“O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.”Psalms 63:1
The past week I wanted to highlight the weird goin’s-on along the Wasatch Front (which haven’t got any less weird since then, BTW…) so I wrote a little post about it.
What got to me was this response, from longtime FOTB Roses:
“Please just talk about the Thorns! Whatever floats yr boat – I am so thirsty for Thorns coverage.”
I hear you, Roses.
I think we’re all tired of 2020. The Plague just sucks. In all the horrible Plague ways, of course; sick and dying people, lives disrupted, jobs lost, businesses closed.
But even for those of us so far untouched – and I have been largely untouched so far (here’s hoping!); no one I know has gotten really sick, no one has died, I still have my job and my company seems to be strong enough…perhaps the “worst” thing in my life during the Plague Year has been the loss of the Toffee Club, one of my favorite soccer bars here in Portland.
When that’s the “worst” you can complain about? In the Plague Year?
You’re a lucky person, and so I have been.
But the case counts are up, and the vaccines are still half a year away, so I’m still tucked down deep inside my foxhole. Wearing my little paper mask every time I go out, shying away from people like a vampire from a sunny day.
I don’t go…well, anywhere. Grocery shopping, and through the drive-up to the coffee kiosk or the burger joint if I forget my lunch. I don’t go to the gym to workout, or to the archery range, or to a bar or restaurant, or to visit friends, or to plays and movies, or to bookstores…
Or to a soccer game.
And I think that’s what’s left us – it’s left me, anyway – so parched. We’re stuck in the desert that was our former lives and particularly our soccer lives. For those of us who were fans, our team was a big part of our life.
Matchday was my secular Sunday. Each little part of the process – donning my vestments; my jersey the cope, my scarf the stole. Making my procession to the shrine at 18th and Morrison and once there to the chapel of the North End to join the hymns and breathe in the incense-smoke of glory – was a balm to my soul in the way any good ritual should be. And I miss that.
I miss that a lot.
So, yes, Roses. I think we’re all thirsty to be able to drink again from the well of our dreams.
So let’s talk.
De vils despotes deviendraient les maîtres de nos destinées !
First, here’s a piece of NWSL news that I’m not thrilled about:
I’ve been worried sick about this every since the league let the purchase go through.
There’s some truly troubling issues with this league and we’ll talk about that in the Q&A below. But the one huge thing that the NWSL has going for it is that it’s NOT D1F or the FAWSL or the FBL. It’s not a handful of superteams and a bunch of tomato cans that the superteams slap around like punching (actual punching…) the clock.
That’s fun only for the superteams and their fans, and it ends up with the cans struggling just to exist while the superteams harvest all the silverware and the cash, and that’s even less fun for anyone not a superteam fan.
As I said, we’ll get to this in the questions, but as miserable as the cap and the draft rules are for the players, if there are upsides to them the upside to the NWSL rules is that they prevent one or two monster teams fattening off monster bankrolls and ruling the league like the kaiju monsters that are OL and PSG in France, or Arsenal in England, or Frankfurt or Wolfsburg in the Germany.
OL should not be able to just “transfer” Renard to OLR. Renard should not automatically be a “discovery” player for OLR just because she plays for OL. There should not be a pipeline from Lyon to Tacoma.
Because all that will do, beyond making Tacoma undeservedly stronger on the pitch, is force the other clubs to join or die; they, too, will have to find their own tech billionaire or oil sheik or Russian oligarch (Hi, Chel$ki!) to sugar-daddy their player purchases or find themselves struggling for the playoffs every season and hemorrhaging fans as that struggle gets more discouraging every time it fails.
I’d like to think that Lisa Baird will drop the hammer on this Lyonnaise bullshit, but I don’t have a ton of confidence that she will.
Wishing upon a star…
Another piece of “mmmm…okeydoke…” news we received this past month was buried in the 2021 NWSL schedule and rules; six out of ten teams will make the playoffs in November 2021.
I’ve always been deeply conflicted about playoff soccer.
It just seems fundamentally wrong. You play twenty or forty games to determine which team is the best in the league. Then you just throw all that out and let three or five of the not-best teams roll the dice, get lucky for two or three games and “win the league”?
