Thorns FC: Talking Thorns – the forwards

This is the first of a series of posts wherein I want to talk, and think, about the 2017 Thorns and, to do that, examine the 2016 Thorns.  And I want to begin by looking at the first line of attack; the forwards.

Portland, OR - Sunday, May 29, 2016: Portland Thorns FC forward Hayley Raso (21) during a regular season National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) match at Providence Park.

Thorns FC has four forwards rostered as of November 1: Christine Sinclair, Nadia Nadim, Hayley Raso, and Mallory Weber

————-

sinclair-christineChristine Sinclair:   Christine will be 33 in 2017, and has played professionally for ten years, debuting with Vancouver in 2006.

2016 Statistics:

Games played – 13   Games started  – 11

Shots – 26   Shots on goal – 13 (50%)

Goals – 7 (conversion rate: 54% of SOG, 27% of all shots)  Assists: 4

Comparison with previous years:

2015:  Games played – 9  Games started – 8  Shots – 15  Shots on goal – 8 (53%)  Goals – 2 (13% of SOG, 25% of all shots)  Assists – 2

2014: Games played – 23  Games started – 22  Shots – 77  Shots on goal – 40 (52%)  Goals – 2 (17.5% of SOG, 9% of all shots)  Assists – 1

2013:  Games played – 20  Games started – 20  Shots – 53  Shots on goal – 26 (49%)  Goals – 8 (2PK) (30.7% of SOG, 15% all shots)  Assists – 2

Comments:  Looking at Sinc’s past four seasons two stand out; 2014 and this year.

2014 was the Year of the Black Yips, when it looked like Christine had suddenly lost her scoring touch.  2015 may have been the most difficult year for the Thorns as a team, but 2014 was Captain Sinclair’s most troubed as a player.  I talked here about the possibility that her days as a pure forward might be done and that she might benefit from a Michelle-Akers-type move into the midfield.

In 2016, despite missing almost half the games with injury (early in the year) or with the CWNT, Sinc’s goalscoring touch returned.  Her conversion rate was the best she’s ever had with Portland, and all of her goals were from the run of play, exceeding her 2013 total which included several spot kicks.  For all my worries in 2014 it turns out that Christine had some more goals in those legs regardless of the hard kilometers she’s put on them.

Sinc’s abilities are somewhat deceptive.  Here’s my plus-minus ratings for her over the last twelve matches of the season (of which she played seven:

Player Sinclair
Match + avg
6/22/16 CHI (H) 9 6 +3
6/26/16 ORL (A) 5 5 0
7/2/16 SBFC (H)
7/9/16 KC (H)
7/16/16 HOU (A)
7/30/16 SEA (H)
8/27/16 SEA (A)
9/4/16 BOS (H) 8 3 +5
9/7/16 HOU (H) 11 3 +8
9/11/16 WNY (H) 9 4 +5
9/25/16 SBF (A) 15 2 +13
10/2/16 WNY (H) 12 5 +7
Totals (12 matches) 69 28 +41
Average (12 matches) 9.9 4 +6
Mean +/-  avg (team) +5

Not all that showy, are they?  Because Sinc doesn’t overawe you with her trickery or deception; she’s not Heath.  She can’t blow past you with pure speed like Raso.  Her PMRs look about average for the team.  But…what her statistics don’t give you is the effect of her soccer intelligence and her direction on the field.  She is a gifted student of the game and a player that has great ability to play off of and lift the quality of her teammates.  She lifts the team and settles it at the same time, and as such is more valuable than her pure statistics suggest.

All that said…Sinc is past the typical prime of a field player.  Great players – and Sinclair is perhaps among the greatest – age more slowly than average players, but age and hard knocks will eventually catch up with Christine sooner than later at this point.  We can only hope that she has another couple or three great seasons in her.

Should she be here in 2017?  Of course.

Will she be here in April 2017?  Barring a Chicxulub-level extinction event (or her being dropped from the CWNT, but I repeat myself) she should be here next season.

The only real question is how long can she sustain her play at her level, and we won’t really know that until her form begins to slump.

————-

nadim-nadiaNadia Nadim:  Nadia will be 29 when the 2017 season opens.  She has played professionally for eleven years beginning in the Danish league in 2005.  She broke into the NWSL with Sky Blue in 2014.

