Jamie from H.R. (Part 1)

Good afternoon, Mister Gale. I’m Jamie, we haven’t had a chance to talk since I moved up here. Thanks for making the time to meet. I know it’s been a very busy and complex couple of months since the sale, but the RAJ Sports management team has asked me to sit down with you and discuss our upcoming midseason performance reviews before we meet with the staff and players.

We know this has been a difficult time for the club, and we’ve been pleased at your work in turning this around. Hopefully we will continue to build strength upon strength going into midseason.

So I’d like to discuss our views – from ten thousand feet, as it were – of the current roster, as well as our ideas for moving forward into the playoffs.

We’ve got some general categories of player performance, and we’d like to address each player as they fall under them, beginning with…

The Top Performers – walking away with it

Obviously the name that leads the list in this group is…

Sophia Smith

Matches played – 10
Minutes played – 879
Goals – 8 (tied for first in the league)
xG – 5.9 (third behind Barbara Banda (7.1) and Ouleymata Sarr (6.7)
Goal-creating actions per 90 minutes – 1.22 (third behind Banda (1.58) and Croix Bethune (1.44)
Goals per game – 0.8 (second, behind Banda w 1.14)
Shots – 33 (second in the league)
Shots on target – 21 (second in the league
SOT per shot – 63.6% (third behind Banda (80.7%) and Temwa Chawinga (68.5%)
Shot-creating actions per 90 minutes – 4.51 (fourth behind Bethune (4.71), Ashley Sanchez (4.70), and Chawinga (4.58)
Assists – 6 (second in the league)

We’d love to take credit for Smith (or “The Franchise”, as I’ve heard her called) but she seems to be as much a force of nature as a player developed by the club, since she was drafted during Mark Parsons tenure and has excelled since then for all three of his successors. Smith is having another great season in what is looking like it’s going to be one of the great careers in soccer.

Hard to say much else other than…let’s keep her healthy and happy, amirite?

That pretty much also goes for…

Sam Coffey

Matches played – 11
Minutes played – 978
Goals – 2
xG – 0.3
Goal-creating actions per 90 minutes – 0.09
Goals per game – 0.18
Shots – 5
Shots on target – 3
SOT per shot – 60%
Shot-creating actions per 90 minutes – 2.96 (41st overall behind Ouleymata Sarr (3.07)
Assists – 0

Of course, Coffey is a defensive midfielder. THE defensive midfielder, arguably the best that has ever played for Portland and one of the best in the world, so we have to look at her defensive numbers:

Tackles – 34 (tied for first on the team with Marie Muller, tied with Muller for fourth in the league)
Tackles won – 21 (second on the team behind Muller’s 23, fifth in the league)
Tackle % – 61.7% (second on the team behind Muller’s 67.6%, mid-table in the league)
Challenges – 18 (third behind Muller’s 33 and Fleming’s 27)
Challenges won – 12 (second behind Muller’s 17 and tied with Fleming’s 12, 22nd in the league)
Challenge % – 66.6% (first on the team ahead of Muller’s 51.5%, 33rd in the league)
Blocks – 19 (tied for first with Muller, ninth in the league)
Interceptions – 15 (tied for third on the team with Hubly behind Muller’s 34 and Sugita’s 19, tied with five at 20th in the league)

Coffey is, as she has been, a rock in the back of midfield. Barring injury or other unforeseen mishaps she should continue there for as long as we can hold on to her.

So that’s the “good news”. But you know the deal; that means there’s got to be a “bad news”, too, and that’s that so far this season Smith and Coffey are the only players in this “group”, the only unqualified success stories for the club this season. Meaning…pretty much everyone else has some, umm, issues.

So let’s turn to the…

People doing well but who could use just a bit more…something

We see several players as being in this category. Up front that would include Janine Beckie and Olivia Moultrie, Hina Sugita in midfield, and Marie Muller and Becky Sauerbrunn in the backline.

