Thorns FC: Not so fast…

Last Tuesday night the Sophia Smith Stomp-Down made the Thorns look like runaway Shield winners. Smith ran wild, the team around her looked smooth and connected, the passes clicked, the possession was entirely Portland’s…the future looked incandescent.

Friday night brought all that back to Earth.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

The Thorns beat the Chicago Red Stars 1-nil on a flukey 73rd minute goal off the boot of Sam Coffey that beat Alyssa Naeher to her top left corner. The goal was nicely taken, and was effectively created by Sophia Smith who was, as she was Tuesday, the engine of what attack the Thorns created.

That silky passing and effective-movement-to-space from Tuesday, though?

Gone.

Instead the Thorns looked like they had against Seattle the previous Saturday; lots of Route One, lots of lateral passes, lots of people struggling to connect with each other and mishitting passes or getting tackled for loss.

And keep in mind Chicago has not looked particularly good in this preseason tournament; held scoreless by the junior Nats, who put on a good show against them…

Image by Chris Henderson on Twitter

…and losing – and looking mostly ineffective – to Seattle. For a team that was last season’s runner-up they’ve been shaken hard, losing their head coach in a spectacularly awful fashion.

Friday night they had nothing going forward, really; the Thorns outshot them something like 19 to 20 to 9 and the shots on frame were similarly lopsided.

But possession was nearly equal; I kept track of possession time over several five-minute stretches and it ranged from roughly 50-50 to 60-40 Portland, but with a particularly rough patch between the 25th and 30th minute when the Thorns couldn’t hold onto the ball – Chicago had it for nearly 4 of the 5 minutes.

Other than the result this match reminded us of several promising developments we’ve seen over the past week. In particular, several new Thorns have shown real promise over this preseason stretch.

Sam Coffey has looked active, aggressive, and dangerous; her goal Friday was just reward for the good forechecking pressure and clever passing she’s shown throughout.

Taylor Porter has done well, making intelligent runs and defensive actions.

Natalie Beckman has been solid defensively and contributed some effective passing.

Gabby Provenzano has been sturdy in back.

Overall the club looks solid defensively (as it should be, with five in the backline when the ball is coming at them..!)

But the question whether the squad is effectively learning the attacking part of Coach Wilkinson’s 3-5-2 system, whether they can consistently score on good opponents?

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

I’m going to say that’s very much open.

Is the club at least decent all around? Yes. I saw no glaring holes anywhere, no one who looked incapable of professional play, no obvious systemic failures, except..

…I didn’t see an answer to the “where are the goals going to consistently come from?” question we kept asking last season.

If Smith is the only answer, well…it’s not all that hard to mark a single player out of a match, and without Smith the rest of the Thorns attack is…still questionable. I don’t think this tournament has helped us assess how well this club will convert against decent opposition when the games begin to count.

Which is…(checks notes), goddammit, next week!?

Hold on. Holy shit. This might be a reeeeeeal wild ride.

Image by Chicago Red Stars on Twitter

Player Ratings and Comments

Smith, S. (+5/-3 : +8/-3 : +13/-6) Well, Chicago is still okay defensively (just okay, mind…), so not the human wrecking ball she was against the juniors, but Sophia Smith looks head-and-shoulders better than she did last season. Her runs are just as effective, but she’s smacking the ball with authority and putting those shots on frame more often. Hammered a shot off the top far corner just two minutes before her left-post banger set up Coffey.

Coach Wilkinson still needs to find her help to make her even more effective. The squad is obviously trying, but the bugs haven’t been worked out, and perhaps the most obvious example I saw last night was in the 22nd minute. Smith had made another of her signature strong runs into the left side of the Chicago box, but had drawn two defenders and was looking for an outlet. Christine Sinclair and Hina Sugita rushed the 18 to provide that, but rushed the same spot, nearly collided, and were tangled up long enough for the Red Star defenders to pick Smith’s pocket.

There’s been quite a bit of that; players not being able to coordinate their movements to pass around defenders or out of trouble. Raquel Rodriguez looked terrific doing that Tuesday night, but either it’s an only-Rodriguez thing or (unfortunately) it’s more about the juniors’ skill level.

