So far we’ve looked at Thorns FC at forward and midfield, and what we’ve seen has looked good. But while scoring and passing and cute juggling tricks are all fun to watch, and, yes, you often hear it said that “if you don’t score you can’t win”…
…but the other side of that aphorism is that if you don’t concede you can’t lose, and many championship teams win championships through tough defending and outstanding goalkeeping.
Thorns FC has six players designated as defenders and two goalkeepers. These break down into:
Two centerbacks/central defenders; Emily Sonnett and Emily Menges,
Three outside backs; Meghan Klingenberg, Kat Reynolds, and Meg Morris, and
One midfielder/defender (who typically plays outside back when in the backline); Kendall Johnson.
Goalkeepers; Michelle Betos and Adrianna Franch.
Let’s take a look at them in that order.
Emily Menges: Emily was drafted in 2014 (late; 25th overall and 8th in the third round) out of Georgetown University. She had played summer ball for Paul Riley’s Long Island Fury in 2009. She will be 24 next season.
Games played – 20 Games started – 20
Shots – 0 Shots on goal – 0
Goals – none Assists: none
Yellow cards/red cards: 0/0
Comparison with previous years:
2015: Games played – 17 Games started – 17 Shots – 1 Shots on goal – 0 Goals – none Assists – none YC/RC – 1/0
Comments: Emily had what may well have been not only her best professional season in 2016 but arguably one of the best central defenders’ seasons in the NWSL. She earned both the Thorns Supporter’s Player of the Year, a place in the league’s Best XI, as well as, finally, a callup to the US national team this autumn.
Finding flaws in Menges’ game this past season is an extremely difficult task. She has great positional sense, marks and tackles well, and, on the rare occasion that she is caught out of position is one of the fastest players on the squad and usually recovers her lost ground. She is an intelligent and a very “clean” technical defender and seldom gives up fouls in dangerous places. She is relatively good in the air even though at 5′ 7″ is just slightly taller than average.
Here’s her PMR’s over the last 12 matches of 2016:
|Totals (12 matches)||154||77||+77|
|Average (12 matches)||12.8||6||+6|
Thorns FC gets great benefit not just from Menges’ quality but her consistency, as you can see above. Unfortunately for the Thorns Western New York troubled Em all season and especially in September and October, one of the reasons I worried about the semifinal matchup. That nothwithstanding, Menges’ was a critical piece in Thorns FC’s success in 2016, both as a player and as a leader in an excellent backline.
Should she be here in 2017? Without question. Young, skilled, and a leader in a very good defensive unit? What’s not to like?
Will she be here in 2017? The Front Office should be institutionalized if they let her get away.
Emily Sonnett: The Sonnett half of the Great Wall of Emily will be 23 come April 2017. She was the first pick overall in the 2016 NCAA draft out of UVA.
Games played – 15 Games started – 15
Shots – 2 Shots on goal – 1 (50%)
Goals – none Assists: none
Yellow cards/red cards: 2/0
Comments: I tended to pick on Emily last season because sometimes she played like a complete noob. That was unfair, because she was a noob, a true rookie at the professional level (many college players spend time in the summers as “amateur” players for club teams like Menges did with Long Island). But, even for an experienced professional, Sonnett usually lived up to her potential. Here’s her PMR’s:
|Totals (12 matches)||91||48||+43|
|Average (12 matches)||11||6||+5|
Remember that the Thorns’ 2016 “average” PMR was +5, so, like the little girl with the curl, when Sonnett was good (as against Chicago here and Orlando away in June, Houston here and Sky Blue away in September, and the semifinal) she was very, very good.
But when she was bad – as she was at Seattle, and against Boston and Rochester here in September – she was horrid. Horrid as in “giving up goal-conceding-giveaways” horrid.
