Drafts and Deals – 2023

Over the last couple of weeks the Thorns made some roster moves, which we should discuss.

They also did the usual Peregrine thing, which is…nothing, at least nothing that helps us understand where exactly the roster is at this moment.

Unknown unknowns

Specifically, as far as we know there are a total of five players from the 2022 squad out of contract.

Four have been tendered offers but that as of the linked presser above on November 15 were still un-signed: Hannah Betfort, Shelby Hogan, Tegan McGrady and Meaghan Nally.

However, we’re still working under the Peregrine Code of Omerta; say nothing unless you have to speak or die, so they may be signed, or not.

Remember that in past years we’ve had to figure out who was probably under contract purely by where they were sighted (“Oh, look; Hubly is in this picture from training! She must be re-signed!”).

So that means we’ll find out either when the camp opens, the club makes an announcement (don’t hold your breath…), or they show up in San Diego in a Wave kit or in Kona selling longboards or who the fuck knows.

The fifth – Michelle Vasconcelos – is a free agent. Given her limited minutes last season she isn’t going to be the object of a bidding war, so my guess is that if the Thorns want her (and she’s useful depth if there’s room on the roster) they can sign her.

As with the other four, we won’t know until they tell us or she turns up elsewhere, whenever that may be.

Known Knowns

So on January 5 the club announced that a four-club deal had sent Yazmeen Ryan to Gotham FC. The actual deal included:

Angel City FC sent Portland the fifth overall pick in this year’s NCAA draft and their second round pick next year and $200K in Bermanbux and got Ryan in exchange. Flipped Ryan in return for the pick and $250K in Bermanbux

Gotham FC sent their 2023 #1 overall pick to ACFC in exchange for Ryan. To keep their hand in the draft the Joisey Goils sent Orlando some Bermanbux for the 2023 #2 pick overall and a 2024 fourth pick.

Orlando sent the picks in exchange for $350K in Gotham cash (speculation at the time was – as I wrote on the “January open thread” – that this was to try and bag Debinha, which as we known now failed).

What this complicated was the Thorns draft; suddenly the “enh, we kinda need some help upfront in July” became “Who’s gonna score when the internationals are gone..?” and presented the picture we had at the beginning of the fiesta in Philly last Thursday.

Plus there was the uncertainty; was this going to be another Nasello clown show? Was KK in over her head, as a lot of fans (and some pundits) speculated?

Well…

Known Unknowns

Last Thursday’s draft brought us four new players, and we have no real idea what they’ll be doing here, or how well. But I want to take a moment to talk about the whole business and how fraught the life and hopes of a pro WoSo soccer player are.

The Draft of Living Dangerously

Arielle Dror has a nice graphic that shows exactly how precarious life is for a college player hoping to turn pro:

Only about 20% of the players registered ever get drafted. Of the 20% that were drafted in 2022 only 40% of that group ever saw a minute of playing time, meaning that your overall chance of playing for money if you graduated in 2022 was about 8%.

Soccer, cruel game, remember? Ouch.

Admittedly, some of those players will land overseas. And some, a very lucky few, will be invited to the training camps as non-roster invitees (NRIs) and catch. Mana Shim did, famously, here, in 2013.

Which makes me wonder…how likely is that? How many players can hope for a second bite at that apple? Just because this is my blog, let’s take a detour for a moment and look at that by season. Here’s who got that chance here in Portland:

2013Shim, of course. Elizabeth Guess was signed off the waiver wire from Boston. A veteran of the WPS/WUSA era, she played four games in 2013 and was waived in January 2014.

2014Hanna Terry was picked up in midseason, hung on for the following year despite no more than a handful of appearances (2 in 2014, 6 in 2015) and was gone in August 2015. She’s still playing in Europe.

2015 – Four players got replacement callups for the World Cup. Two – Taylor Comeau and Alyssa Kleiner – played about eight or nine games each that season and went on to have minor careers for other teams. To be fair, Comeau did play 60 games for Chicago and Houston before retiring, but neither was a regular anywhere for long.

