My old Slide Rule Pass compa C.I. has been filling the Dead Time with soccer (ummm…maybe I don’t want to use that term. Let’s call it “The Between Time” instead.) with his memories of favorite Timbers players.
As with so many of C.I.’s good ideas, I was on that like a New York City subway rat on a piece of pepperoni pizza. We’ve had some fascinating Thorns pass through the Red and the Black. Can we take a moment from worrying about infection to discuss them?
Why not? Since I’ve got my Thorns memory box open, here in the Fortress of Solitude, let’s paw through it and talk about some of our memories; favorites, not-so-favorites, heroes, villains, and maybe even some oddities.
Unlike C.I., I’m not going to make this a just a favorites or “best of”. Instead, I’m going to discuss players that interest me and I invite you to throw out yours in the comments. We don’t have anything new at Stumptown, so let’s move the conversation over here.
There are a couple of rules, though:
- The player has to have SOME sort of Thorns c.v. Hanna Terry was always a mystery to me – why the hell was she here so long and yet did nothing? But that’s ALL there is to her story, and since we have no way of knowing the “why”, it’s not really useful banging on about her. Let’s keep this to people who, y’know, actually played here.
- Let’s keep things “nice”. I know there are a few players that I have kind of personal grudge against because of things they did (or do, or didn’t do) on the pitch. It’s tempting to ring out these players because, let’s face it, a good diatribe is easy and fun to write and read. But it’s also a sort of cheap way to score points. I’m not saying that we have to be sunny, happy people about everyone…but let’s try and keep things in perspective; I can’t think of anyone outside the great monsters of human history who has no virtues. Let’s try and be reasonable.
- This is an “opinion” piece…but let’s try and make them informed opinions. I can’t see any value in just shouting “So-and-so really sucked!” Yes, so-and-so may have sucked. But why? What were her issues? And were they her issues, or larger issues with her teammates, or possibly her coaches..? Let’s try and think about these players and what made them successes…or failures.
So…are we good? K.
First, let me explain why I’m not making this a “best of” or “favorite” list like C.I. is doing.
Simply stated, when it comes to best of and favorites…ummm…what’s to discuss?
The obvious candidates are just too obvious. Top five attacking Thorns? Gee…Christine Sinclair? No, duh? Hell, we all know Sinc; GOAT, Captain General for Life, Officer of the Order of Canada. She’s a Thorns and Portland soccer legend, and why the hell we’re not casting that statue now I’ll never know.
Same thing goes for The Notorious Tobin Fucking Heath; there’s almost nothing to say about Heath that we haven’t said or that you and I don’t know…
(Except this; I always remember Heath as what the U.S. Navy calls a “plankholder” – a member of the crew that comes on board right after the launch.
But she started the NWSL season playing for PSG and didn’t arrive in Portland until July. She played only seven matches in the 2013 championship season, starting with the 1-1 draw against Western New York here. She picked up two assists in July (in the 3-3 draw against Chicago) but didn’t score a goal until August. She scored in each playoff match, however, including the famous “stand there and look pretty” winner in the Final in Rochester.
Was she still a huge part of the first star? Ohhellyes.
Just not quite as big as I remember, and that says something about the power of selective memory…)
Same with Hayley Raso, or Nadia Nadim, or Vero Boquete. We all knew them, we all recognized their quality. They’re kind of no-brainers. We can still enjoy talking about them, but…
Working this up reminded me of some of the players that intrigued me or fascinated me that don’t still loom quite so large in team history and our memories. Players who were role players, fringers, shoulda-beens, almost-theres…players who either shone brightly but faded quickly, or who should have and, for some reason, just didn’t. Or players who we saw so briefly and who played so cryptically that they remain mysteries to me. Or players that just reached out to me for some reason or other.
Today I want to start with the enigmas; players that I never really “got” – either I wanted to be great and who weren’t, or who I thought could never succeed and did, or who were just odd and unusual and mysterious.
After this, I want to open the memory box again in the following order:
2. The blessed and beloved – players who came out of nowhere, on whom the sun shone unexpectedly, or who were fan favorites,
3. The troubled and tragic – players who struggled here, or whose efforts just weren’t perhaps rewarded as well as they should have been, or who were cut short by misfortune,
4. The grinders and gifted – players that left a mark on your shins as well as the record books on their way to keeping the opponents honest, and players who had some hard, bright brilliance above the everyday, who, every so often, were touched by the soccer gods.