I think a lot of that has to do with inexperience. If they’re not just overwhelmed by the move up to the professional level (which Sonnett was not) young players often take steps forward and then back; plateau, drop off, and then ascend in their play. I think that Sonnett has great physical and technical skills, and she’s shown moments of high soccer intelligence. She just needs to learn to do that consistently for 90-plus minutes without a letup, and game-in/game-out without letting things like minor knocks or a teammate’s off day or that iffy burrito last night affecting her performance. I have confidence that this season has helped her do that and she will return in 2017 a more confident and consistent player.
Should she be here in 2017? Yes.
Will she be here in 2017? I can’t see why not. One potential problem might be a loss of her USWNT contract (which brings up the issue of the expiration of the USWNT CBA which I want to talk about in a future post…) but I see that as a fairly remote possibility, if for no other reason than because Sonnett is an extremely versatile player and offers the USWNT a back or a midfielder that can play not just DM but box-to-box. Definitely worth keeping.
So that’s the centerbacks. And…that’s all the centerbacks (unless you count KJ or Long there which is really a waste of their skillsets) which is something we’ll talk about at the end of this post.
Now, the outside backs.
Meghan Klingenberg: Kling just turned 28 this August. She’s been playing professionally since 2011 beginning with the (in)famous magicJack. She’s spent time with the Breakers and WNY in the WPS and played in the Swedish Damallsvenskan with Tyresö Fotbollsförening for two seasons including 20 appearances in their 2013 runner-up season.
In 2014 she was signed by Houston and played there until traded here in the 2015-16 offseason as part of the Alex Morgan Trade-o-palooza between Houston, Seattle, Orlando, and Portland.
Games played – 14 Games started – 14
Shots – 4 Shots on goal – 2 (50%)
Goals – none Assists – none
YC/RC – 1/0
Comparison with previous years (both with Houston):
2015: Games played – 12 Games started – 12 Shots – 7 Shots on goal – 1 (14%) Goals – none Assists – 1 YC/RC – 0/0
2014: Games played – 7 Games started – 7 Shots – 2 Shots on goal – 0 Goals – none Assists – none YC/RC – 0/0
I will admit to being very ambivalent about Klingberg as part of the Thorns’ defense.
Her “pluses” include a terrific working relationship with Tobin Heath – which is, in itself, a huge recommendation for her. Tobin is a central part of what makes the Thorns’ attack work and Tobin works well with Kling. Klingenberg is decent technically and tactically; she seldom gets caught out of position, and she does a good job getting up her touchline to jumpstart the attack. She has a very high workrate.
Her “minuses”, however, include some real headaches. She was never the fastest fullback in US soccer and now in her late twenties has lost more than just a step. When she gets skinned – as fast wingers have learned she can be – she is often too slow to regain position. She gets beat to the byline all too often.
She has a real problem with passing accuracy which is exacerbated by Parson’s tactics that often call for her to pass out of the back. When she goes up the left touchline to Heath she usually connects. When she goes cross-field, though…
Here’s her PMR’s for the last 12 matches:
|Totals (12 matches)||84||68||+16|
|Average (12 matches)||11||9||+2|
Frankly, that’s not the sort of quality I expect to see in an international-grade player. Kling had only one terrific match out of the last eight she played; Sky Blue away. She was good against Boston and Rochester in the September week here. But…she was a tire fire at Seattle and in the semifinal and not particularly good in the remaining three.
In my opinion the overall quality of the Thorns’ left back position dropped when Steph Catley left and Kling arrived, in particular the loss of Catley’s speed. (Ironically, Catley’s injury last season would have meant that Portland would have been faced with an even worse problem, so perhaps the trade worked out for Thorns FC overall.)
But I think that Coach Parsons and the Front Office are faced with an interesting problem next season.
Kling will be 29 next August. She did not play particularly well – not particularly badly, but not “international-quality” well, either – for Thorns FC last season. She is a subsidized player and, as such, costs the team nothing while she is undoubtedly at least replacement-level quality or better. It is difficult to see where a rookie LB can slot in for her and improve the backline, both due to Kling’s professional experience as well as her year of playing time with her Thorns teammates. But she is not, given her provenance, as good as she ought to be.
