The voice of my good sense: What. Are. You. Doing?

Me: Typing, what does it look like?

GS: And why, at oh-dark-thirty, are you typing..?

Me: Ugh. Can’t sleep.

GS: Which means..?

Me: Don’t get old.

GS: Beats the alternative.

Me: Yeah, well. It fucks with your sleep, for one. Also. Produces an embarrassing lack of bodily flexibility. Plus you end up knowing all the words to “Conjunction Junction” and singing them in the produce section at Fred Meyer.

GS: That’s not age, that’s just you, weirdo.


GS: So wassup, other than you?

Me: Got no Thorns this weekend so that gives me time to think about stuff I can’t get out of my head. I gotta write it down just to work it out. You know how that is, right?

GS: Well, I know how it is with you, anyway. So what are these burning questions you have to be sitting up in the dark thinking about? Why do fools fall in love? Does God exist? Who invented liquid soap, and why?

Me: Thanks for the gratuitous The Sure Thing reference. That’s the best you got, lines from Eighties cult flicks?

GS: I’m a figment of your sleepless imagination, so that’s kind of on you, then, innit? I will be kind enough not to remind you about the whole “Sophia Loren hires you to paint her garage” thing.

Me: Hey! Dreams gonna go where they wanna go!

GS: Apparently yours wants to go hang around Mrs. Carlo Ponti’s garage. No, no, fine. What’s the burning issue now, though?

Me: Well, now we’ve been assured by the league boss that the Thorns are going to be sold before the end of 2023…what does that mean for 2024? I can’t stop thinking about that.

GS: Kinda depends, dunnit?

Me: Exactly! First, it depends on the when. If the sale is done by November 1 the new owners have ten weeks to get their people in here. Get their own GM – I don’t see LeBlanc as such a success story as to be worth keeping on unless there’s no other option. The Peregrine FO are all Paulson people, so they need to go with him.

GS: And Coach Norris..?

Me: Well…let’s say that’s probably going to depend on two things. First, the playoffs. If he wins it all? Kinda hard to shitcan the championship-winning gaffer, eh? But his 2023 body of work is pretty meh. If the new owners have Pia Sundhage on speed-dial…

GS: How you feeling about that?

Me: Kinda…like Norris himself. Meh. His work here so far hasn’t been flat-out awful – shit, his club is second-top of the league. But. He seems like a replacement-level gaffer at best. His tactical choices seem limited. His substitutions are mindless; we all know that he’s got “Sinclair for Weaver at 66′” written down somewhere and that’s what we’ll see regardless of game state. His success this season has leaned almost entirely on Sophia Smith hero-ball, his squad seems to have persistent issues with defense and countering the press that he seems either ignorant of or unconcerned with.

Second, though, is the timing. If the sale drags out into December, or even January ’24. Do the new owners can him anyway with the NCAA draft right there? Or does he – and KK and the rest of the Peregrine staff – hang on because there just isn’t enough time and space to make changes?

GS: And that brings us to…

Me: Yeah. The new owners. Who? Not Strong & Co., is all we know. Jess Berman (per the Clarke link above) says “multiple bidders” but no more. Hopefully that doesn’t include oil sheiks or Russian oligarchs, but otherwise, could be peaches, could be meatloaf, amirite?

GS: Gotta be someone invested in the women’s game, though?

Me: You mean like Aulas? Look, it’s gonna be some moneybags. Will they know anything about soccer? About Portland? Will they care? I mean…Paulson is a thin-skinned rich kid…but he put time and money into the club, at least before 2021 and especially in the Teens when the league was widely considered “just another possibly and even likely failed attempt to launch a women’s pro league”. The dude may be personally scum, but as an owner, at least for NWSL v1.0? He was solid.

GS: So..?

Me: Well, first, we need to keep this in mind when people like Sinc give ol’ Merritt a tongue-bath. People are like that; they remember the good things you did for them, not the shitty thing you did to someone else. Merritt was “the good boss” to a lot of people like Sinclair and Menges and Angerer. Should they maybe read the room better? Sure! But it’s very human for them not to and to stand by their old boss.

