Portland Thorns FC nabs cream of the crop in NWSL allocation

Liviu Bird January 11, 2013 18

Alex Morgan has landed in Portland with Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath and Karina LeBlanc, among others. (Copyright Patricia Giobetti | http://www.printroom.com/pro/psgiobetti)

If the National Women’s Soccer League allocation is anything to go by, Portland Thorns FC is the early favorite to win the first league championship. With Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath headlining the team, it looks to be all roses and no thorns for the Rose City club.

“I couldn’t be more excited to build a team around this foundation of seven players,” head coach Cindy Parlow Cone said in a conference call on Friday. “We are going to be a competitive and entertaining team. I can say that.”

More specifically, she said Thorns FC will play a hard-nosed, flowing style that has been commonly attributed with the program at University of North Carolina, where Parlow Cone was an assistant coach before joining the NWSL club as its first head coach.

“Obviously, you can tell by the allocations the style of soccer that I like to play, which will be very possession-oriented style, high-pressure defensively,” she said.

The Americans allocated to Portland accounted for one-third of their national team’s assists in 2012. Morgan led the team with 21 assists — and her 28 goals were also the most in that category — while Heath added seven and Rachel Buehler four helpers.

Add in Sinclair’s 23 goals, and Portland should have no trouble scoring.

“I’m hoping that we are a very dynamic, productive team,” Parlow Cone said. “I think we’ve got great attacking players, and like I said before, we look to play a possession style. That’s the reason why their assists are so high … and I think the Portland fans are going to really enjoy watching these young women play.”

On the defensive side, Buehler is a mainstay in the U.S. back line, playing in all but one game in 2012. Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc backed up Erin McLeod at the 2012 Summer Olympics, but she has 103 career caps and 44 shutouts to her name.

The two Mexican players allocated to Thorns FC, Rubí Sandoval and Luz Salcedo, have earned 70 and 91 caps, respectively. Both are defenders who featured in Mexico’s 2011 Women’s World Cup squad.

Still, Parlow Cone wasn’t ready to accept the championship trophy just yet.

“(The allocation) is a great foundation to build on,” she said. “Is it time to hand us the hardware over? No. We’re not planning on playing seven (against) 11, so we need to fill in with some more players and hopefully build a championship team around these core seven players.”

The first NWSL college draft is set for Friday, Jan. 18 at the NSCAA Convention. Parlow Cone will be in her element there, having just come from coaching for the NCAA Division I champion Tar Heels.

For now, it’s a previous first overall pick, Morgan, who is the talk of Portland. Last year, she played for the Seattle Sounders Women in the USL W-League, and though Parlow Cone expects the Portland-Seattle rivalry to be strong in the NWSL, she has no worries about Morgan’s reception in Soccer City, USA.

“I know the Portland fans are great soccer fans, and I know that they are soccer smart,” Parlow Cone said. “I think that they have a great appreciation for good players, and Alex Morgan is certainly that and more, so I think they’ll be ecstatic — as excited as I am — to have Alex Morgan playing in their home city.”

Where the team will play its home games is yet to be determined, but Thorns FC has made some additions to its coaching staff. Parlow Cone stopped short of announcing who they were, but she did confirm that the club made at least one new hiring.

For now, Portland fans can be satisfied in knowing their club has two FIFA World Player of the Year vote-getters and two of the top goalscorers in the world on its books in Morgan and Sinclair, as well as an impressive supporting cast of players.

  • Steglitz49

    One has to admire Portland’s management for setting out their order of preferences so cleverly that they got such a strong team. At the same time, one would have thought that the committee ought to have considered the potential impact of a stacked team and made some adjustments. The lessons from European leagues, both ladies’ and men’s, are obvious.

    • They were supposed to assign a value amount on players to avoid a Sinclair/Morgan situation. I would never guess any combination of Morgan, Abby, Solo, and Sinclair would have been possible by math alone. Whoever did the math there failed. That is the nicest way I can put it. It seems like they want everyone to turn a blind eye to it now. That worked so well with Blatter or Stern over the years. As a sports fan I guess I should be used to this behavior.

      • Steglitz49

        One explanation could be that the allocation of Canadian, USA and Mexican players had independent patterns. Secondly, is Ms Sinclair as a big draw in USA as many if not all the USWNT players? When all is said and done, the teams are placed in USA and no-one seems to have any idea about the Mexican players, some of whom actually are American citizens!

        • Portland is a soccer smart city. They more than anyone could appreciate Sinclair who is top in the world and a local college favorite. They didn’t need Morgan. Add in Tobin as a playmaker for them and two good defenders and it appears a crime took place.

