After Amandine Henry left the Thorns to return to Olympique Lyonnais, defensive midfield was one of the major question marks for the team. The Thorns had to replace one of the leading defensive midfielders in the world, and with Allie Long departing as well, nerves were strained among the Portland faithful as to who would play that role.
In the midst of all the speculation, Celeste Boureille was quietly having an excellent season in the base of midfield for the Brisbane Roar, hanging tough with top internationals and doing the dirty work for the team that let in the least goals over the course of the season. Playing Boureille in the center of the park would have seemed like an emergency option last year, but her standout play in Austrailia made it seem at least feasible for the Thorns.
With the Thorns short so many players at the start of the season, people have had to step up and make names for themselves, and Boureille has had as big an impact as anyone. Her simple passing game has kept the team ticking over on offense and her defensive performances have been among the best in the NWSL. Among midfielders, she leads the league in clearances and is second in tackles won.
Boureille first joined the Thorns through open tryouts after going undrafted in 2016. Her value to the club has been proven over and over again in the past few years, covering defensive spots anywhere on the field for whoever happened to be missing, but this season she's hit another gear, and returning players will have a job on their hands trying to unseat her from the lineup.
Stumptown Footy caught up with Boureille about her offseasons in Australia and how she has grown in her time at the club.
Tyler Nguyen: It’s been an eventful year for you: this time last year you were playing right back, you had a strong offseason where you spent a lot of time in the middle of the park. Do you feel like you’ve grown a lot this past year?
Celeste Boureille: Yes, definitely, I think playing in Australia has been very important in continuing my development. Especially getting more touches on the ball in the midfield and being more comfortable there.
TN: Was that always a goal for you, playing in midfield for the Thorns?
CB: I do enjoy playing in midfield, but playing here, it doesn’t really matter to me as long as I’m helping my team in every way that I can.
TN: What was your time in Australia like?
CB: I played in Canberra last season and then Brisbane this season. It’s been really enjoyable. I’ve learned from playing in both clubs and playing with world class players in both teams, with different coaching staff.
TN: What’s it like as an experience outside of soccer?
CB: I love Australia. It’s a great place to live. Brisbane is fun, I really enjoyed playing with the team. It’s a great city, I lived with an amazing host family; it’s a great setup.
TN: You played with Raso at both Canberra and Brisbane, what was that like?
CB: Whenever I get to spend more time with Hayley it’s awesome.
TN: What would you say the difference is between the W-League and the NWSL?
CB: I would say it’s more physical in the NWSL and more high-paced. You have to play a lot faster, a lot quicker. I do find a lot more time on the ball in the W-League, whereas here you have to be quick.
TN: Katrina Gorry, your teammate and midfield partner at Brisbane, is one of the people who might be playing when the team faces off against Utah this weekend. Has coach Parsons picked your brain about what to expect from her?
CB: We haven’t talked much about it, but since I did play at Brisbane I know her well as a player. She’ll definitely be a threat for Utah but I think we’ll be able to manage it.
TN: What was it like to play with Gorry, a hugely experienced international midfielder?
CB: It was a great experience playing with her and all the world class players there. Every team I’ve been on I feel like I learn from the qualities of every player. Katrina’s one of those players, watching her on the ball is a joy, and playing with her in midfield is something I hope I get the chance to do again.
TN: You scored your first goal in the W-League with a header and you almost got your first NWSL goal last game with the follow-up header from Horan’s penalty.
CB: I know.
TN: Are you still kicking yourself for missing that four days later?
CB: A little bit, but it’s part of the game. You just have to go into every game with a mentality of trying to get better and trying to get three points when you can.
TN: It’s obviously not your primary job but do you think about scoring goals when you go on the field?
CB: No. Obviously scoring is huge but it’s not my main role. It’s not a huge priority in my game but I would have enjoyed that. When you get those opportunities you have to finish them.
TN: I do see you lining up a few shots from outside the box.
CB: I do take my chances.
TN: It’s going to be a tough competition for midfield spots this season. Are you looking forward to fighting for your spot?
CB: Of course, it is very competitive but it’s why I’m here, I thrive on the competition. It’s a matter of continuing to look forward whatever happens and continue my development.