Well, so far it’s been an underwhelming NWSL off-season everywhere but in Australia. And we’ll talk about Thorns Down Under some time in late January or early February.
Whole Lot o’ Nothin’
The hoped-for 2020 NWSL expansion is officially deader’n the passenger pigeon.
Sacramento, for reasons that have still not been fully explained, was unable to pull together a serious enough expansion bid before the end of 2019 to make it happen, and with no time left to hold an expansion draft in 2019 and then an NCAA draft in 2020 the whole thing crunched to a stop.
Presumably that will mean that at least two teams – at this point Sacramento and Louisville – will enter in 2021. That’s not a bad thing, but it will leave the league with the same problem it had last season; an odd number of clubs, meaning that someone will have to sit idle every matchday.
Could a third club come in with the others and bring the league up to 12? At this point it’s difficult to imagine how, unless the perennial rumors of a Barcelona-themed Southern California team come true. Given the past I find it unlikely that New England will support another attempt, and I can’t see an obvious target in the Southeast or Midwest.
So, probably not.
The league still doesn’t have a commissioner, and there appears to be no hurry to find one.
The league and U.S. Soccer were unable to agree to a change in their relationship, so the federation will continue running the league for another year. Some welcome changes to salary and contract structure were made, and the appearance of what is effectively a DP rule turned up in the form of $300,000 contract offerings that clubs may “purchase” to put down on super-cap designated players.
So far no club has officially claimed any of this Duffybux, but it’s hard to imagine that wealthier organizations like the new Olympique Lyon-owned Tacoma – or Portland! – might not make a play for it at some point before the next preseason. There remains nothing on the horizon yet.
No big moves have been announced since the end of the season. In what is surely pure NWSL comedy gold, however, one “move” that was mentioned when we discussed the forwards back in December – Orlando picking Chloe Logarzo off the waiver wire – turns out to have been a hot mess; as Garrett Guillotte pointed out in the comments, Logarzo’s rights didn’t belong to Washington in the first place, so they couldn’t waive her and Orlando couldn’t pick her up…at least not through waivers. So she’s still with the Spirit and Orlando is still the most Orlando thing ever.
At this point the next event in the NWSL year will be the NCAA draft, and, since – as we just discovered – we have little else to discuss, why not discuss that?
“…but one half-pennyworth of bread to this intolerable deal of sack!”
The sad fact is that even the upcoming draft gives us very little conversational bread to eat while floating on the oceans of infelicitous sack we have swallowed since October.
Top Drawer Soccer (TDS) ranks the top 100 players in the NCAA every season. Their final rankings of the 2019 season came out in December. The initial NWSL list of draft-eligible players came out 12/30, and many 1) seniors, and 2) of those ranked players, are not on it.
If you restrict the list to 1) draft-eligible players already on the list and include 2) the TDS top-50 seniors not yet declared, here’s what you get, in order of their TDS ranking:
TDS ranked #2 – Jessie Fleming (MF, UCLA) (Canada)
#3 – Evelyne Viens (F, S. Florida) (Canada)
#9 – Deyna Castellanos (F, Florida State) (Venezuela) #12 – Grace Fisk (D, South Carolina) (England)
#14 – Elise Flake (D/F, Brigham Young – note; TDS shows her as a defender, but that looks outdated; she played as a forward/striker in 2019)
#20 – Courtney Peterson (D/M, Virginia)
#22 – Morgan Weaver (F, Washington State)
#27 – Ally Watt (F, Texas A&M)
#31 – Mikayla Krzeczowski (G, South Carolina)
#32 – Addysin Merrick (D, Kansas) (academic Junior)
#39 – Evdokia Papadinova (F, Florida Gulf Coast) (Bulgaria, academic Junior)
#43 – Alli Klug (D, Saint Louis)
#44 – Andrea Hauksdottir (MF, South Florida) (Iceland)
#45 – Samantha Dewey (F, Xavier)
#48 – Raimee Sherle (F, Boise State) (academic Junior)
You can already see the issues here.
- Only 15, and only12 seniors, out of the top 50? Barely over a quarter of the group? Ouch. When you hear people talking about this being a thin draft year that’s largely what they’re talking about; the best players in the NCAA aren’t seniors; they’re players in their junior year, like Macario, or even younger, like Sophia Smith, a sophomore and ranked #50.
