By the Waters of Babylon

The Houston Dash – that tangerine-hued congeries of historical fail – is the Challenge Cup Champion.

Ponder that for a moment.

Houston. Houston. A team that has not only never won anything before, but a team that has never even come close to winning anything before. Never made the playoffs, never won a knockout match.

Hell, they’ve never had a winning season.

Finished dead last in their inaugural season. Had their most successful season in club history the next year; climbed to fifth in 2015 (still with a losing record, mind, still with a -5 goal differential…). Since then have fluctuated between sixth and eighth, without ever scoring more than they conceded – their “big year” was 2016, when they scored 29 and conceded 29, eighth out of ten.

Champions of the Challenge Cup.

Well.

Good on you, Dash. You picked up Megan Oyster, discarded by Tacoma, and Katie Naughton, out of favor in Chicago, to anchor your backline.

You picked up Shea Groom, well-traveled veteran of Kansas City, New Jersey, and Tacoma, to add movement and creativity to your midfield. Nichelle Prince got healthy and got to work raising hell on the right side of your attack. And your old reliable, Rachel Daly, still up top, still running, still the target…but now with an actual team around her that could do more than pitch hopeless long balls upfield.

Plus you developed a dangerous and aggressive pressing defense and old-school direct attacking that put immediate pressure on your opponents once they turned the ball over.

You rode that bull all the way to glory.

But this isn’t a Houston blog. We’re here for the Thorns, who went out in the semifinals to this same Houston.

Frankly, for Portland elimination seemed inevitable even as it happened. Winless in the group stage. The Carolina quarterfinal win, wonderful as it was, was an obvious one-off. The Thorns themselves said it – Christine Sinclair said later that they got lucky, were lucky not to be down 2-nil at the half but for their keeper going utterly mad.

So we’re here, six matches into a 2020 season that – given the horrifyingly awful job that the United States as a nation, a national government, and as a people, are doing with the Plague – is likely to have no more matches.

That’s all we have to try and assess how well the “big rebuilding” that Portland Thorns FC planned for the 2019-2020 offseason is going.

So since we now have all the time in the world…let’s do that. And, like any smart soccer organization, let’s build from the back.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Goalkeeping

The first, and most obvious conclusion, from the Challenge Cup is that Portland has three starting-quality, or very close to starting quality, goalkeepers.

That’s one of those “Chinese character for future that combines “danger” and “opportunity” things.

The “opportunity” is that the Thorns are spoiled for choice at keeper.

The “danger” is that two players capable of – and aware that they are capable of – starting and getting starter’s wages at keeper are unlikely to be happy riding the bench for any extended period of time.

Each player has different strengths.

A.D. Franch is the veteran. She’s paid by U.S. Soccer, so she’s free money. She’s had historically great seasons (2016-2017) and has more time behind the backline than the other two keepers. She would normally be, in a non-COVID world, the starter of default.

Her metrics have slipped steadily since 2017, however. And she’s coming off a severe leg injury, which is always difficult to assess for a goalkeeper, whose lateral movement and jump are so important to her game. After having struggled with injuries for portions of the previous two seasons.

Britt Eckerstrom, however, is nearly as familiar to the defenders as Franch. She’s a solid positional player, and her shot-stopping (as measured by her PK save rate) is very similar to Franch, although overall in 2019 her xG/G ratio (+0.08/game) suggests that in the run of play she wasn’t at Franch’s (-0.25/game) level. Her play in the Cup quarterfinal suggests that she has a level that we might not have seen regularly – yet. But what a level!

Bella Bixby was a force through the four games of the group stage. Her xG/G was roughly -0.4/game, which would put her ahead of both her teammate’s 2019 numbers…but N = 4 is a damn small dataset. She also suffered what has turned out to be a fairly severe ACL tear, and will be rehabilitating through the fall and winter; we won’t know how it affects her play until when – and if – the league resumes next year.

So. Did we learn anything about the Thorns goalkeeping in Utah?

We learned that Bella Bixby is good. How good – that is, as good as our current starting and reserve keepers – is hard to say, but certainly she has to be damn close. We learned enough to want to learn more, anyway.

We learned that Britt Eckerstrom has a setting that goes to eleven.

We learned absolutely nothing about A.D. Franch other than she’s injured again.

At this point it’s hard to be sure whether expansion will happen in 2021. If so, what form it will take – what will the expansion draft rules look like? What impact will it have on the 2021 draft? (and, come to think of it…what happens to the draft if there’s no NCAA season this autumn..?). But assuming it does, my guess is that one of these three will not be here come April 2021.

I don’t know which one, but feel free to speculate in the comments.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Defenders

Losing Becky Sauerbrunn to injury one match into the Cup is really irritating in that it makes further speculation on the backline difficult. The obvious plan was to replace Emily Sonnett’s adventuresome forays and occasional random brainfarts with a steady, disciplined centerback pairing that would repair the fraying defense.

That didn’t happen.

Thorns defending was picked apart by the Damned Courage on Matchday One and gave up numerous dangerous opportunities in the Quarterfinal. Tacoma was a passive tire fire, Washington and Chicago lacked quality in the final third, so they didn’t really provide much of a test.

But Houston looked consistently dangerous against Thorns defending; Prince, in particular, exposed Meghan Klingenberg‘s deadly lack of pace repeatedly. The goal came off an unmarked Daly during a corner kick goalmouth scramble, which isn’t a testimony to particularly sturdy central defending.

But…again, we never got to see Sauerbrunn and Menges at work the way we saw Houston use Oyster and Naughton. Can the Thorns be as good or better? They weren’t on Matchday One…but that’s a pretty harsh assessment for a pair of centerbacks that had never played a minute of matchplay together before.

Speaking of Emily Menges…she was her usually solid, dependable self. Menges in Utah was exactly as good as we expected from her, and that’s perfectly fine.

Intead in place of Sauerbrunn we mostly got Kelli Hubly, who did remarkably well for a player who has been pure depth until this month. Here’s her stats page for the Cup:

That’s respectable for a regular, let alone a player who had 251 minutes in three matches last season. Well done, Hubly.

The loss of Elli Carpenter forced a last-moment replacement at right back, and there we got some combination of Christen Westphal and Kat Reynolds.

Reynolds was…Reynolds. Useful depth, decent replacement-level or a skosh better. She did exactly as well as you’d think…but no better. I don’t see her making any strides forward from this tournament.

But Westphal…I hadn’t given her much thought before the Cup. Trade makeweight, was my opinion, and yet…here’s the defensive stat sheet for Jaelene Daniels, selected as the Best XI right back for the Cup:

And here’s Westphal over the same period:

That looks pretty damn even-up to me. The “aerial duels” thing? Daniels went in to two – two – and won them both.

Westphal won 5 of 8.

I’d like Westphal to be a bit more clinical with her long passing, but…here’s another head-to-head comparison:

Daniels picks up the assist, but…damn.

So if there’s no plan for some sort of international replacement for Carpenter? I’m sort of okay with that because Westphal? You kicked ass, girlfriend.

The Thorns’ other Utah option at right back was Madison Pogarch, who started there against Chicago on Matchday 2 after having come in late and made an ugly error on the matchwinner that handed Carolina all the points the game before. She was perfectly adequate against a Red Stars that did nothing of real attacking value for 90 minutes.

She won some big props for a blazing recovery run late in the quarterfinal that served to remind us that, yes, she’s crazy fast. But she was also positionally naive and looked as raw as she is. I didn’t see her make a case for getting more minutes, and even as depth she needs a lot of shaping.

So. Did we learn anything about the Thorns defending in Utah?

Not much, and definitely not as much as I’d have liked.

Between injuries and losing Ellie Carpenter it’s hard to tell if what we saw in Utah will mean anything in 2021. It’s especially hard to say anything definitive about the unit because of the weird way the games played out. The Thorns conceded only four goals – three in the group stage – but that had as much to do with the anemia of their opponents’ attacks as it did their own defensive shape. They conceded a crap-ton of great looks in the quarterfinal, but Eckerstrom went mad. Then in the semi Houston made life so difficult for the Thorns midfield that the backline started out way behind the power curve and ended up conceding on a mess off a corner kick.

So…Sauerbrunn? Jury still out.

Hubly and Westphal? Played very well and largely exceeded expectations.

Menges and Reynolds? Did pretty much what we thought they would.

Pogarch impressed only with her pace.

We didn’t see enough of Meaghan Nally or Autumn Smithers to get even the slightest idea of their quality assuming they’re here next year.

