Drafts and Deals 2024

It’s dark and cold as I type this, in the pre-dawn of Saturday the 13th, as all of us here in Portland await the first snowpocalypse of the new year and recover from the 2024 NWSL Draft.

Yeah. That happened. Yesterday.

I’d like to talk about how that affected the Thorns, but first, this:

Draft? Hunh! Good God, y’all! What is it good for..?

Saw this at Kassouf’s X-joint that got me thinking:

Let me try and unpack this a bit.

  1. Drafts are a shitty way to build teams. For the players, anyway, who are meat puppets kidnapped by organizations they have no agency in choosing.
  2. That said, to change “the need for the draft” presumes moving towards the way pretty much every other national soccer league everywhere else in the world does business.
  3. And that – which I’m all for, BTW – means a seismic shift in how American soccer does business.
  4. It means a pyramid of leagues with smaller teams in lower leagues developing and selling players up the pyramid. It means academies – WORKING academies (meaning developing significant numbers of players instead of handfuls) – at all the professional clubs. It means a vastly densified network of agents and scouts and general managers.
  5. And it’d be bad for the NCAA. It’d mean that the pro clubs would be no longer beneficiaries but rivals of the colleges. I guarantee that the NCAA would fight anything like that like rabid weasels.

So I agree that questioning “the need for the draft” is good. I’d love to see more soccer journos asking, and more league and USSF bodies forced to think and reply.

But I also think that those questions have to presume numbers 1 through 5 above, and the answers have to address them.

Am I confident that will happen?

Did I mention we’re worried about snow this morning?

Before the Draft: a Deal

Looking back at our pre-draft discussion, I posited that the Thorns needed:

  1. Starting centerback
  2. Reserve centerback (or second starting CB)
  3. Starting/reserve fullback? Possibly reserve winger here, instead.
  4. Reserve center forward
  5. Reserve midfielder

Looking at this list I should have moved “winger” a bit further up; either leading #3 or even up to #2 before the draft, because four days earlier the Thorns signed:

Danish centerback Isabella Obaze

…from Rosengard.

She’s tall and young and her professional experience consists of a total of four years, and 72 games with three clubs:

From 2018 to mid-2020 she played for a called KoldingQ in the Danish top flight. A brief look at this outfit suggests that they’re not such of a muchness; lots of local Danish players and small-cap-number Danish internationals.

Between December 2020 and October 2022 she played for HB Køge Women, also in the Danish Elitedivisionen. Reads as a bigger, better club than Kolding; played in Europe through her tenure (badly – played 10, lost 7).

In 2022 she moved to FC Rosengård in the Swedish Damallsvenskan where she’s played 10 games.

Remember my wanting to sign Moeka Minami? Wellll

How ’bout that?

So I think that – at least in the minds of LeBlanc and Norris and whoever else (Lisa Bhathal?) was involved – took some centerback pressure off the club.

At least that’s how it looked on Draft Night yesterday. Because rather than go for backline reinforcement the Thorns used their natural…

#11 (first round) pick:

…to get Payton Linnehan, redshirt senior forward out of Penn State.

Linnehan was not nationally ranked by Top Drawer Soccer, but Chris Henderson had her at #7 on his winger list, rating her as a “three-star” player on his zero-to-four-star scheme.

Speaking of Henderson, he thought that this pick was kinda-sorta:

Two things about that:

First, Henderson – as Friend of the Rivet Trail 33 pointed out over at the Stumptown thread – is a “stats guy” whose overall assessment is heavily skewed by the numbers. So his “B+” should be viewed in that light.


He kind of has a point in that when we picked her two of his more-favored players were still in the board; Avery Patterson (North Carolina, his #5 winger and also Top Drawer’s #85 overall – she went to Houston with their natural #19 in the second round) and Amanda West (Pittsburgh, his #6, who dropped way down into the third round – Houston again with #36 – probably because of injury).

I get why LeBlanc & Co. might have been wary of West (Janine Beckie says “hi…ouch!”) but not sure why they skipped over Patterson to take Linnehan. Their production was damn near identical. I hate to say this, but given her priors I’m not sure I trust KK’s assessment more than Henderson’s.

So there’s that.

Interestingly, for a winger, anyway, Linnehan looks like a scorer rather than a creator. She knocked in 10 goals on an xG of about 7, but put up only 3 assists on an xA of about 2.5. Which makes me wonder how much of a true “winger” she is.

