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Thorns Questions: Where's Vero?

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Vero was the difference-maker the Thorns needed last season, so where has she been this off-season?

Stacey Neve/Stumptown Footy

No single player had a greater impact on the Thorns last season than Vero Boquete.

The recognition she received during and after the NWSL season speaks for itself.

Vero finished the season with 4 goals and 3rd in the NWSL with 6 assists in 16 appearances, was named to the 2014 FIFA Women's Player of the Year shortlist 2014, UEFA Best Women's Player in Europe for 2013/14, finished second in NWSL MVP voting, NWSL Best XI, and was the NWSL Player of the Week for Weeks 11, 14, and 17.

After the NWSL season, Vero announced that she will be joining 1. FFC Frankfurt if the Frauen-Bundesliga, where she has 5 goals in 18 appearances (16 starts) in the Frauen-Bundesliga, DFB Pokal Women, and UEFA Women's Champions League, including 3 goals in her last 3 appearances, but was hopeful to return to Portland.

"It was a great three months here in Portland and I think it was one of the best decisions in my career. I really enjoyed my teammates, the staff and especially playing in Portland. It's amazing, the fans are the best in the world," Boquete said in a press release.  "Now I have to continue my career, and the next step is to go back to Europe. It's a new challenge and probably the biggest challenge in my career. After this experience, I'm going to try to do my best in Germany and I hope that I can come back next year, too."

In the same release, Thorns head coach Paul Riley was also optimistic about her future in Portland:

"She loves Portland and she loves the team. Playing in Europe is important in her preparation for the World Cup. Being close to Spain makes traveling, competing and maintaining a good balance considerably easier. We want her back in Portland and we look forward to her return."

Since then, we have heard little from the Thorns on this matter.

Considering the impact she had on the squad, it would seem that bringing her back was their top priority, and Merritt Paulson was asked about this during his Q&A session on Facebook that was posted Tuesday morning.

Wendy Goodyear: What's Vero's status for this next season?

MP: Trying to ensure she returns at least for the second half of the year. Optimistic.

Every interview with either Riley or Paulson has had the similar tenor: that they are optimistic and expect that Vero will return next season, after the World Cup.

Next season is going to be strange for many reasons, especially with so many players missing early in the season due to national team camps and the World Cup for the first half of the season, plus re-integrating these players into the squad after their teams run ends, but with some expectation that for at least the American, Canadian, and Mexican players be available for 3-4 matches early in the season.

In Vero's case, it is a bit more complex than that.  While the Thorns have some players on loan deals currently playing in both Australia and Europe, those deals were made with the understanding that they'll return in March.

Vero, on the other hand, has a season-long contract with Frankfurt that is both beneficial to her and the Spanish National Team, currently ranked #16 in December's FIFA Rankings, as she captains her national side to their first ever appearance in the World Cup, where they have been drawn into Group E, which also features Brazil (#6 FIFA Ranking), South Korea (#17), and Costa Rica (#40).

While Spain currently has not announced any friendlies or tournament participation prior to the World Cup, Frankfurt has reached both the quarterfinals in both the DFB Pokal Women and the UEFA Women's Champions League, and the Frauen-Bundesliga season runs until May 10, and Vero is likely to jump straight into World Cup camp with Spain immediately after the season.

Assuming the Thorns are able to bring Vero back next season, it is likely that she would not appear with the Thorns until late June or early July, depending on how far Spain advances.  While Spain is making their first appearance in the World Cup, they should be fairly evenly matched with South Korea and shouldn't have a problem with Costa Rica, but will definitely have a challenge on their hands with Brazil, who have qualified for every edition of the World Cup and have the ever-dangerous Marta leading their attack.

The group stage will run from June 6-17, and the NWSL has already announced it will be on break during this time.  If Spain were to advance (top 2 advances automatically from each group, with a third team potentially making the Round of 16, depending on record), they would play on either June 21 or 22 and if they made it to the quarterfinals, they would play on June 26 or 27.  It would be surprising to see Spain reach beyond this point, but if they were to, the semifinals are on June 30 and July 1, the 3rd place game on July 4, and the final on July 5.

If last season provides any precedence, Vero wouldn't take much of a break before joining the Thorns and will definitely be in form after runs with both Frankfurt and Spain.

The real season will begin in July, when each squad has their full complement of players back from the World Cup.  If the Thorns want to make a serious run at their second championship in three seasons, they need Vero to do it.

They just need to put pen to paper, and move "hopeful" and "optimistic" to definitely.