- Of the fifteen, six would count as internationals, including the entire top quarter of the group.
- And of those internationals Grace Fisk (TDS #12 and #5 on our list of the draft-eligible) has signed with West Ham, and Castellanos (#9/#4) has
been reported as discussing a move to Spainsigned with Atletico Madrid, so that’s one, and possiblytwo off the board already.
- As of December 30, only six of the TDS top 50 – Merrick, Klug, Krzeczowski, Papadinova, Peterson, and Sherle – were on the NWSL list of eligible draftees.
So – again, presuming that most underclass players will not declare for the draft – the NWSL teams are going to have to reach pretty far down the NCAA depth chart next month. There’s just not a lot of easily-gettable, game-changing talent this year.
And, given that…who’s going to get them? Here’s the draft order as of today. Let’s list just the first two rounds, given that it looks very likely that anyone taken after that will be almost a random chance, a true black swan, to amount to anything professionally. Portland’s picks are bolded:
|No. 1||Orlando Pride|
|No. 2||Sky Blue FC|
|No. 3||Sky Blue FC|
|No. 4||Chicago Red Stars|
|No. 5||Chicago Red Stars|
|No. 6||Chicago Red Stars|
|No. 7||Portland Thorns FC|
|No. 8||Chicago Red Stars|
|No. 9||North Carolina Courage|
|No. 10||Orlando Pride|
|No. 11||Sky Blue FC|
|No. 12||Houston Dash|
|No. 13||Sky Blue FC|
|No. 14||Portland Thorns FC|
|No. 15||Portland Thorns FC|
|No. 16||Portland Thorns FC|
|No. 17||Chicago Red Stars|
|No. 18||North Carolina Courage|
Portland has two more picks in the last two rounds; seventh in the third round (#25 overall) and seventh again in the fourth (#34 overall), but given this draft class pretty much everything after the first round is kinda garbage time; depth, and filling in edges, no more. Get lucky? Terrific. But the important stuff is going to happen in the first round.
What I’d like to do is discuss the players on the board, the drafting teams’ needs, and try and get a sense for who might go where and who might be left by the time the Thorns get their #7 pick. Then let’s fight. You got a player who looks better? You think the team needs someone else?
OK! Change my mind!
That said…let’s not forget that the one thing that Mark Parsons and the Peregrine FO have been fairly adept at is packaging picks and trading up. Could that happen this season?
Sure. But that’s nearly impossible to guess at, so we’ll have to just keep the possibility in mind and push ahead.
Pick #1 – Orlando Pride
What do they need?
Jesus Christ on a fucking pogo stick, what DON’T they need? Where do you start with this outfit?
Probably with the defending. Orlando was a disaster all over the pitch last season, but the defending was a horror, a rank offense in the face of nature and of all humankind. Fifty-three conceded? That ties the record for worst-in-the-league shared with the 2014 Boston Breakers – and that Boston squad could at least score; they finished second-from-bottom instead of with the wooden spoon and with a -16 goal differential, not a -29 (third worst in league history, by the way, behind Boston’s -33 in ’16 and Sky Blue’s -31 two seasons ago).
Orlando couldn’t defend a U-12 squad.
Well…both of Orlando’s goalkeepers – Ashlyn Harris and Haley Kopmeyer – are towards the bottom of the league in xG/goals conceded ratio: Harris is mediocre (26 conceded on an xG of 25.6 over 13 games, so an “xG/goals differential” of about 0.03 extra goals per game), while Kopmeyer is outright poor; her 21 conceded from an xG of 17.5 is the worst of the regular starting keepers, letting in an extra goal about once every three games (xG/G of 0.34).
So goalkeeping might be an Orlando need that a draftee could fill…except that goalkeepers are typically late-developers compared to field players. If you’re looking for immediate improvement – and Orlando needs immediate improvement – drafting a keeper probably won’t get you anywhere.
The Orlando backline and defensive midfield were undistinguished despite the presence of internationals like Emily van Egmond and Ali Krieger. Van Egmond underwhelmed, Krieger was visibly on the downside of her career. Erin Greening was a big draft risk that backfired horrifically. The other defenders were players like Shelina Zadorsky, Julie King, and Toni Pressly;,mediocrities whose standard of mediocrity was exceptionally mediocre in 2019.
