January Open Thread

Idle Hands are the Devil’s Playground…

We’ve got a month or so before the first green shoots of 2022 appear with the camps opening on February 1 and the ’22 Challenge Cup group stage kicking off six weeks after that.

Until then pretty much all we have to think about is signings; of the six players tendered offers in December one has signed (Bixby) and one has been traded (Westphal), meaning we still don’t know if Celeste Boureille, Marissa Everett, Kelli Hubly, and Meghan Klingenberg have re-signed.

There’s also the dormant-but-not-absolutely-refuted possibility that Lindsey Horan might look abroad…but if not soon, then probably not at all.

The FAWSL transfer window, for example, opened New Year’s Day and closes the last day of the month. I can’t find a definitive window for the women’s leagues in France, Italy, or Germany, but it’s instructive to note that the men’s windows run along similar lines – early January to the end of the month – so my bet is that D1F, Serie A, and the Frauenbundesliga are similar.

So if we don’t hear any mutterings within a couple or three weeks? It’s unlikely she moves – at least for THIS season…

Another open question is the potential retirement of Angela Salem. Again…that’s something that if true I think we’d have heard before now. But it could also be her waiting until a coaching or other non-playing gig opens up to keep her options open.

There’s also – at least as of the time of this writing (early morning Monday 1/3) the Nasello Question with all the baggage that accompanies that.

With all this uncertainty and no actual acts or events to tie our conversations to, I thought I’d put this up as simply a place to come and opine, chat, and discuss. Consider this a standing invitation

One Last Thing

This graph:

…appeared in a comment by FotB Trail33 over at Stumptown and I thought it was worth a look.

Before anything else, note that the original creator failed to account for Megan Rapinoe’s PKs as part of her xG. When you factor them in she’s still kind of an outlier but not THAT much of an outlier. So we need to treat this with care.

That said, couple of thoughts from me:

  1. The Thorns have several players in the shaded areas of this list – that is, players that in one or two ways distinguished themselves from the lumpen mass of squad players down in the lower left hand corner who had neither significant expected assists (xA) or expected goals (xG) per game.
  2. Those players are Crystal Dunn (in the “creators” cloud for about .27xA/.19xG per match), Meghan Klingenberg (“creator”; .21xA/.01xG), Sophia Smith (in the “poachers” cloud – which we’ll talk about in a moment – .09xA/.55xG), former Thorn Simone Charley (“poacher”, .08xA/.52xG), Christine Sinclair (in the “dual threat” cloud, .1xA, .35xG) and Morgan Weaver (“dual threat”, .18xA/.37xG)
  3. A seventh Thorn is in limbo between the “creator” and “dual threat” clouds – Lindsey Horan, with .18xA/.23xG)

This is an interesting little graph, but I think we need a couple more pieces of information – namely, how did these players do on the pitch compared to how their xA/xG’s predicted they’d do. We’ll get to that.

First, a couple more cautions; we don’t know how this person analyzed the data. We know, for example, that they missed the PKs as a factor in xG – we’ll see that applies to the Thorns as well.

Second, I think that they misnamed the “low xA/high xG” cloud, simply because it throws together players who are true “fox in the box” style poachers such as Balcer and Le Sommer with players who HAD to shoot because the way their club played last season didn’t give them good passing options. I think Smith and Charley are in the latter group. One of the Thorns’ issues last season was how seldom they got numbers up in the box. Often Charley or Smith got inside the 18 on lone runs and had a shot as their only real option. So let’s call this cloud “shooters” because that’s what they did

So. How does this little graph suggest that the Thorns did as far as turning these potential assists into assists and potential goals into goals?

That’s…not good.

A player who’s “better” than her xA/xG – that is, finds real assists or goals beyond what you might expect of them given how often they get into dangerous positions – is playing over her head, and her ratio of goals to xG and assists to xA – A/xA and G/xG -will be greater than 1.0.

Two players on this list of Thorns attackers managed that last season; Morgan Weaver and Lindsey Horan both created more assists than their xA predicted they would.

