The Carpenter File

As we all know now, the rumors were true.

Ellie Carpenter asked for, and received, a transfer to Olympique Lyonnais.

We’ve all been discussing this over at the open thread link, but I wanted to open a specific post to talk about something about this that bugs me.

Not so much that it happened.

Carpenter is young, and needs to get a wider experience of the soccer world. She’s also very good, and here was locked into a capped league, so jumping for the big payday is completely understandable.

There’s also the Plague, and despite not handling it nearly as well as places like South Korea and Japan France is doing better than we are (not exactly a high bar; we’re practically the worst in the world outside the dictatorships and the truly impoverished).

That means that, other than the COVID Cup, this NWSL season is a wash, and next season is going to be…well, it might not be, and so her job here might be going away.

So Carpenter had lots of reasons to move, and not nearly as many to stay; I get that, I totally do.

No. It’s part of what I’m increasingly seeing as a pattern, and I want to throw that out here and discuss it:

The Thorns FO seems to have issues when they make some “big moves”.

I talked about this back in December when I went over the “final grades” for 2019. At that time I wrote: “…the troubling part isn’t the average but the progression; it’s down from the high of 2015-2016 even if we accept that year as freakishly good. That’s kind of the problem; if 2015-2016 is the outlier, that makes the meh-years since then the norm. That’s not promising, given the power that’s been assembled around the Dark Tower in Cary. You don’t just walk to Mordor; Portland is going to need more than a bunch of C-grade player moves to unlock the Damned Courage.”

Specifically, after the 2016 season, while doing decent work in general, the Thorns FO has had some troubling player-personnel misses, especially on the biggest moves, starting with the Pugh cock-up in 2016:

  • 2016-2017 – Getting the Mal Pugh draft utterly wrong, losing or getting nothing out of the draftees
  • 2017-2018 – Recovering a bit (drafting Seiler and Ball, signing Carpenter, pulling Purce off the Boston dispersal) but failing hard on all three internationals, Foord in particular being a significantly big miss.
  • 2018-2019 – Charley looks promising, while Ogle and Pogarch are still no more than hints, so a “standing pat” sort of offseason – no real game-changers in this group. Given the collapse in Black Autumn last season standing pat now looks more questionable.
  • 2019-2020 – Big moves; Smith and Weaver in the draft, Rodriguez and Sauerbrunn through trade…but then seemingly blindsided by the Australians’ eagerness to move on and thus losing pieces – pieces for whom the obvious replacements (Ball for Carpenter, Purce for Raso) were dealt away.

So the last three offseasons – from the end of 2016 to the end of 2019 – have been no better than “decent”. We got some decent players, but the “big moves”, like Foord? Didn’t work.

And this past offseason – which still hold promise if the draftees prove as good as we hope, if Rodriguez’s issues were Sky Blue and not her own, if Sauerbrunn holds form for another couple of seasons – featured a couple of big losses again.

To me this looks disturbingly like a pattern, and one that has been mirrored on the pitch. We haven’t kept pace with The Damned Courage. From taking the trophy from them in 2017 to getting run off our home pitch in 2018 to falling in the semifinal last season.

Here’s my take on this; I think the increasing complexity and increasing stakes in the women’s game have begun to elude the wiles of a simple Kiwi centerback-turned-general-manager.

I think it’s getting too difficult to run both the men’s MLS side and the NWSL side (along with the junior squad and the academy and everything else). I don’t think it’s so much Wilkinson’s limitations as the increasing difficulty of trying to keep all that stuff under his hat.

I think it’s time the club sets up a separate GM to run the Thorns’ personnel program.

And I think that GM should be Christine Sinclair.


John Lawes
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28 thoughts on “The Carpenter File

    1. Sinclair is still a useful player, but that would be a great way to help her transition to post playing life.

      1. She’s clearly close to being too slow to play effectively. It seems like a logical progression to move her into a player/manager or player/coach position next season to get her locked into the organization for her post-playing career…

  1. Correct me if my recollection was wrong on the Pugh deal

    1. We had #1 and #2 that year. Then selected Sonnett #1

    2. Rocky Rodriguez was the consensus #2 player in that draft because Keisha Buchanan signed with Lyon. I personally liked Rodriguez and Buchanan more than Sonnett during the draft.

    3. We traded #2 Pick and a #1 in 2017 for Nadia Nadim and the #3 pick. We then traded the #3 pick for the allocation spot that would have been Mallory Pugh

    4. In other ironic aspects, Boston selected Christen Westphal with that pick (we got her) and Purce was actually selected 1 pick before the Portland 2017 draft pick would have happened

    The irony of the names involved is interesting. It would be awesome if we found a way to make Keisha Buchanan a Thorn, but that ain’t happening. From my perspective, the Pugh deal was an interest risk assessment and a sound one if Pugh hadn’t flaked out

    Gavin’s biggest failures to date have been the internationals. He hit big with Henry and Carpenter, but Foord, AMC, and Addresinha were misses. Losing Carpenter is a huge loss and if it was money related … I’m a little bothered by it. I might argue that we should have locked in Carpenter with a bigger deal using allocation money rather than pursue Diani. My bet is it has more to do with how much of a cluster the US is right now.