          After a few seasons of smart drafting and trades that combo may happen like it did with the Flash back in the day. Having that happen on allocation day though… That’s like throwing bricks in the air and them landing in the shape of a house. It just doesn’t happen. Only it did.

          • Steglitz49

            I agree with you that it would be smarter to trade Ms Morgan than Ms Sinclair because you would get more for her in a transfer-market.

            In this allocation, whom would you have wanted in the draft instead of Alex? If you could swap tonight, which player would you want and, therefore, to whom would you send Alex? (I confess that I would exchange Ms Sinclair rather than Ms Morgan but I have no feeling for whom I should ask for. Boston got the best goalie but either Sinclair or Morgan in Boston would make bean-town too strong.)

          • Swap Boxx and Morgan. That gives the midwest a legit face. Chicago is a big sports town. Morgan would have fit right into the scene. The league needs the midwest to work. The NW needed no extra gifts to be strong.

            I figured either Morgan or Syd would anchor Chicago. Chicago right now could double as a retirement home or rehab facility for the often injured. Meanwhile Portland breaks all of the safeguards you would expect to be in place to avoid that kind of league damaging disparagey.

          • Steglitz49

            All excellent points well made. I also agree that getting Tobin was a smart move. I guess that she is undervalued. Why do you think players may have shunned Chicago? Too windy to hit long passes accurately? Taking good corners too hard?

            Do you think that the Portland coach is strong enough to manage Ms Sinclair? It took Ferguson to get the most out of King Eric, but what a return on investment — and he got him cheaply to boot.

        • randomhookup

          Sinclair played college soccer in Portland, so she is an automatic draw. She would draw okay in other cities (she played WPS in WNY), but not near to Morgan-Solo-Abby. People who really know the game know her, but if you only fan-girl the WNT, you won’t know Sinclair that well.

          • Steglitz49

            Good points. Who will captain this side? Sinclair?

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  • Anton

    Two words, Merritt Paulson. Wouldn’t shock me in the least if he was pulling some strings behind the scenes. The guys a snake.

    It’s not really Morgan and Sinclair (which is stunning in it’s own right) that makes me question the allocation. It’s the fact that they felt the need to allocate them Heath and Buehler also. They got Canada and the U.S.’ best forward, the U.S.’ most creative player and arguably the U.S.’ best defender, how in the world is this ‘competitive balance’?

  • Don B.

    This discussion seems a little silly to me, simply because the whole focus seems to be how unfair it is for Portland to be getting Alex Morgan. Was anyone screaming when it seemed a sure bet that Portland would be getting Sinclair, Wambach and Rapinoe? No. Everyone seemed to think that was fair because, well, they all wanted to play there and had ties to the area. But now that it’s Sinclair, Morgan and Heath it’s all just so wrong.

    There were six premier players (my opinion) available – Morgan, Wambach, Sinclair, Solo, Lloyd and Rapinoe. Most felt it would only be fair if those six were allocated to different teams, to further parity and even it all out competitively and from a marketing standpoint. And yet, Seattle has Solo and Rapinoe, WNY has Wambach and Lloyd, and Portland has Morgan and Sinclair. So why is everyone upset about only Portland? And why should Morgan be the one singled out that needs to go somewhere else? Why can’t Boxx (as someone threw her name out there) trade places with Lloyd?

    It isn’t just some fans who feel cheated that it ended up this way, either. The GM for Seattle was shocked that they didn’t get Morgan and Solo both and seemed to be counting on it. She’s OK with Rapinoe, but she’s not doing cartwheels over it. Here’s a GM who ended up with two of the top six and still isn’t satisfied because one of them wasn’t Morgan.

    And why shouldn’t Morgan get the same opportunity for playing where she wants (it’s been reported that Portland was her first choice) as anyone else? She is after all the US player of the year, the leader in goals and assists and a finalist for the Ballon d’Or. She’s worked her butt off to achieve all that. All she doesn’t have is the seniority, but that can be forgiven based on everything else. She’s a west coast girl, her boyfriend plays in Seattle (not her first choice of team if the reports are true), and Nike is headquartered in Portland (she’s their poster girl after all). And it’s also been reported that despite Sinclair, Wambach and Rapinoe desiring to play there, Morgan was Portland’s first choice as well (I’m fairly certain she was number one or two on everyone’s list).

    In this allocation and this new league there’s plenty to be happy about, some to be sad about, and always things to shake one’s head over. But to make the focus for displeasure all about Portland and Morgan is just silly.