Should she be here in 2017? In my opinion, not if we can get a player of equal or better experience for her. But…ONLY if we can get a better player for her; she’s not awful, at least not most of the time. She’s NWSL-baseline-quality at a minimum and should be able to hold down her side of the backline in the absence of an upgrade.
Will she be here in 2017? Here’s where I have to admit that I really don’t have any sense for how the FO sees her. If I was Merritt I’d be looking out for a better option…but I’m not Merritt and, then, there’s the whole “World Cup winner/WNT mainstay/beloved-star-of-Megisodes” thing. She doesn’t have the same sort of huggable cachet as Mana Shim but she’s still kind of hard to boot out without some sort of public ruction and she’s still got enough value to be a genuine loss if she’s let go for no return.
My guess would be yes…but I’m saying that in my least-confident voice.
Katherine “Kat” Reynolds: Kat is 29 (born in August 1987), and seems to have knocked around women’s professional soccer since before there WAS women’s professional soccer, like in the late Pleistocene or something…
Kidding, Kat, kidding!
Starting her career with Sounders Women in 2006 Kat has played with Philadelphia (2010), Atlanta (2011), and WNY (2012) in the WPS, SC Freiburg in the FBL (2012-2013), WNY in the NWSL (2013-2014), Washington in 2015 and followed Parsons here in 2016.
Games played – 20 Games started – 18
Shots – 2 Shots on goal – 2 (100%)
Goals – none Assists – none
YC/RC – 1/0
Comparison with previous years:
2015 (with Washington): Games played – 18 Games started – 18 Shots – 1 Shots on goal – 0 Goals – none Assists – none YC/RC – 1/0
2014 (with WNY): Games played – 19 Games started – 19 Shots – 3 Shots on goal – 0 Goals – none Assists – none YC/RC – 2/1
2013 (with WNY): Games played – 22 Games started – 22 Shots – 5 Shots on goal – 1 (20%) Goals – none Assists – 2 YC/RC – 2/0
Comments: Kat was generally solid in 2016, as you’d expect from a player of her experience;
|Totals (12 matches)||98||73||+25|
|Average (12 matches)||9||7||+2|
She did have a couple of poor outings. In July she was torched repeatedly in the loss to FCKC here. She didn’t do well in the semifinal, and I suspect that had Parsons had anyone to replace her she might have come off (as I discussed in the post about that match). She had just as bad a day in Seattle as the rest of the team.
But she had nine “plus” matches of eleven and that’s very respectable.
She’s usually a good tackler and, although she can miss her mark on occasion she still has speed enough to make back ground. She’s also a smart player, as she should be given her experience, and is seldom caught derping.
She’s actually generally a good passer out of the back, but Kat’s single toughest problem in 2016 was that she didn’t have a partner on the right side the way Kling had Heath on the left. Part of that may have been unfamiliarity, another might have been that her target was usually Nadim, and Nadia had some struggles last season including a tendency to drift inside and take away Kat’s outlet up the touchline.
Hopefully a full offseason as a team, and a year without large international callups, will give Kat a better connection with the players in front of her in 2017.
Should she be here in 2017? I think so. She’s still an above-average RB and, assuming that her condition doesn’t suddenly deteriorate should have some good years ahead of her.
Will she be here in 2017? That’s a tougher question to answer. Twenty-nine – 30 this coming August – is pretty grown-up to be living like a grad student in a garrett and making bupkis. Kat has got to be wondering is running around sweating on the tartan turf and getting kicked in the shins by That Groom Woman for the sort of chump change that would embarrass the night-shift guy at the stop-and-rob is really worth it. I sure hope it is…but I won’t pretend to be confident. I think she will be…but she’s another player that I won’t pretend to be sure will be here in April.
Meagan “Meg” Morris: Meg will be 24 when the season opens but will turn 25 in May. She was signed as a discovery player by Sky Blue in 2014. She was cut in 2016 and picked up here late in April.
