The big story coming out of Thorns FC preseason camp on Thursday was, as most folks already know, the presence of CanWNT allocated players Christine Sinclair and Karina LeBlanc and USWNT allocated player Rachel Buehler.
Head coach Cindy Parlow Cone kept things fairly light for the squad, focusing on short-game drills followed by a brief scrimmage. "We didn't want to go too hard with the national team players, because obviously they're still recovering from jet lag, but I thought it was great to see them on the field and in the locker room," she said. "Just trying to get them comfortable with everything, with the system, with the training staff."
With that philosophy guiding the training session, there wasn't much to see in terms of assessment, tactics, or the like. It was more of a time for the new arrivals to mesh and get their Jeld-Wen sea legs, so to speak. Both the session and the media Q&A afterwards were of the "So, how do you like Portland?" variety, and rightly so --there just ain't too much to report on, except for maybe the aplomb with which Parlow Cone manages to answer the same generic questions over and over again.
So, again, let's consider this report a second round of first impressions kind of deal. (We'll be seeing first impressions, round three next week, when Alex Morgan arrives at camp.)
Close call: After today's session, Sinclair noted that at one point last fall she had been "a couple days away" from signing with Paris Saint-Germain, but when she heard rumors of a potential new league, she decided to wait. "I had given myself the fall off after the Olympics, knowing that would be my last break between World Cup prep and and Olympic prep," she said. "So I decided to hold off [signing with PSG] and hope that the league would form here. And I'm so glad I did."
Leadership: Seconds after the scrimmage ended, both Buehler and LeBlanc could be seen chatting with different members of the defense, pointing out spots on the field, in what looked like a strategy discussion, and their teammates appeared both attentive and appreciative. It was about an hour into their first session as Portland Thorns, and already the two veterans were showing a confidence and leadership that bodes well for the development of this team. Equally important: How seriously their teammates were listening.
Chemistry: Obviously, players of the caliber of Sinclair, et. al., aren't going to have much trouble fitting in, in a physical sense, but there's always the question of chemistry. Last week, before any of the national team players arrived, the team appeared to be jelling pretty well, tossing out jokes and reducing their nervous errors as the days went on. Sinclair, LeBlanc, and Buehler's arrival may have some of them a little starstruck, but the three NT players personalities seemed to enter into the fold well. LeBlanc teased Sinclair before the post-practice Q&A, while Sinclair, when asked about Alex Morgan, deadpanned "Who?". Even Parlow Cone got into the act. When asked about how long the three will be in camp, she replied, straight-faced, "We're shipping them out after today. I've seen enough."
It doesn't hurt that many of these players already know each other, either via US Soccer connections or as former Pilots (Sinclair, Danielle Foxhoven, and Angie Kerr all attended University of Portland). "We just had a little reunion photo in the locker room," Sinclair noted after practice. "We're so fortunate to be able to play here in Portland again. Some of those Pilots are my best friends, so to be back playing with them is just incredible."
Christine Freakin' Sinclair: It's kind of crazy to even say it, but on occasion it's easy get lulled into complacency about just how special a player Sinclair is. It might be due to her humble nature or her deadpan, understated humor. Or maybe it's just difficult for the human mind to grasp just how good she is. "Unbelievable," is how Parlow Cone describes the star striker. "I think shes probably the most underrated player. Everyone says how good she is, and she's still underrated. She's fantastic in every sense of the word. She's going to bring such great things to this city."