The one thing that occurs to me is that if the team’s not looking at a young left back to succeed Klingberg, they should be. Time is remorseless, and Kling’s time is looking increasingly short.

Other than that, we need to see the healthy line of Westphal-Sauerbrunn-Menges-(Kling replacement) to get some idea what the Thorns defense can be. And that won’t be until next season, if then.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Midfielders

Four players played the bulk of the minutes for Portland’s midfield in Utah.

Raquel Rodriguez played the most; 471 minutes over all 6 matches. She took six shots and put 3 – 50% – on target. She didn’t score but was primarily responsible for the goal that knocked Carolina out of the playoffs. She created a total of 7 “key passes”; the most of the Thorns midfielders – her rate (one per 67 minutes) was a tiny bit behind Horan’s 1 per 60min and, interestingly, Boureille with the same productivity as Horan (5 key passes in 310 minutes, so effectively 1 per 60min…) but the bottom line is that she did what she was supposed to do; pull strings and create danger.

I’m fairly pleased with Rodriguez’ work in Utah, more for her promise than her performance. She helped make Lindsey Horan more dangerous and showed bursts of real creativity and a nice touch in close quarters. She also looked out-of-sync with her teammates much of the time, which is completely unsurprising given her short time with the team. Certainly she earned a longer, harder look when regular league play resumes.

Angela Salem also played in all six matches, a total of 336 minutes. She took only two shots and didn’t put them on frame.

Although she typically played a defensive midfield role she did not really excel there; Salem lost over half her attempted tackles (5 of 9) and 18 of her 35 duels. Her passing was much better; almost 80% overall and more than half her long passes connected with a teammate.

Salem was forced into a starting role by the loss of Gabby Seiler, but I’m not sure she’s a very good fit there, and am fairly sure that she’s not really a starting-quality DM. She still seems to have shown the potential to be a useful depth piece, but no more than that. I’ve been wanting to see more and better from Salem since we signed her, but I didn’t see that in July.

Celeste Boureille played 310 minutes over 5 games; she came on late against The Damned Courage on Matchday 1, started against Chicago and Tacoma in the other group games, and against Houston in the semifinal. She took four shots, put half on target without scoring.

In past seasons Boureille often played as a defensive midfielder or a defender, which makes her defensive issues in Utah surprising. She won only 3 of her 8 tackles, and 22 of her 46 duels. Given her height it’s less surprising that she won 60% (9 of 15) of her duels in the air. Her passing was decent (70%).

I thought that Boureille looked solid, or better, in Utah. She’s still not in my starting XI – I’m not as high on her as Richard is – but she’s closer, and she’s a quality reserve and a useful spot-starter. We knew that, but she restated what we knew definitively in this Cup.

The fewest minutes of the four belong to the best; Lindsey Horan played only 299 minutes over four matches, the three first group games and about 50 minutes of the quarterfinal. She put 66% of her 9 shots on frame, scoring a hell of a header against Washington.

It’s hard to emphasize how important Horan was to the Thorns. In the group games the Thorns attack was, effectively, Horan and her spear-carriers. It’s difficult to say whether she might have made a difference against Houston, but it’s easy to say that her absence didn’t help.

Horan looked much better than she did in the death-spiral of Black Autumn. But she can’t do it alone, and that was what she had to do for much of the Cup run. I don’t think that the load she had to carried played a part in her injury, but I’m not sure it didn’t; Horan had to throw her body at everything and everyone because she was the only player generating any real attack all through the first five games. The Thorns cannot afford to force her to keep doing that, but until she gets more attacking support, it’s a genuine risk the team may have to take.

None of the other midfielders played more than random minutes, and so assessing the value of their play in Utah is difficult.

Emily Ogle played the full match against Chicago on Matchday 2, and came on in the second half of the semifinal. She seems to have had a decent game against the Red Stars but was unable to help against Houston. She went to Utah as depth and didn’t make a case to be more than that.

Gabby Seiler played only 85 minutes over 4 matches, and made little impression other than simply being healthy and competent. She played the full second half against Houston but did little to improve the game state or, really, look that much more effective than Salem.

So. Did we learn anything about the Thorns midfield in Utah?

That the most promising pieces of the Thorns midfield in Utah were Horan, Rodriguez, and Boureille. But that Salem failed to advance, Ogle did nothing of real note, and Seiler was almost invisible due to her limited minutes. That Heath can be presumed to bring all her usual strengths and weaknesses when she returns, but how she’ll play into the new-look Thorns we can’t tell.

That, in turn, suggests that the Thorns will probably have a solid starting midfield in 2021…but behind those three (and Heath..?) there doesn’t seem to be much depth, unless Seiler can regain her 2019 form or someone else comes in or steps up.

There’s also not a hell of a lot of pace there; fast teams like Carolina can still run through us. The other unsettling thing was the difficulty our midfield had trying to play through Houston’s press in the semi.

One thing we didn’t see, and that Thorns teams have never had during the time I’ve followed the team, is a quick “OODA Loop” in midfield where it’s needed most. The term describes how an individual or organization deals with pressure. Observation of a pressure situation produces an Orientation towards which of several options available are likely to succeed. Knowledge and experience produce a Decision that is put into Action. The results of the action – successful or otherwise – are observed, and the loop begins again.

Portland has never been able to do this speedily over a full match with any regularity. The team will occasionally produce some quick passing/dribbling/shooting sequences…but that’s more the exception than the rule. Slow, deliberate possessions followed by a speculative cross or long ball – what I called “dink-dink-boot” last season – are much more the rule.

A tight press puts extraordinary stress on a team that cannot pass and move quickly. It often results in loss of possession, often in dangerous places. One aspect of Rodriguez’ game I like a lot is her skill with the ball at her feet in tight space. It’s not as consistent as I’d like…but it’s promising. She did some fine work with Horan and Weaver. But we need more of that, and with more consistency, from our midfield if we want to go further and do better than we did in Utah.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Forwards

Two words: Morgan Weaver.

That, sadly, was the Thorns’ only good news from the forward line.

Weaver played 424 minutes of all 6 matches, took 6 shots, put 4 on goal, scoring once. She still has passing issues – her 60% completion is the worst of all the Thorns forwards – but she looked more comfortable and creative as she grew through the tournament.

Here’s the rest of the forwards, though:

That’s just ugly.

Perhaps the most brutal line in the table is behind Christine Sinclair. Sinc looked every second of her 37 years in Utah. Completing six key passes couldn’t make up for the time she spent slogging away in midfield trying to recover lost possession or getting tackled by younger, faster players. You couldn’t even talk about her futility in front of goal because she never really got a good look at goal.

Sinclair still has a vast store of knowledge and experience. But her wheels are gone. Several years ago her soccer intelligence was such that she could anticipate her opponents and get a jump or position herself to mitigate their speed or strength. Now she looks as though she has lost so much pace that she just can’t anymore.

I had great hopes for Simone Charley, who had been tearing up the W-League over the winter. I’m not sure whether it was the long layoff between Australia and Utah, or whether the W-League defending really is as bad as it looked, but Charley was not effective in the Cup. She did attack the loose ball that became the only Portland goal on Matchday 1, but that can be put up to pure chance as much as anything.

Charley put almost half of her shots on frame – which is somewhat better than anyone outside Weaver did – and she scored, which only Weaver and Horan did.

She also displayed a heavy touch and tended to get her pocket picked a lot; she lost 69 percent, 22 of 32, of her one-v-one encounters. Overall Charley didn’t look like the answer to the attacking drought problem.

Neither did Tyler Lussi, who, like Charley, looked at one point in 2019 as the answer to the Thorns’ attacking issues. Last season Lussi played the same exact number of minutes – 277 – as she did this season, only in 12 matches instead of six. She took only seven shots but put three on frame and scored two of the three. Parsons claimed that he wouldn’t “forget about her again”.

This season he didn’t; she played twice as much and was less than half as successful. She remains, along with Marissa Everett, no better than depth.

Of course, the biggest story of the season, and the team, remained untold; Sophia Smith.

So. Did we learn anything about the Thorns forwards in Utah?

We learned that Weaver is as promising as we saw from her in college, and looks to be an even brighter promise for the future.

Unfortunately we learned nothing at all about the other great hope, Smith, who remains no more than a hope, and we were forcefully reminded that Lussi remains depth, if that, and that Charley remains painfully raw.