Sinclair (64′ – +3/-1 : +0/-0 : +3/-1) Troubling. Struggled heavily to get forward, again without a shot, and the smooth connection with Smith looks increasingly like an artifact of her experience versus the inexperience of the juniors’ defenders. Even dropping deep to gain possession Sinc wasn’t able to turn that into completed passes with the Red Stars midfield up in her grille. As I’ll discuss below; this may be a thorny issue and one that will require all of Coach Wilkinson’s skills to address.

Weaver (26′ – +2/-1) Christ, I might as well just mimeograph my Weaver comment and paste it every match (anyone else recall “mimeographs”? They were the copy of choice when I was in high school, and you knew who worked in the office because they always smelled faintly of the sweetly pungent aroma of the purple-ink paper).

Terrific run and shot in the 86th minute that forced a big save out of Naeher, but still plays with more force than finesse. Hopefully one of these days someone – maybe the club can hire Sam Kerr during her WSL offseason – will show Morgan Weaver that there are other means of attack than “run real fast and shoot real hard and straight”. Until then, well…

Sugita (64′ – +4/-4 : +1/-0 : +5/-4) In what was to me a frustrating display of individual skill Hina Sugita showed some promisingly clever movement and passing Friday night. Frustrating because it typically went nowhere; she was often bullied out of the match by Chicago’s midfield and failed to find consistent connections to her teammates.

Clearly this is a skilled player. Also clearly she needs more time and work to become effective. Right now I don’t see a point to starting her over Rodriguez. I don’t want to bring up Andressinha here, but…

Porter (26 – +2/-0) As I noted above; Porter is one of the newer Thorns I think showed well in this tournament. Tough tackler and good marker, smart passes and off-the-ball movement. I’d like to see her signed.

Everett (45′ – +2/-1) Not able to shake free from Chicago pressure, and thus not very effective. I think her replacement at halftime suggests Coach Wilkinson thought so, too.

Ryan (45′ – +3/-1) All her usual strengths – activity, good defensive work and clever passing. Missed an absolute sitter in the 58th minute, tho.

Coffey (90+1 – +3/-2 : +8/-0 : +11/-2) After the last match Friend of the Blog Thornando compared Sam Coffey to Amandine Henry and I bridled like a terrified pit pony. That’s a hell of a huge load of expectation to lay on a youngster with two professional games on her c.v.! That said…

Friday night was a very Henryesque performance. Rock-solid defensively, dangerous going forward, sweetly taken goal..? That’s, well…nope. Nope. Nopenopenope. Not going to go there.

But I sure liked what I saw, and let’s hope to see more of that.

Miller (3′ – no rating)

Klingenberg (+2/-0 : +2/-0 : +4/-0) The wingback system requires Kling to push way up and then race back when the ball turns over. That’s a lot to ask, even for a player who seems to have some sort of Fountain of Youth in her waterbottle. So far Kling has done decently; just decently – she doesn’t seem to have formed the sorts of connections providing service to the current midfield that she had with Tobin Heath or Lindsey Horan. But we’ve yet to see her matched up against a truly pacey winger. Let’s put a pin in that and we’ll see what happens then.

Nally (64′ – +4/-2 : +0/-0 : +4/-2) The toothlessness of the Chicago “attack” makes it hard to grade the Thorns backline, but so far as I can tell Meaghan Nally did good work. She seems to have a knack for long passing, as well, so if she’s going to be a regular at centerback I think the Thorns are well set up there.

Provenzano (26 – +1/-0) I could pretty much paste the Nally comment in here; Provenzano has been effective in the backline…with the caveat that we haven’t seen our backline tested against a club like Washington – Seattle left their big attacking pieces out last Saturday – se we might have to see what happens next week at the Clink.

Menges (+1/-2 : +0/-1 : +1/-3) Bianca St. Georges beat her like a drum in the 47th minute and both she and Abby Smith were damn lucky St. Georges fired wide. Still not looking like her old self, and I have no idea why.

