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NWSL Preview: Thorns and Roses

nwsl thorns

Portland, Oregon is known as the City of Roses, but this year they look to be overrun by Thorns. When the NWSL announced the eight teams that would be participating in the inaugural season, Portland was one of those teams.

The Portland Thorns are owned by Merritt Paulson, who also owns the MLS club Portland Timbers and will play at JELD-WEN Field just like their counterparts in the MLS. The Thorns will be coached by former US Women’s National Team player and former University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer Assistant coach Cindy Parlow-Cone. Parlow-Cone has seen success as a player with the US Women’s National Team as she was apart of two Gold Medal winning teams in ’96 and ’04, the World Cup winning side in ’99 and the Silver medal winning team in ’00. As an assistant coach for the North Carolina women’s program, she helped guide the Tar Heels to becoming NCAA Champions in 2012.

The National Team player allocation of US, Canadian and Mexican players saw the Thorns come out smelling like roses. Portland was allocated US forward Alex Morgan, midfielder Tobin Heath, and defender Rachel Buehler. Up front, Morgan will be joined by Canadian forward Christine Sinclair. This is thought to be the strike force that will wreak havoc on defenses throughout the league this year. The Thorns also received Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, and Mexican National Team players Luz Saucedo and Marlene Sandoval. In the first NWSL College Draft, Portland selected defender Kathryn Williamson from Florida, forward Nicolette Radovic from Central Florida, midfielder Amber Brooks from the University of North Carolina, and goalkeeper Roxanne Barker from Pepperdine.

The Thorns certainly look like they have the foundation of a team that is ready to hit the field running from the National Team player allocation. Morgan and Sinclair played together on the Western New York Flash in the WPS, so there is already a bit of a chemistry there. Portland will be looking for some midfield help with Tobin Heath, who is not available to the team until June because she will be playing with French side Paris Saint-Germaine until then.  Look for Lori Chalupny or Jen Buczkowski to sign for the Thorns to add some midfield flair until Heath is available. Chalupny would be an excellent choice for the Thorns midfield with her ball handling ability to set up Morgan and Sinclair. Buczkowski is certainly a player that doesn’t get enough credit for what she does. A more defensive minded midfielder, she could easily become a holding midfielder that would take on a Shannon Boxx type role if she went to Portland.

Cindy Parlow-Cone certainly has the foundation available to her to make the Thorns the team to beat in the NWSL. The question is, when the National Team players are called up to National team duty, does she have the right players to step in? This is certainly where a player like Casey Nogueira could find a good home. Nogueira has fantastic ability on the ball, but has periods where her touch leaves her. Playing under Morgan and Sinclair could certainly help out with that. Finding the final pieces of the Portland Thorns puzzle should be interesting to see. The final days of the free agent signing period are upon us and there is still the Supplemental Draft which will take place in what looks like early February.

It seems a good bet that Portland will be the ones lifting the NWSL Championship on August 31, but there could still be a few surprises out there. Watching the teams come together and the season unfold will certainly be exciting for fans of the women’s game everywhere.