2016 – The only real “second-chancer” here in 2016 was Meg Morris who came to the Thorns in a roundabout way. She was picked up as a discovery player…but by Sky Blue in 2014. The Joisey Goils waived her when their internationals returned in 2015 and we picked her up in the 2016 offseason. She went down with a horrible hip fracture in June and never really played again.

2017Meghan Cox was signed as an NRI in April, played 9 games, and was cut in August. She played three games over the next two seasons and was out of the game by 2019. Bill Cornett reminded me that Kelli Hubly was a replacement player that year, too, though, and we know her story.

2018Elizabeth Ball was undrafted that season but signed with Portland as an NRI, played 7 games that year and had 14 starts in 2019 before being traded to the Kroyals.

2019 – Two players came off the undrafted list: Madison Pogarch and Simone Charley. No need to review their careers here, but they were the first since Shim to have real pro careers.

2020 – Nobody; all three rookies were draftees

2021 – One of the two World Cup replacements – Taylor Porter – is still here. We never even saw Raisa Strom-Okimoto before she was released.

2022 – A bunch of Olympic Games replacements came in June and July. Two of them – Katy Byrne and Sophie French – qualify as “second-chancers”. Byrne went undrafted in in 2019 but showed up here as a replacement and kind of hung around for a bit in 2020 before being cut. French was a University of Portland alum who disappeared after the Games.

Summary – a total of 14 players managed to catch on with the Thorns over 10 years if we discount the two odd-bodies last season.

Of those, seven – Shim, Comeau, Hubly, Ball, Pogarch, Charley, and Porter – could be said to have had useful “second-chance” careers. Morris should count, too, seeing that her injury was freakish and she’d been playing well up to that point.

Eight second-chances in ten years. Out of, what, about 200-odd players registered every year, so let’s say something like 2,000 players over the course of the league. Of those, something like 350 – let’s call it 400 to be fair – are drafted. Of the remaining 1,600 the Thorns signed and actually played 8 players over 10 years, 0.8 players a year. Multiply that by an average of 10 clubs over ten years?

That means about 80 more players got a second chance. Out of about 1,600.

0.05, or 5%. That’s your hope for a second chance.

Yep. Pretty cruel game.

Okay. You’ve indulged me long enough. Now, let’s…

Meet the Draftees

First Round, Fifth Overall: Reyna Reyes (LB, Alabama)

Top Drawer Soccer rated Reyes as #7 overall, and their top-ranked defender. Chris Henderson had her as second overall on his “cheat sheet” with an impact rating of 2.77.

On that sheet she’s shown as completing 80% of her passes, including about 20% of those as “key passes”. She’s well in the middle-to high range on most of her defensive stats (challenge success 69%, aerial challenges 67%, tackles 78%, about 7 interceptions a game, which is decent – most LBs on the sheet are in the 6-9 range). Her crossing looks average (about 40% success).

Henderson liked this pick for quality, tho I think he doesn’t see her starting anywhere soon:

I wanted depth at fullback, and Reyes is excellent depth at fullback. If you remember I liked her as a prospect, so I’m pretty chuffed we nicked her with the trade for Yazmeen Ryan. We needed quality and she’s quality. Good start, Team KK.

First Round, Twelfth Overall: Izzy D’Aquila (CF, Santa Clara)

My concern with the Ryan trade was that we didn’t have much attacking depth and we’d just traded most of it away.

Well, KK & Co. used the other first rounder to pick up what appears to be a solid prospect at forward.

The consensus pick for the #5 was Penelope Hocking, Top Drawer’s #20 overall and Henderson’s top-rated winger.

Pretty much everyone and their dog guessed that forwards Alyssa Thompson and Michelle Cooper would go 1-2 and they did. Orlando had a shockingly un-Orlando moment and grabbed CB Emily Madril at #3 to douse the dumpster fire that is their backline, and Gotham grabbed F/MF Jenna Nighswonger

Going for Reyes with #5 meant losing a real chance at Hocking and, sure enough, she went to Chicago with #7 overall (“Value over need.” snarked Henderson, “I don’t think Chicago needs forwards, but Hocking at #7 is a huge steal. Just hope they have plan for the midfield…”).