Note that nobody did that with goals…which tracks with the eye test, that the Thorns had scoring issues last season. Sinc comes closest, but remember Rapinoe; Sinc took 3 PKs last season and only scored once, but the PKs are a big skewing factor in xG, so I don’t think that Sinc was really that good a sniper.

Interestingly, the biggest G/xG surprises for me are Smith and Weaver. I was pretty hard on Smith for missing a lot of what looked like good opportunities last year, but her G/xG is 0.88, so damn close to making every gimme putt. Weaver? At 0.21 G/xG she was the worst of the Thorns attackers here, suggesting that Wilkinson needs to get her on the practice pitch shooting more often than Smith.

Crystal Dunn’s A/xA and G/xG numbers are a sad reminder of how badly she underperformed last season. She’s the worst of the Thorns attackers in turning potential assists into assists, and second-worst in scoring.

All in all? This suggests that the new head coach has some team-wide attacking issues to sort out starting in February.

Thoughts?

Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

35 thoughts on “January Open Thread

  1. I think your table calculates G/xG, not xG/G.

    I pulled up Chris Henderson’s team xG chart from mid-November (the first one I found). 243 goals had been scored in the entire NWSL, against about 328 xG. Every team had G/xG less than 1, with average about 0.74.

    https://twitter.com/chris_awk/status/1460803006438555650

    I don’t know how to interpret the league average being so far from 1. But it does put Smith right at the league average, with Charley and Sinclair above average.

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    1. You’re right on the ratios. Fixed.

      I’m mentioned the weird scoring drought back in early November when we clinched the Shield (https://rivetingpdx.com/2021/11/02/thorns-fc-whimper/) and said this:

      “And, it’s worth noting that this season goalscoring was down league-wide…way down; the league average over the previous seven seasons is 2.74 goals/game. 2021’s 2.32 is only 84% of the average. That, in turn, suggests that had their opponents been scoring at a historically average rate our defense might have let in closer to 0.8 goals a game.”

      But…the problem with measuring Smith against the league average is that 1) the league average is dragged way the hell down by shitshows like Racing and KC, and 2) Smith was one of the top scorers on the top team in the league. If she’s “right at the league average”…the one tanked by freaking KC’s 15GF…that’s still a problem, neh?

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  2. As you say, there were so many times Smith was isolated after having taken the ball deep into attacking territory ahead of everyone else. I don’t expect Sinclair to always keep up with her, but where was everybody else? I’m left thinking that the fundamental basis of Thorns soccer was defensive – not getting stretched out and giving up an easy goal.
    I’m always impressed by Weaver’s ability (and the WICC goal was a perfect example) to somehow manage the ball well enough at speed to get a shot off, without ever really controlling it. It takes a particular kind of confidence to even try that approach, but it must be terrifying to defenders.

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    1. That Weaver goal was impressive! She beat one of the best Centerbacks in the world if not the best in Renard, her shot got by one of the world’s best goal keepers in Endler and then escaped a heroic effort to stop it by the world’s best Center D-Mid in Henry. One could argue she was lucky to make a shot like that at such a tight angle, but the look on her face suggested she knew she was going to score if Henry was the tiniest bit late.
      I would like to see Smith put more boot into her shots because it seems as if the effort to beat the defender seems to diminish the power of her shot. She is strong there is no doubt about that.
      Weaver was good in the air in college, and yeah college isn’t the pros, but that is part of her game I would like to see improve this year. Horan is always going to be a focus,
      but Morgan needs to take advantage of that. I would also like to see both Smith and Weaver take more shots from near the 18, just not at the keeper.

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      1. Re: Weaver…see below. I love a golazo. I love a .9 or 1.2 or 1.5G/game strike rate even more. I don’t really wanna swoon about some gorgeous strike in a meaningless friendly. I want to chuckle evilly as the Reign or Red Star or Spirit keeper tiredly picks the ball out of her net for the fourth or fifth time in the match. Quantity, not quality!

        I’m not so sure about the forwards shooting from distance. I mean…they CAN, but who’s going to be there to take out the trash if there’s a rebound.