Sinclair…

For years it’s been painful to consider that our captain must soon reach the end of her long and storied career. But not until this past year has she looked as near to the end as she did in Utah. It was painful to watch and, watching, to remember the glories of days past.

“By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.

We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.”

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Envoi

The take-home from Utah seems to be the Portland Thorns as a team shut down in the middle of a big construction project.

The major acquisitions in the off-season – Smith, Weaver, Rodriguez – were intended to kickstart the attack that failed so badly in the stretch run last season and has been sputtering for several seasons. The emergence of Weaver as a force in front of goal – and Rodriguez as a creator and distributor – were to a great extent negated by the eclipse of Sinclair, and absence of Heath (and, in the last three halves of play, Horan), and the general ineffectiveness of the remaining strikers.

The effect of Smith is a huge unknown. She’s supposed to be a level above Weaver, who showed well in Utah, so at least in theory when she returns to the pitch she should energize the Thorns’ attack…but whether, and how, that will happen we still know nothing.

The midfield, too, remains in stasis. Rodriguez is too useful going forward to park at the #6, but Salem didn’t impress and Seiler’s minutes were too limited to assess. What to make of the progress of Celeste Boureille?

In the backline we still need to see what happens when a healthy Sauerbrunn settles in for a long stretch beside Emily Menges. We need a young replacement for Klingenberg. We need to see whether Westphal is, indeed, as capable a replacement for Carpenter as she looked.

And behind them, is Pogarch still valuable? Where does Kat Reynolds fit – is she utility depth, fullback depth, or centerback depth?

In short…there remain more questions about the Thorns than answers, and we may be a long time in finding those out.

I won’t pretend that I wasn’t deeply skeptical about this event. It seemed a tremendous – and foolish – risk in the midst of a pandemic that the surrounding nation seemed determined to fail to manage in the most tremendously foolish ways possible.

But the league, and the teams, and the supporting organizations in Utah did tremendous work keeping everyone inside “the bubble” safe and well, and that is a marvel and a credit to all involved. Would that we could re-create that for our country at large!

Was it always terrific soccer? Absolutely not, and given the circumstances that’s not entirely either unexpected or damnable. But is was soccer, real soccer, and it gave us a bright, brief bit of fun and excitement in a dark time…for which I was and remain thankful.

To the players of the NWSL, especially to all the Thorns, and to you and all the supporters of this league and our team…I don’t know when we’ll meet here again.

But I hope we will, and sooner than later, to once again think and chatter and dispute, to scheme and speculate, and, most of all, to lift our voices and sing; to roar our love and hopes for those who run out before us like a bright explosion of joy on the rich green fields of dreams.

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59 thoughts on “By the Waters of Babylon

  1. Thanks for the breakdown. Based on the tournament, everyone give us your protected 10 player (assuming you can only keep 2 USWNT players and the allocation list does not change). Mine are:
    1. Horan (US)
    2. Heath (US)
    3. Rocky
    4. Menges
    5. Westphal
    6. Weaver
    7. Smith
    8. Hubly
    9. Brit
    10. Boureille

    1. I’m not sure that 1) expansion will really happen, 2) what the Thorns roster will look like if it does, and 3) what the rules for an expansion draft will be, and 4) what the ever-lovin’ fuck the Thorns FO will do in any and all of those cases.

      That said, Horan is the only USWNT lock I see. I think the Nats will pare Franch before autumn, ‘Brunn is too old, and Heath…I dunno. She’s an odd duck.

      Other than that, the core of the squad is (from the back) either Eck or Bixby, Menges, probably Westphal, Seiler or Salem, Rodriguez, CelBee, Weaver, Smith. That’s eight, right? So…there you go.

      That said, I expect all that to change dramatically before January.

      1. Re Heath and Sauerbrunn
        I don’t disagree with the criticism and skepticism surrounding these two, but it is amusing that we have these two of the consistently Top XI on last year’s WC champs, but for our suddenly middle-of-the-pack NWSL team, we’re like, “meh.”
        Again, i don’t disagree, but it’s funny how that works

        1. I don’t think it’s criticism OR skepticism, but, rather the personalities and circumstances of both players.

          ‘Brunn forced a trade on Utah to come here. She’s very, very close to the end of her career. She is, like Sinclair, exceptionally likely – as close to a certainty as can be without her saying so – to retire rather than move if drafted by an expansion club. I don’t see a point in using a WNT lock on her just because I can’t see Louisville or whoever using a pick on her for that very reason.

          Heath…I have never really gotten a sense that I understand what the Notorious TFH thinks or why she does what she does. She has tremendous skills and is, as such, always a terrific asset to her club…but sometimes I think she plays for reasons other than just doing well or winning. I think she enjoys breaking ankles just because, and doing fun ball tricks for the sheer entertainment value of them.

          She’s been here since the first season…and yet, it never feels that way. She missed much of 2013 and 2014 with PSG, 2015 and 2019 with the WC, 2017 with injury. She’s never played more than 17 games in any of her seven seasons.

          I THINK she’s happy here, and I think she’d also retire rather than move…but I really, REALLY don’t know. To me she is often an enigma…and still is going into 2021.

          But – assuming Franch is de-listed from the WNT and ‘Brunn is not going to move…I’d protect Heath.

          Just…because.

    2. Re expansion: John’s point is well-taken about how iffy things are for 2021; knowing that LA has already stated its plan to start in 2022, i could see it might make much better sense for Louisville and the NWSL to have RacingFC hold off a year as well, so that there’s one expansion draft instead of two in consecutive years, and so Louisville doesn’t have to survive its inaugural year with no ticket sales.
      Having said that, it’s still fun to pick a Top10;
      I would hope for
      1) Horan
      2) Heath
      for the two US slots, then from front to back;
      3) Smith
      4) Weaver
      5) Charley
      6) Rodriguez
      7) Menges
      8) Westphal
      9) Eckerstrom
      10) Bixby

      I know- protecting 2 keepers seems dumb, but it seems like Bixby would certainly be gone if unprotected, now that she’s been showcased in front of the league, and Eckerstrom might be as good as Franch, and is the only one of our keepers without serious injury history.

      for the other maybe dubious choices, Charley and Westphal, they might not be better than others i’ve left off, but Westphal seems like a young and talented fit at what would otherwise be a big hole at RB, and Charley is for the future- she has youth, and speed, both of which are ridiculously rare on the pitch for the Thorns.

      I’d almost drop her in favor of Hubly, who looked great, but if we have Sauerbrunn for another year or two, we’re ok for the short term, and with Hubly’s thin frame and long legs, (and i know nothing about sports medicine, but) all I see is knee injuries waiting to happen.

      Heath honestly i wouldn’t mind losing (especially since that given the expected expansion draft rules, that would mean we don’t lose anyone else), but tactically it seems she’d be worth more in a potential trade than just losing her outright to expansion.

      1. Re Pogarch
        Also, while i wouldn’t protect her in expansion (or argue she’s ready to start), I could see her being a player that, years from now, the Thorns could be kicking themselves for losing.
        I would put Bixby in that category, too (though I’d protect her from the draft),
        then maybe Seiler (and maaaybe Ogle below her?)
        With others, like Boureille, Salem, Lussi, et al, they might be better “pieces” now, but i think they’ve shown what they’re capable of.

        1. The possibility that a player you let go comes back to haunt you is always there. But I don’t think you can build a team around that concern. Right now Pogarch seems to me replacement level. That’s not a player you can afford to take extraordinary measures to protect on the hope that some time down the road they’re going to become stars.

          We’ve done that before – Mana Shim comes to mind – and ended up paying for a handful of ashes.

          Pogarch seems like a nice hardworking kid who wants to do her best. That covers something like 94% of the entire soccer world. I have to trust and hope that the FO is following her progress closely and has a better grasp of her potential…and, if they think it’s high enough, is going to hang on to her.

  2. I was pretty high on Boureille in the group stage but she really tailed off at the end. I am not clear why, but it seemed like in the big game she stepped back to let others make things happen. Which they didn’t. Which is why the crystal cup is dodging floods and a hurricane instead of federal paramilitaries.

    Lack of confidence? Maybe so. This was her chance to demand the ball and make shit happen. Maybe that’s just not Celeste.

