Failing Upwards

Tuesday the Thorns organization announced that:

  1. Mike Norris has been moved from head coach to “technical director”, and
  2. Rob Gale has been moved from assistant coach to interim head coach.

Gale seems to have been tapped for his tenure rather than his c.v., since his HC experience is limited to three seasons with something called “Valour FC” in the Canadian minor league (where in three seasons his club went 20-11-32) as compared to Sarah Lowdon’s more recent tenure in Houston (see “Envious Casca” back in January for her resume) as well as deeper well of top job experience.

Norris’ new remit is “scouting, talent acquisition and player development” which is…pecuiliar, given that – as we discussed in the previous post – he seems to have assembled a clunky roster than is a poor fit for his beloved 4-3-3 and few if any of his current squad can be said to have developed under his eye. Indeed, if anything, several players (Hubly and Moultrie come to mind immediately) have taken backward steps.

The positive take from this is that the Bhathals have acted relatively quickly to solve what is an obvious problem. Norris, for all that he seems a decent sort well-liked by his players, was over his head trying to organize and train an effective team out of a group of very promising talents.

Whether he’s better suited to oversight of the Thorns’ technical program remains to be seen.

Now the difficult part begins.

First, Gale is stuck with the hot mess Norris left behind. It’s entirely possible that he benefits from the “new gaffer bounce” against the dire Dash this coming weekend. But it seems highly doubtful that he can work out a better tactical system and train up his squad to employ it in less than a week. If he can? I’ll carry his practice cones from here to the Halls of Montezuma and kiss his ass when we get there. That’d be stone-cold coaching genius, and Valour FC never showed any traces of that…

Then there’s the replacement hunt. I won’t pretend to have the faintest idea who is out there. It seems pointless to scrounge up some NWSL or USL retread; hell, Lowdon is right here now – if that’s the plan, just hand her the keys to the Thorns van.

NCAA? The track record of big-college coaches in the NWSL is mixed, at best, but the big college programs are closer to the pro coaching level than the smaller pro and semi-pro leagues.

Europe? There’s supposed to be some talent in Spain, and Germany or the Scandinavian countries have always seemed to produce solid technical managers. Names? I got nothin’.

US Soccer? Would any of the former USWNT coaches want a shot at this club?

Whoever gets tapped will need a quick spin-up; the season will probably be half done before they can have an effect. The possibility of finishing below the red line for the second time in Thorns history is not out of the realm of possibility. That won’t be on the new gaffer so much as on the former owner for dragging his feet AND failing to see the trouble that began here in mid-2023.

That still doesn’t make it easier for the new boss, mind.

At this point I’m honestly not concerned about the post-season. The club will get in, or it won’t; we’ve got a lot to work out.

That’s what I want to see; that work. A coherent tactical system, fitted to the roster, well-designed and well-executed. Solid defending. Confident goalkeeping. Productive, well-crafted attack.

If the new manager can do that? The wins will come.

Light Housekeeping: As I mentioned at the end of the previous post, I have a stretch of contract work that will keep me away from Thorns soccer for the next two matches. I’ll be back in the first week of May, and I suspect we’ll have a lot to discuss.

John Lawes
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5 thoughts on “Failing Upwards

  1. As Thorns fans, we’re in limbo during this coaching search. Will we hear anything about what they’re looking for in a coach? about who they’re scouting? about how far along the process is? about the shortlist? Given the FO’s history, I doubt we hear anything at all… so it’s limbo from now until some undetermined future time. Feh.

    I’m guessing our new coach will come from Europe, maybe where several recent NWSL arrivals are from – Spain – because the season is just ending and it’s the time of year there to play coaching musical chairs. We’ll see.

    I do hope we can beat Houston. Our underlying metrics this season have been better than our results and we certainly have some great players, so hopefully this is the weekend we regress toward the mean and actually win a game. Hopefully.

    1. I 1) wouldn’t be surprised if this headhunt is a complete black box. I hope the Bhathals want more actual public relations than Peregrine did…but the PR staff is still Peregrine’s, so I don’t see that changing anytime soon, and 2) my guess would be somewhere in Europe, too. We’ll see.

      It’d be great to get three off Houston, and sometimes just swapping out the HC will give the squad a little boost plus Houston is shit, so. But as we’ve seen, this outfit as currently constituted can lose to anyone, plus Gale is pretty much barely-Norris-replacement-grade. I don’t see him figuring out anything new.

      Fingers crossed.

      1. I’m hoping for the bounce in this game, as the players should realize their performance was a part of Norris being moved. Plus, they can’t be happy with how they have been playing. I agree that Gale has no real time to make substantive changes, but sometime effort is enough of a change.
        If the spacing is better, that alone should change some results!

  2. Presumably the new “Technical Director” will have input into the coach selection?

    Gawd help us.

    1. That’d be my guess, but…hopefully not? I don’t see Norris as having much to add there. But I don’t see how he really has much “player development” input, either.

      I can’t see this move as much more than a “thank you for your service” thing.


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