        What I’d like to see is some of the attacking midfielders have a go from distance and the forwards follow the shot. Horan, Sinc, Rodriguez, even Salem, Ryan, Moultrie…somebody’s got to have a cannon for a leg in that crew. Let them hammer the goal from distance and keep the ‘keeper honest and on her line and then maybe the forwards will get better looks…

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        1. Morgan in my opinion was playing her best soccer leading up to when she got fouled/hurt. Then she missed a bunch of time.

          At the beginning of the season it took her a bit to win the starting job. She won it by her quality of play which is saying something because Simone was playing well also. Parsons recognized that Morgan was a wrecking ball of pressure on the other teams defense. Just like we did.

          Forwards gotta score. I think Morgan will improve mightily in this facet next year knowing she’s in the starting 11.

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          1. Unfortunately all that good play didn’t yield goals. Not saying Weaver didn’t contribute, but she didn’t score and that’s pretty much a definition of a forward’s job if she’s not a designated provider.

            I sure hope Weaver can add scoring to her skillset. We’re going to need that.

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    2. I dunno about defenders but it was terrifying as all hell to me, because it pretty much telegraphed that she was gonna shank the shot when it came. Someone texted “I love to watch Morgan Weaver play!” to the Stumptown match thread during a home game and I texted back “I’d rather watch Morgan Weaver SCORE…”

      Right now she’s like the Thorns version of Luca Melano; every so very rarely often she scores a goal that makes you want to weep for the pure beauty of it. Most of the time you end up tearing your hair out as she shanks another wide of the post or biffs it over the bar. Can she score? Ohhellyes. Will she? Not likely.

      And, yes – this club lived by rock-solid defending. Which is why they couldn’t afford to ship early goals – they had a hard time recovering from that. But if they scored early? They could rumble along on a one-goal lead unless the center referee got involved and, yes, I AM still sore at Penso, how’d you guess..?

      But as the semi showed, when you live by that you can die by it, too. We need the ability to manufacture goals when we need to, and to do that Smith and especially Weaver need to tighten up their shot groups…

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  3. Can’t help but be worried about the lack of off-season moves thus far. Late round drafties won’t be enough to get us out of our scoring troubles. I can’t help but think that money problems are catching up with the club after lost revenues from COVID. If we aren’t working forward, we are falling behind.

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    1. I’m not worried yet. Remember that we have a whole new coaching/GM staff and they’re not going to really have a good sense of who does (and can do) what until the camp opens in February. Why go out and spend whatever Bairdbux we have left on a Sam Kerr if it turns out that with the right tweaking Sophia Smith can be our Kerr?

      As for financing…I’m sure the club IS kind of hurting for cash after the nightmare that was 2020 and 2021…but I’m not sure we’re falling behind anyone…yet. I haven’t seen any other big moves other than internal (like the Morgan-to-LA deal). I don’t see evidence than any other NWSL clubs are making big signings out of UEFA or CONMEBOL (or Japan or Korea in the AFC other than the Endo-to-ACFC signing, which I wish we”d been first with…)

      But I’d advise patience. Our new HC needs a chance to see this squad on the training ground to see how they look and what she wants to do/change to make them look the wy she WANTS them to look. THEN, if she is worried, we might see a big signing. So…not until late February at least…

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  4. Here’s one thing I wish we knew more about so we could discuss it; the NWSLPA-NWSL CBA negotiations.

    I have to think they’re meeting this winter. But I have no clue if that’s true, and if so, how the discussions are going. The players really need a CBA, and a decent one, before the 2022 season opens. I’d hate to see the negotiations break down and a work stoppage in mid-season. That wouldn’t benefit anyone…

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    1. I’d like to know how the discussions are going too, but negotiating in public isn’t usually constructive, so I don’t expect to hear anything until there’s at least a tentative agreement.
      I wonder whether there’s any (strictly unofficial) linkage with the USWNT CBA negotiations – sort of let’s-see-what-concessions-each-side-makes-in-the-other-talks?
      It would clearly be foolish in the current climate for the league to force a stoppage, but of course that doesn’t mean they won’t do it. I’m hopeful, though, that there will be an agreement soon that both sides can regard as a win.