2016 Statistics:

Games played – 21   Games started  – 21

Shots – 42   Shots on goal – 18 (42.8%)

Goals – 9 (2PK) (conversion rate: 50% of SOG, 21.4% of all shots)  Assists: 3

Comparison with previous years:

2015:  Games played – 18  Games started – 18  Shots – 51  Shots on goal – 26 (50.1%)  Goals – 6 (23% of SOG, 11.7% of all shots)  Assists – 1

2014: Games played – 6  Games started – 5  Shots – 23  Shots on goal – 12 (52.2%)  Goals – 7 (58.3% of SOG, 30.4% of all shots)  Assists – 3

Comments:  I was concerned at the beginning of the year that Portland might be getting the 2015 Nadim and not the 2014 Nadim.  As it turned out we were getting an entirely different Nadim, and while the 2016 Nadim wasn’t as prolific as the 2014 edition she was not as profligate as the 2015 version.

Our Nadim turned out to be less of a pure striker and more of a wide-attacker that could (and, unfortunately, often did when she wasn’t supposed to) drift inside.  Her positives included a relentless workrate on both sides of the ball and some good positioning when she remembered her position.  Her negatives included a tendency to get rough – she barely avoided a disciplinary suspension with 4 yellow cards – and some difficulty with her first touch.  Here’s her PMRs:

Player Nadim
Match + avg
6/22/16 CHI (H) 13 5 +8
6/26/16 ORL (A) 4 10 -6
7/2/16 SBF (H) 16 15 +1
7/9/16 KC (H) 9 8 +1
7/16/16 HOU (A) 8 13 -5
7/30/16 SEA (H) 17 10 +7
8/27/16 SEA (A) 15 13 +2
9/4/16 BOS (H) 15 10 +5
9/7/16 HOU (H) 18 6 +12
9/11/16 WNY (H) 13 7 +6
9/25/16 SBF (A) 12 12 0
10/2/16 WNY (H) 6 3 +3
Totals (12 matches) 146 112 +34
Average (12 matches) 12 9.3 +3
Mean +/- avg (team)  +5

As you can tell, Nadim tended to blow hot and cold.  Unlike Sinc she wasn’t the sort of forward to turn in a solid outing every match.   She had about three “average” matches, including Boston and Rochester here in September.  But she also had a bunch of matches where she wasn’t particularly effective (Sky Blue and KC here in July, Seattle away, Sky Blue away, and the semifinal) and two where her form was so poor that she was an overall negative (Orlando and Houston away).  Several others, though…Chicago here, but in particular Seattle here on 7/30 and Houston on 9/7 she was far and away the best player on the pitch.

Then, as we know now, she injured her lateral collateral ligament in the semifinal so badly that she had to have a surgical repair.

Should she be here in 2017?  I think so.  Given her best play in 2016 I think that she has earned a slot in 2017 if her rehabilitation goes well.  But I have some reservations.  To get more starts I think she needs to improve her ballhandling – fewer bad first touches! – and she needs to become more aware of where she is on the pitch.  When she plays out wide she makes space; when she drifts inside she closes it.  I think she plays better as a wide attacker than in the center of the pitch, and I think that Sinc down the middle, Nadim wide right and Raso wide left might be a very dangerous combination…

Will she be here in April 2017?  Yes…but might depends on how her rehabilitation goes.  Worth noting that even if she is in shape come April she will be absent for much or all the entire month of July playing for Denmark in the UEFA championships, so, not ALL of 2017…

————

raso-hayleyHayley Raso: Hayley will be 22 in April, 2017.  She started playing professionally for the Washington Spirit last season.

2016 Statistics:

Games played – 21   Games started  – 8

Shots – 15   Shots on goal – 4 (26%)

Goals – none    Assists: 2

Comparison with previous years:

2015:  Games played – 8  Games started – 1  Shots – 3  Shots on goal – 1 (33%)  Goals – none  Assists – none

Hayley became something of a crowd favorite in 2016 and it was hard not to like the little wasp zipping around the pitch with her red or white hair-ribbon flying.  Her PMRs;

Player Raso
Match + avg
6/22/16 CHI (H) 4 1 +3
6/26/16 ORL (A) 4 4 0
7/2/16 SBF (H) 12 7 +5
7/9/16 KC (H) 12 7 +5
7/16/16 HOU (A) 12 12 0
7/30/16 SEA (H) 16 8 +8
8/27/16 SEA (A) 6 0 +6
9/4/16 BOS (H) 16 8 +8
9/7/16 HOU (H) 7 4 +3
9/11/16 WNY (H) 2 0 +2
9/25/16 SBF (A)
10/2/16 WNY (H)
Totals over 12 matches 91 51 +40
Average over 12 matches 9.1 5.1 +4
Mean +/- avg (team)  +5

What’s worth noting about her ratings, however, is that when she started – as she did in the four matches in July plus Boston in September – she was extremely effective; her average comes out to +5.2 (the tough match in Houston brings that down from what would otherwise be an excellent 6.5).  Her lowest marks come as a late-match sub when the Thorns were seeing out a game.  Overall her ratings reflect her quality, as they should.

