Roster Update 1/23/24

Couple of old faces and a new one arrive, and a veteran leaves.

The old ones we knew; Sinclair re-signed…

…and the strong rumor (as in Linehan says it’s a lock) is Sauerbrunn will, too.

The new arrival is former Chelsea forward/midfielder Canadian international Jessie Fleming…

…and the departure is former Thorns midfielder Costa Rica international Raquel Rodriguez, traded to ACFC for cash.

You know my feelings about Sinc, so it’s pointless to flog that dead mare.

Glad Sauerbrunn is returning; we need as much backline help as possible,

Fleming is international quality, so that’s good. She’s kind of a Canadian Army Knife; plays a little RW, plays a little AM, she can be an 8 or a 10 but she’s kind of a tank for the CWNT so she’ll provide more defense than Sinc and something closer to what Rocky gave us. With her coming in someone was going to lose minutes, and now we know who it was.

Rodriguez? I’ll miss her. She had good days and bad, like we all do, but she was always tough, and let’s not forget that while Dunn’s 2022 semifinal golazo gets all the press, it was Rodriguez’ strike that made Dunn’s the matchwinner.

So here’s what the squad looks like as of 6:30pm 1/23:

McGrady still hasn’t been signed has turned up in Bay City as an NRI, for those who care.

The real open question is still right fullback. There’s a couple of ways Mike Norris might skin that cat.

He could shift Obaze out there; she’s played RB. (IMO that swaps one problem for another, pulling depth out of the centerbacks).

He could move Reyes over there. (That’s her weakest position, though).

He could push Beckie downfield (but her defending ranges from “barely serviceable” to “look out!”). Or he could move the rookie Linnehan there (which begs the question why when there’s a rookie RB in camp as an NRI)

He could plug in NRI Mallie Mackenzie, fullback out of Georgia (#11 on Henderson’s Tier A group, (tho only one “star” on his zero-to-four star scale).

Or LeBlanc could make another deal for a starting-quality RB.

We’ll see what happens.

So for all I think she porked the pup with Kuikka our favorite pink-coated GM has otherwise managed to fill in the roster pretty damn nicely. Take ten bucks out of petty cash, KK. Good job.

Now the real test begins.

Because we had a strong roster last season but several shortcomings – largely tactics, and matchday and roster management – managed to trip the squad up in both vying for the Shield in the season and in the semifinal in the playoffs.

So the question becomes; is our head coach learning?

Presuming he and LeBlanc successfully sort out the RB question this should be a hellishly hard squad to beat this coming season.

Will it? I hope so!

We’ve got about 52 days before we begin finding out.


John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

30 thoughts on “Roster Update 1/23/24

  1. Where is Payton Linnehan? I thought she would be on the RW. Also, I could see her being tried at the RFB ala Jenna Nighswonger, who came in as a forward and turned in a rookie of the year performance as a FB. And Nighswonger was not perfect in that position, she certainly had her rough spots. but when she was good she was good enough to get a call to the Nats.
    I do care about Tegan McGrady. Didn’t see much of her, but what I saw didn’t look bad, but I remember a presser where Menges dropped her name saying she was really killing it in practice, and yet we never saw her. She hasn’t been signed and the Bay team didn’t pick her up, So…. well I would like to see her, though!
    I am very stoked about Fleming, I hate to see Rodriquez leave, she was a favorite of mine, but Fleming is younger, faster and more versatile. I like what I am seeing so far in the roster.
    To me the biggest question more than players is strategy and using those players in the right positions or if they decide to try Linnehan at RFB, commit to it. As for Janine Beckie at that position, well we have been there, done that, and it didn’t work. And then Mallie Mackenzie. On tape she looked good. She might be one of the surprises of the draft.

    1. I just saw that McGrady is listed as an NRI with Bay City. Hopefully she will do well except when she plays the Thorns.

    2. Forgot Linnehan! Sorry, PL! Revised the graphic to put her at RW depth…and also removed McGrady (just saw that she’s an NRI in SF).

      I’m sure Teagan McGrady is a lovely person. I don’t know her; as a soccer player she was a complete nullity, so my interest in whether the club I support signed her (and finding they didn’t) is expressed as a vast shrug.