Nah. Sorry. That’s just foolish.
And yet…without those dice rolls only one of Portland’s teams would have a star, the 2016 Thorns who snared the Shield on the last matchday of the season and then got thugged out of the playoffs by fucking Marco Vega and fucking Paul Riley and yes I’m still fucking bitter about that why do you ask?
So I’m really torn on this stuff. I like stars. I like winning the league. But one of the Thorns’ (and the most exciting one, the 2013 star) and the Timbers only star depended on rolling the dice.
Still. Six out of ten? Seriously? What are we, pro hockey, where half the league gets into the playoffs? Or pro basketball, where you can go .500 on the season and get into the playoffs the way the Pistons did in 2018-19?
I dunno. What do you think?
The Return of the Nats
Several of our Thorns played today in the USWNT match against the Dutch team they beat for the last World Cup, including Sauerbrunn (who went the full 90), Dunn – who played LB and was pulled for former Thorns Emily Sonnett at 75′), and Sophia Smith, who came on for former Thorn Tobin Heath at the same time as Sonnett.
I thought at first the Dutch looked really off; they had a ton of possession but couldn’t get a decent look at goal and I couldn’t figure out why…until I realized that it was because the US was just pressing hell out of them. The US frontline and midfield were forcing the ball wide, and when the Dutch tried to play through the center Julie Ertz was killing them. Vlatko has always been a defensive organizer – his FCKC teams were brutal to attackers – and he’s taken his show to the Nats.
The bottom line is that for a team that has not played together for almost exactly a calendar year the US looked far the better team. The Dutch seemed to have learned nothing from their loss in the Final, although the lack of Miedema may explain some of that. The US is still the team to beat.
Other than that…
– I can’t be amazed enough at the Lavelle strike. That gal has magic in her foot. The only real question is whether she can stay healthy. When she is, she’s amazing. But so far, she can’t stay healthy.
– Are two Mewis “Mewis”? “Mewii”? “Mewises?”
– Good to see Smith get a quarter hour, even just to see out the game. Still not sure if she’s going to be in Japan this summer, or whether she’s going to be offered a US contract anytime soon.
– Rapinoe? Vlatko says that she’s been out of training for almost a year and that was why she was left out. I’ll let you ponder what that means for her future in Tacoma.
Holly Jolly Christmas Shopping..?
Get some, Si-money!
Kew and Ay:
Now I wanted to get to the questions from last time. So here they are, in order, first ten from Roses:
1) should we have traded Purce for Rocky? Was it worth it?
Right now I’d say yes. Purce is a fine player, but we’ve strengthened our frontline to the point where she’d be struggling for minutes while one of the big problems in 2018 and 2019 was providing the forwards with service, and that’s what Rodriguez brings. I’d like to see more from R-Rod before I call it a slam-dunk for Portland, but at the moment the deal looks like a net gain for us.
2) could we have saved Heath? What will happen there? Should we hate RSL for it?
Short answer: no.
Long answer; no, because
a) We could only protect two allocated players and
b) if we don’t protect Horan, she’s gone and that’s unacceptable, and
c) if we don’t protect Dunn she’s gone, and that’s also unacceptable, so
d) that left Franch, Sauerbrunn, and Heath available and Racing picked one.
As far as what will happen now? Well, it sounds like a LOT of NWSL insiders were unimpressed by Racing’s two final picks. The consensus seems to be that there’s a huge upside if both of them return to the league, but that the possibility seems barely better than 50-50 (and pretty much not at all in 2021 – the FAWSL and the CL go into May or even early June, and then the OG start in July, so even assuming that one or both want to play there the chances of getting more than a handful of games seems slim) and the downside if they don’t is that Racing just tossed two picks.
Plus the open question of whether they’ll even be interested in another bite of the NWSL apple, and Heath’s apparent attachment to Portland as an off-field home. Seems to me like a hell of a lot of “ifs” there. If I was Racing’s GM I wouldn’t have done it.
And hate? Enh. Sport is a business, too, and they made a business decision. I don’t have to like that (and I don’t – I hate these fucking drafts) but hate the game, not the playas.
