The Thorns have parted ways with fullback Natalia Kuikka:

I’m kind of two minds on this.

Kuikka the player has struggled the past couple of seasons. Not awful! But she’s had some low lows (Angel City had her number this past season; both matches were awful. Louisville away was horrific) and those kinds of matches stick in the mind when the run of “just fine” games don’t.

I get that if she was asking for the earth and sky – she’s an NWSL “restricted free agent” – that the club might not be excited to match that.

On the other hand…

She’s the only veteran starting right back on the roster.

If we had no Front Office priors I’d normally just sort of shrug this off. Kuikka is a sorta personal favorite just because she’s Finnish, and I have a lot of general affection for the motti-masters. But as noted above, as a player she’s been replaceable and I’d expect to see a signing announcement soon replacing her.

However, we DO have priors, and they make me unable to trust this FO. I’m not sure there IS a plan or, if there is, it’s a workable one. I’m not sure whether the FO foresaw this or has come up with a way to replace her.

Remember the position chart we started with before the draft? Well…

That…kinda worries me.

Update 1/18: So here’s something more worrying.

I’m normally not a fan of hearsay and rumor. But there’s something floating around about this that is 1) really infuriating and 2) very damning about the current Thorns FO if it’s accurate.

So right after the news of Portland parting with her broke came the news that Kuikka has signed with the Chicago Red Stars.

Got that? Because it’s important that she signed with another NWSL club. Kuikka was a restricted free agent, meaning that Portland had “right of first refusal” on her – if they matched or bettered another NWSL club’s offer they could effectively “bind” Kuikka here. Europe? No. But Houston or Carolina or Chicago? Yes.

So if she was an RFA, signing with Chicago means the club didn’t or couldn’t match the offer.

If the club didn’t see her as the starting RB of 2024? That’s their call; their circus.


The rumor is that:

  1. Kuikka wanted to stay and the club thought she would.
  2. LeBlanc – who has been reported as being unimpressed with Kuikka – didn’t make a formal offer (that is, filed with the league) by 12/31/23.
  3. If she didn’t, then that made Kuikka an unrestricted free agent, so
  4. She was free to take Chicago’s offer when KK either didn’t offer or offered something insultingly low.
  5. LeBlanc preferred to play games with the contract, fucked up by not filing in time, and found out when Kuikka refused her no- or low-bid and walked.

Now, again, this is hearsay. But if that IS the case?

If it had been Gavin Wilkinson? I flat-out wouldn’t believe it. Wilkinson might have been a shit, but he knew his league contract and financial rules like I know the geology of Portland. GW was a butthead but he wouldn’t fuck something like that up.

But Le Blanc? She’s fucked up enough elsewhere that I can readily believe that somehow she just forgot the rule, figured she could play reindeer games with the Finn (the Soviets might have had a word about that…) all the way into January, and then found out she’d fucked up, ending up with no right back and no plan to replace the right back.

And that just pisses me the hell off.

What’s even more frustrating is that 1) the club is saying nothing, which is how this club has always operated, and 2) there’s no Thorns beat writer to chase down this rumor and ask LeBlanc about it. The club won’t talk and there’s no journalist to make them talk.

So here we are, some random fans on a blog talking about what, if it’s true, is a degree of managerial incompetence so abysmal that after LeBlanc got fired for it she should be re-hired so the Bhathals could fire her again.

Sometimes I swear…I don’t know with this club.

John Lawes
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5 thoughts on “Hyvästi

  1. I am going to miss Natu. She had a few bad games this year, but I found her to be solid when we were playing her on the right side. I thought a few years ago, she deserved all IX. Under no circumstance, did I imagine losing her to another NWSL team with RFA rights. I was feeling good about the combined Reyes/Natu go forward and now I’m looking at our fullback depth and just shrugging.

    We need to sign another fullback or two. I’d love it to be a big name, but I think a more realistic option is signing Kiki Pickett and resigning Teagan McGrady. I am not inspired at this point and this is probably our most important offseason with trying to convince Sophia Smith to sign on long term.

    Losing Dunn, Natu, Menges, Betfort, and Bixby is a clear downgrade in talent for a team that was already not the deepest. Getting back Beckie should help some. My guess is she’s the starting RW though I still wonder if Rocky replacing Dunn as an 8 and Beckie as the backup to Hina in the same role as last year makes more sense.

    1. If the club had a plan other than “start Reyes or Beckie at RB” and felt that Kuikka’s form had slipped far enough, well…it’s their club.

      I’d tend to disagree, though, that Kuikka had fallen so far that the better option is to hand her the pink slip and sign a squad player like Pickett or McGrady. She’s still better than that, FFS. Let her go if you’re going to sign Eve Perisset or Lucy Bronze, sure. But Kiki Pickett?

      I tend to agree that Kuikka and Dunn hurt; you can’t lose that level of quality and not end up at a lower level overall.

      The others? Enh…the only one who even comes close is Menges and her stock has been falling for some time. Error- and injury-prone, and apparently wanted out. I was utterly done with Bixby by the end of last season, and you can trade two cases of C-rations and a box of blank ammo for a Betfort. Just depth.

      But as I discussed in the next post comment section, it’s the coaching I worry about more. I think a big part of this shitshow is that there’s issues at the top…

    1. So I’m kind of the same way…and kind of not.

      I’ve worked for an organization where it was clear (to those of us on the inside) that one of the executives was not competent. Not a complete trainwreck but actually a lot like this feels like we’re seeing from LeBlanc – slipshod, poorly prepared, lack of attention to detail, getting by on bluff and personality.

      And, as I suspect is the case here, the personality was the sort of thing that looked good from above; the owners couldn’t see all the things this person was fucking up. One of my friends described it as “it’s like a duck; all slick and cool on top while underneath paddling like fuck-all-over”.

      All you can do with someone like that is what you can to minimize the damage and, if possible, head off the disasters, and hope that the owners will wake up. Sometimes they don’t – they didn’t in my case – and the organization craters.

      That’s possible; this squad COULD fall apart. With the raw talent here “fall apart” will probably be something like ninth place and below the red line…but it’s not impossible.

      And, again, as fans, all we can do is hope that the new ownership is seeing under the water and has a plan to deal. It’s, what, less than a month since the sale? That’s not much time to do a complete teardown and rebuild of the GM’s office.

      So…yeah. It’s frustrating to watch this and be helpless. Just gotta cross our fingers that someone(s) who AREN’T helpless are watching, too…

  2. I’ll always remember Kuikka in the 2022 playoffs. She was a monster, locking down her side like Fort Knox. In the final, KC had Kristen Hamilton running at her, and Hamilton got NOTHING in that game. Kuikka dispossessed her a gazillion times and just never let her get going. It was brilliant.


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