The Thorns continued to refine their roster over the past several weeks by acquiring players through either trades or international allocations.
The Thorns saw Jessica McDonald (Houston) and Rebecca Moros (Kansas City) go out, while defender Kendall Johnson was acquired for draft picks and Canadian international defender Rhian Wilkinson and midfielder Kaylyn Kyle were acquired via allocation on January 14 and traded for English goal scorer Jodie Taylor.
While more signings appear imminent, with international slots acquired in both the Taylor and Moros trades, the Thorns will continue to strengthen their roster as head coach Paul Riley continues to remake the Thorns in his image.
The elephant in the room though, is who will still be around for the Thorns from mid-May through the end of their respective national side's participation in the 2015 Women's World Cup.
Several players appear to be locks to be joining their national sides. Vero Boquete (Spain) is confirmed to out of Portland until July, with Stephanie Catley (Australia) and Nadine Angerer (Germany) are more than likely to be with their national sides as well. Christine Sinclair, Kaylyn Kyle, and Rhian Wilkinson are all mainstays with Canada, and Alex Morgan and Tobin Heath are locks to be in the United States. Riley also said he expects Taylor to miss 3-4 matches with England, but she is a relative newcomer to the national side, having only broken into the team in early 2014 and made four appearances.
Rachel Van Hollebeke and Allie Long are both players who probably have about a better than 50-50 change to make the United States, while Nikki Marshall was in the picture last season but is still recovering from her ACL injury, but that picture will only become clearer after a series of national team camps, friendlies, and tournament appearances in the coming months.
The defensive core will be the strength for the Thorns. While several key starters will be missing up top, the backline will be relatively stable, especially in the center of the pitch. Michelle Betos was brought into the Thorns as a starting-quality goalkeeper that was willing to take the backup role behind Angerer. Taking Marshall and Van Hollebeke out of the equation and the Thorns will still have Emily Menges and Kat Williamson available at centerback and Johnson, Courtney Niemiec, and Kat Tarr available at outside back.
In the midfield, McCall Zerboni is primarily a defensive midfield who can play across the midfield, as can Niemiec, while Sinead Farrelly and Mana Shim are the only remaining attacking midfielders after the potential national team call ups, though the Thorns would have a major boost if Long finds herself outside of the world cup roster come May.
The position of greatest weakness comes up top. Without Morgan, Sinclair, or Taylor, the Thorns (at the moment), will have to rely Danesha Adams, who fell out of favor with the Spirit in 2014 and was later waived, and Hanna Terry, a player "for the future" as Riley called her when she was signed late last season, where she made two late game appearances for the Thorns.
The Thorns currently have 24 players on their, but stand to spend a good part of their season with only 11 of these available. Adding Marshall, Long, and Van Hollebeke, and that puts them at 14 (the higher end of Riley's post-draft estimate), which is just enough to field a Starting XI and have 3 available substitutes (plus a backup goalkeeper), but this would still be a team that is heavily leaning on defense, which is the opposite of how the Thorns will be built with the return of their internationals.
The lack of attackers has likely been resolved by the Thorns, but they have yet to announce these signings. Riley has teased that "we've got a couple of big signings on the way too and I think they'll make a big difference to the squad" and given prior statements from him, these are players who will be around all season.
The other problem for the Thorns will come in the form of the roster cap. If the Thorns use their two international slots and keep the remainder of the roster, they will be at 26 players, well above the cap that is currently set at 20, though Riley has been angling for 23. One caveat though is that Vero is not currently signed by the Thorns, so she does not count against the roster, but even if the rosters were modestly expanded, the Thorns would still need to move a couple of players out. Players such as Niemiec, Tarr, Shim, and Farrelly could be fighting for positions come March, and Riley told Jamie Goldberg of The Oregonian that three or four players on the roster would be moved, new acquisitions notwithstanding.