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.