All having good seasons so far…but we’re still seeing room for some…shall we say… “add-ons” or “tweaks”?

We don’t see any massive differences between these five, so let’s just move front to back to discuss them.

Janine Beckie

Matches played – 11
Minutes played – 608
Goals – 3 (tied with twelve, fifth overall)
xG – 2.7 (tied with Lynn Williams, 22nd overall)
Goal-creating actions per 90 minutes – 0.44 (tied with four including Jessica Fishlock and Savannah DeMelo)
Goals per game – 0.27
Shots – 22 (tied with three, tenth overall)
Shots on target – 9
SOT per shot – 40.9% (34th in the league per FBRef)
Shot-creating actions per 90 minutes – 3.26 (thirteenth overall behind Trinity Rodman (3.32) and Rachael Kundananji (3.28)
Assists – 1

This season the club’s scoring has effectively come down to “Smith” and “everyone else”. Beckie is the first name in the second group mostly because as an international she carries a heavier weight of expectation.

So far this year she’s:
1) come on at halftime in the season opener in Kansas City and lit up the pitch; bagged the brace and nearly nicked the road point (+10/-1)
2) played an hour against Gotham marred by turnovers and, after halftime; a steep drop in form from the KCC match (+9/-5)
3) played another first hour against Racing, and continued to regress (+7/-8)
4) hit her low point, was “disconnected and adrift”, in an hour in Cary (+3/-4)
5) had a better – but primarily defensive – seventy-odd minutes at Bay FC (+8/-2)
6) played a solid hour in the win over the Spirit (+8/-3)
7) come in for the final half hour in the win over Seattle, but no real impact (+4/-0)
8) finally broke out again in Houston; assist and the post’s width from a golazo over seventy minutes (+12/-3), and then
9) regressed again at Orlando; “(a)ctive and energetic, but sloppy in possession and nothing dangerous”, (+6/-6)

So of the nine matches reported, Beckie had two excellent games (or more accurately, two-and-a-half good halves; Kansas City and an hour in Houston), four decent games (Gotham, Seattle, Bay FC, and Washington), and three disappointing ones (Racing, Carolina, and Orlando). So call her “WLD record” 2-3-4.

That’s “ten points of 27 on offer”, and less than “1.0ppg” has to be considered disappointing overall. However, her peak performances suggest that Beckie can still be a valuable piece of the roster, so our Director of HR has recommended an improvement plan.

Beckie Improvement Plan:

  1. The often asked question is “why isn’t Beckie as good here as she is for her national team?” when the real question should be “is Beckie as good here as she’s been for her club teams and is that as good as her international form?“.
  2. For Canada Beckie has 36 goals in 103 caps – 0.34G/gm.
  3. For her clubs she’s had 5 goals/38 games (0.13G/gm, Houston 2016-17), 0/15 (Sky Blue, 2018), 6/49 (0.12G/gm, ManCity 2018-2022) and 3/27 (0.11G/gm, Portland 2022 and 2024).
  4. Of Beckie’s 36 international goals 16 – 44% – came in lopsided wins over bad opponents; aggregate score 53-0.
  5. So the inevitable conclusion to the real question is “yes and no”.
  6. Beckie’s international palmares is inflated almost 50% by cheap goals off tomato cans. Here she’s been about as good – better! – than she’s been for her other clubs. What we’re seeing here is what she is at the club level or more.

Which means that the probable best option is to develop tactics that use her strengths as a winger and second option instead of looking to her for primary scoring.

You’d think she could work as a good bookend for Morgan Weaver at RW playing in to Smith with a withdrawn forward/false 9 coming up behind to support the middle and chase rebounds and blocks.

