Statutory Requirements

We’ve had a couple of “best of” sorts of posts in a row – kits, tifos – so I thought I’d add a third.

It’s pretty straightforward.

Who else gets a statue?

If she doesn’t get immortalized in bronze at the corner of 18th and Morrison the year she retires, Christine Sinclair has my permission to go all kaiju on the entire City of Portland and bust ass through the Pearl stomping and torching the shit out of everything.

She’s excelled here for almost twenty years, bringing home multiple championships for both the Portland teams she’s played for (as well as championships in the WPS for both FC Gold Pride and Western New York). She’s been a leader for her clubs and her country. I just can’t imagine what else she could do to deserve immortality.

So that’s why my question is: who else has worn red in such a way as to deserve the Ring of Honor? Who’s standing right behind Sinc in her bas-relief?

And what criteria makes those players worthy?

I’m going to suggest it needs to be a combination of what Bill James called “career value” and “peak value” of the player’s on-field contributions, the league and club honors she’s earned, plus some value for her off-field contributions, things like community service and just generally being a decent person.

Sinclair, clearly, meets all of them; she’s been one of the most outstanding players in the game for many seasons. Her peak years were well in the top ten of the world’s best. She’s, by all accounts, a fine teammate and individual.

(Here’s an interesting thing, though: Sinclair has gathered only two, relatively minor, NWSL honors; she has been picked for the league Second XI twice, once in 2013, and again in 2018.)

But.

After Sinc I can’t think of any Thorn, past or present, who can equal her career value. Her peak value is certainly among the best on the team. Toss in her place on the CWNT? That’s kinda what happens when you’re the Greatest of All Time.

So Sinc is kind of the mountaintop.

Who’s right below the summit?

#2: Tobin Heath.

Why’s she here?
a. She’s an OG – she and Sinc are the only two Thorns plankholders left with the team.
b. Career Value – she’s been a crucial part of the team since her late arrival in 2013.
c. Peak Value – critical to the playoff success in 2013. Huge year in 2016 (should really have been the MVP; Williams was great, but Heath was more critical to her team…). Ironically, her importance that season is driven home by the semifinal loss, when Riley and Vega had to beat the Thorns by hacking her out of the match.
d. Honors: Heath has been in the NWSL First XI twice (2016 and 2018). As noted, probably should have been MVP in 2016.
e. Fun Multiplier – her mad ball skillz are just pure entertainment.

Why isn’t she higher?
a. Career Value (Durability) – Heath has missed parts of several seasons, most critically 2014 and 2017. That’s not her fault, but it has hurt her in terms of overall contribution to the team.
b. Career Value (Role) – While Sinc’s role has changed progressively (and logically) as she has aged, Heath has seemingly re-invented herself somewhat at random. Provider in 2016, sub (because of injuries) in 2017, scorer in 2018, virtually invisible in 2019…one of the problems with saying “Tobin Fucking Heath is the greatest…” is finishing the question: “…the greatest what?” Provider? Creator? Scorer? Winger? Trickster? Teammate? Heath seems to suffer from that issue that all great polymaths have; she’s the Jill of all trades, but kind of the Mistress of none.

So…does she get her own statue?

Heath has a strong argument in her favor; plankholder, huge for the team (“Stand there and look pretty…”), great player in her own right. So I say yes, though perhaps not as iconic as the big bronze Sinc standing on the corner. She’s not quite on that level. Yet.

If she leads the team to a third star next season? Sure. But for now…maybe a bust in the Concourse of Honor when it’s set up below the Janzen diving lady.

#3 Allie Long

Why’s she here?
a) Career Value – Long sits right behind Sinc in matches played (105/Sinc 119), goals scored (30/49), and assists (13/14). She was a huge part of the squad for five seasons.
b) Peak value – Her overtime goal got the team to the Final in 2013. She had a huge season in 2016. She was the team’s top scorer in 2015.
c) Honors – Long was in the NWSL first XI in both 2015 and 2016, and was in the second XI in 2014.

Why isn’t she higher?
a) Largely only because of her unhappy exit after the 2017 season. It’s difficult to celebrate a player who leaves the team the way Long left the Thorns; a sour ending to a sweet partnership. She is still one of the best players ever to run out in Thorns red, but her departure – and, in particular, her subsequent career with the Thorns’ Northwest rivals – make it difficult to include her in the Thorn Pantheon.

So…does she get her own statue?

Sadly…no. Though I think the bitter conclusion of her time here pretty much sank that ship I’d still like to see her remembered in some way. As hard as it can be to see her in Reign blue she, like Michelle Betos, was a big part of the team when she was here. We can celebrate the Long of that time without having to celebrate Long as a whole. I’m just not sure how we can do that.