I didn’t see any Penn State games last season, so I’m left without any real idea how she played there. I’d love to hear from someone in the comments who did; left wing? Right wing? Does she turn inside and, a la Weaver? Her crossing numbers are fairly average, about 3 per match (compare that to Brecken Mozingo, Hendeson’s #1 winger and Top Drawer’s #2 overall, who typically knocked in nearly 5 per match).

However she looked, Ms. Linnehan is our first round pick.

What do I think?

Well, I’d have gone for a centerback, as you’re probably sick of hearing.

As a winger, though, if I’d have been the GM I probably would have gone with Patterson, which is why I’m giving this pick a solid B.

Good, but could have been better.

#23 (second round) pick:

Olivia Wade-Katoa, true senior midfielder out of Brigham Young University

This was the only “double pick” round for Portland, this pick coming off a 2022 trade.

OWK is a tall drink of water (5’8″) who was ranked #21 nationally by Top Drawer and #11 on Henderson’s midfielder sheet. He liked the pick:

The woman can score! Twelve goals last season on an xG of just over seven, and throw in three assists.

She looks balanced offensively and defensively, too; while only 50% of her dribbles were successful she threaded passes into her forwards (almost 5 per game, and 65% were completed) and her duels-won (65%) is about average for her group. She’s not terrific in the air (41%), kinda weird given her height.

Overall? A good-looking package.

This pick, though, is part of a trend we’re going to see more of next; KK & Co. going with a notionally-less-well-regarded player, at least per one assessment; Caroline Conti and Maddie Mercado, though not nationally ranked, were higher on Henderson’s list. Mercado, his #6 out of Notre Dame, went to Seattle with their #27 pick overall, while Conti, Henderson’s #7 out of Clemson, fell to all the way to Bay City’s #34 pick.

In OWK’s case, though, I buy the argument for her, which is

What do I think?

…why I give this pick an A-/B+; good solid pick. This player looks promising at a position – midfield – that was often spotty and disjointed last season.

But now?

#25 (second round) pick:

Kelsi Kaufusi, senior centerback out of Utah State

Kafusi wasn’t nationally ranked (unsurprising given where she played) and was waaaay down Henderson’s centerback list, in what he calls “Tier C”, meaning players from smaller schools in weaker conferences.

Also unsurprisingly, Henderson haaaated this pick:

Now fuckadoo, Chris. Her passing is why you hated her? I direct your attention to a certain Ms. Hubly; we Thorns laugh at your “forward pass”. We already have one of those. Ready, fire, aim, Kelsey.

Kaufusi’s defensive chops look sound; 75% of her duels won (including 63% in the air – she’s 5’9″ so she should be up there first…). Fairly tidy on the ball (about 10 lost balls per match in a cadre where 7 to 9 is about average).

But I’m still torn on this pick.

Yes, it’s centerback depth and I think we needed centerback depth (y’think..? Sorry).

But, no, Kaufusi isn’t a big name get, or even the “best” available centerback. Hannah Anderson from Texas Tech, Top Drawer’s #28 overall and #9 on Henderson’s CB sheet, went to Chicago with their #31 pick.

We’ll have to see with this player.

What do I think?

I think this is a big reach. I think there were players available that looked as good or better from schools and conferences that provided better testing of those players’ skillsets. I think this is only potential depth, and risky depth even then, which is why I’m giving this pick a C/C-.

Adequate, but only if the FO knows something about her that’s not in the public record.

Now we’re down in the tules.

#39 (Third Round) pick:

Katherine Asman, fifth-year grad student goalkeeper out of Penn State.

What. The. Actual. Fuck?

This can only be one of two things:

  1. One of the THREE keepers already rostered has some sort of major malfunction and is power-diving for the scrap heap, or
  2. This was a colossal waste of a pick even in garbage time.

Update 1/14: Turns out it’s door #1:

Okay, sorta – not a “malfunction” but a happy thing – the Bixbys are going to be parents (good luck, you three! Feel free to DM me about “sleep deprivation” and “bodily fluids”…)

Which means that the pick that looked doolally given what we knew at the time was a reasonable one given the need we know now.

So…since it turns out to be a reasonable pick let’s actually look at Asman.