Olivia Moultrie

Matches played – 11
Minutes played – 684
Goals – 3 (tied with twelve, fifth overall)
xG – 1.6 (tied with Lynn Williams, 22nd overall)
Goal-creating actions per 90 minutes – 0.39 (tied with four including Deyna Castellanos and Tess Boade)
Goals per game – 0.27
Shots – 17 (tied with five, 34th overall)
Shots on target – 7
SOT per shot – 41.2% (33rd in the league per FBRef)
Shot-creating actions per 90 minutes – 3.81 (21st overall tied with Castellanos)
Assists – 1

Young Moultrie continues to grow as a player and impress, although her career progression seems to have gone strongly in one direction – forward. When she’s used as a #8 that tends to expose her defending, while she seems to thrive as a #10, or even a withdrawn forward where she can use her good shot from distance.

So far this season she has
1) had a very meh hour in Kansas City (+3/-3)
2) played well but lacked impact against Gotham (+17/-11)
3) had an ineffective half against Racing (+7/-7)
4) struggled as a #8 in Cary (+9/-6)
5) woken up after the break to have a good second half at the #10 at BayFC (+10/-3)
6) played a solid defensive half hour to see off Washington (+5/-1)
7) potted the matchwinner in Cary from distance (+7/-2)
8) been the WotM in Houston (+11/-2), and
9) had a terrific game in a losing effort in Orlando (+13/-0)

Overall Moultrie has been terrific so far; her only disappointments have been under ex-head-coach Mike Norris, probably due to his insistence on using her at the #8. Under your leadership Moultrie has been given more leash to go forward and has blossomed.

Moultrie Improvement Plan:

Keep it up! Keep pushing Moultrie forward…but remember Orlando! Moultrie isn’t the paciest of the attackers. She needs speed and guile around her – so Smith and Weaver in front, Payne and Muller behind – and solid defending to back her, so Coffey.

With the right support she’ll be lethal.

Hina Sugita

Matches played – 11
Minutes played – 786
Goals – 1
xG – 0.2
Goal-creating actions per 90 minutes – 0.34 (tied with four including Morgan Weaver and Claire Emslie)
Goals per game – 0.09
Shots – 3
Shots on target – 1
SOT per shot – 33.3%
Shot-creating actions per 90 minutes – 2.86 (43rd overall)
Assists – 3

Hina-san struggled early in the season, often as a late substitute, but has looked better as a starter since the manager swap. So far she’s
1) come in on the hour in KC, but made little impact (+3/-0)
2) put in a terrific final 12 minutes in the loss to Gotham (+4/-1)
3) come in for Moultrie at halftime and tore a hole in Racing (+13/-1)
4) started strong in Cary (+7/-0) then collapsed in the second half (+1/-4)
5) finally got a start at Bay FC and had a poor outing (+7/-6)
6) then roared back with a WotM performance against Washington (+16/-1)
7) had another blinder against Seattle (+14/-1)
8) had a decent match against a poor Houston team (+8/-1)
9) had a similar good-not-great outing in Orlando (+8/-1)

Sugita is still a very good player, but this season she has been less impactful than in 2023 or 2022. Some of that may be just individual form – she hasn’t been playing regularly for the Nadeshiko recently, either – but some may be that she’s having to put in a lot of defensive work and that cuts into her supporting the attack.

And Hina-san does a LOT of defending. Here she is compared to midfielders Sam Coffey, Jessie Fleming, and Olivia Moultrie:
Tackles – 30 (second behind Sam Coffey’s 34)
Tackles won – 18 (second behind Coffey’s 21)
Tackle % – 60% (second behind Coffey’s 61.7%)
Challenges – 20 (second behind Fleming’s 27)
Challenges won – 10 (third behind Coffey and Fleming’s 12)
Challenge % – 50 (second behind Coffey’s 66.6%)
Blocks – 12 (fourth)
Interceptions – 19 (first of four)

Not surprising from a #8, but something we might want to think about.

Sugita Improvement Plan:

Sugita is an excellent playmaker. Broad field vision, deep soccer intelligence. Clever with the ball at her feet, deft passer, can score when the opportunity strikes but can also create and provide.

She’s also a decent defender, probably the best of the full-time midfielders not named Sam Coffey.