Should she be here in 2017?  In my mind, unquestionably.  She’s a bargain, is young, and has a ton of positives.  Her single biggest weakness is her shooting, and her scoring or, rather, her lack of scoring.  Hayley doesn’t shoot much and when she does doesn’t put many – barely a quarter – of her shots on frame.  A forward is, first and last, a goal-scorer, and Raso has yet to score in the NWSL over part of one-and-a-half seasons.  While I appreciate the many good qualities she brings to Thorns FC if she cannot score she cannot continue to play at this level.  So while she may well be here in 2017 I see next season as a watershed for her.  She needs to raise her game to continue to hold down a roster spot, and that means, simply, score.

Will she be here in April 2017?  I cannot see why not, unless…in my opinion she presents an attractive piece as part of a trade.  If the Thorns Front Office had to offer a player in a deal young Raso might well be that player.  We might well see her go in January; we’ll have to see.

————

weber-malloryMallory Weber: Mallory was drafted by Rochester in 2015 and traded to Portland for an international spot.

2016 Statistics:

Games played – 12   Games started  – 5

Shots – 3   Shots on goal – 1 (33%)

Goals – none    Assists: none

Least used of Portland’s nominal forwards, Weber also filled in the midfield and, if I recall correctly, even played a match at fullback.  Versatility, the key to the NWSL roster-making…

Her PMRs:

Player Weber
Match + avg
6/22/16 CHI (H)
6/26/16 ORL (A)
7/2/16 SBF (H) 10 9 +1
7/9/16 KC (H) 15 10 +5
7/16/16 HOU (A)
7/30/16 SEA (H) 18 13 +5
8/27/16 SEA (A) 12 7 +5
9/4/16 BOS (H)
9/7/16 HOU (H)
9/11/16 WNY (H)
9/25/16 SBF (A)
10/2/16 WNY (H)
Totals (12 matches) 55 39 +16
Average (12 matches) 14 9.8 +4
Mean +/- avg (team)  +5

Weber, like Raso, needs to improve her striking at goal and her finishing.  She has some speed and seems to have the right instincts, but her touch seems to fail her at the ultimate moment and she either lays off or fails to pull the trigger and gets tackled or run off the ball.

Should she be here in 2017?  I’m really not sure.  I don’t have any real reason to dislike her, but…I also don’t see her bringing anything in particular.  She does seem to be principally right-footed and Raso seems to be equally comfortable with left or right but more usually lines up on the left.  Weber seems to be another possible part of a trade, especially if there’s a possibility of trading up in this year’s draft.  However, she also seems to have been a good fit in the dressing room, and messing with team chemistry after a good season – as the Timbers can attest – can lead to problems.  Which is a long way of saying…whatthehelldoIknow?

Will she be here in April 2017?   I haven’t the faintest idea.  Unless she is packaged as part of a deal I can’t see why not…but, then, I don’t see any particular reason to NOT trade her if her striking doesn’t look more deadly this spring.  As with Raso, she has to start scoring to advance beyond filler minutes and garbage time.

————

So…does Thorns FC need to change or add anything particular at the forward position right now?  Do you see any immediate needs that should be filled by trade or draft?

At the moment, I don’t think so, no.

But…there’s a lot here to consider and a lot of “whatifs”.

Sinclair is 33; is 2017 the year she begins to show her age?  Nadim had a bad knee injury in 2016; will she return to full fitness and, more importantly, make the improvements in consistency and form she needs to succeed in 2017?  Raso shows a ton of promise, but can she start paying off in goals?  Can Weber pitch in with more minutes and, more to the point, more effective minutes?

PTFC was second overall in the league with 35 goals last season, the best the team has done outside the monster goalscoring year of 2014 (when Seattle set the still-standing league record of 50 in a 24-game season), but it’s worth noting that Portland’s forwards scored only 15 of those goals; Dagny, Horan, and Long had one more than all Portland’s forwards.  That suggests that the Thorns are not dependent on their forwards to score and takes the pressure off the front office to stock the team with high-scoring strikers.

While I suspect that Coach Parsons would be perfectly happy to start a McDonald- or Dunn-style pure goalscoring forward I’m not sure that he would alter his tactical style to accommodate one.  And I’m not sure whether he would break up this team to acquire one.

With no draft picks higher than 14th overall I suspect that any forward PTFC can acquire out of the 2017 draft will be, at best, a “project”, and I don’t see anyone around the league that Portland could or would trade for at a cost the team could or would want to pay.

How do you see the prospects for 2017 at forward?

Good…again, presuming that all the “whatifs” turn out well.  IF Sinclair stays in form, IF Nadim’s knee heals well, IF Raso and Weber step their scoring up…Thorns FC looks to be dangerous going forward in 2017.

————

Next week; stuck here in the middle with you…