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      1. I don’t expect the actual negotiations to be public, but it’d be nice just to get some confirmation that the two sides ARE negotiating and that the conversations are moving somewhere. Just a joint press release saying something like “We met on Tuesday, our fourth meeting this month, and are hopeful that negotiations are proceeding.”

        My guess is that the single biggest impact of the USWNT MOA is going to be the PA pushing for a salary bump to make up for the loss of the allocation monies, and the league pushing back because they don’t want to PAY that bump.

        My guess is, tho, that the single biggest roadblock is and will be free agency. The players will want it and as much of it as possible. The owners hate it and will try and limit it to the handful of gray heads who have been in the league since 2013. I can see a real roadblock there; if the PA goes out I can see it most likely being over free agency…

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  5. Another topic for discussion; where the hell is the league on the whole disgraceful Steve Baldwin fiasco? The Spirit shareholders are threatening to sue his worthless ass for trying to dump the club on one of his bros for something like $10mil less than Michelle Kang has offered. Post had the story here: https://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/2021/12/27/washington-spirit-steve-baldwin-michele-kang/

    Last thing the league needs is another bad-bro story following it into the new year.

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  6. Won’t pretend I’m happy that we’ve reached the end of the first post-holiday week with no news about the Nasello situation.

    It’s not that I think that’s inevitably BAD news…but letting this thing hang fire for so long just exacerbates the fan grumbling. Stupid, IMO. But we’ll just have to wait and see, I guess…

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    1. How much does Peregrine care about fan grumbling? It’s an axiom in sports that if the team is winning the fans will follow. Grumbling among those few who remain engaged in the off season may not be that big a concern.
      I suppose if enough fans were pissed enough to boycott games and maintain picket lines at the PP entrances, that could have a significant negative impact on revenues (and on players’ circumstances, of course). IMO though, the #YouKnew contingent has an inflated opinion of their power to affect either policies or revenues.
      Nasello presents a real quandary for the team, one which almost no one outside the organization is in a position to evaluate. The team is certainly under no obligation to educate her, but on the basis of conversations with her Paulson, LeBlanc and Wilkinson might decide to try, At this point they could have definitely decided to drop her, but I doubt they would have yet made the other choice, to commit to a rehabilitation project.
      As usual, we’ll know more when they decide to tell us.

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      1. I made these comments over on the Beckman thread at Stumptown, but I think it’s a couple of things:
        1) Yes, the FO is kind of impervious to fan attitude. I think largely because they know there’s a massive demand for their product and only a small minority that is obsessive and engaged about it – yes, the #GWOut/#YouKnew faction overestimated their power – I think because of the FO cave-in on the Iron Front business. But IF was purely a political/MLS-level issue that the FO had no real skin in. Paulson is totally committed to GW, so it’ll take a damning report from Yates or one of the other outside investigations to change that.
        2) Pursuant to the above is the club doesn’t see a point to trying to communicate/engage/market the fans by constant media chatter. This isn’t Gotham or DC or Houston – there’ll be butts in seats in March regardless of whether the FO releases information in January or not.
        3) Sadly, I do think that the club is trying to salvage this pick. I think it’s a mistake, simply because Nasello isn’t that critical to the club’s roster and they’re setting up a situation where she’s gonna get booed when her name is announced. It’s a self-inflicted wound for a very minor gain.

        But, yeah, we’ll hear when we hear, if that…

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        1. The announcement of Sam Coffey’s signing dropped today, so the marketing department is back from the holidays. Obviously it’s good to start off with a story every Thorns fan should be excited about.
          It will be interesting to see how they handle Nasello. Personally, I don’t know enough to decide whether she’s a lost cause. Hopefully the FO decision makers know a lot more. I wouldn’t be surprised if they tried to buy some time by lending her to a team elsewhere in the world. That would generate a history outside the Florida/family hothouse. They could then either quietly drop her or start releasing a trickle of stories that show her in a more positive light.

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          1. I don’t believe you are going to see positive articles about Nasello. I believe they are trying to place her in Europe and revisit this in a year.

