In the biggest downpour of the season, two teams faced off at Providence Park with a final berth up for grabs.
My season post-mortem:
The balanced --if perhaps generous-- view is that this was a season defined by chaos: The Thorns had months of injuries to two of their three most important players. Becky was out for months. Soph missed the entire stretch run and wasn’t able to regain full fitness for the semi. Weaver clearly wasn’t right after her knock against ACFC. Combine the injuries with the WC, internal uncertainty over ownership leading to minimal improvements and no depth, and an inexperienced coach, and you get what we got. Now, other teams had some of the same issues, so that’s not necessarily an excuse...but it’s certainly a fair element to bring up.
So, the positives:
- We have a 25 year old future captain at the 6 who is not only a total delight as a human, but is the best holding midfielder in the league. Things can change, but there’s a good possibility we get to watch her play for us for the next decade....and that’s pretty damn cool.
- We have the league MVP and golden boot winner under contract for another year.
- We have very talented, young building blocks (Moultrie, Weaver, Hina, and Reyes) at key positions.
- This is still probably the most scary on-paper team in the league with a competent coach who runs a clearly defined tactical system.
Things that need to happen:
- The sale. Obviously.
- Hire a real coach, and have said coach ease Sinc as far away from the starting 11 as possible.
- Start Shelby Hogan over Bixby next season.
- Make Soph confident --both financially and from a team-building and franchise stability perspective-- that she can re-sign and have the club match her ambition.
- Sign a high level CB and real forward depth utilizing BOTH free agency and international signings.
Ultimately, this roster is more in need of tweaks than a total overhaul. Gotta get the coach right, and new ownership has to come out swinging. If those things happen, there’s no reason this team can’t be right up there next season. Hell, they were right up there this season despite everything.
Excited --if a little nervous re: Dunn and new ownership-- for the offseason!
Here's a cathartic read re: award snubs for the Weaver stan in us all:
I don’t want to go in depth until I’ve had the chance to review tape (and let me say for the record, thanks,NWSL! for having to do this on the DVR with its fussiness about freezing and scanning forward and back!) but I saw the same things last night I’ve seen bite this team in the ass all season:
1) Overreliance on Smith hero-ball and individual effort in front of goal.
Especially with Chesky in the middle Gotham was gonna lay bodies on Smith like a back-alley beating. The Krieger foul was just the most visible; most of the time Smith got possession in or near the 18 she was instantly smothered and dispossessed.
2) Sloppy passing and turnovers. Nuff’ said.
3) Poor composure when pressed, slow to release or move to space. Unlike the October win here virtually no pressure on Gotham, especially in their own half.
4) Lack of quick thought and action; Gotham was quicker to damn near most loose balls, won duels and looked much better composed on and off the ball.
Almost all of that is either techniques that should have been drilled on the training ground, or tactics, and both come down principally to coaching.
So the next steps are 1) get the new ownership in place ASAP, and 2) get the new GM and HC - and, please, no Peregrine internal hires and retreads - in place, also ASAP.
There’s quality on this roster. But the depth is suspect and there’s some obvious immediate as well as likely future needs from draft losses, free agency, and retirement.
This isn’t Houston. Finishing second, losing playoff games isn’t “good try!”, it’s problems to be solved. Let’s get working on them!
Rumor that Stoney might replace Hayes at Chelsea. Hmmm....
2023 NWSL Best XI First Team (listed by position, alphabetically by last name): Goalkeeper: Jane Campbell, Houston Dash – Defenders: Naomi Girma, San Diego Wave FC; Sarah Gorden, Angel City FC; Ali Krieger, NJ/NY Gotham FC; Sam Staab, Washington Spirit – Midfielders/Forwards: Sam Coffey, Portland Thorns FC; Debinha, Kansas City Current; Kerolin, North Carolina Courage; Jaedyn Shaw, San Diego Wave FC; Sophia Smith, Portland Thorns FC; Lynn Williams, NJ/NY Gotham FC
2023 NWSL Best XI Second Team (listed by position, alphabetically by last name): Goalkeeper: Kailen Sheridan, San Diego Wave FC – Defenders: Emily Fox, North Carolina Courage; Kaleigh Kurtz, North Carolina Courage; Jenna Nighswonger, NJ/NY Gotham FC; M.A. Vignola, Angel City FC – Midfielders/Forwards: Savannah DeMelo, Racing Louisville FC; Ashley Hatch, Washington Spirit; Savannah McCaskill, Angel City FC; Alex Morgan, San Diego Wave FC; Denise O’Sullivan, North Carolina Courage; Trinity Rodman, Washington Spirit
Miffed to not see Morgan Weaver and Hina up there, but two on Best XI ain't a bad thing.