3) the RSL draft & related news (e.g., Drafted & Shafted article, shock of English coaches) highlights how nasty the NWSL can be to players. Can anything be done to protect them & give them rights?
You’re the second person I’ve seen that reference that “Drafted and Shafted” Twentytwo piece, and I finally went to read it, and I came away with one very similar and one very different opinion.
The “similar” one is that, yes, the deal that NWSL squad players get handed is pretty shitty. I knew that a long time ago, going back to when Kat Williamson had to retire because she was just so tired of living hand-to-mouth on poverty wages to play the sport she loved, but there’s knowing and knowing. Yes. The league should do better by its roleplayers.
The “different” opinion, though, is that the piece takes a fact – that life for NWSL squad players kind of sucks because of the way the league is set up – and then jumps way the hell over a whole bunch of inconvenient other facts to present Tiffany Weimer’s (who is a total baller and I respect the hell out of) conclusion – “I think the league here could benefit from some more stable rules that allow for a better player experience. I would love to see players have contracts with their teams for the entire season and coaches have to win with the players they have.” – as a no-brainer.
I would love to see the players paid more and have full-season, no cut contracts, too. So. Easy, peasy, just change things and it’s all better, right?
Because the European top-flight leagues the piece uses to compare the happy life of EU players to the drudging slavery of NWSL players are hugely, enormously, vastly different from the US pro league, beginning with the simple fact that there’s absolutely no “expansion” in Europe.
Seriously. None. There’s no equivalent to the way US top-level pro sports adds teams to existing leagues. In fact, I’m not sure how many European soccer leagues at any level have “added” teams, or even if any did. IF they did, it was at the lowest levels, basically moving first-season rec-league level squads up to the lowest amateur or semi-pro league. The promotion-relegation system changes the relationship between “major league” and “not-major-league” in too many ways to fully describe.
But the bottom line is that promotion means that you don’t “expand” your way into the FBL or D1F or the FAWSL. Period. You just don’t. If you’re an oil sheik you buy an existing team. If you’re Louisville, you already HAVE a soccer team. Maybe it’s “Racing Louisville” in the Dumptruck MidContinent Amateur League where they play other tiny teams owned by bowling alleys and public utilities. If you want to get into the top pro league, you FIND an oil sheik who buys you players and you get promoted to the top flight.
Plus your sheik pays for a “Racing Academy” that signs promising players as young as 13 or 14, so there’s no college and no NCAA and no college draft.
And all this creates a huge infrastructure of player agents and transfer markets and players themselves who are effectively professionals by the time they’re in high school and have agents to negotiate their contracts.
And, it should be noted, still doesn’t prevent these “fuck I got sold to WHERE?!” problems for players that Weimer and Frisbie talk about in the “Drafted…” piece. Your club goes down and can’t afford to pay you? You’re gonna be sold, and you may not have a say in where you’re going to be sold to – your club needs money and they’re gonna take the best offer. Period.
AND…the other thing, the unspoken bogeyman in the room, is the failure of the other two US leagues.
We’re fans of the Thorns, so we’re fans of the women’s game. So we tend to think of it as a Big Deal. And it should be a big deal; we’re talking about terrific players and terrific teams.
But in sporting terms, we’re a niche sport.
All those WoSo “superteams”? The OL’s and the Arsenals and the Wolfsburgs? They’re being bankrolled either by a rich guy, or by the rich guy’s men’s sides and their oil sheiks or tech billionaires.
Given the lack of TV revenue and the small gates for most WoSo clubs in those EU leagues (and that includes those superteams – the average attendance for D1F in the 18-19 season was 1,084)?
They’re not making a ton of money, and a lot of them are not breaking even and are funded by outside cash. Remember that Arnim Whisler of the Red Stars said a couple years back that the typical NWSL team lost about a million bucks a year.
The OL/Arsenal/Frankfurt sort of cash isn’t available to NWSL clubs, as Whisler noted. It wasn’t to the WUSA and it wasn’t to WPS, and when those two leagues let owners start bidding wars (or, worse, in the case of Borislow and WPS…) they broke the leagues and they collapsed.
I’m not saying that will happen to the NWSL.
