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Thorns using Fall Series as opportunity for growth

Portland looks to build off their 3-0 win against Utah with another strong match against the Reign.

Soccer: NWSL Challenge Cup-North Carolina Courage vs Portland Thorns FC Jeffrey Swinger-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been only 10 days since the Portland Thorns last played an NWSL match, winning their Fall Series debut 3-0 over the Utah Royals, though at times it feels like it’s been longer. It could be because everything about 2020 feels interminable, or it might just be because of the constant delays leading into their matchup with OL Reign tonight.

This match has been postponed twice because of the poor air quality in Portland. Almost every team has played at least two matches except for the Thorns and Reign. That changes tonight, and the Thorns are excited to get back to it.

“I’m very grateful that we have games to play and to put on a Thorns jersey again,” midfielder Lindsey Horan said on Monday. “I think we need to be very grateful that we have that opportunity and, looking at it that way, it’s just another way to get better and ... another way for us to keep improving and look forward to the 2021 season.”

Building towards the future seemed to be on the club’s mind during the press conference on Monday. Like Horan said, they’re really just happy to have the opportunity to play again. It’s a sentiment that head coach Mark Parsons echoed, saying that there were two things the team was hoping to get out of the Fall Series: Growth and confidence that translates to the 2021 season.

“The both of those answers are really in relation to the future,” Parsons said. “The only way you can take care of the future is by taking care of every day, one day at a time, one week at a time, one game at a time.”

If growth is the key in every game, then their opener against Utah was a good start. They drubbed the Royals 3-0, a welcome sight after the offense struggled to really get a rhythm down in Orlando. Circumstances considered, their attack wasn’t necessarily bad; they were missing Sophia Smith, their top pick in the NWSL draft, and the relatively new squad was still getting a feel for one another.

“We found a way into the attack, but it just wasn’t going our way o that final pass or the final finish just wasn’t on,” Horan said. “And to be fair, we won one while we were in the Challenge Cup, so that’s not how we wanted to go out. So I think a lot of preparation for these games have been attack-minded and how we can get that camaraderie between our midfield and our forward line as well.”

It looked better in that match against Utah on Sept. 20, but it’s far from the finished product. One thing that Parsons emphasized after that win was that the offense isn’t perfect after one 3-0 victory. It’s something that the team has to continue to build on if they want to see that growth and confidence roll over into next year.

“The short answer is practicing developing our core principles in how we attack,” Parsons said about what the team’s working on. “Something I’ve always been very passionate about is making sure with a player that they worked hard on knowing what their own identity is, making sure that they are developing that identity, and they’re bringing that identity, their attacking qualities to our team within the tactical model.”

They’ll have a chance to show off those qualities against the Reign tonight, who are coming off a 2-2 draw with Utah this past weekend. Whether Portland’s attack can put together another quality performance remains to be seen.