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Moving forward: How Midge Purce worked her way up the field and Portland’s attacking depth chart

Six goals in seven games. NWSL Team of the Month. Earning starting minutes in an incredibly deep forward pool. What hasn’t Midge Purce done this year?

Matthew Wolfe

From being named to the NWSL Team of the Month in June, to leading the Thorns in goals after scoring six times in seven games, to working her way into a forward rotation that includes returning World Cup players such as Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso, it feels like there’s little that Midge Purce hasn’t done this season.

Always a player with tremendous potential, Purce found herself in the perfect position to have a breakout mini-season while the World Cup stars were away. And when the time came, she was one of a number of Thorns to do just that. While her goal count speaks for itself, Purce’s leadership, mentality, read of the game, and work rate have helped her establish herself an invaluable part of the Thorns.

After starting her campaign in Portland as a right back, the signing of Ellie Carpenter pushed Purce up the field into her natural position of forward. Battling for minutes with the Ana-Maria Crnogorcevics and Andressinhas of the team, Purce was hard-pressed to find a way onto the field and ⁠— despite the opportunities she generated by her speed and willingness to take on defenders ⁠— her impact waned slightly as the year progressed.

Struggling with injury in the early weeks of the 2019 season, Purce found her breakthrough moment against Sky Blue FC, when Simone Charley’s attempted shot was blocked by Erica Skroski and fell right at Purce’s feet. Finding a margin of space between two Sky Blue defenders, Purce took the opportunistic shot, putting the ball in the back of the net to find the lone goal of the match ⁠(and her first for Portland).

Just a week later, Purce tallied a brace against the Chicago Red Stars, with both goals assisted by Charley. The duo impressed with their play off one another; Charley’s balls in matched Purce’s runs perfectly. “We talking about it [the week before the game] in practice, working off of each other and building that relationship,” Charley said after the match. “Midge is a phenomenal communicator in telling me where I need to go.”

We see that communication and awareness from Purce in the first goal; Purce is holding her run and pointing where she wants the ball to go as Charley dribbles centrally. Charley splits two Red Stars defenders to find Purce’s run, and Purce has the composure to take a touch around Emily Boyd before finishing her chance:

Even in games where she’s been kept off the scoreboard, Purce has been a fantastic attacking presence for the Thorns. Against a defensively organized Utah Royals FC, she produced a third of both Portland’s total shots and shots on target, despite struggling to get many of her looks on frame. After the game, coach Mark Parsons described Purce’s play as “exceptional in all areas we asked of her.” Despite Purce being relatively isolated up front throughout the match, Parsons praised “her personality and her quality” that she brought to the Thorns attack.

Purce had a different outlook on the match: “It was a disappointing game for me, as a striker,” she said. “I think you’re kind of disappointed when you don’t set up a goal or contribute to a goal or score a goal.” While she praised Utah’s defensive efforts, she pointed out that the team “did have chances; not big chances you should bury, but ... some half-chances that I think we should — and can — put away.”

Purce’s postgame comments paralleled the Thorns mentality that Parsons has credited as one of the primary factors for team’s recent success: “I think being a Thorn is having the highest standards, behaviors, and attitudes,” he said. Parsons explained that the Thorns mindset means maintaining those standards, whether or not a player is having a good training day: “It’s building the mental side to be able to choose to apply yourself the best you can, be focused, to have a positive attitude.”

The discontentment that Purce felt following the scoreless draw against the Royals — and her visible frustration after Portland’s 1-0 loss to Reign FC — encompass just that: a desire to be her absolute best any time she takes the pitch and a sense of dissatisfaction with anything less. “April Heinrichs told me when I was about 16 or 17 that what separates really good players from good players is mentality, and that the game is 80 percent mental,” Purce said after her two-goal effort put the Thorns over Chicago. “What’s been helping me is thinking about what I can control and making sure that when I do get an opportunity ... that I take advantage of that.”

Parsons attributed Purce’s mindset and individual effort to her success this season: “When players are not doing so well, when players are doing so well, it starts and ends with the player,” he said. He described the intentional mindset with which Purce has tackled both practices and games: “I think that the mental approach right now has real purpose. She’s reaping the rewards of that deliberate intensity; the way she’s stepping up has been great to see.”