I’m also REALLY open to suggestions. Anything else you’d like to discuss? Favorite matches? Favorite (and least-favorite) kits? Favorite plays or moments? Let me know and we can discuss. We’ve got nothing but time.
So. The Enigmas
Here’s my first, an early player from whom much was expected but who came and went so quickly that it felt like she left not so much as a glimmer in the heavens.
Nikki Washington was a plankholder; she started the very first-ever Thorns match, the 1-1 away draw in Kansas City.
She was also the original #21 before Hayley Raso came along and owned it.
I remember being pleased when Washington signed with the Thorns as a free agent in 2013. She’d had a long and successful career at that point, going all the way back to the WPS. Washington was a pure attacker, forward and winger with torrid pace. We just got to watch a replay of the first home match – the April 2-1 win over the then-Seattle Reign – and it reminded me of how exciting she could be, tearing up the right touchline and torching opposing fullbacks. She dimed Marian Dougherty from a setpiece that rang up the Thorns first ever home goal in that match.
Unfortunately, Washington was never really able to better that performance. She did score a goal – in Washington in early May – and picked up another assist in 11 matches. But she always seemed just a trifle out of position, or slow, or disconnected with her teammates. She just sort of faded out of the XI until she picked up a knock in July and went on the DL July 31 and never returned.
She was traded to Houston in the offseason and had a cup of coffee there before moving on to Boston, where she played much of 2015. Finally retired at the end of that season. She’s now an assistant coach at University of Washington.
The weird part is that I’m not sure what happened to her here, and happened so quickly. She had hell of a resume and looked tremendously promising in April and May of 2013 but drifted out of the attack as other players stepped up, and was gone by midsummer.
I began writing the Thorns that season, and by midsummer I was ranting in Slide Rule Pass that she needed to sit if she couldn’t find more bite in her game.
If there is an answer to the Mystery of Nikki Washington I think it was the emergence of Mana Shim.
Shim became the versatile attacking piece that Washington was supposed to have been, and Washington found herself sitting watching the little walk-on play her way into the record books and the hearts of the fans.
Washington didn’t dress for the Final, so I wonder how fondly she recalls that season.
What happened? Did Washington just hit the wall physically? She was only 25 when she played here, so that seems unlikely. Was she unable to adapt her game, successful elsewhere, to Cindy Parlow Cone’s offensive set? Did she had troubles in the locker room and didn’t gel with her teammates? Was it just bad timing, or sheer bad luck?
It ‘s unlikely that we’ll ever know.
The only player ever allocated to the Thorns through the Federación Mexicana de Fútbol Asociación, A.C. – FMF – was forward Jackie Acevedo.
The FMF and the NWSL had a deeply twisted relationship, and the Thorns’ part was perhaps among the most twisted and, perhaps, emblematic of the whole troubled story.
In the inaugural season the FMF allocated two players. Neither were with the squad when the season opened; defenders Luz del Rosario Saucedo Soto is supposed to have failed her fitness test, and Rubí Marlene Sandoval was reported to have been injured and removed from the list.
The FMF never replaced them. Jackie Lynn Acevedo Rangel was allocated the following season.
She played her college ball in the States before playing a couple of seasons in the WPSL. She was a beast in the NAIA, scoring 80 goals in three seasons, so there was a fair amount of anticipation of her arrival and some serious interest in her as a possible partner for Alex Morgan, whose first season had been decent but less than the goalfest that many of us had anticipated.
Instead Acevedo played a total of fifteen minutes in two games in April; a late sub against Houston, and then at Sky Blue. She rode the bench for six games and then was out of the eighteen by the end of May. She was gone from the team by the end of the season.
All the FMF players were gone by the end of the following season. The federation’s stated reason was that none of its players saw the pitch in 2015, but the Liga MX Femenil kicked off the following year, so the problem may have been more one of wanting a domestic league than not being satisfied with the deal with the one in El Norte.
Acevedo was out of the game as a player after her time in Portland. She’s a coach back in her college town of Austin, and seems to have fond memories of her time as a professional.
But I’ve always wondered; what happened? Or, rather, why nothing happened?