    1. It’s difficult to go from depth to starter in six games. It’ll be interesting to see if her work in Utah has pushed her closer to that position in 2021…

  3. Great stuff John! I loved the comparison of Kristen Westphal to Jalene Daniels. I was impressed on a merely subjective basis watching Kristen’s composure and passing. She seems fast too. Not as obviously fast as Carpenter was, but fast.
    Hubly also was a huge surprise for me. She has speed, height, strength and length (that is not redundant because her legs seem two inches longer than other women her height). She seemed to swallow up attackers like an Octupus. I was very happy that one of the very popular and hard working bench players really shined. If there is a season and Olympics we will see more of this young lady.
    There are a lot of good comments on Stumptown too about this game, but I am overwhelmed by what we don’t know and speculation about next season, who to protect, who will go to Europe, will there be a season; it just seems fruitless.
    I am just really happy the Challenge Cup came off, we saw some soccer and a lot of players. If it were not for this plague I would say the NWSL has a bright future and even if it expands to 9 or 10 teams, there is lots of talent.

    1. I think that we’re all trying to avoid staring too hard at how bad this Plague is going to be, and while that’s perfectly natural…I’m not going to even pretend that we have ANY way of predicting anything about September, much less the ’21 draft, expansion, or a ’21 season.

      And, yeah…I liked Westphal a LOT. Hubs I knew was decent. But Westphal? I thought she was done, but she looked damn solid in Utah. Hope that’s a good sign for the future.

  4. Looks like we’re all back here to Riveting. On Saturday STF somehow managed to disappear all of Grant Little’s items (and thus the discussion fora) from during the COVID Cup, and all the older Thorns stories (and fora) are shut down.

    Over on Rose City Review, Katelyn Best posted a great end-of-season recap and analysis too:

    https://rosecity.review/pack-it-up-and-call-it-a-season/

    Among the most important words shared therein:

    – “If you ask anyone on the team, they’ll likely say their biggest achievement this month was a return to the Thorns’ vaunted team culture, something both the players and Parsons say had slipped by the end of 2019. For all the talent on any given Thorns roster, this is an attitude-first coaching staff, and whether or not players have a certain personality and work ethic often guides both who gets signed and who gets traded away.”

    – “The state of the culture is basically something we have to take the team’s word for, especially at a moment when no one is allowed to even speak to them in person.”

    – “[W]hile Sinclair is still quality, she also needs certain types of players around her to succeed. When she departs, the club changes completely, the way things do when realities so long-lasting they feel like laws of physics change.”

    – [A] wholesale rebuild is still looming for the Thorns, probably sooner rather than later.”

    1. I’m always conflicted when I read Best. She’s wicked smart and knows the game inside and out. She brings a ton of interesting views. She also seems to have a pair of Thorns-rose-colored-glasses when it comes to this team. Take just this, for example:

      “Of course, attacking from out wide paid off one very important time, when Rodríguez sent a pass under Denise O’Sullivan to Morgan Weaver, who bodied past her mark to score the go-ahead goal. ”

      Which is absolutely true…but elides that Addisyn Merrick is TOTALLY ballwatching on that play. Weaver doesn’t have to do anything but make the run – Merrick has no idea where she it or what she’s doing. That was a lovely goal, and Weaver was doing all kinds of good things in Utah…but on THAT particular play it was ALL Rodriguez. Weaver got a gift from Merrick, and hard-headed analysis would emphasize that.

      Same with the little thing on Sinc. Sinc’s issues aren’t the players around her. They’re age, and wear, and the inevitable slow erosion of speed and strength that time has been making on her game. Sinc’s decline started from such a high level that even now she’s a very good player. But she’s becoming less so every season, and all the youth and speed around her can’t change that. Every match we play where we don’t look at what a post-Sinclair Thorns will be is just postponing that inevitable day.

      Same with the long essay on “culture”. I know that Parsons likes to run that chat, but I don’t see how it made any significant changes in the finishing problems, or that Carolina can still pretty much run through the Thorns like crap through a goose. Portland – well, mostly Eckerstrom! – played one monster match in Utah, but showed a fair amount or dross, too, unsurprising given the utterly unfinished condition of the rebuild. I’m less convinced that what we saw in Utah has anything to do with “culture” and everything to do with a team trying to fit a bunch of new puzzle pieces into place while trying to keep the old ones like Sinclair and Kling in place for one last run.

      So she’s kind of the anti-me; I’m the Dark Side, the pessimist, she’s the Light, seeing the good in all things. Together we probably serve a useful purpose in highlighting each others’ flaws…

      1. There’s always two ways of looking at things, an old friend of mine is fond of saying: there’s the right way and the other right way. =)

        I think Best and you are pointing to the same things, just said a bit differently. And I’m not even sure I would characterize it as darkness/lightness or optimism/pessimism. In writing styles and opinion/analsysis conveyance, I would say you’re more direct and quantitative, and she’s more relational and qualitative. But I do think you’re largely saying the same things, just differently.

        Both of you note that Sinc’s career is drawing down and that while she’s still quality, she’s not able to perform to her previous heights and that it’s not likely the club can – or should – try to rebuild around her skillset in any positional and tactical configuration.

        I do think there’s something about “culture,” and the waning of it last year, but I don’t think that was the only thing that contributed to Black Autumn. Sinc ran out of gas, the Olympic experience took a huge physical and emotional toll on Horan, etc., etc. It was too big of a collapse to be attributable to any one thing. So, I think both of you are right on the money here.

        And I think Best and you are saying/pointing to these same things: change is coming, and it will be big and as purposeful as possible whenever it happens; this is really Horan’s team now; and nobody has public/media access to the players and nobody is talking.

        As for me, I’m just thankful for having so much thoughtful analysis of our Thorns and the ongoing ability to talk about it with people who know and understand far more than I do.

        1. There is no like feature for this comment but I agree 100% with everything you say Thornado. I like both Best and Lawes and although I am a glass half full sort of person, John is great to read. He can be critical but you know he thinks a lot of these players and is not mean spirited. His pieces are just fun to read. I am not an expert on soccer and so I like being a fly on the wall, but sometimes when someone says something that is exactly what I was thinking, but they were able to put it in to words it just makes me a very happy camper. Great comment!

          1. The funny thing is that I don’t necessarily “think a lot” of the players in general or in particular. I think that’s one of the differences between the way Best and I write about the Thorns.

            Best is a fan – she DOES “think a lot” of the players here. She clearly loves and is invested in the team, and I think it colors her writing. That’s what I mean by “Thorns-rose-colored-glasses”; she’s fiercely bright, knowledgeable, and incisive…but I think she tends to lean towards cutting the team, and the players, breaks if there’s a shade of gray.

            I have my Fan Hat; I wear it to matches to sing and cheer and hiss the Damned Courage. But when I come here I take off my Fan Hat to the extent I can. I write what I think and what I perceive about the players and the team. Sometimes that’s pretty brutal – Hayley Raso unfollowed Stumptown on Twitter because of some of the stuff I said about the Thorns (and her) in 2018 – but that’s the nature of the game. Sport at the highest level, if it is to mean anything, means being the best you can. Never giving away the gift. If and when that happens…you are going to get called on it. This isn’t rec league, where we’re playing for fun. This is the Show, and if you’re jakin’ it, or you’re not playing up to your ability, well…

            So I think there is a very different outlook on the team between us. And that’s good! That’s fine! Neither one of us is Soccer Jesus, with the Way, the Truth, and the Life. So I thoroughly recommend reading me, and her, and Henderson, and Linehan, and Wahl, and Kassouf…the more perspective, the better!

          2. John … I think Katelyn’s perspective is pretty similar to you with the delivery of someone who isn’t as weathered by life (speaking as a fellow weathered person).

    1. It was interesting watching the fans select players and there are some difficult decisions, but I walked away questioning the collective sanity of the Orlando fans.

      There is about a zero percent chance that Taylor Kornieck isn’t on their protected list. They gave up their first round pick next year and Rachel Hill. I’d be surprised if Courtney Peterson isn’t on their protected list either considering she along with Sonnett were the primary returns for Sophia Smith.

      Age will be a consideration in the draft.

      I’d be stunned one of Peterson or Plummer isn’t protected.

  5. Wanted to stop by and recommend the Equalizer podcast (here: https://equalizersoccer.com/2020/08/03/the-equalizer-podcast-nwsl-after-the-challenge-cup/ ) – Thornando has already repped it over at Stumptown – specifically for two topics of discussion:

    1 – the Thorns in Utah. Conclusion? That the Thorns were not good – and 1-2-3 with a single freakish win? Yeah, that’s “not good” – but that in a sense that wasn’t entirely unexpected given the injuries and absences and the stop-order condition of the rebuild. But, given that, the Thorns “overperformed” because they had some terrific play from individual players.
    2 – Expansion, and the history of the NWSL’s expansions, and how it points out that we know nothing, Grant Wahl. We will probably find out what the “rules” are…well, we have no idea WHAT we’ll find out. But that it will probably be a surprise.