Games played – 7 Games started – 3
Shots – 2 Shots on goal – 1 (50%)
Goals – 1 Assists – 1
YC/RC – 2/0
Comparison with previous years:
2015 (with SBFC): Games played – 9 Games started – 4 Shots – 7 Shots on goal – 1 (29%) Goals – none Assists – 1 YC/RC – 0/0
2014 (with SBFC): Games played – 3 Games started – 1 Shots – 0 Shots on goal – 0 Goals – none Assists – none YC/RC – 0/0
Comments: You probably all know little Megzilla’s story; signed late in the preseason, came in to play midfield but moved to the backline to fill in for Klingenberg, injured in the June away match in Rochester with a freakish leg break that put her out for the season.
Since the end of the season I haven’t heard anything on Morris’ rehabilitation. The injury sounds like a clean break and I hope it has knitted already and that Morris is already rehabbing…but I just don’t know.
Meg’s time with the team ended before I began compiling plus-minus ratings so I don’t have PMRs for her. Her play in 2016 was characterized by a furious haste, which was 1) amazing for a player built along the lines of one of those Hawaiian dwarf tiki statue things, 2) terrific for running down opponents, but 3) sometimes a problem when Meg would overcommit and get caught out of position. But her speed made it possible for her to regain ground and the defense was not often seriously hurt by it.
This off-season Morris needs to work on her tactical acumen and connecting with her teammates. If she does, she will be critical depth and a spot-starter next season.
Should she be here in 2017? Absolutely; young and (assuming her rehab goes well) fast, tough tackler and good marker.
Will she be here in 2017? As always with bench players, that’s a little tougher to answer. She’s a good player…but she’s not THAT good a player. If Chicago were to offer, say, Casey Short, or Arin Gilliland for a package that included Megzilla, would the Thorns FO take it? I’m not sure they wouldn’t.
But…presuming that she isn’t traded, and her rehab goes well…yes.
Kendall Johnson: KJ will be 25 in April 2017. She began playing professionally for Sky Blue FC in 2013 (tho, oddly, her Wikipedia entry lists her as playing for something called the “Colorado Rush” in 2012, the year she graduated from University of Portland; the Rush appears to be some sort of W-League outfit, so I’m guessing that SBFC was her first serious professional gig).
KJ didn’t play a minute with the Thorns last season, recovering from a severe concussion suffered while on loan to the Western Sydney Wanderers in the Australian W-league.
Comparison with previous years:
2015 (with SBFC): Games played – 17 Games started – 12 Shots – 10 Shots on goal – 5 (50%) Goals – none Assists – 1 YC/RC – 2/0
2014 (with SBFC): Games played – 15 Games started – 12 Shots – 6 Shots on goal – 3 Goals – none Assists – none YC/RC – 0/0
Comments: It is hard to overstate what a terrible injury Kendall suffered in Australia. She discusses it in her blog here and, like all of her writing, the piece is well worth the time to read. She had some of the worst post-injury symptoms I’ve ever read of; hallucinations and things like time- and space-distortion on top of all the other usual-awful things you deal with concussion like pain and inability to concentrate.
KJ was in the 18 on the day of the semifinal, so she seems to have recovered, by then, enough to consider herself and be considered by the team as able to play. I hope this means that she feels healthier and more put-back-together so that she can live a whole and happy life. But, as a Thorns supporter I selfishly hope that she is getting better so she can return to the pitch as a player, as well.
If she is healthy in 2017 KJ will provide depth at both back positions as well as possibly competing for a starting spot, how successfully it is hard to tell. Certainly if she can regain the form of 2015 and 2016 there is no reason to assume that she cannot potentially start for Thorns FC next season.
Should she be here in 2017? That depends entirely on her recovery. If successful, yes.
Will she be here in 2017? I honestly have no idea. I hope so, both professionally and personally. As a player she’s a quality player; as a person she’s good people.