One problem with just shoring up the defense is that the Orlando attack looks badly diminished for 2020, with Alex Morgan on maternity leave and Marta still further down the descending branch of her career.
But at least the Pride has some attacking hopes; Marta is still Marta, and Chioma Ubogagu and Rachel Hill might have a terrific year.
The defense? “No-hopers” was invented to describe this bunch.
So a sensible Orlando would pick the best defender on the board at their #1. Problem there? Fisk is gone, Flake has been largely converted to AM, so the next best D/M might be left back Courtney Peterson. She’s the best-looking defensive piece in the top ten, and she’d challenge for the starting slot currently held down by Carson Pickett, an inspirational story as a human being but a fairly average fullback as a player.
Recommendation: Courtney Peterson
Prediction: Who the hell knows? This organization couldn’t successfully put together a goddamn child’s birthday party. For all I know they might try and draft Macario knowing she won’t declare. Seriously – I have no real idea what Orlando will do in three weeks.
But if I was them, I’d take Peterson.
Picks #2 and #3 – Sky Blue FC
What do they need?
Another team whose primary needs look defensive.
In goal Sky Blue has a goddamn flying circus; four, count ’em, four goalkeepers, and three of them – Didi Haracic, Megan Hinz, and Kailen Marckese – are either worthless (Haracic; xG/G ratio 0.15, worst in the league for regular keepers outside of Kopmeyer…) or unproven.
But the fourth? Kailen Sheridan is a monster, a heroine, a Valkyrie, an utter beast. Behind one of the worst backlines in the league she saved damn near a goal per game; 0.94 xG/G – 24 concessions on an xG over 40.
So goalkeeping? Probably not.
But the backline…Jesus wept.
Problems began for SBFC almost exactly a year ago. Give them credit; the club knew their weaknesses and drafted for defense, picking Hayley Mace at CB and Julie Ashley at RB.
Both had said that they had no intention of playing for New Jersey, so both were ticking bombs. Both were picked, both went to Europe, so both the bombs blew up in Sky Blue’s backline, and Mandy Freeman then bounced the rubble when she tore her achilles in preseason.
The survivors were a hot mess last year, so even with a healthy Freeman in the XI in 2020 I have to think that Sky Blue is where they were this time in 2018; needing defensive strength.
So – assuming that Peterson goes with the #1 pick, if I were drafting for SBFC I’d take the two next best defenders; Merrick and Klug. Both are nominal center backs, but Merrick can and has played at outside back, so she gives SBFC some flexibility.
Recommendation: Addysin Merrick, Alli Klug
Prediction: Given who the hell knows what Orlando will do it’s possible that Peterson will be on the board at #2; if so, I’d hope that SBFC would take Peterson and Merrick. But one way or the other I’m gonna say it’ll be some combination of two of the three; Peterson and Merrick, Peterson and Klug, or Merrick and Klug.
Picks #4, #5, and #6 – Chicago Red Stars
What do they need?
Well, to rub it in, after losing the Final to the Damned Courage the Red Stars then lost the best striker in the NWSL, and desperately need to find Samantha Kerr’s twenty-odd goals from somewhere.
I don’t think there’s a real question here; assuming Chicago has the international slots open they have to go with forwards – probably Jessie Fleming with #4, and Evelyne Viens with #5. Deyna Castellanos would normally be a lock with #6, but at this point the international slots become a critical shortage and Castellanos is s
eriously flirting with Europe playing in Spain.
Instead I’d suggest they take a hard look at Morgan Weaver; her conversion rate isn’t terrific, but she can score and at 5’10” could be a target or a hold-up forward for Chicago’s other forwards to play off.
Predictions: some combination of Fleming, Viens, and Weaver,
or possibly Castellanos; my guess is that the Red Stars sweep three forwards off the board before the Thorns get a look at them.
Pick #7 – Portland Thorns
So at this point we’re guessing that six of the top ten ranked players will be off the board; defenders Peterson, Merrick and/or Klug, and attackers Fleming, Viens, and Weaver,
What do we need?
We’ve discussed this in some detail over the past season. The Thorns have had two persistent issues since the end of the 2017 championship year.