The league figured Norris out, and from then on we were average.
And it's not just tactics or roster, but technical... passes off, sloppy giveaways in midfield. Given the direct style of play, at times I felt like I was watching Gio ball.
Injuries and absences didn't help, but every team has to deal with those. Despite a second place finish on the table and semifinal, this year seemed like a regression. No back-to-back wins since June and lopsided losses away from home with a trophy on the line, is below standard for this club.
They gave it their best last night, and the team culture is still strong. But there are clear roster issues to address and I think we need a manager who is up to it. Norris seems like a nice guy and did an admirable job as placeholder during a difficult period. But this clubs' talent and ambition demands a top class manager.
Paulson has to sell the team already. No more limbo. Either sell or don't. If not, own up to it, and then start investing in the team again. Otherwise, he's just milking it and we fall behind.
The support was fantastic last night.
Heath and Press bring back Re-Cap for NWSL Semifinals and Championship
Nothing earth-shattering, but....
"Playoff form is a real thing, and Portland didn't look to be the team we expected them to be at this point of the season."
- "Portland had class all over the field but couldn't find a class moment."
- Hard for the higher-seeded team to remain in form while sitting for a few weeks.
- Semifinal coming after international break is disruptive for players, especially those who go off to train with their national team during their club's postseason. Smith traveled with the USWNT, while Lavelle stayed in Seattle, trained with the team, and saw minutes in the quarterfinals.
- Gotham and Reign had more energy from the outset than did Thorns and Wave.
- Compare substitution of Sugita and Kuikka at 75th with how Amoros handled substitutions situationally and strategically.
Girma is now 2x DoY, in just two seasons. Wow.
New Equalizer pod says Thorns have a lot of off-season questions to answer and many things to figure out, including:
- starting keeper - who is it going forward?
- coach - this one is isn't winning chess matches or pulling the right levers at the right time
- connection & composure
- where does team and club go from here? was 2023 like 2019?
- free agency
- expansion draft impacts
- ownership change as "continually told, or at least promised, by the end of the year"
- plenty of individual talent, but does everybody stick around?
- need for new ideas and ability to respond to questions, because "they haven't had the answers when they do get hit" and they don't know why they're underperforming when that happens
I am still torn about the yellow on Krieger.
No question Soph got mugged, and it was hardly the first time it happened to Soph, let alone any other Thorn, on the day.
But I can't see the DOGSO because although Soph was the closest Thorn to the ball and *likely* would have been the first player to it, that was a through ball put well out into open space.
Just because Soph was closest to it doesn't mean she was close to it. That ball was a good 20 or more yards ahead of her, and she would have to run it down, either beating Haught to it or Haught staying in place.
Several times yesterday, Haught came out aggressively and got to the ball first, so even though it's a DOGSO situation, I don't feel confident in saying it was a clear DOGSO. Weaver had created a 50/50 ball, and Soph would have to get to it before Haught or Haught would have to choose to stay put. Neither of those options are that clear in my mind.
While I certainly think Gotham should have been playing at least 1 player down by that point in the match (somebody should have been shown 2 yellows), I don't think a straight red would have been the right call there. Would have helped us, no doubt, but not the right call.
Match report: https://rivetingpdx.com/2023/11/08/thorns-fc-like-tears-in-rain/
My final hot take prediction of the season: Mark Parsons returns for a second go and a 3rd re-boot of the roster (I saw him post "go thorns" on X during the semi). He makes a series of deals for drafts picks, picking up two starters and a crap ton of undrafted rookies. He re-hires Pierre, insuring Dunn's return. Brings in a few free agents (CB, FB, FW). In the end, we again loose at home in the semis to resurgent Chicago team.
Their form (incl. playoffs and not CC games) since that beastmode Sophia Smith Washington Spirit game at home just before the WC has been pretty abysmal: L-L-W-L-W-L-D-W-L-L
They had lost 3 of their last 5 going into playoffs. They lost 6 of their last 10. Pretty pretty poor...
Christttt. Good for the Reign, good for the league, but the contrast to what’s happening here is so, so, stark.
Anyone have any Thorns trade predictions? Feels like they usually come out of nowhere-The Smith, Purce and Yaz deals off the top of my head.
I’d say, Rocky and Bixby are the two most obvious candidates, but the roster is so thin after that I don’t really see any other possibilities barring something crazy.