Thorns FC: Draft

The 2017 draft is now eight days away.

What does Thorns FC need, and who should they be targeting?

At the end of last season we went through the players currently signed, and I identified three positions that I’d like to see strengthened:

  1.  winger/utility midfielder
  2.  centerback depth, and
  3.  fullback

Of these positions I’d put the second as the least critical, given that the Thorns have several defenders who could fill in there.  The fullback position may also end up being depth, depending on how well Morris’ rehabilitation is proceeding and how well Klingenberg pulls her game up next year.  The outside midfielder is, perhaps, as much luxury as anything else, given the attacking talent on this squad.

This season’s draft is perhaps the deepest for several years, and includes a number of standout players even without the two Canadian internationals (Buchanan and Lawrence) who signed with Olympique Lyonnais and Paris St. Germain, respectively, for the coming NWSL season.

The obvious problem is that currently Thorns FC doesn’t get a pick until 14th overall, 4th in the second round, and then has only one more second round pick, one late in the third round, and dead last.

I’d opine that whoever goes 27th and 40th will be, at best, both depth and speculation.  In case you don’t recall, here’s a brief history of Portland’s draft picks after the first round:

2016: Mackenzie Berryhill (third round, #21) – as you probably remember, Berryhill appeared in five matches last season, usually as a late match sub before being waived and claimed by Orlando.

The 2015 and 2014 drafts reflect then-Coach Riley’s distrust of young/college players:

2015: Michelle Betos (second round, #14 [trade]) – The Thorns got Betos as part of a three-way swap with Chicago and Boston in the deal that sent KK to the Red Stars; Kendall Johnson (third and fourth rounds #25 and 34 [trade]) – another Riley draft-day swap, this time with Sky Blue for the picks.

2014: Sinead Farrelly (second round, #16 [trade]) – the opening blast of the Riley Draft Demolition Era; the Merseyside Magician sends the #16 pick to FCKC for Sinead; Emily Menges (second round, #25) – one of Riley’s few straight-up draft picks was the Menges half of the Great Wall of Emily; Elizabeth Sullivan (fourth round, #31) – released in May 2014, having played one minute, to make space for Vero and Heath.

The first year of league play reflected, as much as anything, the inexperience of a lot of the people involved:

2013: Nicolette Radovicic (second round, #16) – released in April, 2013 for unknown reasons and since out of soccer altogether; Amber Brooks (third round, #24) – played well here in 2014 after being loaned out the year before and then traded in 2014; Roxanne Barker (fourth round, #32) – South African GK, originally intended to backup KK but dropped in favor of Addie Gay; still playing in the RSA.

Not really a bad history, that.  Two clear successes (Menges, Betos), and three players that either did well here for at least one season (Brooks, Farrelly) or adequately over several (KJ), compared to four picks that didn’t really work out (Berryhill, Radovicic, Sullivan, and Barker).

But, still…the real question has to be what can Portland get for the two second round picks, assuming that there’s no chance of trading up.

Well…Rose Lavelle is out of the question.  Sorry.

Even with Portland’s midfield and striking talent I’d love to pick up Lavelle.  She may be this generation’s best CM, and she would provide service of the sort we briefly saw here with Vero Boquete.  But…she will be gone long before the second round.

Likewise I suspect that players like Ashley Hatch and (unfortunately!) Kayla Mills will be off the board by late in the first round.  I’d love a shot at Mandy Freeman or Maddie Bauer as CB depth, but I’m suspicious of their chances of staying on the boardpast the first round, given that Boston is still a defensive trainwreck and they won’t get a shot at Buchanan.

Here’s four players, though, who should be around and who I think the FO might want to take a hard look at:

Ellie Boon (LB, University of Portland):  Top Drawer – not rated; All White Kit – #21.  Ellie led the UP squad back into the playoffs this season, and was described by Henderson as a “…big left-back with prototypical size for the position at the next level (5’8’), Boon’s plied her trade with the Pilots well enough for the past three seasons in Portland. Boon would enjoy her best season defensively in 2015 as well, being the best member of a rearguard that held WCC foes to under a goal a game in league play.”  Worth a look, as her size suggests that she could back up the CBs as well.

Michelle Vasconselos (RW, AM, BYU)  Top Drawer – #15, AWK – #15.  Henderson sums her up: “Vasconcelos had a dream season for BYU and put up sixteen goals and thirteen assists, including a stretch of seven straight matches with a goal. Her efficiency numbers rebounded to ridiculous levels as she made the devastating engine that was the Cougar attack roll. Her stock surged as much as anyone’s this past season, and she should provide an instant spark to someone’s attack, even in a super sub role.”

