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Portland Thorns Open Preseason with Veteran Core

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Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Correction: This originally posted under my name, but it was written by our new Thorns writer, Matt Jonathan. Sorry, Matt. -Will Conwell

Preparations began for the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League season as the Portland Thorns opened their preseason training camp this week. Despite international commitments withholding a large portion of the squad, head coach Paul Riley has a number of returning players available from day one that are expected to make significant contributions this season.

Of the eleven roster players in preseason, seven are Thorns returning from 2014. Goalkeeper Michelle Betos, defenders Courtney Niemiec, Emily Menges, midfielders Allie Long, Mana Shim, Sinead Farrelly and forward Hanna Terry make up the core group on hand to welcome the fresh faces gracing Providence Park. Newcomers McCall Zerboni, Sarah Robbins, and Kendall Johnson will be welcomed to the fold, along with Kat Williamson and all the non-roster invitees.

"I love getting the "freshies" in," Farrelly said. "They bring such a high energy and level to the game and a rawness that I like. I know [Riley] wants to build this team to be the best in the world, so that’s what he’s doing."

Riley is already laying the groundwork for the new season. The mantra around the squad is "Build the house", a phrase that has already reached hashtag status. He’s been impressed with the available returning group leading the way in this early stage of preparations.

"A lot of them have been in Portland already training together for two months almost," Riley said. "As soon as Christmas finished they all wanted to get together and they came in to Portland early… It’s their team this year."

"Off the field they’re inseparable, the group," Riley added. "They’ve made the other players feel welcome too… They’re really enjoying preseason so far. They’re walking around here high and proud."

One face will be familiar to many Thorns fans as Williamson returns to the club after a year playing for the Western New York Flash. Robbins comes to Portland with international experience having played last season in Finland and Zerboni joins the club having played in the NWSL and Women’s Professional Soccer. All three are eager to contribute to one of the most well-supported teams in the league.

"Hopefully I can provide some glue to the team," Zerboni said. "A little bit of bite defensively, some leadership and some different qualities the team hasn’t had in the past."

As the first week of preseason ends, more returning players will rejoin the squad ahead of the three scheduled preseason matches. Several internationals will be joining the club on Monday, while Riley is also expected to make cuts to the preseason roster the same day. The Thorns will face the University of Portland on Saturday, March 21 in their first preseason friendly, and open their 2015 NWSL at home against the Boston Breakers Saturday, April 11.