    Well worth the listen.

    1. I watched every game within the Challenge Cup and I don’t believe the Thorns were even close to the worst team there. I think they had the worst offense there once Horan couldn’t play. Outside of Weaver, we didn’t have a front line threat

      1. I agree with Trail33. And in support of that view Sinclair said her friends on other teams (she has at least four friends on the Dash) were telling her that they were hoping the Thorns would beat the Courage because no one else could. I think everybody would agree that the Courage were the best team, but also the first eliminated. Again to quote Sinc “we got lucky.” Putting on my rose colored glasses, I would say the Thorns may have been the third best team. Definitely not the worst and definitely not the best. Heath and Smith would have made a big difference.

        1. Well, I’m not sure about third. We weren’t first or second, obviously. And third? Sky Blue went 1-2-1 in the group stage and damn near came back and forced Chicago to PKs in the semi. We didn’t have a win in the group and were pretty well handled by Houston. So I’d say that we were probably fourth.

          So the EQ podcast team got it solidly right. We weren’t good. But we had some good moments, and we have some solid hope for the future. But it’s still only deer-track stew at the moment…

      2. So, in order;

        1. You’ll note that I didn’t say “the Thorns were the worst team in Utah”. I said “the Thorns were not good in Utah”. I’m not sure how you look at a winning percentage of 16.7 and call that anything but “not good”. You can argue that some players did well, or that the team had some good moments. But when you lose two and draw three (especially against teams that were as woeful as Chicago and OLR when they played us…) out of six games? That’s “not good”.

        2. No, we had no attack. Even Weaver was more “threat” than production.

        3. But our defense wasn’t solid, either; teams that attacked us (The Damned Courage and Houston) found space.

        4. And our midfield didn’t really outplay anyone other than the really sad acts like OLR.

        Now… this was a hugely weird occasion. Tournament setup, injuries, absences…does this suggest that we’d go 4-8-12 over a 24-game season? I sure as hell hope not. But I can’t say for certain we wouldn’t, given the same roster we had in Utah. And we won’t…or at least we shouldn’t.

        But all this “oh, we were dead last but we weren’t the worst team in Utah!” reminds me of Tony Herbert’s story about his father taking him hunting and he sees his first set of deer tracks and gets all excited.

        “Well, you take ’em home to your ma, son…” his pop says. Whut? replies young Tony.

        “You take those tracks home so your mom can cook ’em up. Cause I’ve never seen deer-track stew before.”

        When we catch the deer then we can talk. Until then, we got nothing but deer-track stew.

        1. I was replying more to the podcast than your comments. It would have been nice to see the team with a healthy Sophia Smith and Becky Sauerbruun.

          I respect Tobin’s decision to not play, though I listened to the interview with Meg Linehan and the feel I got from Press is that they view themselves as USWNT players who participate in the NWSL rather than an NWSL and USWNT player. One pays the bills, so it makes sense

  6. Speaking of Henderson, he had a “who do you protect in the expansion draft” poll for the NWSL. Here’s the list from Portland (https://twitter.com/chris_awk/status/1291067874413551617):

    Horan and Heath from the Nats. The eight nonallocated players were Raquel Rodriguez, Smith, Menges, Weaver, Sinclair, Klingenberg, Bixby, and Charley

    Westphal & Seiler were the next two, but Henderson noted that if the draft occurs under the 2015 rules Portland may not be able to protect more than nine total.

    That is a weird list. Kling? Sinc? Bixby over both Franch and Eckerstrom? Who’s going to pick Sinclair knowing she’s likely to retire rather than move and is unlikely to play for more than another season, if that?

    And Kling..? But…that kind of points out our dilemma. Kling is rapidly approaching her wearout date. But…we don’t have an obvious replacement in the queue. Pogarch? Didn’t look terrific in Utah. Nally? Who knows. Player-to-be-named-later..? So we kinda have to protect Kling because if she DOES get picked – which, again, would be an exceptionally bizarre pick for an expansion club – we’re stuck without an obvious LB replacement.

    Hmmm.

    1. I’ve been following the polls. Then I got busy and missed the one poll I had a serious interest in.

      Horan is our #1 player to protect. Our franchise player. The next player would seem to be Tobin Heath unless the allocation money can be used to pick up a star wing. Personally, I feel Sauerbrunn is the better player. I believe age and the desire to be in Portland coupled with what I hope is creative use of the allocation money due Utah if selected lead to her not be protected.

      I do think as fans we overstate the If selected they will retire mantra especially if they are national players. I’m pretty convinced that most national players view themselves as national players first and foremost. Also, with COVID … does Vlatko offer the flexibility for some of these national players to play in Europe after the Olympics (if they happen)?

      I find the polls to be based on whose got the most name recognition rather than who will likely be protected. Based on the way Westphal played in the tournament, I believe she’d likely be picked and I’d be stunned if she’s not on the protected list. Just like I kind of snickered when Orlando fans left Korneik off their protected list

      My list

      Allocated
      1. Horan
      2. Heath

      Unallocated
      1. Smith
      2. Weaver
      3. Menges
      4. Rodriguez
      5. Bixby
      6. Westphal

      Then the question is who do you protect for the last two slots.

      – Simone Charley from a skill standpoint?

      – Sinclair from a respect standpoint?

      – Hubly based on her play in the tournament

      – Eckerstrom? She’s probably the best player at that point in terms of long term potential and play

      – Seiler? Good young player whose struggled with injuries.

      I think there are two key strategies

      1. Do you leave both Franch and Eckerstrom unprotected realizing you will likely lose one. I puts the onus on Louisville to select the one they want.
      – If they select Franch, then we won’t lose a second player.
      – If they select Eckerstrom, Franch can’t be selected and then we can replace Eck with another player on the expansion list.

      2. How to manage Sinclair and Kling from an ego standpoint is interesting. If left unprotected, does either player just call it a career? I could see Sinclair retire, but Kling uses the NWSL as a platform.

      Also,I wouldn’t be shocked to see Chicago trade for the first pick in the allocation draft like we did with Kling years ago.

      Is the Mewis signing with Manchester a mechanism to keep the core together in Carolina

      1. Yeah, that one slipped by me, too, and I’d been checking his feed pretty regularly because that was the only one I wanted to weigh in on…

        As I’ve said before, I think it’s VERY likely that we will get to this draft – assuming that the Plague hasn’t devastated us to the point where we won’t be able to run a draft – only to find that the rules, and our roster, have changed dramatically.

        That said, assuming we are what we are and the rules are what they were for the last (the 2015 Orlando) draft…

        1. Horan. Absolutely. The surest lock possible.
        2. Heath…although I’ve mentioned this above, Heath is a unicorn, and I’m not really sure which way she’ll jump, whether she’ll be the game-changer she was in 2016 or the afterthought she was in 2017, or what. But the alternatives are Sauerbrunn (who made a fuss to be traded here, is in the final year or two of her career, and is unlikely to go to Louisville or wherever…) or Franch (who is, frankly, expendable at this point given the other two keepers.
        3. Smith
        4. Weaver
        5. Rodriguez
        The heart of the rebuilding; it’d be pointless – hell, self-destructive – to let them walk now.
        6. Menges – still the heart of the backline

        This is where things start to get iffy, though. And I’m going to go with the “playoff teams can only protect nine”, so we only get three more.

        7. Westphal – depending on whether the team is still looking for a big signing at RB,
        8. Bixby or Eckerstrom – frankly, this is one I can’t make a stab at and have to rely on Angerer’s judgement. Eck has been solid for years and went mad in the quarterfinal. Bixby was a rock in the group stage…but our N on her is only 4; any player can go nuts for four games. So it’ll be up to their coach to determine who is less expendable – right now I can see this one going either way. We need to protect one, but which one? I have no idea.
        9. ?????

        The ninth player is the toughest for me. Sinclair is so late in her career, has looked so off her peak form for the past year, and as a plankowner and a career Thorns seems unlikely to be willing to accept a transfer at this point that is seems like overkill to use a slot on her. But, then again…yeah. If you DON’T you have to explain all that to her and get her to buy into it AND risk that the incoming team might just take a flyer on her.