I’m saying that a LOT of people in the NWSL were also in and around WPS, and they remember what happened.
It’s not good and it’s not right that they’re balancing the books on the backs of the players.
But it’s also pretty louche’ for people like the author if the Twentytwo piece to take how the NWSL works, compare it to how the EU leagues work, and say “See! This is how it should be done!”. It elides the huge structural differences between the two, and reminds me of this classic cartoon:
So here’s the thing.
I think that the NWSL players should have free agency.
I think the cap should be higher, and that the base salary should be, too.
But both of those things depend on a lot of other things changing, like getting past the Plague, like bigger sponsorships, and like bagging a major – really major, not “CBS All Access-major” TV deal…along with a dozen other things that can’t and won’t change, like promotion and relegation and the NCAA.
The bottom line is that so long as we in the US are who we are there will be expansion drafts, because you can’t get promoted into the NWSL from the MidContinent Dump Truck League. And that’s gonna suck for the players, and I hate that. But I’m not going to try and kid you that we just “have to be like Europe like the players like it” and everything will change and we all get cake.
Sorry for the rant, but I’d kind of tired as being slammed as a crusty old reactionary sexist pig for pointing this stuff out.
4) what will our lineup look like next year?
Honestly? Probably something like the one we saw in Tacoma on the last matchday. We might pick up someone in the NCAA draft – which is going to be weird, because a lot of colleges won’t have played by January, and a lot of seniors will have some unusual options that we can’t really predict. Will they stay in school another year to keep their last year of eligibility? Will they duck the Plague and go to Japan?
But my guess is that we’re not going to see anything shattering between now and April, unless Merritt buys some Bairdbux and goes shopping in Europe.
5) tell us about Kuikka & why we selected her when we did.
She’s a talented Finnish international defender who started as a DM and was moved to CB at Florida State University. Class of 2019 and picked up the “Honda Trophy” (best female athlete in NCAA D1 soccer). Seems solid, and she can also play outside back so possibly a future Klingenberg replacement. Excellent pickup, and I’m glad she’s here.
The timing of her signing..? That WAS weird, and forced us to expose other squad players like Westphal we might have protected. At the time I wondered why we didn’t wait until 11/13. The logical reason would be that someone else from the NWSL was pursuing her; if they nailed her “discovery rights” we’d have been locked out, so I’m presuming that forced Gavin’s hand.
If not, that’s an unforced error. The Peregrine FO being the Peregrine FO? We’ll never know one way or the other.
6) if there’s a Utah dispersal draft (hope not), who should we choose?
There’s some real talent there. I like Diallo, King, Del Fava…we could nab Liz Ball back, if we needed more defenders. My thought would be Diallo; I really like what I’ve seen from her.
7) think we’ll get any big international names next year?
My guess is that we won’t have the Plague under control soon enough. We might see a deal some time around midseason. But I’m not holding my breath for someone before then. Besides, we look pretty decent right now. I’m not sure we need those mystery internationals anymore. And there’s also the possibility that Kuikka was one of them..!
8) why do some players, e.g., Foord & Ononomu, flail as Thorns but succeed elsewhere?
Every player-coach relationship, every player-team relationship, is different. Coaches and teams that some players thrive for just don’t work for others. Case in point – look at Benstiti in Tacoma. Seems to get along well enough there. But when Lindsey Horan played for him she absolutely hated his ass.
And every player is different. Take the two you mention.
Foord was simply miscast here. She’s a winger and secondary option, she needs a Kerr or a Morgan ahead of her and a Mewis behind her to set her up. She feeds off backline chaos, junky rebounds, and sneaky service, and we didn’t have anything like that. Our FO seemed to think she was a true #9, a striker and true center-forward. She never was that and couldn’t succeed as that.
With Onumonu I’m afraid that might have been a disconnect between her and the coaching staff. When she was here she played with her feet and not her head. She’d use her speed to get loose and then dribble into traffic, or shank her passes or shots. I’ve seen several young Thorns forwards like that, and they never seem to evolve. Once she went to work for Vlatko, though, he improved her touch and got her to slow down and think, she did, and she’s much better now. That’s just tough luck for us; she connected with Vlatko but not with Parsons, and that just happens sometimes.