Acevedo arrived here as the peer – at least technically – of Sinc and Morgan and KK and Buehldozer. She practiced and played with the squad through the beginning of the 2015 season, and slipped onto the pitch for a handful of minutes…and, then, somehow, for some reason, her Thorns career never was, never really even began, and I don’t know why and probably never will.
The last enigma might well also be one of the more unfortunate stories in the Thorns’ memory box; that of Genoveva “Ayo” Añonma Nze.
Ayo was a classic Paul Riley signing, like Veronica Boquete a veteran professional and international. She was picked in the winter of 2015 with the understanding that she, like Vero, would be arriving late after the World Cup.
Equatorial Guinea went out early, though, and Ayo played against Boston in mid-May. She scored her only Thorns goal in the 2-1 loss to the Spirit in Maryland at the end of May and then started another four straight matches – a win, two draws, and a loss – until she came off the bench in the home win over Seattle in the third week of July.
She was in and out of the starting XI for the rest of the season, either subbing in or getting subbed off late. She dressed for the final three games of the regular season but saw no minutes.
She was released in October.
Here’s the thing; Ayo had been huge in the Frauenbundesliga.
A freaking monster. For six seasons. Thirty-seven goals in fifty games at Jena. Sixty – sixty! – goals in seventy-nine games for Turbine Potsdam. Why did Riley want her? THAT’s why Riley wanted her.
After Portland she…well, I don’t know what the hell happened. Over the next five years she played for six clubs and had success nowhere; Suwon in the ROK in 2016, then Atlético Madrid, Maccabi Kishronot Hadera, MSV Duisburh, Leones Vegetarianos, and finally, with Deportive Evinayong back in Equatorial Guinea this season.
Six goals. In five years.
I still remember the anticipation that ran through the fanbase before her arrival. We knew about the Frauenbundesliga. We knew were getting one of the best, one of the most dangerous strikers in Germany, meaning among the best in the world. In a season that was going wrong, here was hope.
Ayo just fell apart in Portland. And after Portland..? What the fuck happened? Did she just run completely out of gas here? Was her confidence utterly shattered in twelve games? Did we break her beyond repair?
I got nothin’.
I can’t end on that down note. So here’s one last story from today’s memory box.
Sinead Farrelly is the only one of our four players who wasn’t an attacker. She was brought in to stiffen the midfield in January, 2014. She was, like Ayo, a perfect Riley hire; a soccer journeywoman who had played from Greece to Kansas City and in the WPS before the NWSL. She’d played for Riley in Philadelphia in 2011, and he traded a draft pick to get her from Kansas City.
She started the very first match of 2014 and went on to play another seventeen matches that season, starting sixteen of them.
Oh. My. God.
She was…not good.
No, she was not not-good. She was utterly overwhelmed, making positional errors and giving away passes as quickly as she gave away dangerous setpieces from fouls forced by duels and tackles she lost. All that summer I raged and tore my digital hair at Slide Rule Pass questioning why Riley the hell kept playing this irredeemable hacker?!
The offseason passed. The draft and the transfer windows came and went. Farrelly’s name remained on the roster.
I despaired. We were doomed. Even her rocking the Riveters’ polka dot headscarf in her team picture couldn’t lift me out of my fog of gloom. She should have been waived, or traded. She just couldn’t cut it.
April came…and so did Boston, for the home opener.
And Farrelly scored.
The opening goal. On a sweet 21st minute volley off a corner, just like she did that kind of stuff all the time. And she kept on, killing it in midfield on the way to a 4-1 win.
I remember standing on the concourse afterwards utterly gobsmacked. What the hell had just happened?
What had happened was that Farrelly was a woman transformed. She controlled the her section of midfield like an irascible goldfish patrolling her tank, tackled and won balls in the air, and provided good service going forward. She scored another goal, a thumping header, in a 2-1 win over Sky Blue in July. She had suddenly become a terrific player.
Why? I have no idea? Riley wasn’t known as for player development; none of his other Thorns players made anything like that sort of leap, either that season or the season before.
I think it was Farrelly all by her ownself. She’d figured something out, unlocked the next level, and in a grim season Sinead Farrelly became a rare bright spot, a transformation, St. Sinead wearing the Crown of Thorns.
She was the revelation of the 2015 season.
