So a draft thing happened last Wednesday, and the Portland Thorns took four players; two midfielders, a forward, and a defender.
We’ll get to that in a bit, but other than the weird, strange, hopefully-one-off nature of this Plague Year draft, two thoughts stuck with me as I was watching – well, mostly listening, since I was at work so I could only occasionally peek at the screen (and desperately try to ignore the appalling Twitch “comment” window) – this thing on a freaking gaming site.
First, was that I may have to revise the way I think about Orlando, which is “Could fuck up a one-car funeral”. The hole is still too deep for the Shame to climb out of with a single draft, mind, but at least with this one they stopped digging.
Getting Villacorta in the low first round and following that up with taking Colohan in the second? Identifying one of their big weaknesses – a shit midfield that can neither defend nor create – and drafting players who can fix that?
That’s…not what I expected from them.
You go, Orlando! Still going to enjoy thrashing you, but the league doesn’t need you to be a perennial doormat, and this was a good sign.
The second was how vividly I remember that Paul Riley’s malfeasance with young players and rookies/draftees in particular was one thing about him that really chapped me when he was here.
The Damned’s first two picks were complete WTFs. I’ll leave the summation to Chris Henderson, who put it best: “Leaving someone like Jimena Lopez on the board when you’ve already burned an international slot on Deanne Rose when you could have had someone like Kelsey Turnbow at 10 and Lopez at 20 and instead ending up with Rose and Malonson seems like incredibly poor planning.”
But that’s Riley all over; he just doesn’t do drafts. His single big success has always been snaring Emily Menges in the last round of 2014. But he knew her from Long Island and none of his peers did, so that was kind of a one-off backdoor. In his last four drafts his first round picks have been:
Ashley Hatch (2017)
Darian Jenkins (2017)
Frannie Crouse (2018)
Leah Pruitt (2019)
Hailey Harbison (2019)
Ally Watt (2020)
Hatch was Rookie of the Year and brought the Damned Crystal Dunn. She’s the only pick out of those six I’d call even close to “success” – five, if you want to call Harbison “incomplete” and Crouse might be one of the most bizarre and appalling first-round picks I’ve ever seen. The guy just doesn’t do draft, and this week was no exception.
Other than that…no, wait, okay, weirdest pick in a weird draft?
Washington going for Sydney Schneider – she’s the Jamaica goalkeeper and plays here for University of North Carolina Wilmington – in the third round.
Schneider was a media darling at the ’19 World Cup.
Her metrics with UNCW? Christ, I don’t have words enough to describe how awful. Per Henderson, she’s 65th of 77 keepers in the 2021 class in xG/goals conceded, tied for 66th of 77 in this class in major error rate, and 64th of 77 in big-save-to-major error ratio.
Speaking of Washington…Richie Burke apparently complained heartily (at least Lauletta says he did) that he wanted to trade up in the first round but everybody blocked him out; first KC outbid him for the #4 overall, then we screwed him out of the #6 from Chicago, and then Chicago wouldn’t give up the #7. But – did I mention this was a fucking weird draft? – Tara McKeown, the player he was frantically clawing at everybody to get, was still there at #8.
He sure fucked up the #30, though. Schneider! Richie, what were you thinking?
Any other general-draft-related things? Hmmm…nope. can’t think of anything.
So. Going into the draft, what did we need?
Well, depth, overall. We’ve got a lot of internationals who will presumably leave for the Olympic Games this summer. When they’re here? We’re dynamite. When they’re gone, well…
So with that I think we all agreed that the squad needs: 1) stiffening at DM, 2) backline depth, and 3) reliable fill-ins for national team players who will be gone for the OG.
Given the relative position of the initial picks (lots of late-rounders) the chance for a big impact player were slim even in a normal year. Yeah, yeah, Menges, fourth round, I know, I know, but low-rounders are typically opportunity picks and void-fillers.
Oh, did I list the picks? No? Sorry. At the beginning of the day Wednesday we had a total of five: one low-ish first round (7th), one high second round (12th), one high third round (22nd), and two high-low fourth round (32nd and 37th).
Then the draft began, and this happened:
The Chicago Red Stars, picking at #6, went into a “timeout”, and the NWSL broadcast moderators signaled that the Portland “war room” was making trade-like signs.
Sure enough, the Thorns swapped an international slot, their #7 and #32 picks to move up to #6, and with that picked Yazmeen Ryan out of TCU.
Ryan was a player whose value seemed to vary by the beholders; Top Drawer Soccer had her 8th on their draft Big Board, while Henderson had her all the way down to 20th. Top Drawer didn’t rate players this past season but the highest she’s been rated there was 88th on their top 100 nationally in 2019.
She’s versatile; although she appears to be primarily an attacking midfielder she’s listed as a left wing, attacking mid, and centerback.
As an attacker she’s not a huge scoring threat; 19 goals (4PK) in 5,600-odd minutes over 68 matches. About a 40% SOG/shot rate, but converted only about 9% of her shots, 24% of her SOG.