Hubly (+3/-1 : +2/-0 : +5/-1) Still a fine defensive starter, still doing all her usual good work. If the club is going to run a three-centerback set the depth at centerback is critical, and with Sauerbrunn, Menges, Hubly, Nally, and Provenzano so far that depth looks good to go.

Kuikka (64′ – +7/-1 : +1/-1 : +8/-2) Doing better at the whole “wingback” thing than Klingenberg, possibly because she’s profiting at having Smith on her side of the pitch. All the usual positives.

Beckman (26′ – +2/-1) Looking more and more like reliable depth at fullback, and at this stage in her career that’s just fine.

Smith, A. (+0/-0 : +2/-0 : +2/-0) Virtually untroubled all night, so hard to assess. Certainly not unreasonable as depth, still don’t see her moving up.

Image by Portland Thorns FC on Facebook

Coach Wilkinson: Well, we now have three games in the Wilkinson Era. What do we know?

  1. Wilkinson likes the wingback/3-5-2 set. Worked like magic against youthful opposition, struggled a bit against other professionals.
  2. Many young players are doing quite well. Suggesting that she is a good judge of and developer of young talent.
  3. Smith has flourished in two of those three games in ways that she didn’t for Parsons. How much that’s Wilkinson and how much Smith’s own growth for club and country is hard to separate, but my guess is that it’s more the latter.
  4. She hasn’t answered the question of “how do the Thorns score if not from Smith?” Against the other NWL clubs the Thorns scored 0.5G/game. That’s not going to do well going forward.

Frankly, I’d like to see Wilkinson put a bit more effort into dealing with Sinclair. Sinc is a difficult issue right now; she’s not “bad”, but she’s not really “good”, not consistently, and her role on the club is still in flux. I’d like to see her be successful on the field but, if she can’t, I’d like to see her willing to move to the reserves so her club can find out what the post-Sinclair Era looks like.

Maybe we’ll see that in Seattle next week!

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32 thoughts on “Thorns FC: Not so fast…

  1. Three games later my mind is unchanged. We need a second starting quality forward! I don’t know if there are any out there domestically or we need to look overseas, but we need to make a move. Weaver is not developing, Betfort is miles away and Sincy is past her prime. Maybe trade Kling ?

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    1. Trade Klingenberg?! Nooooooo! not the heart and soul of the team!
      If the team can be patient this year- let Weaver and the new youngsters develop- they get Horan and Dunn back next year. Perhaps Sinclair retires by then, to resolve that awkward dilemma. Then, the team seems married to Dunn anyway, so hopefully she can become a starting-calibre forward again when she gets her chance.
      It might seem a long way off right now, but by the end of next season, Thorns could reinsert Horan into a great young core of players, for a really good and deep lineup for quite some time to come.

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      1. If the club is utterly dependent on an aging fullback for its heart, well…

        But as I responded below, Kling is still valuable here and not so much as trade bait. At least until the summer window we’ve just got to hope that some of the other forwards can step up.

        Horan will be 30 in 2024, and she’s been struggling with her club form since at least 2019. I’m going to hope that her European Vacation helps get her groove back…but I also wouldn’t bet the house on Horan returning anytime soon. My guess is that she’ll want to make some bank with Les Plutocrattes, and if OL gets kicked out of the CL (fingers crossed..!) she’ll want another shot at it in 22-23′.

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    2. Kling is a treat, and she’s also still a useful piece here but her trade value elsewhere is problematic. Unfortunately we’d need someone like Kuikka or Rodriguez if we wanted trade bait. I don’t see her going as part of a “trade-for-a-big-name-striker” deal.

      But the larger point is that the transfer window is closed until midsummer anyway, and we’ll have to see; it’s not impossible that one of the forwards takes a step forward with more playing time. We’ll just have to see.

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  2. Re: Sinclair- she did have maybe the Thorns’ best scoring chance with a SOG in the first half- but that only happened because a cornerkick missed everyone’s heads and landed at her feet in front of the goal. Credit to her for getting in the right spot, but that’s about the only way Sinclair can get a shot on goal now- ie, for the ball to fall to her feet when she’s open.
    But the thing that troubles me is that Coach Wilkinson brought up Sinclair’s “great shot” in her post-game interview- which makes it seem more likely that she’s going to judge Sinclair’s ability to contribute through overly-deferential rose-colored glasses.
    In reality, it seemed to me the Thorns’ attack got better when Weaver was up top with Smith, giving Smith someone to create with, and adding pressure and chances for everyone with her own speed and energy.