Two more quality forwards came off the board before the #12; Kansas City – who fucking killed it this draft! – grabbed Alexa Spaanstra with #10 and The Damned Courage snapped up Haley Hopkins with #11, leaving D’Aquila for Portland.

I’d kind of like to have bagged a winger, but with Smith gone for the World Cup the need for a true #9 is going to be there.

Let’s take a comparative look at who we got. I’ve put her numbers up alongside Hocking’s, and also added Kayla Fisher out of Ohio State, the next forward drafted after D’Aquila (by Louisville with #16 overall).

Remember that “Pegasus” is Henderson’s “impact” stat – the bigger the number the more often that player was the best on the pitch. Anything below a one is pretty meh, 1-2 is “good to very good”, and above 2 is “very good to great”.

Note also that “Chances” means chances created per game. “Key” is key passes per game, and “Dribble” is a ground attack with the ball at her feet per game.

Player“4YR Pegasus”Conv. RateChancesPass %KeyCross %Dribble
Hocking3.3835%1.5700.82143.1
D’Aquila2.0629%1.19650.18N/A1.1
Fisher2.8135%1.6620.95134.9

FWIW, Henderson luuurved this pick:

I kinda have to trust Henderson on this one. I like it fine, but looking at Fisher I don’t love it. I keep telling myself that I think we needed defensive depth more, so I need to be okay with losing the shot at Hocking or Hopkins or Spaanstra to grab Reyes.

And here’s the thing; KK & Co had a sucker punch hidden away, because deep in the second round they bagged:

Second Round, Twenty-fourth Overall: Lauren DeBeau (CF/MF, Michigan State University)

DeBeau was Top Drawer’s 27th overall (and it’s worth noting that Spaanstra was 42nd and Ally Schlegel, also taken before DeBeau, was 37th). Let’s look at her on the table we made above:

Player“4YR Pegasus”Conv. RateChancesPass %KeyCross %Dribble
Hocking3.3835%1.5700.82143.1
D’Aquila2.0629%1.19650.18N/A1.1
Fisher2.8135%1.6620.95134.9
DeBeau2.2541&1.48700.66N/A3.4

That’s terrific. That’s fucking outstanding. That’s a Wilkinson/Parsons-grade Late Round Steal. Between DeBeau and D’Aquila the front line should be sturdy enough to withstand the World Cup gutting.

And here’s the thing; Chaylyn Hubbard and Abigail Wolf are still unsigned.

So I think Team KK did a hell of a good job, plus they packaged the garbage time third and fourth rounders, moved up to #32 overall, and nicked:

Third Round, Thirty-Second Overall: Lauren Kozal (GK, Michigan State University

Kozal is kind of a good-news/bad news pick in my view. Top Drawer loved her to death; 10th overall nationally – not of keepers, of all players – and top-rated keeper.

But here she is against the three keepers I suggested back in the Dead Time:

PlayerGames PlayedxGaGoals AgainstDDiffDDiff/GameBig Save/Error
Madden2223.911310.910.4910
Orkus2024.91186.910.389.5
Berlin1825.251312.250.681.2
Kozal22*20.22146.220.281.7

Here’s what I said when I posted this table with just the top three keepers:

“If I had to pick I’d take Madden; I love Berlin’s shot-stopping numbers, but I can’t see her error rate as acceptable. I’m not Nadine Angerer, though; perhaps there’s a simple mechanics solution there die Kaiserin can train her out of.”

Henderson liked this pick:

Oooookay.

I note that on the table above Kozal, despite her big props from Henderson and her gaudy Top Drawer rating, looks more like Berlin in her error rate and more like Orkus in her shot-stopping, and that’s not a terrific look.