Henderson had her as a “one-star” #10 on his big sheet. Top Drawer Soccer didn’t rank her nationally.

Her 2023 goals-to-xGa looks fine (14 conceded on xGa over 19). And her college record suggests a player with a solid learning curve; from a GAA over one (1.44G/Gm) in her first regular starting season in 2021, Asman improved to 0.98 in 2022 and made a big jump to 0.64 in 2023. The improvement looks like “her”; the squad in front of her looks similar, going 15-5-3 in ’22, 16-3-4 in ’23.

Her distribution looks crummy but a) welcome to Portland, Kat!, and b) who gives a shit (as you know my position on keeper distribution…).

What I get out of this is that Asman in a perfectly decent college keeper, which is what the club needs now that Hogan has the starter’s job to lose and Kozal and Asman will duke it out to see who backs Hogan up and who gets towel duty on matchday.

Again, though…it’s worth noting that at the time of the Asman pick goalkeeper Allie Augur (Georgetown), Top Drawer #19 overall, 9GA on a PSxG of 14.47, 0.33 GAA remained unclaimed.

What do I think?

D. C/C+.

Another of these “Thorns 2024 Draft went-for-someone-who-looks-less-impressive-than-other-available-players” things. Especially with keepers – college keepers are 1) notoriously chancy and 2) readily available. Look at Henderson’s GK sheet; six of his top ten went undrafted. So I think this one goes as another good but might have been better. We’ll just have to wait and see how Asman shapes in preseason,

(Weird non-soccer related thing about this player: Seinfeld. Apparently there was an Seinfeld joke about a character with a license plate that read “ASSMAN”. I didn’t watch the show, but lots of people did and thus this player generated a whole bunch of hilarity over at Stumptown. Guess you had to be there.)

#53 (Fourth Round) Pick:

Katie Duong, fifth-year midfielder out of Stanford

This player seems to have been a hot prospect as an underclassman at University of Minnesota. Transferred to Stanford her junior year, and once there got only a little over 1,300 minutes over three years. Four starts, two goals, six assists.

I’m with Henderson on her; there’s not really enough data to evaluate Duong. She’s a Portland kid (Jesuit), so there’s that. And, as noted, she seems to have been really good at Minnesota.

Could she be good here? Hope so! With her lack of record and the fact that last round picks are always a crapshoot, though, so who knows?

What do I think?

No idea; this one gets an Incomplete. We’ll just have to see how she looks in preseason (and if she sticks, beyond).

So okay.

That’s our 2024 Draft (and a deal).


John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

6 thoughts on “Drafts and Deals 2024

  1. Once you get past the second round, it is probably better off to just view them as flyers. The COVID year where Amirah Ali dropped because of all the talent added artificially maybe created a different expectations. My hope is one of these players because good depth for some team eventually.

    I think Linnehan is going to be a fan favorite.

    Last year, I think they were going to take Schlegel and when she went before their pick, they selected Debeau who was next on their board but probably didn’t warrant the pick.

    This year, I think they were going to go with Cory Dyke, but she went one pick below and they pivoted to an interesting selection in Wade Katoa. I would have taken Staude personally, but I doubt either makes an impact.

    Can’t say much about Kaufusi other than she looks athletic and fast on her video.

    1. In a sense ALL draftees are “flyers”; the step from college to the pros is tough, and making a living from sport is hard. Interesting that you mention DeBeau. Perfect example; top prospect (Top Drawer 27th nationally, one of Henderson’s statistical favorites), second rounder…then, nothing. Never played a minute. Why?

      Physical stress? Mental difficulty? Team fit issues?

      On the other hand…Mana Shim. Nobody. Walk-on. NRI. Beloved player who now has two championship rings…and that’s even disregarding the trials under and triumph over Riley…

      Point is…sport is a hard living, and nobody knows until they try whether they’ll be able to make that living.

      Same with these five. Will they be regulars? Reserves? Question marks? All we have now is what we discussed in the post; records, ratings, guesstimates. All wrapped around a very human being with hopes and dreams and fears we can’t begin to imagine.

      We’ll just have to wait see.

      But as far as the Thorns FO goes? It looks pretty clear to me that they had certain players in their sights, and those players weren’t 1) always those preferred by others, and/or 2) what at least based on what we know now the team needed (GK? Seriously?).

