The Portland Thorns are only three days into camp, so Wednesday morning's 1 ½-hour training session at Jeld-Wen Field continued in the same getting-to-know-you vein as the first two. As such, this will be more of a notes and observations post than a nuts and bolts one.
First Impressions: Head coach Cindy Parlow Cone seems to be a player's coach, something we kind of figured to be the case, but that's confirmed by her style on the field. She doesn't lord over the proceedings so much as run them with an organized, disciplined -but friendly-authority. She's a teacher, as practice was peppered with her calls of "Way to keep your butt down," and "you know why your ball is spinning that way to the right...?" and other technical fine-tuning.
Befitting her preferred possession-style game, Parlow Cone started things off with short-game passing drills, followed by a session covering defensive and offensive shapes. The latter was low- intensity, never more than about three-quarters speed, meant to foster strategy and tactics. After a short, full-speed scrimmage in which those shapes were the focus, Parlow Cone capped things off with an intense shooting drill that tested the offense as well as the three goalkeepers who are in camp.
All told, it was a fairly sharp, well-paced practice. As goalkeeper Roxanne Barker noted afterwards about Parlow Cone: "She emphasizes quality over quantity. We do something until we get it right, and then we move on."
Quick Start: The hasty assemblage of this entire league has forced a rather short preseason, which has put Parlow Cone (along with every other NWSL coach) in the somewhat awkward position of having to simultaneously assess and prepare a team. The situation is only complicated further by the absence of the seven allocated players until at least March 19. When asked about this after practice, Parlow Cone stated "It's just about evaluating the players...about putting the pieces of the puzzle together. We'll continue to develop and when the national teamers get here, we'll put them on the field."
Chilling Out: The players' nerves appear to be settling somewhat, although they still seemed pretty amped at times. It's hard to say if it was just nerves or good communication skills, but this is a team that talks a lot on the pitch: Verbal bursts of direction, encouragement, and instruction ratcheted up the intensity during the short scrimmage and a few parts of the drills.
Strong Keepers: Draft pick Barker was clearly hobbled by her leg injury and didn't look 100 percent, while the two trialists looked seasoned and skilled, despite their lack of professional experience. Both Portland State's Cris Lewis and Central Florida's Aline Reis pulled off some impressive saves, including short-range rockets that banged into their stomachs with resounding thuds. Lewis (5'5") and Reis (5'3") may be shorter than the 5'10" Barker, but both displayed some serious hops and strength. The battle for the backup spot to Karina LeBlanc should be fun to watch.
Chemistry: Barker noted that she was pleasantly surprised at how friendly the squad is as a whole, having "expected things to be a little more cutthroat, since we're all competing for spots." I hesitate to say the team has chemistry, since it's only the first week, but it definitely seems like there is already some camaraderie. It doesn't hurt that most of these players know each other in some capacity, either through the WPS or college play.