        And after that you end up shuffling through the roleplayers. Yes, Hubly and Boureille did well in Utah…but are they really the future of the team? Charley DIDN’T really do well…but she showed great moments in 2019, can she re-create them in the future? How good is Seiler now?

        I guess if I had to throw this as someone I’d throw it at Sinclair just for morale purposes.

        Kling? Frankly, she’s lost too much value to protect. If she goes, she goes…but I’d be shocked if she did.

        As for the other stuff, dunno on Mewis, but I suspect it is what it looks like – a player unsure that she’ll play here for some time looking for a place to play. And Chicago…they’ve got a crap-ton of college draft picks for ’21. Dunno if they need to trade up unless they are mad for Macario AND have the bait to throw at Louisville or whoever holds the overall #1.

        1. I could see an expansion team jumping to grab Charley, Westphal, and especially Eckerstrom or Bixby, if they were left unprotected, since any of them could start now, and have high ceilings in the future. Seiler maybe right behind them.
          Even if you factor in “name recognition”, the COVID Cup boosted the stock of these players (especially Eckerstrom and Bixby)in front of league fans everywhere. Louisville would have no problem getting fans excited with highlight packages from Eckerstrom’s game against NCC. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Louisville will forget Seiler since she didn’t play much in Utah.

          1. It’s an interesting item. If you leave Franch and Eckerstrom unprotected, I assume Eckerstrom would the pick primarily because I expect Chicago and North Carolina to lose their national players.

            Losing Franch would, however, protect everyone else if it went down that route.

            That poll had some much promise until I saw that most fans don’t consider age in their assessment.

            Kate DeFaiva, Evelyn Viens, Taylor Korneick, Ally Watt, Courtney Peterson, and Kaieigh Reighl. Yeah. That ain’t happening

          2. Again…it’s SO hard to tell from where we now sit what might happen when (and, let’s not forget, IF – the Senate GOP has decided to let the nation go over the economic cliff, so we may be looking at an extinction-level event in a month…) this draft happens what the rules and rosters might be.

            That said…

            1) I don’t think you can protect all three keepers. I’m not sure that an expansion club, looking to get attention, sees Franch (with her now-troubling history of injury and declining stats) as a major pull. But I’m not sure they wouldn’t, either, and I’m not sure who well Bixby’s terrific work over four games (four! let’s not forget that..!) translates into career-level quality. I’m inclined to agree with Trail33 that the 12th-dimension-chess strategy would be to leave Franch exposed and dare them to go for her. As for the other two…I don’t see how – especially if the 2015 rules apply and we can only protect nine – you can protect both. You gotta take a chance somewhere, that’s sort of the nature of this exercise…

            2) The problem with Utah was that it showed us both some and not enough of a bunch of players. Charley – and I’ll remind everyone that I was and am a big fan of hers, wanted the club to take a flyer on her after what I thought was her terrific preseason in 2018 – did not look good. That’s troubling, especially after her late-season 2019 fade and her roaring return in the W League over the winter. I thought she’d continue that form in Utah; she not only didn’t but looked unfinished and crude, showing me a heavy touch I hadn’t seen from her before. Does she still have a high ceiling? If she’s the Charley of June and December 2019? Sure. If she’s the Charley of August 2019 and July 2020? No.

            Seiler? I have NO idea how good Seiler is right now. We haven’t seen her get real minutes since her injury. If I’m the Louisville GM, how do I have any real sense of her condition, based on 84 minutes over four games since midsummer 2019?

            That’s why I had such a hard time coming up with that ninth player on the above list. We have a bagful of players who are “fine”, at least based on what we saw of them in Utah and their histories. But what we DIDN’T see in Utah was a “Portland Thorns” working together as a complete squad. The attack was almost nonexistent, the midfield a hodgepodge, the backline makeshift…only the keepers were outstanding.

            So where to these “fine” roleplayers fit? Who’s more important to protect to end up with that fully-operation battle station? Hubly over Seiler? Boureille over Salem? Reynolds?

            So all we can do at this point is guess, and guess crudely, at that. My guesses are no less crude than anyone else’s…

            And I was really surprised to see some of the responses to Henderson’s polls. Leaving out players like Viens and Korneick? That’s…wow. Seems like a LOT of fans didn’t see the same games in Utah…

  7. Our guesses are simply guesses, but I’m pretty confident that Orlando didn’t trade their first rounder in 2021 for a player they’d leave unprotected and leaving Viens unprotected is flat out nuts. . I do think it was name recognition more than anything else in these polls. I found myself struggling with every team I did with the 8 position

  8. The expansion draft is basically a byproduct of taking advantage of uneven distribution of national players, deep teams leaving the players unprotected that are starter quality (Eckerstrom), and then picking the young players you have either been opportunity constrained or have other issues like injuries.

    Seiler seems like a good poach possibility. She has injury issues, but her upside is probably better than most players you could secure. To be honest, if I were a GM … I might target an Emily Ogle as my second pick from the Thorns after a goalie. Cheap, smart, and I liked her in college. She’s not my 9th or 10th protected player, but she’s super interesting

    1. Hard to say what Seiler is capable of at this point; we really haven’t seen enough of her to tell whether she’s come back from the injury.

      Ogle? Depth, at this point. So it would depend on whether Louisville needs depth at her position.

  9. re protected list;
    I think it’s a consensus (on this board, at least) to leave Franch unprotected- because protecting her would expose Heath, and we have much better replacement options for Franch. I’d still consider protecting the other two GK’s, though- whichever of Eckerstrom or Bixby PTFC didn’t protect would almost surely be selected, right? Louisville is going to need 2 keepers, and our two just got showcased in the tourney- now even casual NWSL fans in other cities, if they could name 5 Thorns, could probably name those two.

    I’d hate to lose either one. And while GK’s arent maybe as valuable as field players, Eckerstrom and Bixby have the potential to be more above replacement-value as GK’s than some of the field players we would otherwise protect.

    The list of the bubble candidates changes with whatever the hypothetical number of protectables are, but generally speaking, of those bubble players, Eckerstrom may have the most current and future value. And losing Bixby, a local talent handpicked by Angerer with great upside, would be even more unpleasant than losing Eckerstrom.

    I get that the downside of protecting both is that Louisville might not pick Franch, and we’re left with three potential starting keepers. Nothing against Franch- i’ve loved watching her play. But Louisville would be doing the Thorns a great favor by selecting her in expansion, given that it would “save” two field players. And if Franch stays on the USWNT list, her cache and her “free” salary is an incentive to the expansion team

    But, if Franch weren’t selected, the Thorns could still work a trade for her, get a field player in return to fill one of the many other holes in the lineup. At least in that scenario, the Thorns would be dealing with the GK situation on their own terms.

    1. I look at it slightly differently. My number 1 scenario for next year is that Franch is our starting keeper. If you leave both her and Eck unprotected, you are only losing 1.

      If Franch is selected, no other player can be selected

      If Eck is selected, they can no longer pick a USWNT subsidized player So Franch is

      My perspective is Eck being made available increases the chance that Franch is on the team with Bixby as her backup, I also believe with the way that Bixby played, you can’t keep her as a 3rd keeper in this league.

      Despite the rationale for not protecting Sinclair (I haven’t in my lists to date), I can see them protect her Out of respect rather than dealing with the potential ramifications. It might cost them a Pogarch or a Seiler, but I’d argue that once you get to 9 and 10 … you are likely discussing replacement level players. Do I believe Pogarch has significantly more upside the Meghan Nally or Autumn Smithers? Honestly, not really. I believe Seiler has more potential than Ogle, but enough to not show respect to Sinclair?

      The first thing I’d like to see happen is a 3 year contract to Rocky using allocation money, a contract for Westphal, and then try to fill the void at cb.

      1. Pogarch
        maybe more worth taking a chance on because of the three, she’s the only natural left-footed player, and combined with her speed/motor, has at least some of the tools to be a good left back in a system that requires the outside backs to cover a lot of ground. Parsons seems to like her potential, but hopefully Louisville’s coach will pass on her just based on watching the tape her shaky COVID performances.

      2. Question; why three years for Rodriguez? Why not the standard one and one?

        Sport being such a chancy business, signing a player for three years is either a huge expression of confidence…or a way to get stuck with a big payout if that player loses form or gets hurt or doesn’t evolve the way you like.

        And, as we’ve seen with Carpenter…”locking in” a player who wants to move doesn’t really “lock in” anything.