#4: Emily Menges

Why’s she here?
a) Career Value – Menges has been a solid defender for Portland over seven seasons. Her 104 matches played place her third on the all-time list.
b) Peak value – It can be argued that Menges was a critical – perhaps THE critical element – in the league-leading defense that locked down the 2017 Championship. She, perhaps as much as any other Thorn, owns that star. Her huge 2016 was also essential in nailing down the Shield for that season.
c) Honors – NWSL first XI in 2016, second XI in both 2017 and 2018. She was voted the team’s MVP in 2016.

Why isn’t she higher?
a) Career Value (Injury) – Menges has struggled with injury since 2017, and her peak value has been steadily declining since then.
b) Peak Value – Unless she can find a way to return to her best form, Menges’ peak period is beginning to look increasingly short; effectively from the end of 2015 to the end of 2017 (Despite being honored in 2018 Menges lost a lot of time – nine games – to injury that season). Those were two great seasons…but only two seasons. It hard to get a statue when you are good for five seasons and great for two.

So…does she get her own statue?

No. But she’s in the bas-relief behind Sinclair, like those marching GIs in the 54th Massachusetts’ monument. She was brilliant at the times when the team needed someone to be brilliant, and you can’t overlook that.

#5 Lindsey Horan

Why’s she here?
a) Peak Value – Horan’s 2018 season was – as everyone around the league recognized, a monster. Scored the winning goal in the 2017 Final match.
b) Honors – 2018 NWSL MVP. NWSL first XI 2018 and 2019, second XI 2017.

She really IS the Great Horan!

Why is she not higher?
a) Career Value – Horan has only played four seasons, and of those four, two – 2016 and 2019 – were somewhat forgettable in the statutory sense. And while she was fine as a rook in 2016, her 2019 disappearance was a big part of the team’s late season collapse.

So…does she get her own statue?
Not yet. If Horan can return to Greatness and continue to play for another three or four or more years at that level for both club and country? Absolutely. But right now she’s still in the “embryonic greatness” stage of statue.

Honorable Mentions

What I found kind of fascinating was that as I wrote this I kept thinking “C’mon…the Thorns are one of the top teams in the league. There’s gotta be a whole bunch more awesome players you’re just overlooking. Think..!”

But there really aren’t.

We’ve had several players who had utterly brilliant peaks but whose time here was too brief for immortality. I’d include Nadia Nadim and Amandine Henry at the top of that list, but the others I’d include would be Alex Morgan – who, though her tenure here now seems both troubled and distant, is still fourth on the all-time goalscorers’ list – and Jessica McDonald.

That category also takes in all our goalkeepers. Karina LeBlanc was amazing in 2013 but then was gone. Nadine Angerer had only a modest year at the end of a brilliant career, although she has earned further props after her retirement as a player as a coach – two of her goalkeepers have won three of the last five NWSL Goalkeeper of the Year awards. Michelle Betos played only two seasons and though one of those was a Goalkeeper of the Year season I’ve shown that award was misplaced. A.D. Franch has played only three seasons; one of them utterly dominant, yes…but still only three.

We’ve also have players who have career value but low peak value, having provided good service over long periods without reaching the rarified heights of individual brilliance. I’d put Mana Shim, Meghan Klingenberg, Emily Sonnett, Kat Reynolds, and Hayley Raso in this group. All players with fifty matches or more in Thorns red, all fine players that pitched in to one or the other of the championship seasons (or both, in Shim’s case…). Just not “statue” kinds of players.

So there they are; Sinc looking across the MAX tracks at Hot Lips Pizza, Tobin boldly out from underneath the belly of the diving lady, and Menges somewhere, perhaps on the wall alongside the elevators to Millionaire Heights over on the east stand.

We can hope that someday Horan can join them, on that longed-for day when the team explodes onto the field before us again in a burst of red and black.

That day can’t come soon enough.

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2 thoughts on “Statutory Requirements

  1. Is this — “maybe a bust in the Concourse of Honor when it’s set up below the Janzen diving lady” — trying to say something about Heath? That she maybe has trouble staying on her feet?

    Great article John. I would not be surprised if Menges ends up being the second statue, Chara to Sinclair’s Valeri if you will. She’s had some bad luck and still made a huge contribution. With a couple of injury-free seasons, with Sauerbrunn maybe beside her, with Sam Kerr in England, the “Great wall” could return. And perhaps add another star or two to the kit.

    1. Heath does drive me nuts with her constant whingeing to the officials; if she does get a statue it wouldn’t be inappropriate for it to be her sitting with her arms in the air the way she does when she gets knocked down.

      She does get fouled a lot – we both are still fulminating a little over the cynical way Riley hacked her out of the ’16 semi and Vega helped him do it – but I think she actually makes it harder on herself and her team with her displays.

      I think she and, to a lesser extent, the Thorns as a team, have developed the rep as an outfit that can dish it out but not take it. Say what you want about McCall Zerboni, but the gal takes her licks and gets up running. Sinc is the same way; she usually just goes on about her business (which is why I loved and still love that time Chipalo Street waved off one of her goals and she went utterly bugnuts). I think Heath has a PRO rep as sort of a drama queen, and it hurts her getting calls when she should get them…

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