Toni Payne (F/MF, Duke) Top Drawer – #39, AWK – #18  Toni had a good NCAA season but seemed to have trouble scoring against better opponents.  She’s pacey, has a strong right foot, and a surprisingly deft touch for a college player.  Could do well as RW or at striker.

Claire Wagner (CB, Clemson) Top Drawer – #42, AWK – #20.  Standout in the back for the Tigers and can score, as well; four this past season and eleven over her four years.  Watch her highlight video to see that she has a hell of a right foot.  She’s deadly from distance and could provide Heath with some assistance on corners and free kicks.

Anyone else you’ve seen in the NCAA this past season that you like for the Thorns?

We can kick that can around over the weekend and then we’ll regroup here next Thursday to discuss what really happened.


13 Comments Thorns FC: Draft

  1. Kevin

    A minor correction: Brooks played with FC Bayern in 2013 and came to the Thorns in 2014, before leaving for 2015.

    Also, I’m not sure that Portland’s 4 draft picks who didn’t work out were “obvious mistakes.” To get any time from a 3rd round pick (Berryhill) is at least somewhat successful. And a 4th round pick (Sullivan) only playing 1 minute isn’t necessarily a failure, either. 3rd and 4th round picks are long shots to even make the roster. Radovicic was a failure in hindsight, although her being out of soccer altogether since she was released from the Thorns makes one wonder whether it is all talent-based.

    1. John Lawes

      Fixed the Brooks note; good catch.

      As for the rest, well…the only one of the four I’d give you immediately is Berryhill, and only because you have a point; she was a third-round pick and looking at the players taken around her was about as good as her peers; that is to say, not all that good. She didn’t really do that well when she did play – in fact, her shift in the FCKC match in July was among the worst put in by a Thorn this season, to the point that Parsons yanked her after about an hour. I’m not going to insist that the FO pull starters in the low rounds of the draft, but Berryhill didn’t look like replacement-level quality last season.

      Sullivan is harder to say, since she was fairly obviously only intended to be cover for Riley’s preferred players and was waived as soon as they arrived. But so far as I can tell she is no longer playing and didn’t play for anyone after Portland, so I’m guessing that she was pretty low quality and had she been retained would have been a poor probability to have returned much on the pick investment.

      Regardless of her reasons for not even making it to the beginning of the season Radovicic’s was just a wasted pick, and, given that Addie Gay was already in camp it would seem that the coaching staff didn’t do a particularly good job assessing Barker’s skills relative to Gay’s before drafting her.

      But, here’s the thing; my point WASN’T that PTFC has drafted poorly in the late rounds. In fact, just the opposite! The FO got better than 50% return on the late round picks; five of nine players that ended up providing positives to the team, only four (or even three, if you count Berryhill as break-even rather than a clear minus) as burning picks.

      So my hope is that the FO is doing some serious digging to target off-the-radar players like the four I’ve discussed and like the five that succeeded from those earlier drafts that might end up adding something to 2017.

    2. John Lawes

      The more I thought about it, the more I tended to agree with your objection to calling the less-than-successful-draft-picks “obvious mistakes”. Tho I wouldn’t call them particularly good choices that term is overly harsh, and I’ve edited the post to change it.

      1. Kevin

        I didn’t do a very good job conveying my opinion that it was the phrase “obvious mistakes” that I primarily disagreed with more than your detailed assessment of the relative merits of each of the draft picks.

        I appreciate the discussion.

  2. rhamje

    We’ve discussed Bella Geist as GK depth. She’s a senior at OSU this year, but didn’t put herself into the draft. Maybe she’s not eligible? Or maybe not interested in football after college?

    Regardless, I think we need GK depth. It’s hard to picture Franch happily riding the pine for another season while getting USWNT callups.

    1. jdlawes

      As I mentioned in my “backline and keepers” post, Richard, I think A.D. is the better ‘keeper technically and deserves an honest shot at a starting role this season. If not, she makes a tempting trade for teams like FCKC and possibly CRS that need goalkeepers.