      Yeah, I’d say my roster concerns (other than RB) are receding. But we had a strong squad last season and tactical shortcomings tripped us up, both vying for the Shield in the regular season and in the playoffs. How well Norris does employing all this talent will make or break the team in ’24.

      We’ll see.

  2. I’m not sure what to do with Beckie

    She doesn’t have enough of a shot rate when she’s at forward and this system requires the forwards to be aggressive toward the net.

    I’ve always found her best skill is carrying the ball in and passing it. She’s been most effective carrying the ball in and looking for opportunities

    Offensively, she’s probably our best fit at RB. Having her and Reyes to carry the ball up the field with some very adept midfielders who can connect really is interesting.

    Then you see the defense and want to move her back up the lineup.

    Are there any European RBs available?

    1. As noted, unless Beckie can stand tougher tracking back she seems a very poor idea as RB. Everyone can adapt, and some more and better than others – look at Dunn playing LB for the Nats – but at least to date Beckie has shown neither interest nor aptitude for a defensive role.

      You’d think she could play the role of “shuttler” in a 4-2-3-1 system, a sort of pushed-up-8 that the two DMs would allow to forego most of the defensive work…but I don’t think I’ve ever seen her play more centrally, or as a true midfielder. Again…possible? But we don’t have anything to go on right now.

      In a 3-5-2 her defending would be a liability at RWB; she’d be the anti-Kuikka, lots going forward, nothing going back.

      So, yeah, I’d like to see the club looking aggressively for a veteran professional somewhere. I’m not sure they’ll do that. My guess is we’ll see someone from the current roster there, and just have to see how well that works.

      1. Of the people on the current roster, Beckie is probably higher on the list than others. My assumption is we are bringing in two fullbacks. If we sign a forward, I think you’ll have your answer.

        I don’t want Beckie at RB for the same reasons as you, but I do see the positives offensively AND if that’s her defined role, I’ve seen others adjust. If you watch Sam Coffey in her BC days, she was not a fundamentally sound defender. Her time at Penn State really completed the development cycle, Defense has technical aspects that are important, but I think it is like 85% effort. 15% technique.

      2. I’m curious if you’ve seen Linnehan’s defensive stats. She seemed pretty adept at dispossessing and has a physical nature defensively, but I didn’t see if that’s a situational item or is there consistency there. You don’t play for Wambach if you don’t press. Period.

        1. She’s a rook; her stats in college are more a suggestion than an indicator. I’ll be curious to see what Norris & Co make of her.

  3. While there is one more move needed to be made (hello RB), the biggest question becomes Norris. If the coach shows he learned from last year, perhaps we have something building here. My concern is that winning teams often don’t see their flaws, and the approach becomes continuing what they have been doing. And that works so long as the team is more talented than the others it is playing. I don’t think that is the case anymore. We have a young team, and it is going to require a lot of coaching to coalesce into a quality team. If Norris and company are not up to it, or rely on the players to coach themselves up we have a real problem. Hopefully Lowdon is here to fix some of those problems, and is a potential HC in waiting. However if we are seeing Sinclair start over Moultre on a regular basis, or the team is relying on bombing the ball up to Smith and Weaver then it could be a long season.

    1. Yup! Exactly! My reading of the room here and at STF is everyone wants an RFB and beyond that the remaining worry is strategy and coaching. Watching videos of Fleming’s slide rule passes to streaking Kerr and Harder makes me excited that we might see a run and gun offense because we have some really good midfielders that can pass and shoot and will have some target forwards who can accelerate past defenders and take on the Keeper.

      1. Can Norris even run a Carolina-style go-go attack? I’ll be fascinated to see it.

        And I’m guessing you don’t mean “target forwards” in the traditional Route One meaning of a hulking poacher awaiting a cross or through-ball, but a more dynamic off-the-shoulder-run/diagonal run-type player…which we have in Smith and Weaver.