    Now what? My perspective is we should investigate locking in Rodriguez to a longer term deal. I’d offer an international slot to Orlando for Phoebe McLernan to get some better defender depth. I’d move Seiler to right back as well using her versatility. The international market seems a little dry for defenders and I doubt we could get it situated now anyway.

    1. I think we DID lock in Carpenter. There was the big announcement – first NWSL player to get a multi-year contract. We may have used then-Duffybux for the deal. We’ll never know for sure.

      But then came COVID and I am sure Carpenter lost some enthusiasm for being in the USA. She won’t be playing in front of a crowd in 2020, and maybe not 2021, so the fact that she wouldn’t play in front of a crowd in Lyon (even without COVID) is a wash. At OL, the odds are good that she will play a 22- game season plus UEFA-CL starting in August. That’s not happening in Portland.

      None of the stuff in the prior paragraph has anything to do with the Portland F.O. Were they talking with her regularly? Parsons hinted he was and I hope so after what Raso did. So maybe its just bad alignment of the stars.

      It still worries me that top players don’t want to come/stay here. It can’t be only money – we have Bairdbux we can use to keep an on-the-fence player. And I hope it’s not entirely due to the social/political climate, although it might be. If that changes in the fall, does it help the 2021 Thorns?

      1. Yeah …. I was always a little surprised that we were talking about Diani when we just signed Carpenter to a 3 year deal along with giving up 170k for Sauerbruun and Weaver. I wondered aloud if they offered her a 3 year contract at a discounted rate to accommodate other deals. It just all sounded a little weird at the time.

        This is a bad loss for a team that made what I believe is massive progress. It happened. Now what?

    2. Leaving aside the details, the Pugh thing is disturbing because of the way it reveals a pattern of thinking.

      The FO made a deal where they gave up a known asset (the pick) for a hope, the hope that Pugh would go pro that season. She didn’t, and the asset was lost. It would have taken hardheadedness to refuse to burn the pick if Pugh wouldn’t commit, and we didn’t, apparently preferring to go with the wishful thinking.

      The FO dealt for Foord in the hope that she would turn out to be something she wasn’t (a pure #9) instead of what she was (a useful winger).

      The FO then picked up AMC in the hope that she wold turn out to be a #9 instead of a creator and second option.

      The FO traded – in their defense, a fairly worthless asset (Jordan) – for Andressinha in hopes that she’d turn out to be an outstanding NWSL AM, instead of the fairly fragile squad player she is.

      The FO seems to have been either unable or unwilling to do what it took to retain the Australians, and unaware enough that they were contemplating flight so as to be unprepared when they ran.

      Merritt’s tweet suggests he’s going on wishful thinking that Pogarch or one of the other rostered players has equivalent skills to Carpenter.

      All of this suggests that the FO has a disturbing tendency to see what they want to see.

    3. The issues I see with this are:
      “…we should investigate locking in Rodriguez to a longer term deal.” Why now? I know I keep saying this, but we don’t have the slightest idea yet whether Rodriguez was spectacularly unproductive with Sky Blue because of her, or because of Sky Blue. IF she tears up the pitch and bags the Golden Boot from the COVID Cup? Then it’s worth starting to think about. But not until then, at absolute best. Let’s let her prove she’s worth a big deal before throwing big deal money at her.

      “I’d offer an international slot to Orlando for Phoebe McLernan to get some better defender depth.” McClernon seems like a decent rookie, but why her in particular? Why not look for a player with more experience? She’s also stronger at CB, which seems like less of a need that FB right now.

      “I’d move Seiler to right back as well using her versatility. “ Given that we have several RBs but few CDMs, is this really the best use of her skillset?

      1. 1. I have faith that Rodriguez will be a good player for us and bringing stability would be a decent item. The reality is that the Australians had no tie to Portland. I think Rodriguez could of handled correctly.

        2. I mention McLernan because I think she’s potentially available for nothing more than an international slot and could be useful. I’m not even sure if Nally is in camp.

        3. To me, it seems like the likelihood is that we plug and play Rodriguez at the 6 with Sinclair and Horan keeping in their same positions for continuity. I believe Bourielle and Salem are decent backups at the 6 even if we move Sinclair up. The right back position is a sieve, so Seiler to that position makes sense to me.