So that’s the outside backs and KJ, our “utility back”. All that’s left is the very back of the pitch; the goalkeepers
Michelle Betos: Michelle will be 29 when the 2017 season begins. She has been playing professionally for seven years beginning with the W-League Atlanta Silverbacks in 2009. Oddly, she’s listed as having played for a “River Plate” in 2012; I assume that this is the women’s side for the famous Argentine club but I can find no record of her appearances there or whether she even suited up for the club at all. In the 2012-2013 season she played for the Cypriot club Apollon Limassol before signing with Seattle for the first NWSL season as backup to Hope Solo.
Traded here in the 2013 offseason she was Nadine Angerer’s backup in 2014; I believe her first appearance came in the June match against WNY where Angerer was sent off in the 28th minute where she was lit up for four goals. I still remember that match. Brutal.
Since then she’s been the starting ‘keeper in 2015 and last season except for the matches in May and June when she was out with an injured shoulder. Perhaps her single most famous soccer moment was the game-tying goal against FCKC in June 2015.
2016 Statistics: Games played – 14 Games started – 14 Goals against – 16 GA per game – 1.14 Clean sheets – 4 SOG – 66 Save% – 76%
Comparison with previous years:
2015: Games played – 14 Games started – 14 Goals against – 18 GA per game – 1.29 Clean sheets – 2 SOG – 63 Save% – 71%
2014: Games played – 3 Games started – 2 Goals against – 5 GA per game – 1.67 Clean sheets – 1 SOG – 14 Save% – 64%
2013 (With Seattle): Games played – 7 Games started – 7 Goals against – 14 GA per game – 1.67 Clean sheets – 1 SOG – 49 Save% – 69%
Comments: Let me start by saying this; Michelle made some spectacular saves for Thorns FC last season. Several times she singlehandedly saved the team’s collective butt with an acrobatic dive, a solid punch, or a well-timed take. She has commanded her penalty area with authority and seems to be a source of confidence for her team, “safe hands”, the ultimate compliment for a goalkeeper. For that alone she deserved her starting position.
That said…Michelle is not a particularly outstanding technical goalkeeper.
Behind one of the best backlines in the NWSL this season, a backline that allowed only 88 shots on goal (Chicago, with 82 SOG, was the only defense that gave up fewer) Michelle gave up 16 goals and more than a goal per game. Several other ‘keepers were as good and two were significantly better.
Her save percentage is about 75%, pretty much average for an NWSL ‘keeper (although in honesty saving shots on frame is not a strong feature of NWSL ‘keeping; the top three keepers in goals-against last season, Alyssa Naeher of Chicago, Hayley Kopmeyer of Seattle, and Kelsey Wys of WNY, had save percentages of 75%, 76%, and 81%, respectively).
She continues to drop her clearances sort, and often very short as in dangerously-liable-to-get-turned-right-back at her. Michelle looks like she should be able to belt the ball into the far stands; I mean, look at the thighs on that gal:
So the problem shouldn’t be leg strength, and if so it’s got to be her technique. She must be short-legging her kicks, not following through and lifting her knee. That’s coachable, or would be…except for that Nadine had the same issues with short clearances. If I could get one thing for Christmas it’d be a kicking coach for the Thorns’ goalkeepers.
All in all she’s a very decent player and I don’t see a reason why Michelle shouldn’t have a shot at starting next season, but I also want to see a solid demonstration why she should start over Franch. And we’ll talk about that in a just a moment.
Should she be here in 2017? Yes. But, as starter, or backup?
Will she be here in 2017? Barring unforeseeables, yes.
Adrianna Franch: Adrianna’s birthday was this past Saturday (happy birthday, Adrianna!); she’ll be 26 come next season. She started her career in 2013 with Rochester, was badly hurt and sat out 2014, played for Avaldsnes IL in the Danish Topserien in 2015 and was signed here before the 2016 season.