Since it seems to be my fate today to tell stories without happy endings, in September 2015 Farrelly was badly injured in an auto accident – neck and back, as well as a severe concussion. She spent 2016 on the DL. She retired that December that year.
The enigma here, if there is one, is simply how high she might have flown had she not been involved in the Riley 2015 trainwreck (or had Riley had a more successful tenure and that trainwreck never occurred – and isn’t THAT an untold story..?) and not traded to Boston in the offseason, and then caught up in the injury accident. (and thanks to bfredrix for reminding me of what happened in the real timeline.)
I think she might have been a great player on the 2016 and 2017 Thorns, playing alongside Lindsey Horan and Amandine Henry. As with all good enigmas…we’ll never know.
But we will still always have her magical 2015; a warm lighted window shining out on a cold, dark and dreary day.
You really rocked that scarf.
Next week – The Loved Ones.
- 2023 Cup Tie: Matchday 2 - May 30, 2023
- Thorns FC: Turn and Turnabout - May 28, 2023
- The Thorns Prediction Game - May 24, 2023
14 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Memory Box 1 – The Enigmas”
I would add Dani Foxhoven to this list. She was on the inaugural squad and carried a load of high expectations due to her great play at UP. For the Thorns, she was a super-sub (pretty-OK-sub?) who scored four goals.
Then, she was just gone. And to Seattle. Leaving an acrimonious trail of complaints behind. She hinted that there was a major rift in the locker room over salaries – that the minimum wage players were looked down on and that Cindy Parlow Cone was oblivious. No other 2013 Thorn has said anything like that, even another who left for Seattle under a cloud. Mana Shim was not one to sugar-coat things and she was a minimum wage player in 2013, but had nothing bad to say. So maybe it was true – we know that CPC left that offseason – and it’s too uncomfortable for others to discuss. Or maybe it was sour-grapes from a player used to being the star but now not good enough.
The Reign reported in 2016 that Foxhoven was coaching at Northern Purdue in Indiana. The trail ends there – she is not on the coaching roster any longer.
I should add that Foxhoven has a chapter in Gwendolyn Oxenham’s book, Under the Lights and In the Dark. It’s tough reading – she did NOT have an easy start to her professional soccer life. I asked Gwen if there was more in the story about Dani’s time in Russia. She said there was; much darker stuff that she could not put in the book.
Returning to Portland must have been a huge relief for Foxhoven. But it sounds like her hopes were dashed. So maybe bitterness, if that’s what it was, shouldn’t be a surprise.
Nikki Washington when I watched that that first game Providence Park recently, I thought wow I really don’t remember her well even though I was at the game and remember Marian’s goal well. She had some pace. Like you said maybe she just didn’t have enough bite.
Ayo: That is the strangest story and thank you for filling in her history after the Thorns. That young woman fell off a cliff performance-wise. When she was here, she seemed small, shy and too easily knocked around, but she came from the Frauenn-Bundesliga there are a lot of bull-dozers there. Confidence is a quirky thing, she must have been truly shaken by her failure here. I knew you were going to have her in your list and after reading your story I am totally stunned and even more perplexed.
Sinead Farrelly was a good way to end because her first year was so strange. I never criticized her play, but I was like… hmmmmm what does Paul Riley see that I don’t and people like you and others that I respect weren’t seeing. Then 2015, What a Redemption! I was so happy for her and her vocal detractors all gave her the props she deserved. I see her occasionally at Thorn’s games and she seems to be a genuinely nice person. That auto accident was bum luck, she deserved more opportunity.
Dani Foxhoven could have been included. As Richard noted she was featured in Gwendolyn Oxenhams book. Before she came to the Thorns she had a nightmare experience playing in Russia that left her with gastro-intestinal problems that affected her energy levels. There may have been some bitterness after that experience. The lesson she may have taken was you need to be more of an advocate for yourself and not willing to put up with anything.
Foxhoven was a favorite of mine, and I wanted to talk about her in Part 3 because of just what you discuss, her troubles and trials trying to just make a living playing the sport she loved.
The 2013 season itself is kind of an enigma. So many untold stories, CPC being one of them (I heard someone who knew several of the players remark that CPC’s role on the team was to “hand out the orange slices”, i.e. the equivalent of the soccer-mom-coach on the kid team who has nothing to offer technically or tactically…) as was the whole question of who was or wasn’t pulling their weight (Foxhoven implied that the allocated stars were jakin’ it and the minimum-wage players were getting muled, so, yeah, there’s a real mystery there – was it the ugly truth, or was it sour grapes..?)