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    1. Was Sinc the one that got a boot to that scrimmage ball? I honestly looked down during the replay and missed it.

      I’ve honestly never seen any real synergy between Smith and Weaver. You’d think there should be, but Smith seems to play better off the midfielders – Rodriguez, Coffey, Sinc against the U-23s – or Kuikka. Last night’s improvement after the hour is difficult for me to credit Weaver simply because of all the other subs that came on at 64′. Certainly she was part of that! But it looked like a lot of the uptick began with replacing Everett with Ryan at the turn, and then the addition of Porter along with Weaver.

      But the bottom line is that the Thorns were making half-chances all match. Chicago was just fairly hopeless, and it was Portland’s game to take. And we got lucky on a weird rebound off the post that forced Naeher to dive right and put her out of position for Coffey’s admittedly good shot.

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      1. “never seen any real synergy between Smith and Weaver”
        Well maybe twice; in the first game against Chicago 2021. Weaver two assists to Smith. Just sayin…
        Also in that game Smith had a fantastic back flip pass to Dunn, then Dunn hit the crossbar. Smith as I remember should have had a hat in that one but Davidson got in the the way, for an own goal.
        That synergy between Smith and Weaver should develop because one thing you can count on with Weaver in there with Smith, at least two Thorns will be crashing the box and with Coffey on the field make that three.

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        1. So….one game, and that the season opener in 2021 that subsequent meetings between the clubs proved was a shockingly aberrant one-off?

          I rest my case, y’r Honor.

          I agree that there SHOULD be more of a sum-of-the-parts thing between the two forwards. But so far we haven’t really seen it…I suspect because they both prefer to dribble at goal. To work off each other one would have to be more of a fox-in-the-box, working sort of the way Coffey did, hawking deflections and rebounds, cleaning up the mess that the other made to poach goals. But that doesn’t seem to be either one’s thing.

          1
          1. True that, but I don’t remember many games where they played for a long stretch together, like they did against Chicago, we had Charley and Weaver and Charley were sharing that other forward position. Yes it was an aberrant performance by a good Chicago defense. With quality like Chicago has you would expect them to figure out after a game like that what Weaver and Smith were capable of. Even Julie Ertz for the 30 minutes she played seemed to be steamrollered. When she went down I remember thinking first “Oh no she is hurt” and then “Gosh I didn’t realize she was out there.” Very aberrant performance by Chicago.
            Another instance of synergy was the game against I think Houston where Weaver won the ball in the air, passed over her head to Horan, who slipped it forward to Smith who dragged a defender into the box and beat the goalie.
            Because they were both so poor in finishing last year Smith/Weaver combination play was more a lot could haves. Smith’s finishing is better this year, but still could improve and Weaver still needs to improve. She is still getting into dangerous situations. I really like the pressure she puts on the opposition.
            I still feel Smith and Weaver should be our starting forwards. They are both fast, aggressive in different ways and can put a lot of pressure on opposing teams defenders.

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            1. But they have to be more than the sum of their parts, if that’s going to be the plan. Right now Smith looks much improved, Weaver, so – same old, same old…and it’s not a “same” that Smith can really work with, or, at least, hasn’t up until now.

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  3. Thanks John for the summary I didn’t get to this game either. I loved your comment on Coffey. Your right she is not Mandy yet; and maybe never, but I am totally with the hype train. I liked what I saw against Seattle. The highlight reel of her score made me happy too because there were at least two other Thorns that rebound could have deflected to and so that means we have some people charging the box. Smith really slammed that one. Hell if Coffey had missed it, Abby Smith might have had a chance.

