My old Slide Rule Pass compa C.I. has been filling the Dead Time with soccer (ummm…maybe I don’t want to use that term. Let’s call it “The Between Time” instead.) with his memories of favorite Timbers players.
As with so many of C.I.’s good ideas, I was on that like a New York City subway rat on a piece of pepperoni pizza. We’ve had some fascinating Thorns pass through the Red and the Black. Can we take a moment from worrying about infection to discuss them?
Why not? Since I’ve got my Thorns memory box open, here in the Fortress of Solitude, let’s paw through it and talk about some of our memories; favorites, not-so-favorites, heroes, villains, and maybe even some oddities.
Unlike C.I., I’m not going to make this a just a favorites or “best of”. Instead, I’m going to discuss players that interest me and I invite you to throw out yours in the comments. We don’t have anything new at Stumptown, so let’s move the conversation over here.
There are a couple of rules, though:
- The player has to have SOME sort of Thorns c.v. Hanna Terry was always a mystery to me – why the hell was she here so long and yet did nothing? But that’s ALL there is to her story, and since we have no way of knowing the “why”, it’s not really useful banging on about her. Let’s keep this to people who, y’know, actually played here.
- Let’s keep things “nice”. I know there are a few players that I have kind of personal grudge against because of things they did (or do, or didn’t do) on the pitch. It’s tempting to ring out these players because, let’s face it, a good diatribe is easy and fun to write and read. But it’s also a sort of cheap way to score points. I’m not saying that we have to be sunny, happy people about everyone…but let’s try and keep things in perspective; I can’t think of anyone outside the great monsters of human history who has no virtues. Let’s try and be reasonable.
- This is an “opinion” piece…but let’s try and make them informed opinions. I can’t see any value in just shouting “So-and-so really sucked!” Yes, so-and-so may have sucked. But why? What were her issues? And were they her issues, or larger issues with her teammates, or possibly her coaches..? Let’s try and think about these players and what made them successes…or failures.
So…are we good? K.
First, let me explain why I’m not making this a “best of” or “favorite” list like C.I. is doing.
Simply stated, when it comes to best of and favorites…ummm…what’s to discuss?
The obvious candidates are just too obvious. Top five attacking Thorns? Gee…Christine Sinclair? No, duh? Hell, we all know Sinc; GOAT, Captain General for Life, Officer of the Order of Canada. She’s a Thorns and Portland soccer legend, and why the hell we’re not casting that statue now I’ll never know.
Same thing goes for The Notorious Tobin Fucking Heath; there’s almost nothing to say about Heath that we haven’t said or that you and I don’t know…
(Except this; I always remember Heath as what the U.S. Navy calls a “plankholder” – a member of the crew that comes on board right after the launch.
But she started the NWSL season playing for PSG and didn’t arrive in Portland until July. She played only seven matches in the 2013 championship season, starting with the 1-1 draw against Western New York here. She picked up two assists in July (in the 3-3 draw against Chicago) but didn’t score a goal until August. She scored in each playoff match, however, including the famous “stand there and look pretty” winner in the Final in Rochester.
Was she still a huge part of the first star? Ohhellyes.
Just not quite as big as I remember, and that says something about the power of selective memory…)
Same with Hayley Raso, or Nadia Nadim, or Vero Boquete. We all knew them, we all recognized their quality. They’re kind of no-brainers. We can still enjoy talking about them, but…
Working this up reminded me of some of the players that intrigued me or fascinated me that don’t still loom quite so large in team history and our memories. Players who were role players, fringers, shoulda-beens, almost-theres…players who either shone brightly but faded quickly, or who should have and, for some reason, just didn’t. Or players who we saw so briefly and who played so cryptically that they remain mysteries to me. Or players that just reached out to me for some reason or other.
Today I want to start with the enigmas; players that I never really “got” – either I wanted to be great and who weren’t, or who I thought could never succeed and did, or who were just odd and unusual and mysterious.
After this, I want to open the memory box again in the following order:
2. The blessed and beloved – players who came out of nowhere, on whom the sun shone unexpectedly, or who were fan favorites,
3. The troubled and tragic – players who struggled here, or whose efforts just weren’t perhaps rewarded as well as they should have been, or who were cut short by misfortune,
4. The grinders and gifted – players that left a mark on your shins as well as the record books on their way to keeping the opponents honest, and players who had some hard, bright brilliance above the everyday, who, every so often, were touched by the soccer gods.
I’m also REALLY open to suggestions. Anything else you’d like to discuss? Favorite matches? Favorite (and least-favorite) kits? Favorite plays or moments? Let me know and we can discuss. We’ve got nothing but time.
