Coming out of the 2018 NWSL College Draft, Thorns Head Coach Mark Parsons couldn’t praise Gabby Seiler enough, commenting that he saw her as a starting caliber player on a star-studded Portland squad.
Unfortunately, Seiler never got a chance to make an impression that first year — knee surgery on her LCL and the ensuing rehabilitation kept her in Florida for the entirety of the season. And with that, the highly anticipated ninth overall pick was rendered unable to contribute to the Thorns’ 2018 campaign.
The beginning of 2019 brought a different story, with Seiler appearing in all three games in Portland’s preseason tournament. Since then, she’s put up solid performances for the Thorns in a number of positions. Especially with World Cup absences, Seiler’s confidence, versatility, and skill on the ball have helped her establish herself as a valuable part of Portland’s roster.
(Although clearly a talented player, the impressions I’m drawing about Seiler here are based primarily on her performance for the Thorns so far. Because they’re only backed up by five appearances and less than 300 minutes of playing time, these conclusions are worth taking with a grain of salt.)
Where Will She Play?
From day one, Parsons has spoken to Seiler’s ability to slot in and contribute at multiple positions. This has been highlighted early in the season: She made her NWSL debut subbing in at left fullback for Meghan Klingenberg, but came in for Dagny Brynjarsdottir as a defensive center mid in the next game. Seiler has also played at centerback, putting up a full 90 against the Orlando Pride and just over a half against the Washington Spirit. She most recently found herself at center mid during Portland’s 1-0 win against Sky Blue.
As a centerback, Seiler looked confident starting against Orlando. She displayed positional awareness and an ability to create chances out of the back, but small lapses led to poor giveaways and getting caught too far up the field.
Seiler’s playmaking abilities are showcased here, as she picks up a long touch off an Orlando player and drives forward for the counterattack. She sends a ball up the line to Midge Purce, who draws a penalty for Portland:
Although Seiler looks comfortable dribbling in space, there were times when she gave away the ball far too easily, sometimes passing straight to the opposing team. As she gains game experience, she’ll look to play with more consistent composure under pressure.
Seiler’s only appearance at fullback so far came in Portland’s 4-4 draw against the Red Stars. Coming in in the 67th minute, Seiler stayed back more than we usually see Meghan Klingenberg do. Still she made a couple good runs up the flank. On the defensive end of the ball, Seiler found success marking Yuki Nagasato and had a couple solid interceptions.
Here, Chicago finds a player on the right wing, sending a ball past Seiler, who has been drawn up the pitch. Seiler drops back to follow the play and is able to intercept a pass near the top of the box, cutting out the Red Stars attack:
In center midfield, Seiler has continued to showcase her ball-winning skills and her ability to dribble up the field. She played well against Sky Blue last weekend, with Angela Salem’s defensive presence allowing her to contribute more to Portland’s attack. Although looking panicked under pressure at times, Seiler’s vision proved valuable against the New Jersey side.
She shows the composure to hold the ball and send a well-timed pass to Elizabeth Ball, almost creating a goal for Simone Charley:
Seiler can contribute to any one of these positions — or even, potentially, attacking mid — going forward. This will be a valuable attribute, especially during the World Cup. However, with Portland’s depth at fullback, it seems likely that we’ll see her in the center of the field. Although the Thorns midfield lineup is far from predetermined during this period, it’s likely that Seiler will see significant minutes there; Parsons wants to get her time on the field and, unless he returns to a three-back, defensive mid is where Seiler’s skills are most beneficial.
Can She Keep Her Spot?
Clearly, this one depends on which spot we’re talking about.
When the Thorns are at full strength, Seiler seems to be fourth on Portland’s centerback depth chart, behind Emily Menges, Emily Sonnett, and Katherine Reynolds. Seiler’s only regular season appearances in the center of defense have come when the Thorns were playing a three-back and Sonnett was absent for national team duty. When Sonnett returns to the team, it will be unsurprising if Seiler is kept out of centerback for the remainder of the NWSL season, especially given Parson’s preferred four-back when his team is at full strength.
Seiler has played limited time at fullback this season, slotting in for Meghan Klingenberg in the last 20 or so minutes against the Chicago Red Stars. With a number of options at outside back — Klingenberg, Elizabeth Ball, Kelli Hubly, and Madison Pogarch, as well as Ellie Carpenter when she returns from the World Cup, and Katherine Reynolds if she isn’t being called to fill in as a centerback — this is probably the area of the field where Seiler’s skills are least needed.
The center of the park provides the clearest opportunity for Seiler to earn significant minutes going forward. As it stands, Christine Sinclair and Lindsey Horan are locks in a full strength Thorns midfield. Although Celeste Boureille came into the season as the preferred starting defensive midfielder alongside Horan, the role has rotated between Boureille, Seiler, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, and Angela Salem in Horan’s absence. Parsons has yet to commit to any of these players as Horan’s partner going forward. Assuming the Thorns don’t bring in an international player after the World Cup, Seiler has as good a chance as any in vying for that spot.
As someone essentially playing in her rookie season, there’s always the possibility of inconsistency or of Seiler’s performance level dropping off as the long NWSL season progresses. However, if what we’ve seen so far has revealed anything, it’s that Seiler’s an incredibly talented and versatile player with a very high ceiling. If she can continue to develop and put together solid minutes for the Thorns during the World Cup period, she should be able to find playing time even after the internationals return.