            I also think there is going to come a point where Paulson starts disregarding noisier fans altogether

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            1. Paulson would desperately like to ignore the ultras. His problem is that his teams brands are utterly dependent on them and the atmosphere they bring. No flags, no drums, no smoke? BO-ring. Nobody’s going to write Equalizer or Guardian articles about 20,000 Portlanders sitting on their duffs.

              So he does need to walk something of a line between catering to the most politically active of the fanbase and that impacting his bottom line.

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              1. It’s a fine line.

                He has to accept the nonsense of people threatening to stop buying tickets to “protect the players”.

                It’s a gesture, but I’m not sure people realize that basically is threatening the players livelihood or giving them less leverage to negotiate a better CBA deal to “protect them”

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                1. The pressure is great. The red smoke to symbolize the org needs to do something about abuse and the calls for more are appreciated and commendable actions.

                  It’s going the step beyond where you don’t consider the unintended consequences and hurt the players that bothers me a bit.

                  Lowering season ticket revenues in a CBA year is not a positive to the players. I just wish the fans that take the steps figure out how to isolate the players from the implications of the actions meant to show owners no more.

                  The intentions are wonderful, but if actions damage the group you are intending to protect … are you helping?

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                  1. I doubt that the club’s finances are taking much of a hit from boycotts in Plague Year Three. Fear regarding the contagion is likely hurting them worse.

                    The flip side of having a passionately engaged potion of the fanbase is that you have to deal with the political/social inclinations of that fanbase. The club wants the noise and spectacle, it needs to accept that comes with a price.

                    The ultras have to accept that the club is a business and, as such, needs primarily to make money. In sport that means sinning games and bagging silverware, and if there are people whose talents come with unpleasant options but those talents are substantial enough to offset the unpleasantness of the opinions then the club may employ those people.

                    (Nasello is not one of those talents, at least not yet, IMO…)

                    But the reality is that there is a section of the fanbase that won’t accept playing her, and it’s up to the FO to decide if that section is worth listening to. I’m not the FO, so fortunately I don’t need to make that decision.

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  7. It looks like Horan will be signed by OL for the 2022 season. That really opens up 2022 as an opportunity for Ryan and Coffey to get some serious playing time. The fact that Horan has played with Henry, Carpenter and Macario and has played in the French league for PSG makes sense for them with PSG nipping at their heels and Barcelona looking like the new best team in Europe.
    I expect 2022 will be a crazy shake out season in the NWSL. The Spirit and Thorns are obvious favorites, but there are a lot of other teams that could wind up in the top six. A potential problem for the Spirit is that; as of now they have 7 players called up to USWNT camp, the Thorns only have two, Smith and Horan. Interesting year coming up.

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    1. Not to mention that if OL signed her now it’d be for HALF their season – the UEFA leagues run late-summer-to-late-spring. Tiny chance they’d sign her through the January transfer window…but why? Comfortably sitting top of table, three points clear? OL doesn’t really need anyone at this point.

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  8. So…couple of things have happened since our last entry.

    1) San Diego nicked Sofia Jackobsson away from Bayern…while Tigres signed Mia Fishel away from Orlando. We still don’t have a good data point on whether theNWSL is becoming a selling league.
    2) Several Thorns, including Weaver, Smith, and Horan, got called up for the USWNT January camp.
    3) Here in Portland, the Peregrine FO officially broke with the 107ist organization.

    Lots of discussion over at the Stumptown posts and I won’t rehash it here, but I think both sides have to take some blame. The FO has been less than forthcoming about issues that many of the North End regulars think are important. Those ultras have been adamant in their demands for #GWOut, which – without receipts from 2015 – is a hill Paulson will die on. Neither side appears willing to back down, so it’s probably as well they stepped back. Hopefully when the soccer begins again in a couple of weeks AND the investigations are concluded the sides can begin talking again.