Every team is going to have players that just don’t work out. It’s a combination of bad luck and bad timing and going into autopilot mode in the FO for a couple of years that we had a whole bunch at the same time. I don’t think it’s our coaching staff or the team culture, because when the club woke up this past offseason we’ve looked much better.
9) any thoughts on or news about college draft?
Well, it’s going to be January 13, and that’s kind of all we know. It’s really hard at this point to have any sense of who’s going to declare because the NCAA season has been so banjaxed. My thought is that it’s likely to be pretty lean, because a lot of seniors will either just go straight to Europe or stay in school to use their eligibility, but we’ll have to wait and see who’s on the list when it comes out some time in late December and early January.
Update 12/1: See below – there’s some new information.
10) Foord’s rights to RSL? WTF? If there’s any chance she’s returning to NWSL is there maybe a chance Raso will return (Oi! Oi! Oi!) ?
11) 2021 season framework: how will the longer season affect the number of internationals playing in NWSL? Is the Australian commute over?
I’m going to take your last question, Roses, and Constant Weeder’s first one together because I think they overlap.
Internationals in general are going to be hard-pressed to find a reason to play here until our vaccination level is reasonable, and that may not be by next season. Combine that with the long season, that makes playing in both Europe and the US damn near impossible, and I think we’re going to see fewer Europeans, definitely.
And the FFA has made it pretty clear that they want their players in Europe. So I’d be surprised to see either Foord or Raso. Not ruling them out, but it would surprise me. I think the Foord pick was another one of those that had people who know the game puzzled. Chris Henderson said flat-out he thinks she’ll never play, at least not there.
I can’t rule out Raso, but I guess my question would be “why?” She’s playing for a good club, fourth on the table and three points back from the top. Top two go to the CL, and that’s not out of reach for Everton. She had a choice, she was signed here, and chose not to play here. Again…not saying she won’t be back, but my thought would be “why would she want to..?”
Okay, now Constant Weeder’s questions:
12) Is the Challenge Cup here to stay? Playoffs at both ends of the season? Timing to showcase younger players?
Hard to say since 2020-2021 are so weird, but…a preseason tournament? What’s not to like for the NWSL? So, yeah, probably.
I see it as a fairly blatant cash-grab, but sometimes that’s just fine. I think it will be a preseason thing – I don’t see a point in tooling up to win it just to risk injuring your players and losing the tune-up games to fiddle with the squad. So, yeah. Lots of the kids, lots of experimentation, lots of ugly, goofy results. Preseason but with a trophy. Fine.
13) When and how will we be back in the stands? Vaccination certificates required for admission?
I don’t see a vaccine rollout before midyear next year, and I don’t see opening the stands until the R number is well below 1.
Here’s a piece in the Guardian that has a good discussion about how these games where smaller numbers of fans in the stands create more problems (and lost revenue) than they solve.
And vaccination, yes. If I was King of America you’d have the Mark of the COVID Beast tattooed on your forehead; no tat, no nothing. That’s not going to happen; shit, we can’t get people to get fucking measles or whooping cough shots, and those suckers kill you deader’n shit.
So possibly not until 2022. Ugh.
14) Covid-19 among the players? How is Lindsey?
Hard to say now that we’re not playing and not testing. Clearly players are getting it; all the leagues that are playing – the NCAA, the NFL – they’re getting positives every week. As a nation we’re a seething plague pit, so as horrible as that is that’s entirely expected. So I suspect that some players are catching it even though we aren’t hearing about that.
I checked her social media, and Horan seems to be watching soccer – her last tweets were about the Timbers’ playoff game and Dest scoring for Barca – so I’m assuming she’s isolating and bored. Hopefully still asymptomatic or nothing more than a mild case.
15) A CBA for the league players? Salary cap increase? Working condition standards and other labor issues?
After my long rant above I don’t know if I can add more.
Except, maybe: YES.
Yes, I think the NWSLPA should have a CBA with the league that includes free agency after, say, a full season as well as a minimum increase to something livable, say $50-60K/yr. That’s not a princely salary, but you can make a living with it. There’s no way these players should be leaving it all on the pitch for something like fucking $15K a season. That’s just wrong.