I always wanted Foxhoven to have a happier ending here than she did. But, unfortunately, life has a way of giving you the story you get, not the story you want to get.
As I recall, Farrelly is another member of the story-you-get club. IIRC she missed a number of games, and probably a number of starts, because of what the NWSL informatively called “illness”, presumably as opposed to injury. I don’t want to speculate on what illness she may have had, but it doesn’t seem like a stretch to blame her poor season on some long lasting malady, something debilitating when it wasn’t disabling. I haven’t found much on Youtube from early 2014, but I think I remember that in her first couple of games she was pretty good. Then she was a disaster, and I couldn’t understand why Riley kept playing her.
After 2015, I was really disappointed to lose her to Boston. She had become one of my favorite players. I don’t think she played for the Breakers before the car wreck ended her career. It’s hard not to think about how things might have gone better for her – and maybe, in some parallel universe, they did.
Not exactly a mystery player, but a mystery to me has been Jessica MacDonald’s experience in Portland. She apparently felt very little accommodation from the club for her situation as a single mom away from home. Given how eager Riley was to bring her to Portland, I was surprised that she felt unwelcome and unsupported, especially since she’s now apparently thriving under the same coach. Is there a parallel here with Dagny? Very few players seem to have anything bad to say about support from the club, so what’s the story here?
Thanks, by the way, for keeping up a Thorns conversation when STF seems to have succumbed to the virus.
I think that Jess McDonald got kind of a raw deal. She exploded at about the same time that Alex Morgan was returning to fitness. Morgan was the marquee player for the early Thorns, and I can’t help but suspect that Riley was under tremendous pressure from the FO to play Morgan over McDonald even as Morgan was dead cold and McD was tearing up the league. Combine that with the difficulty she had trying to make a living playing soccer and raising her little one..? I’m not surprised that she came away feeling pretty negative about the club.
I remember her husband trying to start a chant to get Jess on the pitch. Riley was subbing her in really late and hubby wanted her getting more minutes. This was when we were at Memorial, and losing. I believe it was the first trip there, so 2014. I just recall being surprised that a family member would be so aggressive and critical of the coach. I don’t know if this had any bearing on Jess’ exit from Portland but if hubby was her agent it might have.
The odd thing is that Riley got her back at NCC. Perhaps her situation and needs had changed in the interim, so Riley could feel good bringing her back. Maybe it was Gavin who couldn’t make a deal and she wasn’t a hill that 2014 Riley wanted to die on. Jess 2.0 has prospered tremendously, which is good to see.
I have to think – given the subsequent reconnection – that Riley 1) liked what he was seeing from Jess McDonald, but 2) was getting big pressure from the FO – hard to say if it was Gavin, Merritt, or both – to get Morgan back on the pitch. I can see that being a hard hill to die on; McDonald up to that point had been the epitome of “journeywoman” – played a ton of places, never really excelled – while Morgan was still “Baby Horse” and coasting on the fumes of her huge 2012 USWNT season.
But that kinda comes back to the whole “what if Riley doesn’t auger in” thing. What if he DOES keep McDonald on the pitch, what if she keeps on the tear she was on when she was benched, what if she leads the team to the Final and 2014 is a consecutive championship season..?
So many ifs there, but…
Funny you should mention Hayley Raso, because in a way she’s an enigma player to me. We all loved (and love) her, she was the Riveter’s MVP, she was always out there making a huge impact on the game…. but guess how many goals per season, on average, she scored while here?
Three. Three goals per season, or more exactly twelve total regular-season goals in four seasons. How could someone apparently so good have only three goals per season? Especially, a *forward* who was so good? She did do a lot things that didn’t get credited to her, like the game-winning goal that she shot against the Damned Courage last summer — the one that caromed off two other players on its way into the goal, so it didn’t count for her tally. And she was always stretching defenses out of shape with her speed down the right wing, allowing other players to find space. But still, for someone so high-profile that everyone sees as a really good player, you’d think she would have more goals to her name.
Her stats still mystify me.