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  9. I am hoping this week we will hear about signing another forward. Jacobsson was a real coup for San Diego, but they look strong in front and back, but not much in the middle, run and gun maybe?
    I was really happy for Weaver and it will be good for her and Smith to get some experience in a real tough environment, not from the She Believes competitors, but from training camp. Even without Press, Heath, Morgan and Dunn there are some excellent players they will be training with. Both Smith and Weaver are having to adjust to most defenders being nearly as fast or as fast as them.
    I am pretty tired of the posts on Stumptown, I read it because it is interesting sometimes, but I would much rather read about soccer, then hear people whinge about when MP and GW are going to be hung, drawn and quartered (bit of exaggeration). That doesn’t mean I think the Riley thing was not bad, it was horrendous and we need to know more. The Nasello thing was a screw up, but one I would have made in their position, being an unsophisticated boomer social media user, the idea of running a search of someone’s social media would not have occurred to me. I can see that is not where we are now in 2021, in fact most companies have clever search engines with algorithms that can do that looking for key words. That is clever, but I am not going to think bad thoughts about Rhian and Katrina, honest rookie mistake and owned.
    What I am really excited about reading is the Barcelona’s and Madrid’s women will be packing Camp Nou, last I read 85,000 sold. That is awesome because the men’s team up until last year one of the best in the world if not the best, often only pulled 50 to 60 k.
    But on the negative side I went to Marca, the premier Spanish sports publication to see what they had to say and I had to do a lot of drilling down to find anything. Disappointing and it means there is still work to do.

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    1. Assuming that the club may sign another forward might take the load off Smith and Weaver a bit. But in the long run they still need to step up. Forwards – less players who are designated wingers or second-options who create – are there to score goals. They haven’t, despite being in dangerous positions. If Vlatko or one of the experienced Nats can change that? Good! We’re going to need them.

      A LOT of Europe is stone-cold patriarchy, and soccer is a “man’s game”. It’s great that some of the top women’s sides are drawing crowds and press…but that’s still a huge rarity, even more so than in this country and look at the front page of the ESPN website if you think that we’re all that much further “ahead”.

      But many, probably most, of the Euro women’s sides labor in poverty-stricken anonymity in front of crowds in the hundreds at best…

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      1. What is amazing about Spanish Women’s futbol scene is that before Vero revolted against the previous national team coach, they were dire. Once they replaced that coach and Barcelona began investing in a women’s team, everything shifted, they got a league and after awhile, even very conservative Real Madrid put together a team. Now they are considered at least a dark horse to win the World Cup.
        Vero paid heavily for that revolt, but the women’s scene has improved to the point where Barca is considered as good a team as Lyon, if not better. Vero is playing in Italy (Fiorentina), has a side hustle as a sport commentator for El Pais and had a soccer stadium in Santiago de Compostela (her hometown) named after her. Someday I hope she will be given a coaching gig. But you are right, most of Europe consider it a man’s game and they pay no attention.
        I guess that is true in the US too. I don’t notice it as much because I have Flipboard set up to scan my favorite newspapers and for sports my favorite teams, so there is not a lot I miss concerning Timbers, Blazers, Seahawks, NWSL or USWNT.
        Now I need some news on the Thorns roster!

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        1. Well…Hubly is signed, so there’s one down. Frankly, I’ll bet that a bunch of the others have signed, too, but the FO is their usual dilatory selves about getting the news out.

          Now – per Constant Weeder via Linehan – we just have to see if there’ll be a strike!

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  10. Where I am struggling is it looks like people are going out of their way to poke and I think I accurately projected that at some point Paulson was going to say he can’t win and stop. Now that they have done that, they need to be more transparent than ever which I doubt happens.

    TA is important to the game experience. Maybe not as much to me, but that doesn’t mean I am representative of your average fan.

    Looking forward to signings be announced this week and they supposedly are going after one international.

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    1. Hope we see something from the contract situation. Not betting on it.

      And it’d be nice if we saw some hope of movement on the CBA, but I’m not sure that’s moving forward, either, sadly…

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    1. Innnnnteresting! That – to me, anyway – suggests that 1) the negotiations are either not moving much or have pretty much run into a complete roadblock, and 2) the PA, at least, is convinced that it’s the league that’s not negotiating in good faith.

      I hate a work stoppage…but I also hate the existing situation more. The players need a solid CBA. If the league isn’t willing to bargain with them to get one? Walking out is the only real leverage the players have.

      We’ll see what happens over the next ten days…

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