At the time of her signing I worried about her record in Avaldsnes, which seemed very inconsistent. Her preseason form seemed equally sketchy, and so when Michelle injured her shoulder at FCKC and Franch was sent out between the pipes, well…
2016 Statistics: Games played – 6 Games started – 6 Goals against – 3 GA per game – 0.50 Clean sheets – 3
SOG – 22 Save% – 78%
Comparison with previous years:
2015 (With Avaldsnes): Games played – 14 Games started – 14 Goals against – 11 GA per game – 0.78 (couldn’t find any other data for her in Denmark…)
2013 (With WNY): Games played – 22 Games started – 22 Goals against – 20 GA per game – 0.91 Clean sheets – 7 SOG – 98 Save% – 82%
Comments: …as it turned out Franch put in an exceptionally good shift over six matches.
And, when you look at the matches Adrianna played in 2016, it’s not like her stats are padded with lolling around her 18 picking artificial grass getting clean sheets against the league’s most offensively-impotent tomato cans. She got some good results against some good teams: clean sheet against Washington away then a single goal in the 4-1 beatdown of the Spirit here. Gave up a fluke goal at Chicago in the 1-1 draw and then blanked Rochester in Rochester. She also got a clean sheet in Boston but, well, Boston and the 1-1 away draw in the first Seattle match at the point in the season when Seattle was an utter crapfest.
Still…looking at her record in 2016, looking at numbers and her form over three seasons…these suggest that she’s just a better technical ‘keeper than Michelle.
I’m not sure. I don’t get to see the two of them against the same teams, or in training, or under similar conditions enough to say for certain.
But I can say this; based just on their numbers last season, I’d give her a chance to start if I was Coach Parsons.
Should she be here in 2017? I would say yes, definitely, and quite possibly as starting ‘keeper.
Will she be here in 2017? That’s a really, really good question. Franch seems to me to be a starting-quality goalkeeper. If I was her…and I knew beyond a doubt that I had no chance of starting next season…I’d want a trade to a team where I could start. If the team wouldn’t trade me I’d be pretty irked. I’d be thinking “Yeah, Michelle is a studette, but I’m younger, and I’m better, and in a just world I’d be the starter and she’d be the backup.” I’m not sure how this plays out, though. Maybe Franch is fine sitting on the bench. Maybe not. But given her skills I can’t believe it.
So…does Thorns FC need to change or add anything particular in the backline or at goalkeeper right now? Do you see any immediate needs that should be filled by trade or draft?
Centerback. The middle of the backline is where I see an immediate need for depth if – and I say “if” because I have no idea where she is in her recovery – Kendall Johnson isn’t going to be ready to backup the centerback position.
Right now there is no depth there. KJ is still uncertain, and while Long is playing CB for the Nats I want her there for the Thorns like I want a pilinoidal cyst. The team needs a solid backup, and even better a player who can sub in either at CB or one of the outside back positions. That may be KJ, but the team either needs to certify that or start looking for a quality draftee or a possible trade.
Fullback. As noted above…I’m not 100% sold on Klingenberg as the LB of our future. I think we need to be looking at – or at least thinking hard about – a possible replacement. I like what we have in Reynolds and Morris, but Kat isn’t a slip of a girl anymore and we don’t know how Megzilla’s rehab is progressing. So a fullback might also be a good acquisition to be looking out for.
Goalkeeper. Not so much a “need” but a decision. We’ve got some questions to answer and the questions are; should Franch be starting? If she is, will Betos be good with moving to the bench? If not, will Franch be okay with a full season riding the pine? Should the team consider trading one or the other and signing, say, Emily Kruger, or trading for a younger backup?
How do you see the prospects for 2017 in back?
Having gone on and on about what I see as needs for 2017, I think the starting backs and ‘keepers are exceptionally solid. There’s no need to panic or need to go wild casting about for trades or trying to fingagle higher draft picks. I think the FO needs to look for depth at both back positions, I think they need to think hard about Kling and who our starting ‘keeper is…but I also think very strongly that if we start 2017 with the backs and ‘keepers we have Thorns FC will be in very excellent condition.
Well…that’s the State of the Thorns as I see it…I’ll try and be back in a bit with some updates on the league as a whole, the CBA, and some thoughts on possible goodies coming up in January’s draft…