        1. As I noted above; “faith” is how the FO got burned on Pugh, Foord, AMC, Andressinha. I’ve learned not to take ANYthing on faith with this organization. There’s no particular reason to think that Rodriguez’s issues in Jersey weren’t her own rather than the shitshow around her, and the FO simply mis-evaluated her the way they did AMC and Foord, or the way they found no useful roles for Dagny and Andressinha.

          Plus there is a ton of time to make her a bigger offer if that turns out not to be true. Add to that parking her at the 6 is possibly the least effective matchup given her skillset and where she plays for Costa Rica and has played elsewhere. If you want her to shine, that seems like the least likely place for her to do so.

          As far as RB, well…I’m gonna bet you’ll see Reynolds there. But the real bottom line is that anyone we slot in is going to be “not-Carpenter”, and will be less of an attacking threat. Reynolds is a perfectly serviceable defender but lacks the pace and attacking chops Carpenter brought to the position. So is Seiler, for that matter. Neither one will help going forward as much as Carpenter did.

          1. Rumor is that Parsons plans to use Horan and Rocky as dual 8s.

            So, I guess that means…

            Seiler is our 6,

            Kling, Menges, Bruun and Reynolds hold down the back.

            Franch or Eck is in goal.

            Sinc, Smith, and either Charley or Weaver provide the attack. Unless, for some reason, Tobin materializes for us, and that pushes Charley or Weaver to the bench.

            All the rest are depth.

          2. We run in semantic circles. Playing two 8s is a nice way of saying that Rodriguez and Horan are interchangeable because we are going to be using our 6 in an attacking mold.

            I’ve expected this to be the case since we acquired Rodriguez, though my preference is to move Sinclair forward. I do believe unless she is attacking, we limit some of her effectiveness.

            Parsons runs a 4-2-3-1. Sure, he’ll play around with a 4-3-3 and a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond but I’m not expecting him to trot out a new system.

            Like it or not, Seiler isn’t playing over Rodriguez, Horan, or Sinclair in our traditional set. She’s not talented enough to beat out any theee of those players even though she is useful

            While Rodriguez is more effective as a 8, until I see Parsons move Sinclair back to the 9, I’m assuming Sinclair is our 10 and Horan is our 8.

            I get that some players have disappointed in the past, but this is about getting our best 11 on the field. Reynolds and Maddie aren’t in that group. Hell, I’d argue that CelBee, Salem, and Seiler are better.

            Suggesting Seiler doesn’t have the defensive chops and athleticism to play CB ..: then throwing out that Kling and Reynolds will both be in the lineup is kind of an interesting position to take.

          3. So…here’s two things about that:

            One, I pretty much agree with everything you said, and
            Two, I think it just points up how troubling this whole offseason is becoming.

            The big issue here is that Rodriguez is an attacker. Period. Full stop. She hasn’t had a season in the NWSL where her tackling success topped 65% and her duel wins topped 50% since 2016. She’s not a horrible defender, but she’s not that great, either. Her default mode is “attacking midfielder”.

            But so is Horan. Better than Rodriguez (tackles about 70% of the time, wins between 50-60% of her duels).

            And we’ve seen this before; the ill-fated Horan/Long double pivot, where both players wanted to go forward, and neither was particularly effective holding down the back of midfield. If that’s what the FO and Coach Parsons want to re-create?


            To really work the double pivot – in terms of what we’ve seen here – you need a Nagbe-type and a Chara-type; one who’s primarily the attacker but who can sorta-kinda defend in a pinch, the other the midfield destroyer who can pass. Amandine Henry, if you will.

            Since we never replaced Henry we’ve had some troubling times at DM. We keep banging on about how the team needs that steel, and if the FO really thinks Rodriguez is Henry, all I can say is whatever they’re smoking, I want some.

            I think – I hope – they’re not serious, and they plan to field a side that is best adapted to the tactics of Parsons’ 4-2-3-1…or he adapts his preferred formation to the squad we have, not the squad the FO thinks we have…

            That’s why I’m not sure that what we’re going to see is the “best 11” – if by “best” you mean “the best players based on pure skills”. Instead, I think we are likely to see someone like Reynolds – who, you’re right, is well down the depth chart – simply because she fits into the TEAM better based on experience alongside her teammates and Parsons’ tactical setup.

            Because if not…if the club really DID pick up Rodriguez thinking to sit her over the centerbacks as a pure 6?

            That’s troubling.

        2. I don’t believe that Rodriguez is a waste at a 6, but I do think that Horan at the 10 and Rodriguez at the 8 is easily the best option for those two players. I also think that it masks Sinclair better than her at the 10.

          I’d do that and put Seiler at 6, but that requires admitting what we need to with Sinclair.

          How I’d cycle this?