The other thing is; Paulson isn’t going to sell the Timbers. And the Timbers are gonna be playing in the same venue. So he’s gonna continue to be there, and the new owners are going to have to deal with that. So we as fans will, too.

And second…now the money’s coming into the league. Clubs are commodities, and spendy ones. The NWSL wants to become a big-money league. How can we be sure that the new owners won’t see our club as just another investment vehicle?

Sure, let’s accept that Mike Norris was a temp hire and hasn’t done that well. But how can we feel confident that these new owners won’t be clueless finance bros who’ll replace him with a Sam Laity who then gets canned before the end of 2024?

GS: That was weird, wasn’t it?

Me: Y’think? I mean…fucking Houston, so, yeah. But Laity had four games left. Nobody’s gonna pull the Dash over the red line with four games left. Why not let him ride the orange thing into the offseason?

GS: Because owners. Who knows why those people do what they do?

Me: Yeah, and that’s my point. SO many people are all jiggly about getting Merritt out and/or Norris out without thinking about who might come in, in the technical box and on the pitch.

GS: Which is why you’re thinking about the other fan stuff, right?

Me: Yes! Like…so many people seem arsed that the Thorns – specifically, KK – didn’t make any big signings between 2022 and now!

GS: Well, you gotta admit, the cupboard’s looking kinda bare.

Me: Yes-but. Hop in your time machine and zip back to March 2023. The club is coming off a championship. The roster was looking solid. Sure, we had a new gaffer, but he was the last one’s assistant and the players seemed to like him.

GS: So..?

Me: So if it ain’t fucking broke, why fix it? Especially why fix what the owner has already publicly loudly committed to sell? Why splash out big bucks for something that, A, you are already pretty happy with and, B, are gonna unload? Why drop huge change on Sam Kerr? Or Ellie Carpenter, for that matter..?

GS: Well…

Me: At the end of last season the depth looked decent. I gave the forward reserves “C”s, the midfielders – Moultrie and Porter – C’s to B’s, and the defenders B’s except for Beckman, who’s really a winger anyway. Sure, Sinc was a huge unmoving slorg, but that wasn’t going to change, and everywhere else the roster looked fine.

This season…not quite so much; the reserves have looked like a step back, Janine Beckie is out for the year, and I think we can agree that the Yazmeen Ryan deal looks poor in retrospect. The backline has struggled. Bixby’s been fallible. Outside Smith and Weaver the forward line looks rough as a cob.

But it’s one thing to look now and wish for some big signings and quite another to look back and expect the FO to have a crystal ball to anticipate Taylor Porter cratering, Teagan McGrady disappearing, and Sophia Smith torking her knee.

I’m not stanning for KK. I think she’s mediocre at GM-ing, at best. But not because she didn’t fucking sign Miyazawa Hinata in February.

GS: Anything else on your mind?

Me: This thing I keep hearing about how expansion is ruining the league.

GS: And..?

Me: I think it assumes facts not in evidence.

GS: Specifically..?

Me: Because it’s based on the instability of this season’s league table as evidence that “the quality of play has gone to shit”, and that the reason is that the league is now too big and is threatening to get bigger.

And I keep looking back at this graphic, from this post back in the offseason:

Look at that immense gray block at the bottom right. That’s the players coming out of college that didn’t get pro draft calls. It’s kinda hard to believe that the addition of two more teams – about 50 players – has strip-mined every bit of quality between that – the NCAA draft – and the international market.

I mean…lots of people are pointing at the low-success-level of recent Thorns acquisitions like Nally and Provenzano and D’Aquila as “evidence” that the pipeline is empty.

But think; between 2014 and 2018 Thorns low-round draft acquisitions and signings included Hanna Terry, Elizabeth Sullivan, Mackenzie Berryhill, Rachel Hill, Savannah Jordan, Caroline Flynn, Sandra Yu, and Gabby Seiler.