It’s also worth noting that Orkus as well as two other Henderson big-rated keepers, Savannah Madden of Texas (undrafted) and Lauren Brzykcy of UCLA (to San Diego with #33 overall) remained on the board when we took Kozal.

I’m tempted to trust Angerer (who I’m assuming directed this pick) and this player is the deepest of deep depth; we’re unlikely to even see her outside of a freakish extinction-level event. But I dunno; seems to me that we had some other options that at least from the cheap seats look more attractive. We’ll just have to see.

A Brief Moment of Snark: Summer Yates

Chris Henderson reeeeally liked this player, and was kind of chapped when she didn’t go until pretty deep in the late (fourth) rounds:

I was a little surprised, too; she seemed a hell of a prospect – Henderson had her top-rated of all his center mids by a huge margin – and Top Drawer had her 55th nationally. In a draft when Olivia Wingate (cue the Paramount+ announcer crew whispering “Olivia WHO???“) went at #6 overall it seemed pretty weird.

However, our Friend of the Rivet ABell4 had done her due diligence; turned out that young Yates is a stone MAGAt, and her socials are infested with wingnuts. ABell4 reported that Yates was following both Donnie Trump as well as wingnut pundit Ben Shapiro, and that was enough to put her down and out. Good to see that KK & Co. learned from last year’s Le Debacle’ de Nasello. Orlando? Gonna Orlando.

My only observation on all this is: Ben Shapiro? Really? Ben Shapiro?

I mean…there’s a metric crap-ton of prating, hysterical, sanctimonious, back-to-the-14th-Century wingnuts in WingnutPunditLand, all the way up to the AlphaNuts like Tucker Carlson. They’re all over the damn place for the choosy MAGAt to follow.

But…Ben Shapiro?

That’s just sad.

That’s like being a massively huge Nazi fan but your favorite Nazi is Rudolf Hess.

Summing Up

Overall, I think Team KK-Norris has done just fine this offseason, so far.

Got a steal with DeBeau, did fine with Reyes and D’Aquila, and picked up deep GK depth with Kozal. Made the best deal possible for Ryan, if the Ryan deal had to be made.

One interesting thing is I read a lot of people – including Henderson – are postulating Crystal Dunn as the starting RW.

I…dunno.

Certainly Dunn was an attacker for her club in college and at Cary, and in a 2020 interview she said that she sees herself as a “…wide forward, a wide midfielder.” At University of North Carolina she played the #10 her final two seasons, and played there again for The Damned Courage. She wants to attack.

In her only real season here, 2021, she was shackled by Mark Parsons’ diamond, and looked pedestrian as some sort of #6/8. Her 2022 consisted of a golazo and limited bunch of minutes just sort of running around. That’s hard to infer anything from.

Does she have – or can she regain – the sort of pace needed to get up the right touchline to keep up with Morgan Weaver on the left wing? Can she make a move to consistently playing on her right foot?

We may very well see.

Other than that – presuming all the unsigned players are inked – the club seems well set up for the 2023 campaign.

Now comes the long wait.

The camps will open some time between now and the beginning of March. The season opens near the end of March – 3/25/23, to be exact – with the Challenge Cup and regular season running concurrently from April.

What news will we hear between now and then?

Since this is now epic NWSL After Dark, I haven’t the slightest fucking idea.

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9 thoughts on “Drafts and Deals – 2023

  1. Thanks, John, for this informative roundup. And thanks for delving into the fates of the non-drafted, a small but not insignificant resource for roster building. It’ll be interesting to see whether Hubbard or Wolf or anyone else not drafted this year figure in Norris and KK’s plans.

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    1. My guess is that we’ll see a fairly big number of NRIs this preseason. The WC will be on everyone’s minds, and having a deep bench of replacements will be critical for sustaining momentum through the WC break.

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  2. Thanks John! Good summary and something to think about until we have some games. I agree that the Thorns had a pretty good draft. But KC Wow they really did kill it with this one.! A lot of people are shocked by the Lynn William trade, but given the long injury and right now she is a national and will be gone this summer, KC was smart.