        Again…we’ll see what Norris makes of all this pace and skill…

        1. Watching Chelsea highlights of Fleming she usually had two or three targets streaking down the field, two that I recognized were Kerr and Harder. We know we have two dynamic off-the-shoulder-run/diagonal run-type players in Smith and Weaver, Beckie is pretty fast too, but the finishing hasn’t been great, Hina is fast, but not as fast, however she is a great poacher for off the post or Keeper blocks. As for Linnehan, we will have to see.

    2. Agree; team management will be key, from XIs to tactics to substitutions – all things I think Norris underperformed on last season. And the squad he had last season was as loaded at starters as the current roster, so the problems that tripped the team up were MOSTLY coaching.

      So getting Norris spun up is critical this season.

      And I’m reeeeeally unconvinced that having Lowdon looking over his shoulder is actually going to help with that.

      There’s a reason that 99.0% of managers hire their own assistants. And that having a head-coach-qualified assistant can be as much hindrance as help if the relationship there is not rock solid.

      Nobody likes backseat drivers, and having a “potential HC in waiting”? How’d you feel if your boss hired someone who was very obviously qualified and capable of replacing you and told them to shadow you at work?

      Yeah. That.

      So we’ll see, But another year of Norrisball could get real ugly pretty quick smart.

      1. Perhaps if Norris can roll out his inner Ted Lasso, having assistants that are way more qualified may not be a problem for him.

      2. There is a reason why most coaches fail. A healthy adult will want to hire the best people, because winning generally cures most issues. There are a lot more coaches fired for being spread too thin than fired because they had a more qualified assistant than them who took their shine (which is generally associated for people without a good mental health outlook).

        The worst case if that did happen is that they’d have won a lot and another team would look at him on the instant interview list, if he fails with this talent, that won’t likely be a consideration

        1. Again; it doesn’t work that way IRL. Assistants are supposed to be just that, not part of a Manager By Committee. There’s a reason that “council of war” is usually considered the last resort of an overmatched commander.

          If Norris and Lowdon can buck that trend? Fine. But my experience and observation suggests more danger than opportunity there. There’s a reason it’s not done more widely.

          1. IRL is used as a mechanism to rationalize dysfunctional behavior or when a group simply isn’t talented enough or equipped to do the task with the resources they have It’s an empty phrase that generally ties to a lack of capability in doing the job.

            Coaches and leaders need to delegate or they will fail. Having talented people to delegate to is a key consideration. It is not a hard concept to figure out, but lots of people fail here. Delegate too much or to the wrong person or not enough leads to failure.

            Whether Norris is capable of doing it is the real question. If he is, he can succeed . If he isn’t, he will fail.

            I think we both agree the assistants that were brought in last year were frankly a concern.

            My hope is competence around him frees him up to allocate more time to tactical development. My worry is it won’t matter and he’s simply not up for the job.

            If I were to bet based on what I saw last year, I don’t think he is capable. I also acknowledge that Wilkinson put him in an awful situation and not many coaches would do well with conditions he was placed in.

            1. As you probably noticed, I DON’T think Norris has a ton of ability to do his job. If so, I didn’t see it last season. Uncreative tactics, compulsive roster fiddling, hackneyed substitutions, Sinc…the guy seems like a “replacement-level” manager to me.

              But having your replacement looking over your shoulder isn’t “delegating”, it’s nerve-wracking. Again, where I’ve seen it done it seldom works. You don’t get 2+2=4; you get 2-1=1. You get Paulus and Varro at Cannae.

              I don’t hate on the guy; I agree, he got handed the shitty end of the stick. But he’s what we’ve got, so I hope he’s gotten a huge infusion of soccer intelligence since last October.

              1. I don’t think we are on that different of a page. All I’m saying is that if he is a capable coach with a normal mindset, he won’t look at it that way.

                I have my doubts for the same reason as you. The difference in opinion is that I think quality assistants can help him keep his job, because we see what he was with the assistants he had last year and that gets him fired.

      3. I had high hopes for Norris early in the season, and felt his substitutions made sense. But the lack of an attacking identity through the year became pretty apparent, and the lack of player development was a real problem. Perhaps that was due to players simply not getting better (it happens, improvement is never linear). Norris has to show something this year, because we can’t out-talent other teams going forward.

        1. I thought the team was playing connected defense in those early games, but became too predictable in its build up and coaches adjusted. As that happened, some players tried to compensate.