That’s one signing and seven of the ten below-first-round draftees we picked between 2014 and 2018. The other three draftees were Menges (who Riley knew personally so doesn’t really count), Tyler Lussi, and Bella Bixby.

So back before expansion when “the NWSL was Still Good”…over 75% of the low-profile signings (and Hill and Jordan weren’t even “low-rounders” – they were 14th and 18th in 2017!) either never played more than garbage minutes or were no better than the current squad players like Provenzano or Nally.

That’s what I mean by I don’t buy it.

I’m willing to at least consider the possibility that the league is suffering from quality-of-play issues. But it seems a huge jump from that to “there’s too many teams”. How about “there might well be too few good coaches” instead? Maybe it’s a tactical failure, not a player issue..?

GS: You seem to think that this is a big deal with the fans. Why so glum, chum? Why should this be a problem for the Thorns?

Me: Because it’s kind of the same with the way people look at the squad. It’s not a wide-angle view, it’s focused on individuals, on freakouts over things like…for example, lots of people I’m reading are all “Help us, Becki-wan Kenobi, you’re our only hope…” over the backline this season.

GS: Well, that’s one big reason why we dealt for her, though. And we’ve struggled since she’s been out.

Me: Yes, but. First, in 2017 Emily Menges was running the best backline in the league to the second star while ‘Brunn’s FCKC was in seventh. Bruno…good defender, yes. But not a one-woman miracle.

And second, it’s not like Bruno was a monster before she got hurt.

In her four games this season ‘Brunn’s PMRs were: +3/-6 (Orlando opening day win, sloppy against a tire fire),+10/-3 (KC away win – Smith hattie and a great game by ‘Brunn), +9/-3 (Houston home draw) and +2/-3 (Louisville away win). I mean…that’s fine, but that’s one great match against a poor opponent, a good one against Houston marred by backline errors, and two pretty meh. I’m not seeing Nobby Stiles here. Brunn is good…but she wasn’t that good. She’s not a magic bullet.

But fixating in ‘Brunn makes for frustration because instead of asking “what should the club be doing about the backline?” the fanbase is all chanting novenas to St. Becky to save us. It’s the fan-equivalent of Smith hero-ball, and it doesn’t help reconcile the fanbase to the club that’s already fraught because of Paulson’s nonsense.

GS: Pfff. Relax. Fans gonna fan. No point in getting spun up because of rage-tweets. The backline is a coaching issue, and the new owners and the new coach will work with that, based on their perceptions of the club, not on what random fans are saying.

Me: But…

Nah. Give it up. You’re not gonna win this one. So, okay. Sale, Norris, Expansion, ‘Brunn…what else y’got?

Me: I keep wondering…why don’t we have player songs..?

GS: Oh for fuck’s sake. THIS again..?

Me: C’mon! Hailey Raso had a song! Mana “Do Do Do-do-do!” Shim had a song! And yet Sinclair doesn’t have a song. Sam Coffey, who should be an international, doesn’t have a song!

And let’s not even get to the Timbers. We have two legends, and only one – Valeri – has his own song. How the fuck can Takayuki Suzuki have a song but Diego Chara not have a fucking song??!!??

GS: Okay, noooooowwww we’re headed into Tinfoil Hat Land. You know why and so do I, you’re not going to win this one either and it’s pointless to fight about. Give it up. Go to bed.

Me: Too late. I’m up. I’m wired. Might as well go do something. Hey! maybe I can mow the lawn! Summer’s over, it’s actually growing.

GS: At 5am? Okay, you go nuts. I’ll be curious to see how the neighbors respond.

Me: Aw, they’ll be fine. They love my quirky pranks.

GS: Oooookay, that’s what you said Sophia Loren would say, too. But you go be you, and I’ll see you next week when the French Mercenaries come to town.

Me: Allez, les Thorns! On les auras!

John Lawes
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