    I am excited to see how the Thorn’s picks pan out, they all appear to have a lot going for them and some could be starters when the nats are gone. BUT, Tegan McGrady was the seventh pick in a first round and now there is a lot of “trade her” talk or she is “just deep depth.” Personally I don’t think she has had much of a chance to prove herself. With a Bay area team coming into the league next year, maybe she will find a place. I hope so.
    I saw some video clips of Kozal the Michigan goalie drafted and she looks athletic, but definitely still only a possible diamond in the rough.
    Also, I will miss Yazmeen Ryan. I think given enough playing time she may justify Mark Parson taking her ahead of Sam Coffey. Sam Coffey was born to be a six in the NWSL and she didn’t even know it until she arrived here. Ryan had to find her position and develop confidence that Sam seemed to be born with. If Ryan gets some playing time on a stacked Gotham front line this year we could see really good Yazmeen Ryan.

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    1. That trade will have to wait until we see whether Williams has rehabbed the injury and can return to playing at a professional level.

      If she can…the problem I see at Gotham is that they have a whole bunch of young, streaky forwards, people like Purce and Onumonu. Williams, if she can actually play, is a vastly experienced veteran goalscorer. If you need scoring NOW – which is what Gotham needs, IMO – if she’s fit Williams can help you.

      Meanwhile KC has a crap-ton of good forwards. Their problems were in midfield and in the backline. We’ll see if they can solve them.

      McGrady strikes me as a squad player now, regardless of what she was when she was drafted. As such she’s nice to have…but she’s a squad player. Those come and go. If she stays as a reserve? Fine. If not? Fine. Point is, we needed some depth in the back – as FB more than CB – and got it and, as I mentioned, there are some good undrafted CBs we can look at in camp. We’ll see…

      I like Ryan, too. Henderson was straight-up doubtful that there was a forward in this year’s draft as good as Ryan will be or is already close to being. We’ll have to see how she does in Gotham next season, but I suspect she’ll do well. That’s fine…so long as it’s not against us.

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      1. I wonder how they are going to use Yaz. My inclination is they are going to try William at the 9 and Nighswonger’s passing skills fit at the 10. I believe Yaz is and has always been a forward. She can cross, but her connection on longer passes is an issue for a midfielder.

        My guess is KC will move Mace back to fullback where she’s a menace athletically. I had KC ending up with D’Aquila in my mock draft, but I’m not sure if I’m angry or happy about it because Spaanstra should have never made it to 10 but D’Aquila should have gone higher too. Cooper is very good,

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  3. From Bill Cornett (via e-mail):

    “I think the three field players will level up and contribute this (weird) season. We will miss Ryan at moments, but I think on the aggregate we look better during the World Cup with those three options, and who knows what sort of playing time Ryan would have gotten during the full squad stretches of the season had she stayed. Particularly after the Cup. (Keeping her and shedding Beckie was my preference as well. I thought your assessment sound.)

    Unlike a lot of folks, I assume Horan will return, based solely on her striking me as the sort of person who does not say a lot but means what she does say. And I’ve heard her express disappointment in the club and the league, as well as leagues abroad, but I have not heard her say she will not return. Would it be prudent of her to say so? Of course not. But she doesn’t strike me as someone who behaves disingenuously. I watched her for a while, standing off by herself after that semi-final loss in 2021. She looked like someone who did not feel happy with having to miss that game and leave something undone here.

    Also agree on the ‘keeper looking like a project. In this case, I have faith in Angerer. If they moved up to get her, I suspect Ice Bear sees something. And when Thorns drafted Bella, she was not even on most of the GK boards. People tend to forget that. (Granted, Angerer had already worked with her a lot, but again—she saw potential nobody else seemed to.) Our last unknown “third string keeper” turned into our current starter.