Raso is a puzzle. Here are some thoughts based mainly on my memory, which is as retentive as a stainless steel sieve.
When she first came to Portland, Raso had a pretty weak shot, and she knew it. Even when her speed and anticipation put her in a favorable position, she often seemed more anxious to draw a foul and a PK than to actually shoot. So that accounts for a couple more goals that she earned but didn’t get credit for. Of course it didn’t take long for opposing defenses (and the refs) to notice, and that tactic became less effective.
Her shot improved, and so did her ball-handling and so did opposing defenses. As you mentioned, she was good at creating space in front of goal, but one would think that that would lead to some assists. I can recall two or three “hockey assists” but no soccer assists in her last couple of years here.
Her explosive acceleration made her fun to watch, and a small player who is so aggressive and fearless is always appealing, as was the sense that she was terrorizing the opposing defense. Appealing, but maybe not really very effective, at least as far as her own shooting was concerned. It would be interesting to know what her assists would have been if she had partnered with an efficient striker.
Raso took a looooong time to become effective in front of goal, and her progress was crippled (in more ways than one) by her horrible back injury. Add to that her position – I’ve always thought of her more as a winger than a true center-forward and, as Constant Weeder points out, when you’re a winger and you don’t HAVE a good center-forward? You got problems.
Raso always struck me as a good “second option” sort of attacker, and her stats seem to back that up. Four goals a season is fine if you’re playing beside someone who’s knocking in eight or twelve, and when players like Nadim or Morgan or Horan or Sinc or Heath were doing that? That worked. It was only at times like the end of last season that everyone else ran dry and Raso couldn’t help make up the shortfall…
To me the mystery of Raso is…did the FO know she was looking elsewhere? If so, then the Purce trade seems curious, in that it leaves Portland without a veteran right wing option, Maybe Smith starts and plays out wide right…but that’s a lot to ask a rook. But if the FO was totally blindsided…then it makes sense; Raso and Purce overlap skillsets a lot and Raso works with Carpenter better. So you trade Purce to get Rodriguez and play Raso in front of Carpenter.
I’ll miss Ribbons. No, she wasn’t the complete striker, but she was an exciting, talented player.
Another Raso mystery: Why was her back injury treated the way it was on the field? And did that have a bearing on her departure?
I’m not a medical person, but when I saw Raso being lifted onto a stretcher after obviously suffering some kind of back injury, my immediate thought was, “Where is the backboard? Where is the neck brace?” You regularly see those used in much less obvious circumstances. Then her stretcher was set down near the field and left there for what seemed like a lifetime to me, probably an eternity to her. WTF? The ambulance was right there, Did they seriously think she was going to hop up and re-enter the game? As it turned out her spinal cord was not endangered, but there was no way anyone could have known that at the time.
AFAIK Raso herself has not complained about her treatment in US or local media, although she did mention in a couple of Australian interviews that she was dissatisfied with it. I have no idea whether this was a factor in her departure, but surely the FO must have been aware of the potential for a rift. I doubt we’ll ever know more than we do now, but it’s hard not to wonder.
I’m very much not sure how well the NWSL ensures that all the venues have professional medical treatment staff on hand. I know the Thorns do because I’ve shot the shit with the paramedics in the tunnel outside their shop near 110. But I have a suspicion that a LOT of other venues don’t have paramedic-grade medical people on hand, and that match really sent up red flags for me. Yes, that should be back injury 101; stabilize completely before transport, assume the worst and keep stabilization in place until the x-rays show differently.
I can’t help but think that did have an effect on her outlook. And, don’t forget that it wasn’t THAT long ago that Morgan and Rapinoe were involved in the infamous Bedbug Incident…the NWSL still has some ways to go to shake off the rinky-dink minor-league trappings that went with being a startup pro league. I think things are better, but the UEFA zone has been doing this a lot longer and is likely to be better at it (tho there the issues are simply sexist prejudice and lack of funding…
I agree. When I watched that on TV I was thinking they are not being careful enough. I think Raso is studying to be an EMT and I am pretty sure she was not impressed with either the Spirit or the Thorns handling of her injury. I have never seen anything she has said directly but there were subtle things that made me feel she was unhappy about it. I will miss her a lot. Even if she was not efficient she was exciting and yes winger is probably her better position. I doubt we will see her again but I will always follow her career.