As we turn the calendar to another year, the Portland Thorns head into 2015 with several question marks.
With the Women's World Cup taking place from June 6 to July 5, the composition of the Thorns will likely change throughout the season. The NWSL will take a two week break to cover the group stages of the tournament, but with the season opening in early April, the Thorns may only have their national teamers for a short time, if at all, with the Canadian Women's National Team reportedly having a residency camp prior to the tournament.
The greatest question that looms over the Thorns will be the availability of the national team players early in the season. Merritt Paulson tweeted on August 23 (since deleted but recovered on TweetBunker) that he expects the United States national teamers to miss 8 games, so the Thorns will likely be without the services of Tobin Heath, Alex Morgan, Rachel Van Hollebeke, Allie Long and possibly Nikki Marshall, though the latter would still appear to be on the fringe for Jill Ellis' side and still needs to recover from her ACL injury. Adding in the likely loss of Jackie Acevedo, Nadine Angerer, and Stephanie Catley for at least several matches in the early part of the season, and the possibility of Christine Sinclair being unavailable until July, and the composition of the Thorns' lineup will be drastically different from mid-season onward than from the onset.
Further questions arise when you consider that the NWSL has yet to announce how teams will be able to fill roster spots in place of these players, and as it currently stands, the roster limit is still set at 20 players, which is barely enough to field a team when players are recovering from injury, let alone when half the roster is unavailable. In previous seasons, teams have been able to use amateur players as short-term solutions while national team players were away, but these players usually come from local amateur (WPSL) sides which draw heavily from current and former local collegiate players and play a short season that doesn't begin until mid-May
How will the Thorns handle their roster situation? That remains to be seen. The Thorns have been mostly quiet this season, seeing several players go out on loan, Sarah Huffman and Angie Kerr retire, and the re-acquisition of Kat Williamson, along with midfielder McCall Zerboni for Amber Brooks, and picking up forward Danesha Adams off the waiver wire being the only moves the Thorns have made so far this off-season, but the Thorns have been actively searching for an international player to sign with their 4th international slot.
The Thorns first chance to pick from the crop of current college seniors will take place on January 16, as the NWSL holds the 2015 College Draft at the NSCAA Convention in Philadelphia, where they hold the 25th and 34th overall picks.
In the run-up to the draft, we will present a series of articles in an attempt to answer these questions (and more) as we head toward the 2015 season. While the Thorns have been quiet so far, this will hopefully be the calm before the storm in what will once again be an exciting season for the Thorns!