Timbers and Thorns general manager Gavin Wilkinson announced Ellie Carpenter’s multi-year extension today in an end of season press conference where he also noted the club’s plans for some roster turnover, specifically looking for “3, 4, 5 starting caliber players” to come in to the squad in the offseason. Ellie Carpenter, the youngest player to play in the NWSL after her debut only a few days after turning 18 in 2018, will be spending her offseason on loan at Melbourne City and can look forward to some long-term security when she gets back. Noting the club’s disappointment at going out in the semifinals this season, Wilkinson said, “This is a club and team that needs to be in the championship, and contesting for trophies every single year, so we need to do what we need to do.”
Wilkinson and Thorns head coach Mark Parsons both pointed to disappointment of the close of season as starting well before the semifinal loss. Parsons traced the difficulty one game before: “The Utah game, where we should have been 3 or 4-nil up at halftime when we were one down really hit us hard. The Carolina game, it was a game where every single one of us have to apologize to everyone associated with the Thorns because it wasn’t a representation of us”. Wilkinson chimed in with similar sentiments: “We should never get beaten by [six] at home. Regardless of what we go through. Having the best fanbase in the world and the highest attendance has to count for something. From our part it’s a motivation to make it never happen again. It was simply embarrassing”.
In response, the club’s offseason targets are ambitions. “There’s a focus on increasing the quality of the foreign spots”, said Wilkinson, “making sure that ever foreign [player] that comes in is better than we can obtain domestically, so making sure that our foreign spots go back to Amandine Henry caliber, making sure that we maximize those in every way.”
With Hayley Raso and Caitlin Foord both receiving their green cards early this year, this would appear to be primarily putting into question the spots of Andressinha, Ana-Maria Crnogorcevic and Dagny Brynjarsdottir, two of whom have had important squad roles this season but none of whom have proven star quality (Ellie Carpenter holds the fourth international spot on the team and was explicitly singled out as staying). It’s a statement of intent from the club about how they plan to use their constrained resources.
Wilkinson even alluded to possible rule changes in the league that might allow for a greater budget for such players, saying, “The league continues to evolve and I’m sure there will be or could be an evolution of the rules to allow for a greater investment in foreign [players], and I think that will come back to the league and benefit every single club that’s willing to invest”. The NWSL owners met on Monday to decide potential rule changes for the coming season but nothing has officially been announced yet.
One of the other rules potentially on the table was a change in contract length, and Wilkinson’s Carpenter announcement appeared to confirm that these had been amended to allow for longer contracts. “We’re waiting for the league to officially approve it and go through some formal changes relative to league rules. We have a couple of others out of contract that we’re in discussions with who we’re trying to bring back. When we look at trying to get the best players in their respective positions, Carpenter is a reflection of that”.
Responding to a question about how what the club’s responsibility was in the broader fight for equal pay, Wilkinson was bullish about how the Thorns can contribute to raising the standards of the league. “We continue to raise the bar, we continue to drive equality within our organization. I think some of it needs to be solved at the federation level, and that will trickle down through the clubs, but we continue to drive the standard within the NWSL. I think we’ve been on the forefront as far as of increasing the payroll, increasing the minimum wage, increasing the ability to provide better fringe benefits for players. We will continue to drive that, we will increase resources that we give to the players, which is why we need success on the field to continue the belief and the drive that what we’re doing is the right approach”.