2023 Cup Tie: Matchday 6

This coming Saturday the Demi-Thorns travel to Seattle to play the Reign for the second and final time on the last matchday of the Challenge Cup.

Somewhat shockingly, despite a 2-3-0 record, the Thorns are still not out of this sucker. San Diego is, with one win in five, but the Angels are only sitting a point above Portland at 2-2-1. It’s actually possible for the winner of this turkey to go through to the knockouts. Go figure.

The pot of cash at the end makes this a prize for the players, so I wish them well. For me? Meh. Win or lose, just please look like you’ve got a tactical plan outside hero ball.

Whether Seattle, already locked in as top of group, will be playing for anything but pride is difficult to assess. Even if they are, all the issues with NorrisBall we’ve repeatedly revisited mean that it’s probably going to be a struggle for the Replacements to get a result.

World Cup Ties: U!S!A!

As someone (I think ABell4..?) mentioned over at Stumptown, the results of the World Cup groups mean that we’re getting two of our internationals back – indeed, they might be back already – but they’re our two slowest, least impactful internationals.

Mind you, we might be seeing a slug of US internationals after this coming weekend. The Andonovski Era is looking mighty shifty; the Nats barely made it out of group and have not looked composed or confident in their first three matches.

As I think I mentioned earlier, I find that kind of shocking. Vlatko was one of the two gaffers I hated to see our Thorns face (Riley – spit! – was the other) in league play. His FCKC and Seattle teams were always disciplined and organized, well set-up around their big names like Lauren Holiday in KC and Megan Rapinoe in Seattle. He was clever tactically and prolific developmentally, bringing in future standouts like Shea Groom and Bethany Balcer.

The USWNT Vlatko looks nothing like his domestic league self and I’m baffled as to the why. Many of the current Nats played for or against his NWSL squads, yet Vlatko seems puzzled as to how to use them effectively or get them to play together.

I’m still hopeful. But if it ends this weekend? I won’t be surprised.

As for the rest of the world…

It’s been fun to watch the Nadeshiko smash the CW through the group. “Can’t convert”? Hold my Sapporo! Japan has been playing the most complete soccer to date, and I hope the run continues just because they’re fun to watch; Vamos Nippon!

That said…now it’s one-and-done, and if the strikers have an off day a single setpiece could send the Sakkā Nippon Joshi Daihyō home. I think the Round of 16 against Norway tomorrow morning will give us a hint of how that might go…

The exit of perennial powers (Germany! Brazil!) and the emergence of darkhorses like Colombia – a squad that had to strike to get paid less than four years ago! – and Morocco has been intriguing. I’m not sure how far they’ll go, but it’s been instructive to see them get this far. Linda Caicedo has been ridiculously fun to watch!

Biggest surprise for me? The PRC.

Supposedly this edition was the Return of the Steel Roses, a new generation that would restore the luster to the Zhōngguó Guójiā Nǚzǐ Zúqiú Duì they’d had in the Nineties.

Nope. Two goals in three games, a very dreary win over hapless Haiti their only points, and a thorough collapse to England on the final matchday. What’s Mandarin for “back to the drawing board”?

I was skeptical about the expanded field; traditionally the sad makeweights like Argentina were there to lose all their group games with goal differentials in the minus-double-figures. We did have those (sorry, Vietnam…) but the number of minnows who got through was encouraging, both for the minnows and the sport.

Finally: news of the sale!

This past Wednesday Ryan Clarke of the Oregonian posted a story with extensive quotes from Peregrine CEO Heather Davis. Here’s the nut graf:

“We have multiple prospective buyers who are conducting diligence, and our goal is to close the transaction by the end of 2023,” Davis said. “Based on where we are now, that is certainly achievable. The transaction has proceeded at the pace I would have expected based on my experience in this space.”

So that’s good news.

The not-so-good news is that we now have even LESS of an idea who these “prospective buyers” are.

We know who they’re not: the only publicly-identified bidder up to this point, the group headed up by former Nike suit Melanie Strong.

The Clarke piece deepens the mystery by describing what sounds like a very Paulsonesque bit of business.

The Strong spox claims that the group’s exit was Paulson playing reindeer games:

“The current owner did not choose to engage with us, and he made a series of changes to the qualification threshold during the period of discussion with us, in order to prevent us from entering a bid. We concluded that either this was a nonsensical process or he was not interested in selling to us. And we moved on.”

Sue Levin, August 2, 2023

But a mysterious “source with knowledge of the sale process” (hunh?) said that it was the Strong group’s fault:

“…the Strong-led group “did not have the ownership or capital structure” that would have been approved by the NWSL or been able to sustain and grow the Thorns in perpetuity. The group withdrew from the process as a result.”

Unknown “source”, August 2, 2023

I’m not sure who to believe. Paulson has been known to let stupid personal dislikes get in his business dealings; think “idiots and morons” or the ridiculous Twitter feud with Eric Wynalda that resulted in the Cal FC disaster. But we also knew next to nothing about Strong & Co. other than names. Maybe they were undercapitalized. So who knows?

We’re back to the whole “we an can only wait and hope” part.

Aside from that, I hope you’re enjoying the summer, and, like me, can’t wait for the league to return to enjoy our annual sports drama playing out.

Comments? Let’s hear ’em!

John Lawes
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