    • Portland is brought up because it is ridiculous in all categories. Two star forwards, a star playmaker, a great defender, and a good goalkeeper? And all off the payroll? Really? Morgan is brought up because Portland is Sinclair’s city. It makes sense for Sinclair to be there, Portland is soccer smart enough to appreciate her, and since she is such a great player Portland doesn’t need a second star.

      Mathematically it shouldn’t have happened based on player value scales. As soon as Sinclair was going there it should have bumped Morgan out no matter where she selected based on value points alone. Morgan shouldn’t have been in Seattle either the same reason. Seattle is just salty because their rival got all the expensive pieces paid for and won’t have trouble in the FA department either. They get the nature problem even if they express it in a Seattle kind of way.

      Logically is shouldn’t happen based on marketing needs for the league. Do we really want more one-and-out from the Midwest? Historically that is the pattern. How is that good for anyone? Whoever told you Abby and Sinclair and Pinoe would be ok in Portland was crazy. Sinclair/Pinoe was what most people were expecting and fine with.

      Rapinoe will likely miss through July between France and a FIFA window. While she could do well on her own somewhere had she been available for a full season — that isn’t the case right now. Seattle is one of the few places she could go that could absorb her loss for half a season. Abby and Carli went somewhere that is out an allocation spot which makes it easier to swallow.

      Are we really saying boyfriends and Nike are good business choices? Lots of players were sent no where near boyfriends. It’s how the pro world works. I hate to keep picking on Chicago, but just look at it a second. None of the media seem to want to touch it with a ten foot pole. They’d rather make it a Portland vs Seattle thing when that isn’t the case. Chicago stands out as odd. A big market city in need of a star. A league in need of a strong midwest. Portland with a surplus. Chicago will fill some gaps in FA but it will be expensive to even make a dent there. Those already paid for NT spots changed how the business side is played so losing there is a big deal.

      I’ve got enough side-eye for everyone involved, but enough from me. If you want me to believe Portland was some kind of marvelous accident, fine. That seems to be what a lot of people are deciding to do. The right people are happy so it must be ok. It isn’t smart though. This league needs all the smart it can get to survive and this fell short of the mark by design.

      • Steglitz49

        I presume your FA means foreign allocations. (In soccer “FA” is short for the English Football Association as in the FA Cup, which celebrate its 140th birthday last year.)

        Here I think Chicago may have some edges. Chicago has direct flights to many places on the globe. Probably only the greater NYC area has as many with Newark & JFK. In addition there are many great univs/colleges in Chicago and the cultural and sports scene is excellent.

        Maybe Chicago can pull in a couple of top notch foreign players. If those were doing some graduate studies and thus funded outside of the team’s budget, much might be possible. Indeed, the Japanese fund in Japan part of the salaries of their players who play abroad so they cost the teams less than their true worth.

        • FA = Free Agency / Free Agent

          Teams have 200k cap to spend among all of their drafted players, domestic free agents, and the two international free agent spots.

          That’s why the allocated spots are so important unlike other league beginnings. The federations are paying for those spots this time so they are off the books. Teams that have the traditionally expensive or hard to field positions covered, like Portland, in the allocation are at an advantage in the cash area. A huge advantage.

          Buying additional midfield and defense which we have plenty of domestically and isn’t in demand globally (which would drive up the price) is cheaper than trying to buy an offense or a face to your team. Good offensive players usually get paid and to get paid well these days means Europe. Players like Press are in high demand around the world. NWSF doesn’t have a lot of money per team because of the cap. If you have a lot of needs in key places because you failed the allocation game you can’t just spend your way out of it to infinity.

          Anyone who says allocated spots don’t mean much and you can fix it all in the FA isn’t thinking about where the money is coming from for everything. Portland’s 200k spent on mid/defense will go a lot further than the same money for other teams needing to buy forwards for example. Federation money and a hard cap changes everything from past realities.

          • Steglitz49

            The salary cap is a capital idea. The ridiculous spending in Europe will kill soccer, men’s as well as women’s. Staying with the ladies’. Lyon essentially has bought the CL yet they are not a really wealthy club and if the truly rich clubs start spending on their ladies at that proportion, it will be most sad and a sorry state of affairs.

            My thought was that maybe any foreign players could financed outside of the salary cap. They would be true “free” agents because they would not cost the clubs anything.

            Most women players in Europe earn next to nothing. If they are lucky they receive a match bonus. That may be changing. Time will tell.

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