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  4. I’m reposting my comment to yr “Thorns FC: Olive-Green Shoots” because it was too late there & still relevant here: there is simply no way to replace Horan-Dunn-Salem, but Sugita was supposed to be a start & what we saw in the game worried me- she looked like a rag doll being around the field- worse than a rag doll because she looked so breakable. I hoping I’m wrong – we don’t want another Andessina

    And Thornado replied with the hysterical/disheartening meld: AndressHina…

    Kling is the same size and I could see her bodying anyone off the ball.. so..

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    1. Hope so, too. I’m hopeful that with more minutes she’ll get better at connecting with her teammates. That was the main issue I saw; she couldn’t find an outlet pass and was tackled. If the club can figure out how to make that happen, tho…

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          1. Thanks. She’s a midfielder with midfielder skills. Not as worried about her size after last night. Just a bad idea thrown out there that should be thrown away on my part

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  5. Thorns all-time roster of Internationals (including Canadians). You can cobble together a pretty good XI and 18 out of this list!

    Acavedo
    Angerer
    Anonma
    Boquete
    Brynjarsdottir
    Carpenter
    Catley
    Cavalari
    Crnogorcevic
    Foord
    Henry
    Kuikka
    Kyle
    LeBlanc
    Nadim
    Polkinghorne
    Raso
    Robbins
    Rodriguez
    Sinclair
    Sugita
    Sykes
    Taylor
    Terry
    Wilkinson

    GK: Angerer, LeBlanc
    D: Carpenter, Catley, Crnogorcevic, Kuikka, Polkinghorne
    M: Boquete, Brynjarsdottir, Henry, Rodriguez, Sinclair
    F: Foord, Nadim, Raso, Sykes, Taylor

    For my 18th spot, I’d probably go either with Anonma or Sugita.

    Anyway, let’s give Sugita some time to find her way… and find her way away from being the next Andressinha.

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    1. Actually, that’s an interesting list because:

      Acavedo – never played a minute
      Angerer – arrived on at the end of her career, successful as coach
      Anonma – didn’t work out. period
      Boquete – one season, and that a forgettable one
      Brynjarsdottir – had a great 2016, not so much after that
      Carpenter – very successful here
      Catley – good signing cut short by retierment
      Cavalari – never able to find a role
      Crnogorcevic – played out of position, not successful
      Foord – injured, then largely unsuccessdul
      Henry – critical part of 2017, great signing
      Kuikka – has been terrific so far
      Kyle – only 12 games in 2015
      LeBlanc – wonderful 2013
      Nadim – did well here
      Polkinghorne – another Riley fail, only nine games in 2015
      Raso – good signing
      Robbins – barely remember her
      Rodriguez – has done decently, at least
      Sinclair – GOAT
      Sugita – too soon to tell
      Sykes – big part of 2016, lost to early retirement
      Taylor – too soon to tell
      Terry – the enigmatic Hanna Terry…poster child for “WTF is she here for..?”
      Wilkinson – yet ANOTHER Riley international fail, 1 game in 2015.

      So…agree that there’s a pretty good bunch of players there, but look at the balance sheet:

      Successful here: Angerer (as coach), Dagny (for 2016), Carpenter, Catley, Henry, Kuikka, LeBlanc, Nadim, Raso, Rodriguez, Sinc, Sykes (12)
      Unsuccessful here: Acevedo, Ano, Vero, Andressina, AMC, Foord, Kyle, Polkinghorne, Robbins, Terry, Wilkinson (11)
      Too Soon: Sugita, Taylor.

      So the Thorns are just about exactly 50-50 on internationals. And these are “big” signings, the one the FO is supposedly taking extra time and effort on!

      Now..admittedly, a shit-ton of them are on Riley’s failed 2015 experiment. But it kind of points out that as generally successful the FO has been at team-buildings, the “big signings” have been pretty hit-or-miss over the years. Hopefully it’s simply too soon to tell and Sugita will be a “success” by the end of 2022…

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      1. Yeah, if I were going to wring an XI out of it, there are some names I would excise.

        I listed AMC on the backline because, as you note, she was playing out of position.

        It’s also an interesting list because Thorns have generally gone into the international transfer market looking for help in the midfield and on the attack, not nearly so much on the backline. That said, Carpenter and Kuikka, obviously, have been excellent additions.

