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Portland Thorns season preview: Building on consistent success

Portland Thorns star Tobin Heath will not return from injury in time to play the Orlando Pride Sunday. (Craig Mitchelldyer / ISI Photos)

The Portland Thorn will be looking to reach the same level they did last year. The 2017 NWSL champs were a single game away from a repeat win in the championship final, but fell to the North Carolina Courage 3-0.

A major challenge for the Thorns this season will be the impending schedule of the FIFA World Cup, which will pull away a significant number of the team’s starters for the gut of the season. These include midfielder Lindsey Horan, who led the team with 14 goals and finished third in the league last season, and forward Christine Sinclair, who served up a team-best seven assists last season, along with nine goals. Midfielder Tobin Heath, forward Caitlin Foord, goalkeeper Adrianna Franch and defender Emily Sonnett will also be game-changing losses during the midseason World Cup stretch.

Of course, this will be a hurdle every team will have to clear, but few other teams in the NWSL will face the level of offensive handicapping the Thorns will see. In turn, the team will have to rely on its non-international stars to hold down the fort for the bulk of the summer. 

Thorns travel East to open season in Orlando

When: Sunday, 5 p.m. ET

Where: Orlando City Stadium, Orlando, Fla.

Live stream: Yahoo! Sports, Yahoo! Sports app (U.S.); NWSLsoccer.com (international)

The buzz: Portland opens its season on the East Coast with a mainly healthy team and a lot to prove in the 2019 season. The two teams met twice last season and in both matches, the visiting team walked away with the victory. This year, Portland will need to find its strength on the road early in the season since it opens with six straight away games while its stadium undergoes renovations. A start against Orlando should be a strong way for Portland to begin. The Pride, despite a bevy of stars such as Alex Morgan, Ali Krieger, Ashlyn Harris and Marta, finished last year 8-6-10 and ranked third to last in the NWSL. 

Other key matches

Portland Thorns vs. Chicago Red Stars, June 2 — It will take almost two months for the Thorns to get a chance to play at home. During that time, plenty could happen. If the team is on a winning streak, the homecoming will be a victorious opportunity to greet one of the most boisterous fanbases in the NWSL. If it suffers a slow opening, the game will be a chance to bolster and recalibrate. The two teams will have met already in April, so the rematch will give both a chance to continue to adapt their gameplans early in the season.

Portland Thorns at North Carolina Courage, June 15 — This rematch will be circled on the Thorns’ calendar from the start of the season. The last time the two teams met, North Carolina shut Portland out in the NWSL championship to sweep the league Shield and title. Both sides will be well into their rhythm in the eighth week of the season, but both will also be without their national team stars, which will have reported to team camp for the FIFA World Cup. Due to this, the teams that actually meet on the field in North Carolina will be vastly different than the ones who faced off for the NWSL trophy, but that won’t make this game worth any less for a Thorns team hungry for redemption.

See full schedule here.

Quotes & Notes

It’s a different feeling this year for head coach Mark Parsons as he heads into the first weekend of the NWSL season.

“I feel calm in the fact that we’ve got some very good, very deliberate work in, so far,” Parsons said. “I said it to the group, and I didn’t plan to say it before the meeting – it just kind of hit me. I’m normally stressed out to the eyeballs on this day: day one, week one of the regular season. But [this year] I feel calm, and I feel excited. Normally, that’s not the case.”

The team is only facing a lack of availability from two players heading into the regular season — Emily Menges, who is recovering from a foot injury, and Hayley Raso, who has been limited in the preseason while she recovers from an injury.

Biggest offseason moves

  • The Thorns made several major moves ahead of the 2019 NWSL Draft, trading away their natural first- and third-round picks in exchange for a 2018 international roster spot and the 29th pick in the draft from Washington and Chicago respectively.
  • In January, the Thorns traded the No. 17 overall pick to Washington in exchange for the No. 31 pick and a second-round pick in the 2020 draft.
  • On the same day, the Thorns immediately traded the 2019 and 2020 picks acquired in the Washington to the Chicago Red Stars, in exchange for the No. 24 overall pick.
  • With the No. 24 pick, the Thorns selected Emily Ogle, a midfielder from Penn State University. Over her five years with the program as a red-shirt senior, Ogle received recognition, including 2018 Big Ten Midfielder of the Year and All-Big Ten First Team honors. Ogle scored 20 goals and dished 21 assists over her career with the Nittany Lions, tying the program record for most penalty kicks scored with nine total. She also has youth international experience, starting all six matches of the FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup for the United States in 2016.

Roster breakdown

Forwards: Ana-Maria Crnogorčević, 28; Caitlin Foord, 24; Tyler Lussi, 24; Ifeoma Onumonu, 25; Hayley Raso, 24; Christine Sinclair, 35; Mallory Weber, 25

Midfielders: Celeste Boureille, 24; Dagny Brynjarsdottir, 27; Tobin Heath, 30; Lindsey Horan, 24; Andressinha, 23; Emily Ogle, 22; Midge Purce, 23; Angela Salem, 30; Mallory Weber, 25

Defenders: Elizabeth Ball, 23; Ellie Carpenter, 18; Kelli Hubly, 24; Meghan Klingenberg, 30; Emily Menges, 26; Katherine Reynolds, 31; Emily Sonnett, 25

Goalkeepers: Britt Eckerstrom, 25; Adrianna Franch, 28

Full roster details here.

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