(in which we ponder how the Thorns will do through the Olympics)
UPDATE: Amandine Henry was at the Timbers USOC match on June 29. It now appears that she will not be joining the French Olympics training camp this week and instead will play for the Thorns this weekend!
Opinions vary widely about the Thorns’ chance of surviving the coming two months without many of our star players. Some feel we’ll sail right through, others think we’ll lose them all. A deeper dive is needed.
TL;DR Mark Parsons has a really tough job ahead. He’s going to have a hard time putting a lineup card together. Any injuries will only make it worse. Based on past performances, we will have an unimpressive midfield and will struggle to score. But ultimately, even the worst case isn’t that bad and the favorable schedule gives us reason to hope for something better.
The various national teams have called up their players for preparation camp leading up to the Rio Olympics. The NWSL will take a hiatus for the actual Games in August, except for one match not involving us. But July will see every team playing with many of their star players gone.
Let’s look at who’s losing how much:
In the table, “Creative” means a midfielder or forward. Clearly the Thorns will take the biggest hit in the league. But we knew that already. What about our opponents?
We have four games in July. First up is Sky Blue FC, the team least impacted by call-ups. Then FCKC, taking a moderate hit. After that we go to Houston, who really get bitten badly. And we finish up with Seattle who are missing only Solo (who is well backed up by Kopmeyer) and Rapinoe (who hasn’t seen the pitch due to injury). So of our four games, half are against essentially full-strength teams.
But there is some good news also:
- All four of our opponents in July are below mid-table in the standings
- Three of the four are home games
- We already drew with Seattle playing a shortened roster
- The road game is against the worst team of the four and the one with the biggest roster hit
- We are currently top of the table and eight points above the red line
Thorns Roster Situation
On top of the roster hit due to the Olympics, we have three players out with injuries. Meg Morris is gone for the season. Back on May 3, Kat Williamson went out for what was supposed to be six weeks. She could be back any day now. Kendall Johnson is having a tough time with concussion symptoms.
A few weeks ago, Mark Parsons mentioned in passing that he’s still looking at Sam Lofton, a left back formerly of the Boston Breakers and previously the Washington Spirit reserve team.
So our roster looks something like this:
There’s not much depth there, especially in the back. Goalkeeper is the one bright spot. And that’s important because Betos and Franch are likely to get a workout. The best news we could get would be the return of Williamson this week.
Nadim and Dagny have both been lighting it up the past few games. But of course they depend on midfield service and that’s where we’re getting bitten the worst. It’s time for Mana Shim to step up.
A potential lineup might look like this:
Given the versatility of several players such as Brynjarsdottir and Raso, the pieces could be shuffled about quite a bit. But assuming no Johnson, we only have one more midfielder/forward in Berryhill. Any injuries to these starters is going to be a huge problem.
We do have the option of bringing in unpaid interns. Last time, we brought in a local player, Maureen Ferguson, but she didn’t dress for the match. She’s in my lineup above, in place of Williamson. The Thorns have also put Meg Morris on the season-ending injury list which means we can sign (and pay) a replacement. I imagine Gavin Wilkinson is scouring the globe as you read this.
So – it looks pretty ragged for the Thorns. What about the rest of the league?
The Other Teams
We already showed the list above of each team’s hit. Here’s the entire league schedule for the relevant period:
By team, it looks like this:
This is sorted to show the teams playing the most games, and then the most road games. The Thorns have the most favorable schedule in the league during this period. Our two main contenders for the title, Washington and Chicago, have the toughest.
So while the Thorns are likely to drop points in the interregnum, it seems that we will have plenty of company. I predict that Houston and Orlando will come out of this battling Boston for the Wooden Spoon. Seattle and Sky Blue are the primary beneficiaries – I will not be surprised to find them near or above the red line at the end of August.
So here’s a chart you can use to make you own estimate of the various win-lose scenarios:
The first column is the current points total. Games Played Through the Olympic Games is the total each team will have played at the conclusion of the tournament, with the next column showing the point total each team could get if they win every game. The final two columns list the games remaining to be played after the Olympics and the possible end-of-season points total assuming all wins.
Obviously every team can’t win every game. But let’s suppose that Washington and the Flash did win them all. Also, assume their opponents won all their other matches, except drawing when they play each other. There is one pair of matches outside this group, a home-and-home between Orlando and Boston. Let Orlando win them both although it doesn’t really matter.
If all this were to happen, that would mean the Thorns lost all four matches. And the table would look like this on August 20th:
This is about the worst case scenario I could come up with, and guess what? We’re still in third place!
Expectations and Predictions
I expect all three home matches to be bunker-and-counter affairs similar to the Seattle match. With luck and effort, we might just win one. The road game in Houston may be the exception. The Dash are already struggling and it’s getting worse for them. It will be our third match with the new lineup, so we may have gelled. The Thorns have nothing to lose by going all out on the road against a weak foe.
My prediction is
four five of the possible twelve points. Our 27 28 total points have us in second tied for first place when the stars return: SBFC 2 : 0 Thorns
SBFC 0 : 0 Thorns (UPDATE: Yes, having Henry makes a big difference!)
FCKC 0 : 0 Thorns
Dash 0 : 2 Thorns
Reign 1 : 0 Thorns
May I be labelled an idiotic pessimist come the end of August!
By Richard Hamje