PORTLAND, OREGON (March 23, 2018) — After winning the NWSL Championship last season, the Portland Thorns are ready to defend their title.
2018 Portland Thorns NWSL Preview
However, the team will do so without key members to their championship run.
Mark Parsons lost a few members of his championship-winning team this past offseason. Some were dealt away in trades while others left to explore options on their own.
However, many players did return — especially on defense. Parsons returns veteran defender Meghan Klingenberg, along with Emily Sonnett and Katherine Reynolds.
In wake of the Boston Breakers fold, the Thorns picked up Midge Purce and Angela Salem in the Dispersal Draft.
The biggest question mark for Parsons surrounds the fate of Tobin Heath. The veteran, U.S. Women’s National Team midfielder has been dealing with injuries since the beginning of the 2017 season.
She missed a large majority of last season, but started in the NWSL Championship game against the North Carolina Courage.
Should the Thorns have to deal with losing Heath due to injuries, the results could prove costly. Right now, with the departures of key players, Heath is the best-known veteran on the team, alongside goalkeeper Adrianna Franch.
Franch, who has received numerous U.S. Women’s National Team call ups due to her consistency last season, is joined on the roster by fellow goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom.
The most important returning player continues to be Christine Sinclair. The Canadian international — and legend — is still scoring goals and taking down opponents at 34-years-old.
If Heath can’t make it on the pitch, Sinclair will step up her leadership abilities.
Player to Watch
Entering her first season in a Thorns uniform, Angela Salem comes off a big 2017 season for the Boston Breakers.
She joined the Breakers back in 2016 after a stint with the Washington Spirit. Salem was named the club’s MVP last season after starting all 24 regular-season matches.
Salem didn’t score a goal or provide an assist, but she managed to hold down one of the trickiest — and hard-hitting — spots on the pitch: the defensive midfield. After losing Whitney Engen, Salem stepped up for Boston and centered herself as a leader.
It was a mind-scratcher that Salem wasn’t picked earlier in the Dispersal Draft — she went to Portland with the No. 15 pick. She is joined in Portland by fellow Dispersal Draft selections Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu.
Salem is a longtime professional — she began her career back in 2010 with Sky Blue FC — and can make a splash in Portland. With the departure of Allie Long, Salem can step right back into a defensive midfield position.
Her veteran presence will be counted upon if Heath isn’t ready to go back in the midfield as well.
Thoughts on Head Coach Mark Parsons
A proven winner, Mark Parsons got his long-awaited NWSL championship last season.
His roster last season was the creme of the crop, with players like Allie Long and Nadia Nadim still in the mix. However, Parsons made a few heads turn by letting players like Nadim and Amandine Henry leave the club to pursue European opportunities.
Parsons had a plan though, and showed that through his Dispersal Draft selections. His NWSL College Draft wasn’t as successful as selected midfielders Sandra Yu and Gabby Seiler and goalkeeper Bella Geist did not make the final roster selection.
At this point, the new players could not beat out veterans. Parsons did make an offseason acquisition for Andressinha in a trade with the Houston Dash.
The pairing of Andressinha, Salem, Lindsey Horan and potentially Heath in the midfield looks like it could be dangerous.
However, Parsons will have to deal with transitions within his team. This is hardly the same roster that lifted the NWSL Championship trophy last season.
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) March 18, 2018
The Portland Thorns lost a lot of players in the off-season.
Nadim went off to England and joined Manchester City Women. Nadim was the highlight player for Portland for the last two seasons, scoring 15 goals in 37 appearances. The Afghanistan native, who features internationally for Denmark, was an expert penalty kick taker for Portland.
Instead of joining Nadim in England, Henry returned back to her native France and joined up with Lyon.
As mentioned, Long was a player lost in the off-season, as she was traded up to the Seattle Reign. In return, the Thorns claimed the rights to Caitlin Foord, who is currently with Sidney FC.
Ashleigh Sykes, a defender, announced her retirement from professional soccer. Meanwhile, Icelandic midfielder Dagný Brynjarsdóttir will step away for a season as she announced her pregnancy this offseason.
This prediction might get me in some hot water with hardcore NWSL followers, but I believe that this year, the Portland Thorns will miss the playoffs.
And it won’t be an easy season.
I have the Thorns sitting in seventh place, right in front of the Houston Dash and Sky Blue FC. However, I could end up being absolutely wrong — and I wouldn’t be mad.
Angela Salem is one of my favorite NWSL players, and I’d love for her to finally make a postseason run with a legitimate team.
However, if this team can’t gel together quick, which is how Parsons will want it done, then there will be rough home and away games away.
At least Portland draws a crowd with their matches at Providence Park.