        I mean…I liked what I saw from Rodriguez in Utah. But I didn’t particularly like what the team looked like, and I think the team at full strength will likely look very different. So my thought would be go with one and one, see how she looks when we can field a full team next year…and THEN maybe offer a contract extension.

        Besides…other than Europe – which, again, as we’ve seen with Carpenter, no NWSL contract will hold her – where’s she going to go?

    2. I think the part about this that is pretty critical is how Sinclair would react to either not being protected or, if not, being selected by Louisville. It’s possible that she’s told the Thorns FO – and, through them, Louisville – that she’ll hang ’em up rather than move. Or maybe the FO has told her that they need to protect X so they’re leaving her exposed because they don’t think she’ll get picked and asked her if she’s okay with that, and she is…or not.

      Point is, a player like Sinclair has a hell of a lot of pull with the team, and we can’t be sure – because she hasn’t said anything – how she’ll use it.

      1. We can have a lot of discussions on the two national players, but I believe that 6 of the 8 are no brained after the challenge cup

        1. Sophia Smith
        2. Morgan Weaver
        3. Rocky Rodriguez
        4. Emily Menges
        5. Bella Bixby
        6. Christine Westphal

        I think if you consider upside

        7. Simone Charley

        Then you have the last pick.

        8. Christine Sinclair

        I know she can retire if selected, but she can also retire if she feels not respected.

        If this scenario plays out, we lose Eckerstrom and get our choice to pull back either Seiler, Pogarch, Hubly, or Ogle. Does the ability to choose which player between those four that we expose worth disrespecting Sinclair?

        Personally I don’t see much difference between those four in terms of if we lost one of them. It’s going to suck either way

  10. Best vs. Most Valuable
    know it’s easier to look at this as you would in a fantasy league, where personalities and hurt feelings aren’t an issue… but, even in the real world, if the Thorns FO protected Sinclair at the expense of a young player with upside, they’re not doing their jobs.

    The team has a “Best XI” for a game they had to win right now (assuming everyone’s healthy), and Sinclair, Klingenberg and Sauerbrunn are almost certainly in that lineup (it’s telling that there’s at least a chance that Franch might not be).

    But a smart team would also know its “Most Valuable XI”- based not just on talent, but on age, potential, contract situation, trade value etc.- who are most likely to contribute meaningfully to the team in the long run. I don’t think Sinclair, Klingenberg , Sauerbrunn or Franch are in that XI . That’s not to denigrate them as players, it’s just a (hopefully accurate) calculation.

    It doesn’t need to be a “slap in the face” to Sinclair, and she’s hopefully and likely enough of a professional to understand the rationale. For a comparable, remember that the NFL’s Colts flat-out CUT Peyton Manning, not even a mutual thing. Nobody liked it but didnt pout, because it was the better choice for the team at the time.

    I hope that the Thorns FO is smart enough to have an accurate assessment of their Most Valuable 8, 9, or 10- whatever the expansion calls for.

    1. If we were talking about at the expense of Morgan Weaver or Sophia Smith, I’d agree with you … but I do think there is a viable argument to protect Sinclair over Seiler or Pogarch. Not to minimize their potential, but replacement level players with upside are available every year.

      You could easily make the argument that Sinclair’s influence on Weaver and Smith could be worth exposing the 9th or 10th best player on the roster

  11. Thorns by “value”?
    As a thought exercise, how would you rate the Thorns in terms of value overall, for the short and the long-term? Horan’s likely everyone’s #1, but after that, what would that list look like?

    I took a swing at it:
    1) Horan
    2) Smith
    3) Weaver
    4) Rodriguez
    5) Menges
    6) Bixby
    7) Eckerstrom
    8) Westphal
    9) Heath
    10) Franch
    11) Sauerbrunn

    Feels weird putting Smith in at #2, since i’ve never even seen her in a Thorns uniform and she’s been injured since i first heard about her, but the supposed potential is so big… Ended up with all 3 keepers on the list, not sure if that says more about PTFC’s keepers, or their field players… I moved Heath way down because she’s gone so much… Sauerbrunn on the list despite where she’s at in her career because she could potentially mentor and improve Menges and the other backs even if she’s not here that long…

    1. We differ a lot. The national players are more valuable unless you are solely talking in context of the expansion draft and the fact we can protect 2.

      In terms of absolute value in a trade or with allocation money

      1. Horan
      2: Smith
      3. Weaver
      4. Rodriguez
      5. Menges

      I struggled here because I actually Becky is the better player even now, but it’s close and Emily is 28. That said, I don’t see a team offering the amount of allocation money and Ball for Menges that we did.

      6. Sauerbrunn
      7. Heath
      8. Franch

      I’m hoping that 50k in allocation money is due to Utah if the expansion team takes her, but I think it is low risk.

      9. Bixby
      10. Westphal
      11. Eckerstrom

  12. This discussion just serves to remind me of how we as fans are forced to make some pretty huge assumptions based on VERY little actual evidence, and, in passing, how tightmouthed the Thorns FO is about, well, everything.

    Just one example; Sinc and Sauerbrunn.

    We assume that Sinclair will be a mentor to the young forwards, as well as a team leader in general. And there’s reasons to suspect that may well be true. But there’s also reasons to suspect that she may not be as big a “leadership” factor as we want to think. There’s no indication that she helped smooth over the factions we think may have riven the team in 2013. She didn’t prevent the cratering arc of the squad in 2014-2015. She wasn’t able to rescue last season.

    Sinc’s on-field style – which is what we see most from her – seems to be more “do as I do” rather than being a vocal leader or coaching-type influence. And while some great players are great at teaching others, some just play by “feel”, and it turns out that they may not be great at passing their skills along.

    So how good at that is Sinc? I don’t know, because I can’t recall off the top of my head any Thorns forward talking about how Sinclair helped her with X or Y. Sure, you get the generic “she’s the greatest and she’s so important to our team”, which is what you’d expect a good teammate to say, regardless.

    Same with Sauerbrunn. She’s a terrific central defender. How much will that do for Menges? Will ‘Brunn instill deep zen secrets of defending to her new CB partner? Or will their physical styles turn out to be too different to transfer? Or is ‘Brunn not the sort of personality that makes a good teacher? Or will they turn out to be good pals but see each other as more-or-less equals, so the teacher-student vibe won’t be there..?

    And ‘Brunn and Sinclair both looked pretty pedestrian in Utah, tho’ Brunn had the excuse of unfamiliarity AND just one game. So aside from the question of “how good at mentoring are they?” we’re also left with the “is this where older players fall off the cliff, or just a hiccup, or what?” question.

    We can guess, and hope, and project…but until we solve The Plague and can get a season again?

    That’s really all we can do.

    1. I think we are dependent on what a coach says in interviews and comments made by fellow players. We can make the argument what else are they going to say, but I listen to Sauerbrunn talk and believe her level of communication would be a massive positive.

      1. Which kind of actually makes my point: coach and player interviews are pretty much designed to reassure and soothe, to provide the team corporate line, rather than expose any sort of hard, especially a potentially embarrassing or harmful, truth. It’s like Parsons going on about “culture”; it’s not that there’s no truth to it, it’s just that the problem isn’t nearly as much about “team culture” as about people not fucking finishing. But “culture” sounds nicer and makes everyone happier. The sort of Foxhoven brutal honesty is vastly, insanely rare. 99% of all interviews and comments are pablum.

        Add to that the simple fact that most interviews, comments, and pressers in general are conducted on the lowest-informational-level-possible – you seldom hear the head coach or the team captain dig deep into technical or tactical details for the simple reasons that 1) 99.5% of the listening fans don’t care, and 2) they don’t want to give their opponents anything easy to use against them – and I’m not sure there’s any real way to take interviews and comments as anything more than background noise.

        So that’s kind of the point; we ARE dependent on these things, and we also know that the vast bulk of them are some combination of happy talk, boilerplate, dumbed-down generalities, and affectless chatter…which is pretty much the same thing as saying “We can guess, and hope, and project…but…that’s really all we can do.”

        1. I think Parsons’s talk of “culture” is that some of the folks who are no longer with the club weren’t committed to the club, the vision, the plan, their roles, their training, etc., and that that contributed mightily to the club’s inability to finish.

          That all said, it’s now time for me to share a story with all the Riveting denizens here…

          At the conclusion of the 2019 Annual Member open practice I tarried and watched as Parsons worked out Foord 1-on-1, trying to get her to finish in the box. She took a fairly straightforward variety of shots, both right and left footed, off the dribble and coming toward the 6 from in front of the right post and the left post. Mind you, Parsons was supplying very light, paper-thin defense on Foord, there and no keeper in the goal, and no one else on the field. This went on for about 20 minutes, and Foord missed probably 80+% of her shots. She simply couldn’t put the biscuit in the basket. It was astonishing.

