I thought I’d written my last post for the year two weeks ago after the title match. The story of the Thorns FC 2013 seemed to have a happy ending, and there remained nothing more than to bask in the glow of Portland’s second ever big-league sports title.
Then the club waived Nikki Marshall.
There was a brief discussion of the move over at Stumptown Footy. From the comments there I think many of us Thorns fans were sorry to see Nikki go; for all that we accepted (or admitted) that she wasn’t the most brilliantly technical defender we all appreciated her hard-nosed play and commitment to the team.
A testimony to those qualities was the fact that she was the only player picked up off the waiver wire (by the Washington Spirit, sorry to say…) from a group of ten that included German WNT players Inka Grings and Sonja Fuss.
Marshall says she hasn’t decided whether to play for the Spirit or even play professionally at all next year, and noted that the move to release her wasn’t part of a post-season housecleaning but decided even before the team knew they had a shot at the title:
“The decision to waive Marshall a week later came as a surprise to outsiders, but Marshall knew her status before playoffs – Portland made the decision three weeks before the final, she said. Without revealing specifics, she called it “a business decision” that she understood.”
That got me thinking.
Assuming that the NWSL is on sound footing for next year – not always a sure thing, sadly, in women’s pro soccer – and assuming that we will see the same eight teams we saw this season open play in April 2014, what might we see in the coming autumn and winter for Thorns FC? What could we hear from the Thorns FC between now and next March?
One thing I took away from the lack of interest in Fuss and Grings (presumably relatively expensive players) as well as – possibly – Marshall’s release (since though since we have no idea of her salary she is an experienced player who could presumably command something closer to the $20-30,000 reported to be the top level for non-allocated players than the $5-6,000 the poor replacement-level players were said to pull down…) was what is says of the continuing and ferocious downward pressure on salaries in the NWSL.
This league is not going to go broke paying its players, and so the chance of seeing big-money player signings here this silly season seems small.
But barring a thunderbolt, I suspect we will see some more moves. After all, Coach Parlow Cone had very little time to assemble her squad for 2013. This coming season she can, and we can presume she will. So why not have some fun with speculating where might we see some of the original Thorns move out and some new Thorns come in?
So long as Karina LeBlanc is healthy and wants to play here I cannot imagine Coach Parlow Cone or the Thorns Front Office looking for a new starting keeper.
I wonder, however, about her backup.
Not only did Adelaide Gay never appear for Thorns FC in 2013, on the one occasion when she might have been expected to play – the Chicago match on 6/1/13 with Karina called up for international duty – she was passed over in favor of a college keeper with no professional experience. That doesn’t argue strongly for the club’s and Coach Parlow Cone’s confidence in her. We might see a new backup keeper, then, if CPC can find someone cheap and reliable that she trusts more than Gay.
The loss of Marshall would seem to open up a fullback position – except that Casey Ramirez and Emilee O’Neill are both fullbacks or can play outside back, and Marian Dougherty was fairly solid at the other fullback spot. Between Beuhler, Williamson, and Ellertson the centerback position seems well covered. For all that PTFC often looked shifty in back this past season I don’t see anyone out there who would represent a significant upgrade unless the Mexican national team players were to suddenly reappear as an option, and as of today I have not heard anything to suggest that.
So it seems to me that any changes in defense would be a black swan; I can’t guess who and how they would happen…
Perhaps the single biggest headache for Thorns FC this past season was in midfield, and I have to think that CPC and GM Gavin Wilkinson are looking at options to strengthen this part of the squad.
Two players should be here in April: Tobin Heath and Becky Edwards.
Heath is still listed on the roster of Paris Saint-Germain, so we can assume that we will either hear of an official move to Thorns FC or she will begin the 2014 season in France. And Edwards’ will not be physically ready to return to training until mid-autumn after her AC surgery.
Interesting. Not definitive, but interesting, and opens up possibilities in midfield.
Of the remaining midfielders only Meleana Shim played so well in 2013 she should be confident of April. Angie Kerr and Allie Long were up and down all season; Long did as well as she could filling in for Edwards and Kerr played better in late August than she had up until that point so that on a team with a deeper roster they might both be confident of a place as role-players at least. Given the NWSL roster limitations, however, I’m not sure that if a better midfielder were to emerge for a reasonable price that they might not one or both be gone.
Likewise, Courtney Wetzel did decent work as a substitute and spot starter. I have no confidence whether that translates into a job next season.
To my mind Thorns FC most needs one or two speedy outside midfielders who can provide dangerous service to the strikers.
The starting winger of 2013, Nikki Washington, was perhaps the single biggest failure of that season; unless she was sandbagging for some bizarre reason she seems like an excellent candidate for trade – assuming any coach who saw her play would take her – or release. However as a national team player she doesn’t represent a salary liability to Thorns FC; that complicates matters. Were I CPC I wouldn’t keep her, but to me many of Parlow Cone’s player moves are opaque and I don’t have a good feeling for what she’s doing with Washington. She may be CPC’s “project” player for next season, given her low cost.
Still, it seems like we still need outside midfielders. My only question is where we’ll find them.
Ingrid Wells – who was released by Western New York – has signed with the Frauen-Bundesliga, and none of the other midfielders on the 2013 waiver list seems promising and cheap, both requisites for the NWSL.
Supposedly the 2014 draft looks sweet, but as defending champions Portland will probably miss out on the hottest midfield prospects such as Vanessa DiBernardo (Illinois) and Mandy Laddish (Notre Dame). For those interested, Chris Henderson at All White Kit has a rundown of who the hot prospects were at the close of the last NCAA season. A college player might well be in our future this spring, though, and I’ll be following this season’s NCAA play with added interest.
The difficulties Thorns FC had up front don’t really seem amenable to trading for or buying another forward. When you have a Morgan and a Sinclair up front the issue is – or should be – simply figuring out how they work together, making that happen, and then sitting back smiling whilst they score goals by the bucketful.
Since that didn’t happen consistently last season if Parlow Cone can figure out why – and solve it – she will have gone a long way to assuring her cubby in the coaches’ mailroom for many seasons to come.
If anything were to change up front I could see CPC moving either Foxhoven or Weimer formally back into an attacking midfield position, or possibly using one or the other as trade bait, but both were useful up front in 2013 and I can’t see them being displaced unless it was for a much better – and more expensive – attacker. So while of the four forwards they seem the most likely to be gone come next year they seem just as likely to remain.
I suspect that we will see a new midfielder or two before next spring, and possibly a new defender and a backup keeper. Who, and how, and who on this past season’s squad will have to leave to make space for them, I cannot guess.
One of the consistent heartaches of supporting a professional teams is that of opening the newspaper or the browser to find that your favorite player has been cut or traded. We haven’t had to face that yet here in Portland; our championship team is – short one player – still intact. But I can’t imagine that this will continue through the coming months, and can only hope that my favorites will run out in red next spring and that I will be there to sing for them.
Onward, Rose City!