The National Women's Soccer League is nearly a month into their first off-season and it's been surprisingly quiet. A few players were waived and a waiver draft was held, but there has been no flurry of trades and signings, nothing resembling the Timber's "Bloody Monday" last year.
So far this off-season, clubs have been turning to loan spells rather than roster overhauls as a way to improve for the 2014 season. About a dozen NWSL players have gone to Europe on loan. Rookie of the Year Erika Tymrak and her teammate, FC Kansas City goalkeeper Bianca Henninger, are both on loan at FC Bayern Munich Women. Another Kansas City player, Sinead Farrelly, has joined Apollon Limassol LFC in Cyprus, as have the Washington Spirit's Jasmyne Spencer and the Boston Breakers' Joanna Lohman and Lianne Sanderson. Apollon will play in the UEFA Women's Champions League this season, a great experience for those NWSL players. Joining them in the Champions League will be Alyssa Mautz of the Chicago Red Stars, Amy Barczuk of the Western New York Flash, and Ashley Nick of Sky Blue FC, who are all on loan with Russian side FC Zorky Krasnogorsk.
Other NWSL players abroad for the off-season are Ella Masar of the Chicago Red Stars, who will play in Denmark until the beginning of November, and two Seattle Reign players, Elli Reed and Renae Cuellar, on loan in Sweden. Seattle's Jessica Fishlock will also be on loan in Scotland until November.
You may notice a team that is conspicuously absent from that list. The Portland Thorns are the only team in the league who have not sent a single player on loan. The NWSL has a short season and, in consequence, a rather long break. The allocated players will have games with their national teams. For players without those games, loan spells are a great way to stay sharp and keep improving. Why are the Thorns the only team not taking advantage of this opportunity to improve?
Meleana Shim proved to be an unexpected menace to teams too focused on marking Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair. Imagine what the attacking midfielder could do with a few months in Europe to hone her finishing skills and perhaps improve her combination play so that she could link up with Sinclair and Morgan more effectively.
Centerback Kat Williamson did well in her first season in a fully professional league (her only previous season outside of college was in the pro-am W-League), but she and the rest of the Thorns defense were prone to massive lapses that cost the team more than a few points over the course of the season. Experience would help that and Williamson could gain experience more quickly with some extra months of soccer during the year.
It isn't just the younger players going on loan either. Some teams are sending more experienced players abroad this off-season. A loan spell could benefit someone like Allie Long, who really stepped up in the playoffs and could be great when she was "on" but disastrous when she wasn't. Sending her, or any of the Thorns' other midfielders, on loan could also stop the midfield from pulling a disappearing act when they are without Tobin Heath at the beginning of next season.
Obviously it's not necessary or practical to send the entire roster on loan, but there are a number of ways the team could improve by sending one or two players overseas. When the Thorns won the NWSL Championship, the refrain from the players was "We want more." At the airport, both Sinclair and Karina LeBlanc told reporters the goal now is to win the next one and to bring more championships to the Rose City. If the Thorns plan to make that a reality, they cannot afford to rest on their laurels.