So. The Enigmas
Here’s my first, an early player from whom much was expected but who came and went so quickly that it felt like she left not so much as a glimmer in the heavens.
Nikki Washington was a plankholder; she started the very first-ever Thorns match, the 1-1 away draw in Kansas City.
She was also the original #21 before Hayley Raso came along and owned it.
I remember being pleased when Washington signed with the Thorns as a free agent in 2013. She’d had a long and successful career at that point, going all the way back to the WPS. Washington was a pure attacker, forward and winger with torrid pace. We just got to watch a replay of the first home match – the April 2-1 win over the then-Seattle Reign – and it reminded me of how exciting she could be, tearing up the right touchline and torching opposing fullbacks. She dimed Marian Dougherty from a setpiece that rang up the Thorns first ever home goal in that match.
Unfortunately, Washington was never really able to better that performance. She did score a goal – in Washington in early May – and picked up another assist in 11 matches. But she always seemed just a trifle out of position, or slow, or disconnected with her teammates. She just sort of faded out of the XI until she picked up a knock in July and went on the DL July 31 and never returned.
She was traded to Houston in the offseason and had a cup of coffee there before moving on to Boston, where she played much of 2015. Finally retired at the end of that season. She’s now an assistant coach at University of Washington.
The weird part is that I’m not sure what happened to her here, and happened so quickly. She had hell of a resume and looked tremendously promising in April and May of 2013 but drifted out of the attack as other players stepped up, and was gone by midsummer.
I began writing the Thorns that season, and by midsummer I was ranting in Slide Rule Pass that she needed to sit if she couldn’t find more bite in her game.
If there is an answer to the Mystery of Nikki Washington I think it was the emergence of Mana Shim.
Shim became the versatile attacking piece that Washington was supposed to have been, and Washington found herself sitting watching the little walk-on play her way into the record books and the hearts of the fans.
Washington didn’t dress for the Final, so I wonder how fondly she recalls that season.
What happened? Did Washington just hit the wall physically? She was only 25 when she played here, so that seems unlikely. Was she unable to adapt her game, successful elsewhere, to Cindy Parlow Cone’s offensive set? Did she had troubles in the locker room and didn’t gel with her teammates? Was it just bad timing, or sheer bad luck?
It ‘s unlikely that we’ll ever know.
The only player ever allocated to the Thorns through the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación, A.C. – FMF – was forward Jackie Acevedo.
The FMF and the NWSL had a deeply twisted relationship, and the Thorns’ part was perhaps among the most twisted and, perhaps, emblematic of the whole troubled story.
In the inaugural season the FMF allocated two players. Neither were with the squad when the season opened; defenders Luz del Rosario Saucedo Soto is supposed to have failed her fitness test, and Rubí Marlene Sandoval was reported to have been injured and removed from the list.
The FMF never replaced them. Jackie Lynn Acevedo Rangel was allocated the following season.
She played her college ball in the States before playing a couple of seasons in the WPSL. She was a beast in the NAIA, scoring 80 goals in three seasons, so there was a fair amount of anticipation of her arrival and some serious interest in her as a possible partner for Alex Morgan, whose first season had been decent but less than the goalfest that many of us had anticipated.
Instead Acevedo played a total of fifteen minutes in two games in April; a late sub against Houston, and then at Sky Blue. She rode the bench for six games and then was out of the eighteen by the end of May. She was gone from the team by the end of the season.
All the FMF players were gone by the end of the following season. The federation’s stated reason was that none of its players saw the pitch in 2015, but the Liga MX Femenil kicked off the following year, so the problem may have been more one of wanting a domestic league than not being satisfied with the deal with the one in El Norte.
Acevedo was out of the game as a player after her time in Portland. She’s a coach back in her college town of Austin, and seems to have fond memories of her time as a professional.
But I’ve always wondered; what happened? Or, rather, why nothing happened?
Acevedo arrived here as the peer – at least technically – of Sinc and Morgan and KK and Buehldozer. She practiced and played with the squad through the beginning of the 2015 season, and slipped onto the pitch for a handful of minutes…and, then, somehow, for some reason, her Thorns career never was, never really even began, and I don’t know why and probably never will.
The last enigma might well also be one of the more unfortunate stories in the Thorns’ memory box; that of Genoveva “Ayo” Añonma Nze.
Ayo was a classic Paul Riley signing, like Veronica Boquete a veteran professional and international. She was picked in the winter of 2015 with the understanding that she, like Vero, would be arriving late after the World Cup.