    So much has gone wrong off the field over the past decade, I’m going to place my optimism in the onfield aspects of the club. Because we still have some grind to endure off the field and behind the scenes. Perhaps we shall all feel pleasantly surprised by this group. Hell, I noticed Izzy chip a ‘keeper in her highlight reel. Maybe she can teach that to Weaver. Heh. “

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    1. So, in order:
      1) I hope so. All three field players look promising. With rooks you never know exactly what you’re going to get, though, so we’ll have to wait and see.
      2) I’m completely unsure on Horan, all the way up to “what would we get if she DID return?”. She’s got more miles on her legs, along with what looked to be a nagging injury. The club has almost completely turned over since she left; there are no more than a handful of players here she knows, and no one (AFAIK) who she was particularly close to. She’s also BTDT; got the MVP, got a Shield, got a star. No idea whether she sees anything left undone.
      She’s still a terrific player, and I’d be a fool not to want to see her back here. Will we? and, if so, what will we see? I really don’t feel confident saying anything. So she’s another “we’ll have to see”.
      3) Kozal looks competent enough to be the fill-in/depth she needs to be. Keepers tend to develop more slowly, anyway, so she’s got lots of time to work out whatever issues she might have. And, yes; I suspect she’s an Angerer pick, because as noted above several keepers who looked better as collegians were still on the board when we took her. Hopefully that was Angerer seeing some mechanics she particularly liked and pushing KK & Co. in that direction.

      Now, frankly, the big tasks are 1) getting the sale done, and 2) getting the out-of-contract players re-signed.

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      1. I thought Horan and Smith became close during their time here. Horan appeared to take Smith under her wing because of the Colorado connection. I do think Horan might need to take some time to heal up, but she’d be a great acquisition

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  4. This was an interesting draft. Personally, I’ve loved Hocking for years as a player back to her USC days, but Reyes is a top level fullback prospect. She has a lot more refined skills than McGrady did coming out of Stanford. Once she gets a shot at starting, I think she’s in the lineup for good. Physical FB with good attacking traits. I am always select the best player and don’t worry about position. I believe her chances of developing into her peak projection in Portland is higher than Hocking would here.

    Once you get past her, it’s a let’s see what happens. All players have some significant strengths and flaws that make you wonder if they’ll develop. I tend to believe the difference between 13 and 36 is smaller than the difference between 5 and 13 in most drafts.

    D’Aquila is strong in the air and has a nose for opportunities. She’s not the best ball handler, but she’s stronger than most 9’s I’ve seen. The NWSL is infinitely more physical than college and that swallows up talented players, but I doubt she has an issue here at all. I think she can be an upgrade from Everett,

    I remember watching Lauren DeBeau and thinking she’s good and wondered why she wasn’t more highly regarded. Loved her spirit and creativity with the ball, but I’ve seen Big 10 forwards get undervalued for years and I wondered about her strength. Didn’t think she’d make to our 3rd round pick, but I’ll admit my top rated player at that point was Tori Hansen, the tall CB out of North Carolina. That said, watching those videos and how Debeau carried herself, I’m rooting for her big time.

    I struggled between Kozal and Bryzcky in my mock at Stumptown (going to miss that place). Kozal has all the athletic attributes and her great saves show everything you want. Saw some derps along the way, but she’s also got plus accuracy on her services. When she gets an opportunity to play, I think fans are going to be taken a back by the athletic traits like many of us are with Hogan. I also wonder how much top level coaching she’s gotten. I thought Hillary Bealle was the next goalie out of Michigan and Kozal was better

    I’ll readily admit Summer Yates offensively is better than most players in this draft and I enjoy watching her on that side. She’s creative, plays with energy, and is super effective. Her distribution is pretty and her ability to shoot with both feet is similar to Yaz Ryan,

    Henderson is understating her defensive shortcomings. I’ve never watched a pro prospect give so little effort on defense in my time watching college sports. When she got angry for losing the ball, she’d show some skills but then you watch her dog it constantly on defense. Its in her, but didn’t want her. Maybe she was thinking about Shapiro’s latest podcast. I will say I personally don’t care if she’s conservative as long as she had the good judgment to NOT air it openly and without thought like Nasello did. I do care about defensive effort.

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