not playing together as a team, which I think is, at least in part, a training issue. Maybe some of it is personal problems or egos as well. Compound that with baffling starting XI’s and subs, and we get what we’ve been seeing. I’ve actually worried that Heath’s arrival would more effectively mask some legitimate problems. I’m somewhat encouraged that she isn’t the savior of the team. We can’t be that reliant on one player, for one thing. For another, it’s more evident now that the problems are more systemic. I don’t want the team to lose games, but if losing is how hard lessons have to be learned to enable us to succeed in the long run, lose now so we can win later. We’re not going to retain and draw the kind of talent we need if this keeps up. The best players need a better environment to be prepared for international competition.

      2. Well…I don’t particularly worry whether top women’s national team players will fight to come here to play for CPC. Thorns FC appears to be one of the more soundly-run franchises, and I think that if Paulson is willing to pay what he can (under the cap) that we will continue to sign decent players.

        I simply worry that CPC appears to lack the soccer intelligence to succeed at this level of play, and that this will mean that the Thorns will struggle in the NWSL. And if the Thorns struggle – given that we are far and away the biggest draw in the league – I think the NWSL will struggle.

        So we’re sort of the league canary, in my opinion. People will be watching how well Portland supports this team. If the team plays like they’ve been playing people will stop coming to watch, and if our attendance falls sharply that might well cause the skeptics to start droning “See? This women’s pro soccer thing just doesn’t work. Because if it doesn’t work in Portland…”

      3. Very good point there. What I’d LOVE to see is a 100% organic, die hard supporters group spring out of NWSL with zero regard for the Riveters/TA. I don’t have too much hope for that, because it is natural to compare and adopt, but that would be amazing.

  4. PTFC was the Death Star the day the allocations were announced. Pre-season, everyone was practically handing us the title with the actual play a mere formality. We were all blinded by the Sinclair-Morgan-Beuhler-LeBlanc-Heath glitter.

    But look what happened next. Our two Mexicans backed out and were never replaced. Because we’d gotten such a sweet allocation, we were given the worst draft picks. Then Heath decided she’d prefer to eat good food with lousy service in France than have both in Portland.

    So, we ended up with a team with four players, fifteen unknowns and an unfilled roster spot. And our unknowns mostly have shown why they were. There were a few gems (Shim, Foxhoven, later Weimer) but also quite a few clods. Throw in a rookie coach and a tight salary cap and here we are.

    Yes, I am concerned about the team’s continuing slide to “mediocrity, and beyond!”, the strange in-game tactics and subs, the identical weekly platitudes. CPC may be floundering, but unless Pia Sundhage has a sudden change of heart I don’t know where you’d go for a sure-thing replacement. Bottom line, I think it’s too early to throw CPC under the bus. It’s not all her fault even if it is all her responsibility

    1. I agree with your conclusion – as I said in one of the comments above, I’m honestly not sure if we’re seeing the “real” CPC. I don’t like some of what she appears to be doing, but look at the circumstances; the allocation problems, the tiny pre-season prep period, the constant drain of injuries, the lack of roster size…

      So I think she at least deserves the end of this season and the beginning of the next. We’ll see soon enough if the team that runs out in April of 2014 looks like the team does now. If so, then it’s time to see if Tony DiCicco is looking for work, yeah.

      Oh, and a correction to my reply to Dave above; since the SBFC defeat in May Thorns FC is 6-6-3, not 6-3-6.

    2. “It’s not all her fault even if it is all her responsibility.”

      Give me a minute to parse this.

      “And our unknowns mostly have shown why they were.”

      I don’t think you’re giving Kerr, Long, or Dougherty enough credit. Are you leaving Becky Edwards out because she’s been injured? Wetzel has been good too. NIkki Washington hasn’t been great. Williamnson has been disappointing. I kind of wish we hadn’t traded Avant.

      Obviously CPC hand Thorns FC have been impacted by the Mexican National Team players going MIA, as well as by some unfortunate injuries and the absence of Heath. I think it’s fair to judge CPC on how she has worked with what she does have. In that context, she’s made bad decisions and there is evidence that things are worse than they seem behind the scenes.

      I agree that it’s too early to throw CPC under the bus, but that isn’t so much that I’m optimistic about her ability to improve, but that I would want to be more certain and have another option in mind. If we are one and done in the play-offs, maybe we’ll see a change before next season. Otherwise it might get even more Spencerian in Portland.

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