          1. Christine Sinclair
          2. Morgan Weaver

          Left Wing
          1. Tobin Heath
          2. Simone Charley

          Right Wing
          1. Sophia Smith
          2. Tyler Lussi

          Offensive Mid
          1. Lindsey Horan
          2. Emily Ogle

          Central Mid
          1. Rocky Rodriguez
          2. Celeste Bourielle

          Defensive Mid
          1. Gabrielle Seiler
          2. Angela Salem

          If they move Sinclair to the offensive mid, then that pushes both Horan and Rodriguez back. Seiler would need to play and right back is the weakest position. I’ve always felt that Seiler could be an outstanding full back. Since I believe that Parsons won’t be creative, that’s my position

          1. I’ll also say that with Menges and Sauerbruun at CB, it gives us a ton of flexibility with how we use Rodriguez if we play her at the 6, but I fear our fullbacks lack of athleticism will create issues with that strategy. We will miss Carpenter badly

          2. Seiler would probably be fine. She lacks the offensive chops Carpenter had but then, who does.

            Thing is…Reynolds, or, hell, Hubly or Boureille would be fine there, too. Seiler WAS our best DM, tho, before the injury.

            But we can haggle over this all week and won’t settle anything. Let’s see how Parsons rolls out the squad this coming weekend…

  2. I love the idea of Sinclair for GM. Keeping Angerer here all these years since her playing days has been a clear win. Let’s keep that going.

    1. I love the idea of keeping Sinclair on in some capacity, but I’m not sure she’ll ever be the kind of wheeler-dealer a GM needs to be. I’d say a more likely trajectory would involve assistant coaching and then coaching at the school/club/DA level and possibly eventually moving on to being head coach for the Thorns or UP. She seems to be much more of a teacher than a deal maker.

      1. You could be entirely right about Sinclair not being a deal maker. But that is only part of the job. When you want to make a deal, your target first has to answer your call. Who wouldn’t take a call from Christine Sinclair? You’ve got to know the players, managers, owners, league officials, etc. and have them know you. Again, who better? You need to be able to tell stories about Portland, about the Thorns, the history, the supporters, the facilities, the staff, the vibe. Who would know that better than Sinc?

        You can have a team lawyer do the actual contractual negotiations – first job is getting the players you need and that starts with helping them want to come here.

        Does Sinclair WANT to do this role? Would that be fulfilling her post-playing days dream? Quite possibly not, but if so, I’d have her in an instant.

    1. And what was interesting is that she DIDN’T do that when Carpenter was called up for WC19, Ball did. Seiler played exactly one match in the backline last season, in an oddball 3-5-2 where she played the left side centerback.

      Again, I don’t see a huge difference between Seiler vs Reynolds at RB. Both will be competent defenders. Neither will bring much attack. Both are a significant step down from Carpenter.

      1. I’d suggest that Seiler is more athletic than Reynolds at this point. Just because neither is Carpenter doesn’t mean that one isn’t more athletic than the other at this point in their career.

      2. Seiler much more comfortable in the attack than Reynolds. Reynolds tells to lob the long ball, while gabby will dribble farther up the pitch, he said after a few screwdrivers.

  3. Enh. A Prius is faster than a pickup truck, and both will get you where you want to go. Neither one is gonna run in the Monaco Grand Prix. I don’t think the value of putting Seiler out wide is worth the loss of having her lock down the midfield…but like I said; I think we’ll have to wait and see.

    Overall, though…I don’t have a great sense that we’ve figured out the Damned Courage. We’ve got a collection of rooks and older, slower veterans, and I think we’re going to miss the qualities that Raso and Carpenter brought – veteran savvy and youthful pace – more than we realize until we see the Damned come at us. Simone Charley can’t do it all…

    I hope not. I hope Parsons has a cunning plan more cunning than a cunning fox appointed Dean of Cunning University. But to me this has an increasing feel of “been there done that”…

  4. If it were me, I would park the bus in front of goal and hope for a quick counter attack with Charlie , Smith or Weaver. A 0-0 draw, after the 6-0 thumping from last year, would be a good result. We can then start to open things up against Orlando.

    1. So go with 4-1-4-1? Kling-Menges-‘Brunn-Reynolds, Seiler, Weaver-Horan-Rodriguez-Charley (Heath?), Sinclair/Smith?

      Not sure how we score out of that, but if we get a scoreless draw, yeah…

      Still, the long-term objective has to be to beat the Damned regularly, not just bunker underneath them. I’m not sure we have an idea how to do that yet…

  5. Orlando has withdrawn from the Challenge Cup. This means that last place is now up for grabs!

    Seriously, it seems that a complete postponement is now in order. Utah is now struggling with COVID and price of failure is very high. As it is, I hope that the Pride who have it get a light case. A bad case could be career-ending, to say nothing of potentially life-ending.


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