Coach Parsons said after the draft that she was their big first round target, and the reasons they made the deal was to be sure of securing her, so clearly something or things about her are important to the Thorns management. I think we payed for her, perhaps a bit more than we needed, but she’s a quality player and given our midfield situation we need some more quality there.
So…I’m pretty happy about this.
While the Thorns felt they had to trade up in the first round they had the second pick in the second round and with it they took Sam Coffey, attacking midfielder out of Penn State.
This pick is, honestly, a either a huge steal or the FO didn’t know that Coffey enjoys juggling live handgrenades in her spare time, because she was expected to go high in the first round; Top Drawer ranked her #5 on their big board, and Henderson had her #4. If the pick for Ryan seems a trifle forced, the Coffey pick seems like a pure gift, especially after the huge effort to bag Ryan.
It’ll be a bit of late gift, though; Coffey has committed to playing for Penn State in their rescheduled spring season, so we’ll have to wait until May for her arrival.
Even with that she looks like a terrific player. I can’t do better describing her than Henderson did:
“Coffey has been an offensive wrecking ball at both Boston College and Penn State…(t)he truly scary part is that really hasn’t played with professional caliber talent in the attack at either spot, so Coffey could make dramatic gains when she’s just a cog in an attacking machine and not the entire machine herself. Coffey will probably be an impact sub to start (in Portland) but could be a long-term replacement as the attacking midfielder in lieu of Christine Sinclair.”~ Chris Henderson in Twitter
Wow. Replacement for the Greatest of All Time? That’s…not half bad.
Guess this Coffey gal can play some.
She comes from Sleepy Hollow, New York. Make of that what you will.
Personally, I see some awesome signage there.
With the second pick in the third round we took Top Drawer’s Big Board #29 – Henderson’s #16 – forward Almirah Ali out of Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey.
One of “…the best finishing forwards and one of the best passing forwards…” (per Henderson) of the class, he also described her as “…ruthless in front of goal.”, and given that over 5,000-odd minutes in 62 games Ali converted 25 (6PK) goals on 77 SOG for a 32% conversion rate…yeah, I’d call that pretty ruthless.
She also put 50% of her shots on goal, and I love efficiency in a forward. That alone makes her a decent third-rounder. Update 1/15: Looks like Ali’s goingto play at Rutgers in the spring.
The Thorns final pick – third from last in the entire 2021 draft – went for defender Hannah Betfort of Rutgers.
Betfort seems to be a sort of Swiss Army knife. Henderson lists her as a center-forward, centerback, and right back and had her more than halfway down his board at #54. Top Drawer rated her nearly twenty spots higher – #36 – as a primary defender.
She’s very tall – 5′ 11″ – and that seems ideal for a centerback, given that we don’t have (or have had, for that matter) anyone with that kind of height in the backline, and it’d be nice to have for a change.
And at #37? If she’s any good at all she’ll be value for her cost. I don’t really see her as anything more than deep depth, but, again – fourth round, so deep depth is perfectly okay.
Looking back up at what we agreed the team needed – midfield help, defensive depth, and OG replacements – I’d have to call the FO’s work this week damn well done. The young midfielders and Ali will provide depth as well as potential replacement during the Olympic callups, and Betfort should be a promising defensive piece to cover for both the OG as well as the hopefully-avoided recurrence of Menges’ injuries and/or Brunn aging suddenly.
After several years of somnolence that let the Thorns slip off the top step of the podium the FO has awakened over the past year.
It’s too early to say that the 2020/21 acquisitions will have the luster of the Big Year of 2015-16.
But it’s not too early to say that they look far better than anything we’ve seen between then and now.
Now. Here’s what I don’t know:
How will all this player goodness look on the pitch?
The downside of lots of acquisitions and changes is that it puts the team in flux.
Our new midfielders played on the front foot in college, but we still need a true lockdown DM. Can they be that player, or do they go forward and another player already here moves back to the #6? Who is that? Rodriguez? Sinclair? Where in this mix is Celeste Boureille? Angela Salem?
Our backline is as unsettled as I’ve ever seen it. AFAIK Menges is still unsigned, and we’ve shipped a lot of Bairdbux we could use to entice her. Sauerbrunn is on the “old player” clock. Where does Nat “hakkaa päälle” Kuikka fit in? She’s played mostly at centerback, but how does she start over Menges and ‘Brunn? So is she a FB, instead?
If so, where does leave Westphal? Is Kling good for another season? And if Kuikka IS a fullback, who backs up the centerbacks? Betfort is greener than grass. Kelli Hubly has looked good, there’s always Tyler Lussi. She has disappointed as a forward, but could she be a fullback-conversion project?
And we haven’t even gotten to the whole “three-goalkeepers” thing yet.
I think we might be a bit surprised when we finally see the club on the pitch for the first time…but that doesn’t mean we can’t speculate, so feel free to hammer the whole subject in the comments.
I’m not sure when I’ll be back. Some time before the Challenge Cup, certainly, but we’ll need to have some more news to discuss before we do that. Until then, though…