So the problem is that as good as she is going forward – she’s probably the best #10 on the current squad – Sugita is also the best #8. So when opponent strengths dictate a double pivot, Sugita has to drop into the second DM position.

That’s not really a solvable problem unless the GM can sign a Raquel Rodriguez-grade box-to-box midfielder. The roster is too small to stable another #6.

As it is, well done to find a better use for this fine player, Coach.

Which brings us to…

Marie Muller

Matches played – 11
Minutes played – 881
Goals – 0
xG – 0.2
Goal-creating actions per 90 minutes – 0.2
Goals per game – 0
Shots – 6
Shots on target – 2
SOT per shot – 33.3%
Shot-creating actions per 90 minutes – 2.66 (50th overall)
Assists – 1
Tackles – 34 (tied for first on the team with Sam Coffey’s 34, tied for fourth in the league)
Tackles won – 23 (first on the team, fourth in the league)
Tackle % – 67.6% (first on the team, top ten in the league)
Challenges – 33 (first on the team, tied with Taylor Flint and Denise O’Sullivan for first in the league)
Challenges won – 17 (first on the team, fourth in the league)
Challenge % – 51.5% (behind several Thorns, including Reyna Reyes (76.9%) and Coffey (66.7%) and mid-table in the league)
Blocks – 19 (tied with Coffey for first on the team, tied with six for sixth in the league)
Interceptions – 34 (first on the team, second in the league)

The loss of right back Natalia Kuikka seemed like an unfortunate surprise at the end of a tough season. The acquisition of Marie Muller as her replacement was a pleasant surprise, and we feel like her performance so far has been good enough to go a long way to healing the pain of Natu’s loss.

This season, Muller has:
1) had a horrific opening day, thrown into a pickup-game backline (+7/-14)
2) then recovered brilliantly against Gotham (+20/-6)
3) played well for 80′ in the Racing draw (+11/-6)
4) then played poorly in the loss to Carolina (+4/-3)
5) come in after halftime to rescue the points at Bay FC (+6/-5)
6) followed an excellent first half against Washington (+9/-2) by slumping in the second (+5/-6)
7) rebounded with an excellent match against Seattle (+13/-3)
8) followed a solid first half with an error-marred second in Houston (+12/-5)
9) then had similar late-match issues in the loss in Orlando (+9/-1)

If we overlook the backline disaster in Kansas City – something I’m afraid was your predecessor’s fault, Coach, not hers – Muller has been more good that bad. But the past two games have been troubling because of the individual errors we’re seeing after halftime.

Muller Improvement Plan:

We’re really happy with Muller’s play when she’s fresh and on-point. Her issues seem to relate to fatigue, so perhaps she needs to work with a conditioning coach. Or possibly she’s fighting with a nagging injury that distracts her and drags down her form as the accumulated strain piles up on matchday. Perhaps the training staff can help you with that, Coach.

The “good news” part of the “bad news” is that we’ve got a reliable backup for Muller in Nicola Payne; but we’ll get to her in a bit.

That leaves…

Becky Sauerbrunn

Since she’s a centerback I think we can skip over the attacking metrics and go straight to defending, right?

Matches played – 10
Minutes played – 871
Tackles – 6 (last on the team, bottom half of the league; by comparison Naomi Girma has 8 in 5 matches)
Tackles won – 5
Tackle % – 83.3% (first on the team, top ten in the league)
Challenges – 4 (Girma, again, with 10 in half the games)
Challenges won – 3
Challenge % – 75% (second on the team behind Reyes (76.7%), tied with four at fifth in the league)
Blocks – 11 (sixth on the team, mid-table in the league)
Interceptions – 34 (sixth on the team, tied with five at 12th in the league)

So far this year ‘Brunn has:
1) played a solid match against Gotham (+8/-3)
2) played well again but in a defensive shambles against Racing (+8/-1)
3) been part of another defense trainwreck but this time didn’t do well (+1/-2)
4) utterly imploded at Bay FC and had to be yanked for Obaze on the hour (+0/-8)
5) then turned everything – her and her unit’s play – around against Washington (+8/-3)
6) been a rock against Seattle (+6/-0)
7) had a decent-not-great match in Houston (+5/-1)
8) not done well in a crucial test in Orlando (+4/-5)

I want to start by saying how much I respect Sauerbrunn as a player and a person. She’s been a stand-up gal for decades now, for her clubs, for her country, and for the sport. Who doesn’t love that?