Players should all have agents, and they should all have the “right of first refusal” on being traded or sold. As I discussed above, there’s no way to have expansion without a draft; no one will bankroll a team that has to come in foraging for player scraps. There’s going to have to be some system to allow them to deal for star players already in the league
But there’s no reason to have to have an NCAA draft or an expansion draft set up they way they are, and the NWSLPA can negotiate changes to them. A lot goes back to free agency; if a player with a full season as a professional becomes a free agent at the end of that season it gives the player a LOT more leverage, providing the owners don’t collude (hint…keep your eye on that, because if they can, they will).
On the playing conditions, I think the players themselves need to organize and decide what those issues are and what priority each one has. Things as diverse as requiring trained emergency medical staff actually on hand at every game (remember how badly Raso’s injury was handled on the pitch?) to the “Jersey Shower Trailer” thing to the infamous BedBug Incident…I don’t know what hill the players will die on, but I think they should have some, and I think they should try and get a uniform standard across the league for them.
Now…that said…as discussed above; the NWSL players are not in a tremendously strong position, especially right now. I mean…when one of our four Riveting! madpersons flat out wants nothing to do with soccer because of the Plague? Period. Too dangerous! And he has a solid point, especially now that we look like the fucking Masque of Red Death. To be playing sports seems insane in a lot of ways, and I think it says more about our thirst for some touch with our “former lives” than anything else.
But women’s sport in the US has a steep hill to climb, and the Plague makes it steeper, slicker, and more fraught.
Update 12/1: News items, most not directly Thorns-related.
First, the NWSL has “…requested a waiver from the NCAA to allow drafted players to decide by January 22 if they want to report before or after 2021 spring college season; if denied, draftees must forfeit remaining college eligibility if picked or withdraw from draft to play spring season.”
Seems like a win-win if the NCAA grants it; they get their spring season and the players then happily report to their new pro teams. But it’s the NCAA, so who knows.
Update 12/2: Chris Henderson, who knows the NCAA way better than I do, says not just no but hell no, largely not so much because of soccer but because of the precedent it would set for actual revenue-producing sports, and since the NCAA is even greedier than FIFA (and think of THAT for a moment…) they won’t go for it.
He also thinks the players won’t go for it:
“I can’t imagine there are going to be too many players enthusiastic about giving up their senior season (fractured as it might be) for the thought of getting paid peanuts to be an NWSL rookie. ESPECIALLY considering they could just hop over to Europe in the Summer.”~ C. Henderson on Twitter
Second, the USWNT and the USSF settled the portion of the WNT’s lawsuit concerning “non-compensatory working conditions”. For all that I was pretty hard on her as the Thorns coach, Cindy Parlow Cone’s work since taking over at USSF has been terrific, and I include this as part of that.
Note that the big thing, the FIFA prize money, is not part of this and CPC has said straight out that the USSF will not and cannot make up the difference. That seems like a real sticking point, but we;ll have to see.
Third, the long-bruited-about KOH-to-Washington trade finally happened. O’Hara seems like a risk; she’s been struggling with injuries and for a 32-year-old that’s not promising. But the linked article suggests that the Spirit refused Utah’s big asks – one of their promising young players like McGrady or Hatch – and so we’ll see who goes to Utah (and, possibly, from their to Kansas City..).
Update 12/2: Turns out it was $75K Bairdbux and a 2022 first-round pick IF KOH plays in 2 games next season.
I’d call this, enh, fine. O’Hara gets to play where she wants to play, Washington doesn’t really give anything for her (which is, frankly, about what she’s worth right now given her injury record), and Utah gets rebuilding blocks.
But the unnerving part is that this makes Utah look even more like “the place nobody wants to play”. So there’s that…
Fourth, if this is correct, Portland does not have a first-round draft pick for 2021. Twelfth overall (second in the second round) plus a third- and a fourth-rounder. Not great, but certainly not the dumpster fires that Orlando, Utah, and Tacoma look like. But, then, who knows what this draft will look like? As John Travolta memorably says in Look Who’s Talking: could be peaches, could be meatloaf.