          Now, is that just an inability to finish, or is that a sign that Foord (who is, after all, a long-time pro and Matilda) wasn’t working on the things that Parsons wanted and expected from her, and that Wilkinson had brought her in to provide or develop – in other words, she wasn’t committed to the “culture”?

          I have no idea, but we had a lot of players here in 2019 who couldn’t or didn’t make it work here, and they’re now gone.

          1. So…here’s what I wrote (https://www.stumptownfooty.com/2018/2/6/16911878/thorns-fc-drafts-and-deals) about Foord way the hell back in February, 2018:

            “Foord typically plays as a wide midfielder, either from the left or right flank (although she prefers the right side) and has played at right back, as well. Her rights were transferred to Portland from New Jersey as part of the Allie Long trade. Foord doesn’t seem to be a big scoring threat; in 46 matches over three seasons with Sky Blue she took a total of 16 shots and put 5 on target without scoring. “

            Do maybe the “problem” had nothing to do with “the culture”, but that the Thorns FO completely mis-evaluated Foord and tried to pound her square peg into a round hole?

            Y’think?

          2. I never really understood the Foord trade in the first place. It must have been culture driven, but she wasn’t someone that I ever thought was the top scoring option on a team.

            To be blunt, I think they had so much success with Henry that it was natural to overstate the internationals that were left.

            I do think the first thing the Thorns should do is take care of their international player that is here before they look at what options are out there to shore up the right back position considering how bad this pandemic position has been.

            Maybe buying a draft pick or young player is the better use for the money.

          3. I don’t think it’s difficult to understand, and I don’t think “culture” had anything – or anything more than a minor piece – to do with it and I don’t think it was Henry in particular; I think the FO just got her skillset wrong. They saw what they wanted to see, not what is there.

            The Japanese term is “senshoubyou”, “victory disease”, the notion that whatever you do is going to work because you do it, of seeing what you believe, not what you’re seeing. And our FO has done it more than once.

            They made a poor assessment of her abilities and her fit into the team. Then, when she got hurt, they made a panic buy with AMC and ran into the same problem; they needed a striker and they got a provider and second-option. Andressinha? Same issue – not a bad player, but a bad fit and with the wrong skills for what Parsons wanted to do with her.

            We got Vero and Ano back in 2014; great players, poor fits, and their teams got hammered. We had players like Hanna Terry who sat around unused because we just didn’t know HOW to use them.

            We’ve had some great drafts and made great deals in 2013 and 2016. But overall I’d give our FO not much better than a solid C+ for their entire tenure. For every Henry and Horan we’ve had a Foord or a Lussi; not bad in themselves, but just not a good fit with the team, and not really ways forward. We’ll see how they do in the coming autumn of the Plague Year.

          4. I have to reply to myself here, but I am actually replying to the folks below me.

            We have talked (over on STF and here) about the glut of midfield talent we had in 2017, and how Allie Long wound up coming off the bench.

            The attempt to play Allie and Mandy as a dual pivot in 2017 didnt work, for whatever reason. The midseason shakeup of 2017 led to Allie going to the bench. And as John has noted, something seemed to happen with Allie that year too.

            Even though it was well-known by late-Summer that Mandy would be leaving, Allie apparently had had enough and was out the door.

            Allie wanted to be traded to Seattle, and allocated players seem to have some say where they go via trade. I am not sure if that’s official policy or if it’s just a good practice (given that they work for the USWNT rather than the club team), but they can request a trade if they’re not happy with the club where they are, and they can request a specific destination. Allie wanted Seattle, and our FO complied.

            But then the question would be: how to get something approaching equivalent value for a disgrunted allocated player?

            Foord had an excellent W-League season (9 goals, 4 assists), so on paper it looked like a great solution.

            Foord sustained a lisfranc tear, which is a really difficult injury to come back from, but it can be done. Sam Kerr did it, of course.

            Alas, Foord is no Kerr, and I think that was part of the FO’s flawed thinking – maybe we can get someone enough like Kerr here and develop her?

            All I can say, from what I observed (and shared here) in mid-summer 2019 is that after more than a year of Foord being a Thorn, she still couldn’t do in a 1v1 light workout on an open goal what a good U13 striker should be able to do. And that was astonishing to me.

            I mean, after all, this is a world-class player who has played in top leagues for top-level or near-top teams, who is a fixture on one of the top international sides, and who in the W-League had scored 9 goals in a single season. I know her previous NWSL profile didn’t suggest scoring potency, and our FO should have heeded that, but still, somebody like Foord should be able to shine in a light 1v1 workout.

            Yes, it may have been a case of our FO and coaching staff trying to fit a square peg in a round hole, but again, these are not exceptional skills and Foord simply could not muster them.

            True, it may have been that, on that particular day, Foord was pressing or overthinking, or she got rattled because of how bad she was doing while working with her head coach, etc.

            However, I certainly couldn’t fault Parsons – he was out there working with her after practice and being really gentle and patient with her, from what I could see. And I have to believe he was doing it because he wasn’t getting that kind of production from Foord in matches or during trainings. I didn’t get the sense he was trying to evaluate her, so much as develop her.

            That said, I do not think it unreasonable to expect that even if this isn’t your primary skill set, in a full year or more with a club and having gone through lots of hands-on work (via PT/rehab, at least), and having a coach who is clearly a good communicator and committed to working with players, she should have been able to display a skill level above a good U13 player while taking virtually unmarked shots on an open goal.

            And, that, to me, is about “culture” and “fit” too.

            Why?

            If you want to be somewhere, and the coach tells you what he wants from you, you do your best to do it. If you don’t do it, then you don’t really want to be there. And failing on 80+% of your unmarked practice shots on an open goal from about 10 yards out strongly suggests not putting in the time.

            Now… does this anecdote amount to data? Does this anecdote stand for any of the other players and their finishing problems during Black Autumn, and/or the relevancy “culture” comments Parsons has made?

            I don’t have those answers.

            Soccer is a funny game.

    2. Re Coach Sinclair;
      from what i’ve read/seen from/about her, she seems a “quiet leader” (just a really good player who doesn’t get involved with improving/chastising/imploring/motivating other players- she just goes out and does her job, is easy-going and humble. Doesn’t sound like someone with interest/mindset for coaching.

      Klingenberg, however, has always seemed like a vocal leader (not just in huddles, but on the field) – given her playing resume, she might be a good coaching candidate. If that truly is the case, then it might be great for the team if she was on board with such a long-term plan, and as her first project, could mentor Pogarch into a solid eventual replacement at LB.

  13. And that’s not to say we shouldn’t do all that guessing and hoping. Or enjoy doing just that.

    But I try and remember at all times that I’m just spitballing here; there’s SO much I don’t know and never can or will know, until the league or the team actually does some thing.

    That’s where I think we need to check and second-guess and caveat our guesses and hopes, stuff like deciding that Sophia Smith is the second-best player on the team absent any actual, y’know, playing for the team.

    Is she? I sure as hell hope so!

    But we have no actual, physical proof of that, and won’t until we see her play. Her NCAA pedigree suggests it…but that’s just like the pressers; it’s a statement not (yet) backed by actual performance.

    Hopefully we will get this damn virus tamed to the point where we can see that actual performance…and then? We’ll have some data points to actually discuss.

    Until then, we’re all still in Wolkenkukusheim

  14. I posted a few “new” bits over on STF. Among them…

    NWSL teams are allowed to return to training in their home cities on Aug 17. Possibility of friendlies, small tournaments, other matches this year.

    Transfers and loans, of some duration or other, include Fishlock to a yet-to-be-named WSL club, Taylor to OL, Gunny to Iceland, and – of course – Mewis to Man City.

    And… PTFC Annual Membership/Member Services Manager announced today that Aug 12 is her last day with the club.

    1. This expansion season is going to be very interesting and I think there is going to be a ton of movement.

      I’d love to see us explore using allocation money to buy players. I like how it turned out with Morgan Weaver.

      Courtney Peterson, the Virginia defender from Orlando, would be an interesting target.

      I could be wrong, but I was so looking forward to Chris Henderson’s expansion draft look until I saw the results. Just don’t see name recognition as the primary strategy in protecting players.

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