Thorns Good

Portland’s early season three-game homestand played out far differently than they envisioned it. With two points of a possible nine and just one goal scored between the three, players as well as head coach Rhian Wilkinson left Providence Park after the club’s 2-0 loss against Houston contemplating what went wrong.

After spending six seasons in a familiar system under coach Mark Parsons, players are still adapting to Wilkinson’s new philosophy and ideas; the team hasn’t yet played double-digit games under her. Still, they know there aren’t many excuses for not taking advantage of a favorable stretch in their schedule.

“I talked to the team a lot about zero excuse culture, when you're at home and you have three games, it doesn't matter,” Wilkinson said. “Everyone's got hard schedules at different times. We were home and I would have expected more points. I think what we talked about as a team is we'll take the hits now to learn later. But we have to learn from these moments.” 

Following the loss to Houston, players reflected on the home stretch and shared where they think improvement is needed to get back on track. One area heavily discussed was how the club approaches utilizing possession, which they had over 60% of when they faced the Dash.

“We need to keep the ball and not give it away when there’s no pressure,” Kelli Hubly said. “Also, I think just scoring before them helps us as the defense to get a hold of the game and the whole team. The goals were weird. They’re counters. We’ve either just got to stop the counter before it happens or clean up the balls in the box.”

In addition to holding onto the ball more, players also touched on how they want to further generate high-quality chances – something that comes with more time together than a couple of months.

“I think when we look at our shots versus quality shots and our crosses versus quality crosses, that’s probably where the biggest difference is,” Janine Beckie said. “We can clean that up by reps and training, playing with players over and over again, getting their partnerships, what kind of cross suits them the best, what kind of finish are they used to.”

Hubly said that the team made good strides when it comes to advancing the ball up the field through switches from midfield, but with the team combining to put 15 out of 47 shots on goal over the three games, she also mentioned the importance of finding ways to generate good looks and finishing chances in the final third.

The biggest question Wilkinson was left pondering after Portland’s loss to Houston was how her team reacts when things don’t go its way. It’s something she continues to talk with players about and something they continue to work on in trainings.

“I would rather lose 3-0 then not just give it our all and the team. I know they feel the same way, getting on the ball, finding the opposite sides,” Wilkinson said. “Those secondary movements become critical, the rotation in the middle. We have to live on the ball. We have to live our identity and we've got to switch the point of attack and when things aren't going well, we're usually not doing those things”

While taking two of a potential nine points from home left the team with a sour taste in its mouth, it has also served as a motivator during training sessions this week. More time together will certainly help fix a plenty of these early season issues, as it does each year, but come Saturday against the Chicago Red Stars (5pm PT, Twitch). the Thorns also hope to showcase some improvements.