Thorns FC (and more…): Random Thoughts and the Subsidizening

Now that we’ve booted the roster ball around the Thorns’ pitch there’s not much more to talk about professional women’s soccer this year, but I thought I’d wander about playing a bit of wee heidies with some of the tag-ends of the season as well as possibilities for next year.

Of course, the NCAA playoffs are still going on (and down to the Final Eight starting today).  A handful of surprises; The #1 ranked Stanford Cardinal is out.  Florida State is out already, too, to Utah (Utah?) who was then ousted in turn by USC.  The luckless Badgers and Rose Lavelle – who will end her college career without a title –  went out in the second round to Florida and Savannah Jordan (who then got shot down by Auburn in the Round of 16).  The quarterfinals should be interesting to watch, if nothing else to see if anyone stands out as a prospective draft pick for January.

Of course, there’s another, less pleasant reason to keep an eye on the tournament; checking up on who gets injured.  Andi Sullivan (Stanford) will be out for months with an ACL tear picked up in the Cardinal’s loss to Santa Clara.

Perhaps the single biggest, and most difficult to answer – question is what will happen when the women’s collective bargaining agreement with US Soccer expires before dawn January 1, 2017.

Will the USWNT players strike?

Well…maybe.  As of mid-November the two sides were still talking, with meeting scheduled for December.   From the linked article it sounds like the players’ association is still insistent on leveling the compensation between the men’s and women’s sides.  This seems to me to be a difficult problem to resolve.  The two national teams just work so differently; the men are primarily employees of their clubs and “contractors” for the Nats, while the women work for the Nats and are sort-of loaned out to their NWSL clubs.

Certainly the prize money for silverware could (and should) be brought into line; that the men to got more for scraping into the Round of 16 in Brazil than the women did for winning the Big Casino last year isn’t really supportable even by waving revenue at it.

That still leaves the main issue of compensation, and the main problem is that the main issue just isn’t easy to resolve.  That and I suspect that – at least to some degree – the players are unhappy and spoiling for a fight after getting batted around first over the issue of turf at the WWC in 2015 and then over the expiration-of-the-CBA issue this year.  I don’t think that a strike will actually help the players.  But I think it’s possible that “help” doesn’t matter anymore; this may now be about pent-up grievances and old resentments rather than future gains.

If the players strike, when might it happen?

A strike wouldn’t really be effective before the SheBelieves tournament, presumably in early March 2017…but, if it does occur, is likely to run into the middle of the month and, presumably, within three to five weeks of the opening of the league training camps.  My guess would be no earlier than the middle of February, 2017.  That gives the USSF time to panic and come to some sort of agreement before the She Believes in the first week of March.

If the US players strike can, and will, the NWSL season begin?

I think it can if the USSF tells the NWSL to play.

The league is still very much beholden to US Soccer.  If the league wants to put pressure on the players’ association it will tell the NWSL to play on, insist that the subsidized players’ teams call up amateurs to fill in for the missing internationals, and see how long those players can hold out.  I suspect that the federation’s pockets are deeper than the players and that tactic would work.  But…

I think that it would be a Pyrrhic tactic, one that would go a long way to poisoning the relationship between this generation of players and the federation.  So I think that to open the NWSL season with the US players on strike would be…fraught for the federation and infuriating for the players.  It would be a nuclear option.

If the US players strike, what Thorns will be affected?

Heath, definitely.  Horan, most likely

I’m unsure on the status of Emily Sonnett.  I believe tho she and Horan are technically both “subsidized” players I believe that Sonnett was signed directly to the Thorns, not allocated through USSF.  Though I think if the players strike, the league opens play, and Sonnett crosses the picket line (or is forced by contractual pressure to cross) that, too, would be potentially ugly for all parties involved.

Long, although now seemingly a feature with the Nats, was signed by Portland so remains a Thorn property, at least for now.  But her status next season is likely to change; if she continues to be paid by USSF then I suspect she’ll be a “subsidized” player come 1/1/17.  How that works is beyond me; would Peregrine Sports “sell” her contract to USSF and then be “allocated” her?  Would she still be under contract to the Thorns but her salary paid by USSF?  Technically under the old allocation rules if that was the case then she could have been moved to another club without her or Portland’s say-so which is why, I believe, the change from allocation to subsidization was made.  Assuming that she becomes a subsidized player next season she will be in a position to be more-or-less forced to walk if the players choose to strike.

Klingenberg…I don’t know.  I think that Kling may be one of the players that Ellis is thinking of dumping off the squad (for many of the reasons I discussed in her comment last week), so she might not be in a position to be on strike.  Of course, the question then would be “is she in a position to play for Portland..?” and the answer, I believe, would be “no”.  She is with PTFC because she was allocated from the USWNT.  If she is no longer with that team then her allocation/subsidization is moot.

Of course…if the league chooses not to play rather than to force the issue with the US players, then all our Thorns will be affected.  We won’t know that until probably April of next year.


Anything else going on out there in WoSoLand worth discussing?

At random off the top of my head…

Boston!  The Breakers appear to be finally struggling to escape the Vale of Suckitude that has been their native habitat since the league began.  Signings like Emilie Haavi (Norway) and Rosie White (New Zealand), trading to bring in Meghan Oyster from Washington and Da Costa from Chicago…and seven, count ’em, seven 2017 draft picks including first overall; (for the curious Boston has 1st pick, four in the second round including first in the round (11th and 12th, 15th and 16th), as well as first in the third round and fourth round – 21st and 31st).

Washington?  With Kelsey Wys out for 2017 the Spirit will need Stephanie Labbe’ to return – which she apparently was considering foregoing – if the Washington defense will join the midfield in need of repairs (the Oyster-for-Mewis-and-Kallman trades seems to have been largely about shoring up the midfield).

Is Juche the WoSo Word of the Future?  The North Korean women have won the U-17 “world cup” with a PK-shootout win over Japan and are into the semifinals with a 3-2 overtime win over Spain.  I watched the U-17 Final and was surprised – and impressed – by the Norks.  I expected the usual sort of dour bunkering I’ve seen from their senior side and was pleasantly shocked at how opportunistic the DRPK schoolgirls looked.  Ri Hae Yon is an exciting, aggressive player with a right foot like a hammer, and Sung Hyang Sim has some mad playmaking skilz, and not just for a North Korean.

Of course…the Nork youth teams have been to this well before and come away dry; the U-20s won the title back in 2006 and were second in 2008, the U-19s won it all in 2007.  The promise of the young players wasn’t fulfilled at the senior level outside of Asia.  And then there’s the doping question…

And what about our own kids?  The US U-20s are set to face the Norks next week after a late-game comeback against a surprisingly good Mexico.  We all know about Mallory Pugh, but the latest wunderkind from the gardens of US youth soccer is Ashley Sanchez who, after tearing it up at the U-17 level appears to be progressing well as a soon-to-be-collegian.  She helped set up both the US goals in the Mexico quarterfinal and is following Pugh to UCLA.  Provided she can avoid an ACL tear, and the Thorns have the first-round pick in 2021…


And that’s all for now.  Hope you all had a terrific Thanksgiving, and I’ll be back in a bit to ruminate more about 2017…