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        1. Just for giggles, here’s my Thorns International XI:

          GK: LeBlanc
          (A toss-up. Seems like heresy to leave off Angerer, but LeBlanc’s 2013 > Angerer’s 2014-2015)

          D: Carpenter, Catley, Crnogorcevic, Kuikka
          (I’m cheating here and putting AMC where she belongs on the field)

          M: Boquete, Henry, Rodriguez, Sinclair
          (I’ll take Vero over Dagny, because Mandy and Rocky can give Vero the protection she needs)

          F: Nadim, Raso, Taylor
          (leaving off Sykes and Foord here, going with lots of high pressure and forechecking, plus Taylor’s overall history of biscuit-basketing)

          So… LeBlanc, Carpenter, Catley, AMC, Kuikka, Boquete, Henry, Rodriguez, Sinclair, Nadim, Raso, Taylor.

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          1. Oops… I can’t count!

            I put 12 on the field instead of 11.

            I’ll pull Taylor from the group and move Sinc up to the frontline with Nadim and Raso.

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  6. With today’s signing of Beckman and Provenzano the Thorns active roster stands at 24…which means no Porter and no Taylor.

    Unfortunate, in Porter’s case. I thought she was better than Beckman (and I didn’t think Beckman was poor, but I thought Porter was better…) but my guess is that she wasn’t better than Coffey who shared the DM position with her.

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  7. I count 23 including Dunn. I believe the number is at 22 because of the cap, though I’d be happy if they could acquire Madison Haley (former Stanford), Jada Tilley (former USC), or Lucy Shepherd (former Hofstra / international)

    2022 Portland Thorns FC Roster

    Goalkeepers (3):
    Bella Bixby, Shelby Hogan, Abby Smith

    Defenders (7):
    Kelli Hubly, Meghan Klingenberg, Natalia Kuikka (INTL), Emily Menges, Meaghan Nally, Madison Pogarch, Becky Sauerbrunn

    Midfielders (7):
    Sam Coffey, Crystal Dunn (ML), Olivia Moultrie, Gabby Provenzano (CDP), Rocky Rodríguez, Yazmeen Ryan, Hina Sugita (INTL)

    Forwards (6):
    Natalie Beckman (CDP), Hannah Betfort, Marissa Everett, Christine Sinclair, Sophia Smith, Morgan Weaver

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    1. Nope. Nopenopenope. Twenty-four WITH Dunn…and now that Taylor Porter HAS been signed there’s 25 on the club page roster. As the Columbia Boulevard dance bar famously once asked; HOW CAN BE???

      Ah. Wait! Here’s how can be; from the league’s March 15 roster drop presser: “…in accordance with the league’s deadline to cut their rosters down to 22-26 players.”

      That seems deeply weird to me. Why “22 to 26”? Why not “26”? Or “22”, for that matter? How I read this is that the league is giving the clubs the Cup period to pare their rosters down to 22 by Opening Day of the season. Anybody else read it that way, or am I goofing?

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  8. Admittedly I do not understand this at all, but shouldn’t we get to have a replacement for Dunn who won’t be playing at all this season? Also, Porter was signed for a year, so she can’t be “pared” can she? Maybe it means just that – teams shouldn’t have less than 22 nor more than 26?

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    1. On Friday’s IR Dunn is listed as “maternity leave”; I can’t find anything in the NWSL rules that specifies what that means. If it’s the equivalent of a “Season-ending injury”? Yes, Dunn shouldn’t count against whatever-the-roster-limit (I think it’s 22) is going to be. But I don’t have any real confidence that’s it.

      I think Porter is rostered. What that means if the limit IS 22? I don’t know. SOME body will have to be cut.

      I think the “22 to 26” means that teams “should” have 22 but “can” have up to 26…until some time (probably May, when the regular season begins) when the final limits kick in.

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      1. The new CBA needs to be checked, but I think it is

        22 minimum
        24 maximum

        You can have 2 NRI’s as replacements during the international window that don’t count against the formal cap.

        With Dunn still working, there is zero chance I’d put her on an out the year designation.

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