That said, we’ve been hearing from some people…wait, where is…ah, here it is; some character with a soccer thread on Zhitter says…

…that it’s “tough trusting this defense”? Ouch, right? That’s gotta leave a mark! That’s where we feel that Sauerbrunn needs to step up, coach.

Sauerbrunn Improvement Plan:

If any player defines “veteran leader” it’s Sauerbrunn. So we’d like to see her take charge in the backline. Some of the other defenders simply need more on-field direction and coordination. Some have got troubling error rates that might benefit from more direct and more intensive coaching, both on matchday and the training ground, and that much as we expect you, and Vytas, to provide that Sauerbrunn’s efforts there are, in our opinion, critical.

We certainly hope to see her transition to a player-coach role in the near future, and this season – given the problems we’ve seen in back – we think it’s a good time to call on Sauerbrunn for that leadership.


How are we doing so far, coach? I’d like to take some time now to get your feedback. Perhaps we could move to the break room, hit the Keurig, and then meet back here to go over what I discussed..?

This Friday: Part 2

John Lawes
Latest posts by John Lawes (see all)

4 thoughts on “Jamie from H.R. (Part 1)

  1. Wow! Thanks for that John.
    I really agree with your points on on Müller’s fitness. I have seen that too. As she tires she starts making mistakes. We have two players that can spell her Reyes and Klingenberg. The performance people need to be watching her looking for when she is tiring and working on increasing her fitness level. I wonder if playing on turf is new for her and if it is I think that might be a factor.
    Stats are pretty hard to use in evaluating Coffey. Normally I tend to trust objective numbers over subjective eye test, but with Coffey I just don’t care with the stats say. She is so good and I agree the best the Thorn’s have had at that position and that is a compliment from a person that adored Henry’s game. So yes, arguably our best six ever, but damn she is good!
    When Weaver gets back to full fitness I think our front line will be Weaver, Smith and Linnehan with Beckie being first off the bench. That will emphasize her strengths.
    With Sugita I think we can ignore the Mike Norris era stats because he was not using her right and really neither was Wilkenson.

    1. I’d like to see if it’s possible to get Muller to go the full 90. She brings some skills Reyes doesn’t really have (and Kling had but is aging out of…)

      Coffey’s numbers are respectable, but you’re right in that she’s more than her numbers. I’m willing to entertain the argument, but I can’t yet consider her a lock for the “Best All-Time #6”. Henry has been as good or better, and for longer (tho not for us). But the best here? Yes. She’s been solid here for more seasons than Henry was.

      I’m unsold on Weaver. I was coming around before this season, but she took big steps back before the injury, and now she’s got to play back in.

      Linnehan over Beckie? I won’t argue that hard…but that’s a big step for the club to make. I dunno.

      Sugita’s numbers are what they are, and her match record since Gale has been up and down. I think she’s struggling a bit this year. Regardless of what Norris and RW did, she looked stronger in ’22 and ’23 than she has this season.

      1. I want to see more Linnehan simply because I want to see what her ceiling is. It could be sky-high; it could be right where she is now. We just don’t know. No one knows, including Payton herself. But we need to find out, because if it’s even a toss higher, she should replace Beckie in the starting XI.

        And thanks for the write-up John. As usual, informative and entertaining!

  2. Glad you enjoyed it.

    My view is that if Linnehan can help us win? Then more Linnehan is better. Right now I think she can…but I also don’t see the squad in training, so that might not be accurate. We’ll have to see whether she gets minutes over the summer.


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