      So the above post represents my own assessment, not so much of the likelihood of the players themselves being anything from good depth to fan favorites, but of the work – based on the visible evidence – done by KK, Norris, Lisa Bhathal and whoever else was involved in these picks.

    1. Yes, thank you! Saw that late yesterday and have updated the post.

      Worth noting that here again, it looks like the Thorns FO had their gunsights on Asman in particular rather than scanning the board for “who’s the best rated keeper left”? We as fans don’t have any sort of inside information that (presumably) the FO has, so it’s entirely possible that Georgetown’s Allie Augur juggles live grenades for fun or is widely hated by her teammates. So we’ll kind of have to trust KK and Norris judgement on this like the others.

  2. Good, quick work, John.

    Probably the Bixby Revelation ought serve as a reminder for future generations of incredulous and irate Thorns thread posters. Sometimes those of us on the outside know even less about what’s going on than we credit ourselves and each other.

    Not gonna pretend to expertise on college soccer—watched (math pause) approximately zero NCAA matches this past season. So I had no favorites going in. I did think we needed CB and FB help (even after the Obaze signing), and depth up front. So I feel cautiously optimistic Linnehan will grow into a contributing role. Thorns need someone at least “scoring contribution dangerous” playing across from Weaver and flanking Smith…. someone who is not also playing out of their best position. I would feel more confident about the signing of a fleet winger from Europe than about a rookie in that role. (Who knows when and whether Beckie will be match ready?)

    Wade-Katoa…. not sure I would’ve picked a MF there, but she looks to have some qualities the team could use if she levels up.

    Kaufusi…. well, she’s a CB. From an unheralded program, with, apparently, USL experience in the backline of the Minnesota Aurora. I’m not sure how to rate that in terms of the level of play. (Until recently the Aurora outdrew a fair number of NWSL teams, which the league will ignore in favor of gushing about the next new record expansion buy-in by a club that may well get outdrawn by the Minnesota Aurora…)

    Asman…. think of her as representing a koan: Why do you draft a fourth keeper? (Also, John, I watched the show now and then but don’t recollect the hilarity in this case, even having been there.)

    Duong… didn’t somebody report her training with players on the squad this winter anyway? Might as well draft her… and hope she does not end up like the barista who regrets taking a job at the coffee shop where she used to enjoy hanging out.

    Finally, having confessed up front I do not follow the college game, and conceding here and now I know less about these prospects than any number of experts, I offer up the following, culled from a trek through the old Stumptown Footy archives, as a cautionary tale:

    Chris Henderson ranked Natalie Beckman’s value at the 48th pick as “A+++”. (Go ahead, look it up… I’ll wait.)

    Now, I sincerely hope Ms Beckman finds success and happiness, either with another club, or pursuing another dream. But there are lessons in being humbled, and in humility when assessing others, in that A+++.

    1. So, in order:
      1) Given what we knew the GK pick was nutzo, and it wasn’t unreasonable – especially given L’affaire Nasello – to assume that KK and Norris had just fucked up. My guess is that the timing of Bixby’s announcement may well have been prompted by that irate response.
      A reminder that “more information usually prevents inappropriate responses”.

      2) As I noted in my reply to Trail33 above; all college players – all players making a step up in venue – are effectively unknowns. They can been speculated about given things we know about them like statistics and performance and appearance.

      But their ability to make that jump and succeed there? That includes a huge, nearly unquantifiable, combination of skills, personality, circumstances, surroundings (including coaching and teammates), and, frankly, a massive dose of luck.

      So you get players like Savannah Jordan and Natalie Beckman and Sandra Yu and Lauren DeBeau who look perfect…and never arrive.

      And then you get the dark horses, the Mana Shims and Sinead Farrellys and Midge Purces and Simone Charleys, who enter without fanfare and yet flourish.

      So, again; this post is NOT primarily about the draftees. They’re still blank slates, and we will have to wait and see what stories they’ll write on themselves.

      This piece is more about the club’s player scouting and signing. Who was there, who did we pick, does it look like we picked in ways that were the most advantageous and promising for the squad going forward? Or didn’t we..?

      And just like the players, this is just a rough draft, a look at the raw lumber in the millyard. It’s going to be on the FO to continue to assemble timber (let’s hear about some free agent signings, FFS!!!) and the coaching staff to build the structure.

      And that begins in less than a fortnight.


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