          The team itself succeeded because we have some incredible talent on the pitch who can create plays and scoring chances with their ability, but most of scores came off pace and talent. If that wasn’t working, we were dead.

          We weren’t the team that could do the tactical match and stick in until someone stepped up. Gotham was last year. Curious to see how that works introducing Lavelle and Dunn to the equation.

          1. The early games were against crap teams. and Matchday 3 against Houston was a warning that people like Laity (and then Lowdon, and Tweed and Amoros) were gonna figure the guy out.

            We won when we won through pure player skills. I agree. When we needed a brain to match with an opponent…not so much.

  4. The problem I see with our current roster, besides the hole at RB, is lack of depth. Our midfield is Coffey-Sugita-Moultrie-Fleming, with Sinclair as the backup/sub. Porter and Provenzano haven’t shown they’re really capable. And our forward line looks like Weaver-Smith-Beckie (?), with only D’Aquila and rookie Linnehan behind them. That’s not nearly enough! We’re going to have injuries, quite possibly season-ending ones, to some of those players, and where the hell will we be then? In the back line we have three CBs for two positions (I think Obaze will be a CB), which is good but not great since CBs seem to get injured pretty routinely. Left back is about the only position on the entire team where it feels like we have decent depth, with both Reyes and Kling qualified as starters. Maybe that balances the complete lack of any right backs….

  5. About the uncertainty surrounding draftees: Another lesson comes from Kelli Hubly, who was a mere non-roster invitee when she washed up onto the Thorns doorstep. She managed to work her way into a starting position, and not just that, a starting position that for a couple of years was among the best, if not the very best, in the league. (Here’s hoping she can regain that level!) She’s declined a bit since then but still it shows that someone’s quality on paper and their eventual career peak can be wildly different.

    1. Yep. Almost every rookie is a not-quite-blank-slate that the step up will either write something on – and “something” can range from “very like we saw in college” to “becomes an outstanding defensive back after being a college striker”…or the slate will break entirely and you’re left with a Lauren DeBeau or Sandra Yu.

      I’m not saying “ignore college form” altogether! But that form – unless you’re a monster like Macario (and I’d add that we saw her here with the U-23s and she was a monster against professionals, so we saw what she would become as a pro!) – is as likely as not a guide not a handbook.

      And coaching and roster management is huge! A great young-player coach can bring a rookie to flower, while another who dismisses potential can kill the player in the bud.

      Which is Norris? I honestly dunno – he pretty much inherited his squad from Wilkinson – but we’re likely to see this coming year.

      1. Most college players aren’t equipped to adjust to overall talent level of the league immediately. In college, there are going to be a few weaker players on the pitch that you can attack. What happens when you don’t have that out is what kills a lot of productive players.

        The only sure things I feel this team has ever drafted at the time they were drafted were Sophia Smith, Morgan Weaver, and Sam Coffey.

        Morgan had flaws, but she was what teams comcentrated their defensive game plan around and she as still productive. Last years first round picks both had had positive athleticism, but needed skill development on what to do when the players in front of them weren’t a lot less talented.

        I don’t know why Lauren DeBeau keeps on getting mentioned. She has an incredible personality and came across as genuine, but she lasted until her pick for a reason. My guess is she’s back in school or had a better opportunity.

        1. DeBeau is there – as is Yu and Beckman and Savannah Jordan – because yes, as you point out, it’s hard for young players to make the big step up from amateur soccer to the pros. That’s true of every sport; for every 100 young players who gets a pro contract to Single A baseball maybe two? Three? Get a cup of coffee in the Show. Sport is a pyramid, and it’s a hell of a big climb to the top.

          And why is it so hard? I don’t think it’s ANY one thing. It’s skills and fitness and personality and attitude and surroundings and coaching and tons of luck, good or bad. But all those have to be there for everyone outside the truly insanely gifted people like Macario.

          And even then…look a Rose Lavelle, a mortal lock as a college senior, and her struggles. She’s overcome most of them…but not with the stride we all thought she would.

          I know I keep saying this, but it’s because it’s true; sport is a damn hard living.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.