In any sport, one of the greatest luxuries a team can enjoy, depending on the roster-building strategy, is depth — especially in soccer. It’s valuable knowing that you have players that can step up at any given moment and provide quality minutes. Generally speaking, the more options a team has, the better.
Portland Thorns FC are one of those teams that has the luxury of depth. They were already a strong squad with the likes of Lindsey Horan, Christine Sinclair, and plenty of other talented players to flesh out the roster. We saw the potential that this squad has for a full season when they dominated the Fall Series and took home the Verizon Community Shield. And then they added Crystal Dunn over the offseason, solidifying themselves as one of the deepest squads in the NWSL.
But adding a player like Crystal Dunn or getting a full season with Becky Sauerbrunn on the back line isn’t something that’s cool just because they’re big names in the soccer world. It’s helpful because it changes the ways in which the Thorns can prepare for the upcoming season. Defender Emily Menges said there’s been a different approach to the offseason in Portland with the personnel they have.
“There’s been a huge emphasis on our style and how we are going to play, and then within that style kind of entering the little bits and pieces of our own individualism,” Menges said. “So we have our basics, and then we have someone like Crystal [Dunn] who just came in and [figure out] how does Crystal’s style of play fit into our basics without stripping away what it means to be Crystal.”
Menges noted that this is a departure from the past when they would build around the style of a certain player. Now, Portland has a plethora of options from which to choose. They have four players from the U.S. women’s national team and the all-time international goals leader in Sinclair. They don’t have to choose that one person who everything centers around, because there’s more than one person they can do that with.
“It just makes a fuller team,” Menges said. “Every single person can step into any single position and know what’s expected of them while also having the freedom to kind of bring their own individual style, so that’s been awesome.”
It’s a sentiment that is shared with Menges by Thorns head coach Mark Parsons. He noted that the club has spent time homing in on what they can do tactically to build off the possession-based style they displayed last season, and the fact that they can do so is a credit to what the front office has done to build this roster.
“When we first decided to go for it, [I] think back to some of the emotional responses, including me, for example, people we had to let go, or head-scratching decisions,” Parsons said about the process. “Now, you zoom forward after the offseasons, you can see ‘Wow, holy cow, this is a group of balance, this is a group of character, this is a group of talent,’ so huge credit to the work that’s been done.”
One thing Parsons is especially proud of is the character of the group. It’s not just that the group Parsons and company have assembled is one of the most talented teams in the NWSL, it’s the intangibles that really make them a special collective.
“I don’t think you can do it without talent, but a lot of talent can win nothing without leadership within the team, without character within the team, without team spirit, culture,” Parsons said. “We’re ready to fight together.”
We’ll get a chance to see how that all comes together for Portland in less than a month. They’ll kick off their Challenge Cup run with a match against KC NWSL on April 9, followed by matches against the Chicago Red Stars and OL Reign on April 15 and April 21. Parsons noted that it’s a difficult schedule, but it’s a challenge the Thorns are ready to face.
“It really doesn’t matter,” Parsons said about the schedule. “We’re just excited to train, to work, to grow, to get better and whoever’s put in front of us ... I’m in a place where we’re just going to be fully charged, we’re going to be ready to go, and we win, or we learn and we move forward.”