Equatorial Guinea went out early, though, and Ayo played against Boston in mid-May. She scored her only Thorns goal in the 2-1 loss to the Spirit in Maryland at the end of May and then started another four straight matches – a win, two draws, and a loss – until she came off the bench in the home win over Seattle in the third week of July.
She was in and out of the starting XI for the rest of the season, either subbing in or getting subbed off late. She dressed for the final three games of the regular season but saw no minutes.
She was released in October.
Here’s the thing; Ayo had been huge in the Frauenbundesliga.
A freaking monster. For six seasons. Thirty-seven goals in fifty games at Jena. Sixty – sixty! – goals in seventy-nine games for Turbine Potsdam. Why did Riley want her? THAT’s why Riley wanted her.
After Portland she…well, I don’t know what the hell happened. Over the next five years she played for six clubs and had success nowhere; Suwon in the ROK in 2016, then Atlético Madrid, Maccabi Kishronot Hadera, MSV Duisburh, Leones Vegetarianos, and finally, with Deportive Evinayong back in Equatorial Guinea this season.
Six goals. In five years.
I still remember the anticipation that ran through the fanbase before her arrival. We knew about the Frauenbundesliga. We knew were getting one of the best, one of the most dangerous strikers in Germany, meaning among the best in the world. In a season that was going wrong, here was hope.
Ayo just fell apart in Portland. And after Portland..? What the fuck happened? Did she just run completely out of gas here? Was her confidence utterly shattered in twelve games? Did we break her beyond repair?
I got nothin’.
I can’t end on that down note. So here’s one last story from today’s memory box.
Sinead Farrelly is the only one of our four players who wasn’t an attacker. She was brought in to stiffen the midfield in January, 2014. She was, like Ayo, a perfect Riley hire; a soccer journeywoman who had played from Greece to Kansas City and in the WPS before the NWSL. She’d played for Riley in Philadelphia in 2011, and he traded a draft pick to get her from Kansas City.
She started the very first match of 2014 and went on to play another seventeen matches that season, starting sixteen of them.
Oh. My. God.
She was…not good.
No, she was not not-good. She was utterly overwhelmed, making positional errors and giving away passes as quickly as she gave away dangerous setpieces from fouls forced by duels and tackles she lost. All that summer I raged and tore my digital hair at Slide Rule Pass questioning why Riley the hell kept playing this irredeemable hacker?!
The offseason passed. The draft and the transfer windows came and went. Farrelly’s name remained on the roster.
I despaired. We were doomed. Even her rocking the Riveters’ polka dot headscarf in her team picture couldn’t lift me out of my fog of gloom. She should have been waived, or traded. She just couldn’t cut it.
April came…and so did Boston, for the home opener.
And Farrelly scored.
The opening goal. On a sweet 21st minute volley off a corner, just like she did that kind of stuff all the time. And she kept on, killing it in midfield on the way to a 4-1 win.
I remember standing on the concourse afterwards utterly gobsmacked. What the hell had just happened?
What had happened was that Farrelly was a woman transformed. She controlled the her section of midfield like an irascible goldfish patrolling her tank, tackled and won balls in the air, and provided good service going forward. She scored another goal, a thumping header, in a 2-1 win over Sky Blue in July. She had suddenly become a terrific player.
Why? I have no idea? Riley wasn’t known as for player development; none of his other Thorns players made anything like that sort of leap, either that season or the season before.
I think it was Farrelly all by her ownself. She’d figured something out, unlocked the next level, and in a grim season Sinead Farrelly became a rare bright spot, a transformation, St. Sinead wearing the Crown of Thorns.
She was the revelation of the 2015 season.
Since it seems to be my fate today to tell stories without happy endings, in September 2015 Farrelly was badly injured in an auto accident – neck and back, as well as a severe concussion. She spent 2016 on the DL. She retired that December that year.
The enigma here, if there is one, is simply how high she might have flown had she not been involved in the Riley 2015 trainwreck (or had Riley had a more successful tenure and that trainwreck never occurred – and isn’t THAT an untold story..?) and not traded to Boston in the offseason, and then caught up in the injury accident. (and thanks to bfredrix for reminding me of what happened in the real timeline.)
I think she might have been a great player on the 2016 and 2017 Thorns, playing alongside Lindsey Horan and Amandine Henry. As with all good enigmas…we’ll never know.
But we will still always have her magical 2015; a warm lighted window shining out on a cold, dark and dreary day.
You really rocked that scarf.
Next week – The Loved Ones.