      The scouting reports I’m reading suggest this year’s GK class is as deep as the rest of the class. I suspect that if the FO has any suspicion that they may need to part with A.D. (or Michelle!) that they are vetting several potential draft options, surely including Geist…

    2. John Lawes

      And…that said, even if Geist had declared I’m not sure I’d pick her. She’s not rated anywhere in the top 100 players at Top Drawer, and, while I like her size (6′; one problem I have with women’s ‘keeping in general is that the gals tend to be too small to cover the goal as effectively as they should) there are at least two ‘keepers in the top 50 nationally, particularly Lindsay Harris from UNC, that I’d 1) assume would still be on the board by the third round, and 2) prefer to take a chance on.

  3. Dug

    Any chance of Klingenberg going out in a trade for a higher draft position or additional picks? It’d seem like Washington (prone to poor decisions) and Boston (diving into their Scrooge McDuck vault full of draft picks) could both use extra cap space with their lack of allocated players. I like Kling, but she doesn’t seem to fit here as well as hoped.

    1. John Lawes


      Here’s the thing. Right now Kling is, effectively, free talent. The Nats pick up her tab and the Thorns sip the wine. So there’s no real reason for the FO to be in a hurry to unload her. She seems to be a good teammate in the dressing room and she does have an exceptional chemistry with Tobin Heath. I was unhappy with her defending for much of last season but that’s because I’m a carping old goat and expect more from an international. She’s at least better than replacement level right now, so I don’t see why the FO would trade her unless they felt assured of getting a significant (or at least were confident of getting an) upgrade.

      And – in retrospect – I’m not sure how much of what I consider Kling’s failings this past season may have been due to her nursing a knock. If her back was giving her trouble as early on as midseason it may explain a lot of her failures to get back and getting beat out wide as she was. If she returns this spring at 100%…well…we’ll have to see.

      So; a long way around me saying “No, I don’t think we’ll see Kling leaving this winter”.

      1. Kevin Bensel

        Additionally, while many fans like to criticize her defending (some fairly, some… less so), Klingenberg is an above average LB for NWSL. So she’s free-ish (although I recall reading something a year or two ago about allocated players taking up some amount of cap space, even if they are paid by the federation, but don’t recall the details and it’s certainly less than the max. cap hit, meaning they are a good deal financially for teams). That doesn’t mean she is untradeable, but her replacement is very likely to be 1) a downgrade in talent, and 2) possibly more expensive on the cap.

        So in my mind, unless you’re getting a potential game-changer (*cough*Lavelle*cough*), I don’t see how it makes sense to move her. The one caveat to that is to look in the crystal ball and try to predict what the rules will be around allocated players for the dispersal draft that is likely to come before the 2018 season, but realistically, any moves necessary for that can be made after 2017 (as the Reign did by acquiring Klingenberg from Houston in order to protect their other allocated players).

        And I think that your point about Kling’s chemistry with her teammates (particularly Heath, but certainly not exclusively) is an important one. We’ve previously seen a Portland team which had questionable chemistry, and the 2016 version was night-and-day different. That shouldn’t be underestimated.

        1. fdchief218

          If you go back through my match reports for the last half of last season (or go look at her comment here: I think you’d be surprised at how poor Klingenberg looked for much of that period. Her plus-minus rating – admittedly subjective, but at least useful in giving a relative measure of quality compared to the rest of the team – for the last 8 matches was only +2 on a team where the average was +5, and she had matches where she was well below that; three of eight that were -1, -4, and -7. So Kling played below average (and barely above replacement level) for a Thorn from the end of June to the semifinal (where she imploded).

          Now we know that she may have been laboring with a lingering back injury, so I’m not sure whether her play during that period was more a reflection of that than of her true quality. But…at least for a large part of the end of the last season, Kling WASN’T an “above-average LB”. She was average, barely, and fluctuated between matches where she was decent and real stinkers. That’s not the quality you expect in an international and barely that of a starting regular.

          BUT. I don’t see, for example, Ellie Boon being able to come in and perform at a higher level. Add that to Kling’s known strengths and her role in the team chemistry and the case for starting her at LB this coming season is strong.

          That said…I’m going to be watching her. She was one of two players I had real reservations about last season (Nadim was the other). Nadia played herself into a serviceable role by the end of the year, but Kling’s trajectory was in the opposite direction.

          I think Kling needs to raise her game in 2017 if she doesn’t want to get passed by a youngster on the Thorns depth chart…AND that’s assuming that she is re-offered a USWNT contract. That’s not a sure thing, given her age, level of play, and Ellis’ recent selections. Remove her from the allocation list and suddenly Peregrine has to pay her salary? That’s a whole ‘nother thing…

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