The inaugural season of the National Women's Soccer League (NWSL) is set to begin, as the Portland Thorns open on the road against FC Kansas City on April 13. Among the eight teams comprising the NWSL, the Thorns are the only one with Major League Soccer affiliation.
Portland's JELD-WEN Field will be the site of the Thorns' 11 home matches, mostly played on weekends during a season that runs until August. The Thorns roster appears to be well-stocked with quality players. The team did well in the national team player allocation conducted in January, where players from the national teams of the U.S., Canada and Mexico were apportioned among the eight teams of the NWSL.
Head coach Cindy Parlow Cone glowed over the seven players the Thorns received, calling them "a terrific foundation for this club." Parlow Cone's assessment may have been a bit of an understatement, as she was apparently not the only one impressed with the Thorns' haul.
Amy Carnell, general manager of Seattle Reign FC, claimed to speak for all of the other NWSL clubs when she expressed great surprise over the allocation of not only former University of Portland star Christine Sinclair to the Thorns, but also U.S. Olympic team star Alex Morgan, who scored the winning goal against Canada last summer in London. Even with the departure of Marlene Sandoval and Luz Saucedo, the two Mexican national team players received in the allocation, the Thorns will be at no loss for talent.
Without a doubt, one of the pillars of the Thorns' success will be Sinclair, the Canadian National Team captain and ten-time Canada Soccer Player of the Year winner. Sinclair's career has hardly missed a beat ever since she became an immediate impact player as a freshman in the University of Portland's elite women's soccer program, achieving Freshman of the Year and All-America honors. Since that time, Sinclair set an NCAA record for career goals scored in tournament play, and has led the Canadian National Team into 22 games at world tournaments, scoring 15 goals.
At last summer's London games, Sinclair almost single-handedly took down the U.S. team, scoring all three of Canada's goals in a 4-3 extra time loss in the semifinals. With Tobin Heath, who some consider the most skillful player on the US national team, her skills as an attacking midfielder to those of Sinclair and Morgan, the Thorns' likely possess offensive firepower unequaled within the NWSL.
And when any of these may not be with the Thorns due to national team duty, exhibition play has uncovered what appear to be some capable backups, with former Portland Pilot Danielle Foxhoven being chief among them. The Thorns' midfield appears to be solid, at the very least. Allie Long, Angie Kerr and Nikki Washington will start with Becky Edwards rotating into the mix as needed.
This group has not only the on ball skills to help fuel the front line attack, but also an ability to help protect a back line that may be the Thorns only sign of weakness. With this being the inaugural season, this will be the only time there will be no thoughts of improving on last year's team performance. But, last season's performance of some key players may give a clue as to how their play will carry forward to this year.
Morgan's 20 goals scored last year was an Olympic team high, and with her being the youngest player in US history to accomplish this feat in a single year, her future potential appears limitless. And her 21 assists make her the only US player to record both 20 assists and 20 goals in a year. Anything approaching this level of performance in 2013 will go a long way toward providing the "terrific foundation" Coach Parlow Cone spoke of.
The Thorns should have exceptional attacking ability, more than competent midfield play, and perhaps a somewhat suspect defense. While the defense may allow some goals, it's hard to imagine anyone slowing down the Thorns attack enough to make this an issue. It's not a stretch to expect the Thorns to be a serious contender for the first NWSL title.