Lack of a consistently dangerous striker
With the slow decline of Christine Sinclair’s effectiveness as a pure striker and the loss of Nadia Nadim there has no truly dominant forward, no true #9, for two seasons. In 2018 the goals came from the midfield, in 2019 Midge Purce stepped up during the World Cup interval…but Black Autumn drove home the brutal point that if things go wrong they’ll really go wrong – the combination of Lindsey Horan’s awful performance, Sinc’s exhaustion, and Purce’s streakiness meant that the goals disappeared just when they were needed most. The Thorns as currently constituted have no Sam Kerr/Carli Lloyd/Lynn Williams type of goal machine to keep banging them in.
The existing forwards weren’t able to do that last season or in 2018. Ana-maria Crnogorcevic was so far off form she was released in October. Hayley Raso has been productive, but primarily as a secondary attacker or winger. Caitlin Foord has been utterly unable to reproduce her W-League form in the NWSL. Simone Charley is promising but green. Purce needs to prove she can produce against full-strength opponents. Tyler Lussi came up huge at at times but also languished on the bench for much of last season.
Lack of a dominant defensive midfielder
Not finding someone to replace Amandine Henry is hardly surprising; Henry is perhaps the best CDM in the world. Unfortunately, the expedients Thorns FC have tried since her departure didn’t work particularly well, either, until the emergence of Gabby Seiler during midsummer 2019, and that ended with Seiler’s ACL injury. Whether, and how well, Seiler will re-emerge in 2020 is a difficult question to answer without inside knowledge of the team’s physios.
Other than Seilier the cupboard is pretty…well, not exactly bare, but full of stuff nobody has tasted yet. Angela Salem showed moments of promise before she, too, went down with a busted ACL. Madison Pogarch and Emily Ogle looked encouraging last season but no more than that. Dagny Brynjarsdottir is gone, and Andressinha has proved unsatisfactory as a defender (and, frankly, in general, but that is hard to truly assess given how poorly she fits into the Parsons midfield). There’s nobody else who looks like a good fit at CDM.
The goalkeeping and backline are generally decent, so I doubt there’s much needed from the draft there. If I were Parsons I’d look around to see who’s left in the second through the fourth rounds and fill in some defensive depth in garbage time.
The front line has a lot of potential, but the front line has always had a lot of potential that hasn’t been realized. But the problem with drafting for attack is that 1) there’s not a lot of room to put that player in place, and 2) there’s always the danger that we use a pick on a forward and then suddenly Foord becomes the Foord the FO wants her to be. Lussi begins starting regularly and turns into a monster. Purce is theReturn of Queen Midge. Charley steps off the Alaska flight to the States playing the way she’s been playing in Australia.
That happens and we’ve burned a pick for nothing.
Plus, frankly, there’s no hope for a power-striker in this year’s draft. The pickings are slim to begin with and what’s there is unlikely to survive Chicaco’s shotgun blast to be on the board by late in the first round.
So my guess is that the Thorns will look for some help in midfield.
Fleming would be terrific, but I’m pretty sure she’ll be gone by #7. Peterson would be even better, but I’m guessing that between Orlando and Sky Blue she’ll be off the board…but, then again, we’re talking Orlando; for all I know they’ll draft Abby Wambach.
If I was Parsons, my targets would be (in order of priority):
- Fleming – assuming Peterson’s gone, best athlete available and versatile enough to be shifted around in midfield,
- Flake – also versatile and could be converted back to defense; 5’7″, so tall and strong at CDM, and
- Klug – another sturdy (5’6″) defender who appears to have pace.
I’d also be looking to package my second-round picks and trade ’em; either for a higher round pick in 2021 or in some sort of player swap. Would Chicago take Foord and the picks for, say, Tierna Davidson?
Recommendation: Flake. I think she’ll be the best defensive midfield option left by #7
Prediction: Flake? Hard to be sure what the hell the first six picks will look like, what with Orlando being Orlando and Chicago’s shotgun blast, and the wildcard of assessing the value of Portland’s three second-round picks.
But my guess is that Peterson and Fleming will be gone by #7, and that Klug is likely to be, as well, so Flake will be the best D/M left.
I’ll go with that.
This post and the draft in general is definitely worth mulling over, and I will continue to update the post as the NWSL releases additional declarer’s names (and as the existing list changes, e.g. if Castellanos signs with Real…).
This is the Silly Season, and half the fun is the silliness of discussing the whatifs and coulditbes. Let’s keep the hot stove hot for the next couple of weeks until Draft Day, and then we’ll see which of us came closest to picking the horses, K?
See you then!