The second week of the Portland Thorns preseason has continued to shape and develop the squad for the upcoming 2015 NWSL season. After releasing an updated roster on Monday, the Thorns head into their first preseason match against the University of Portland women’s team Saturday night. The match will provide the first opportunity for fans to see a significantly different squad than the one that finished the 2014 season.
There will be quite a few unfamiliar names on the team sheet at Merlo Field. Of the 23 available players for the match, eight put on a Thorns jersey last season. While the squad has only been training for two weeks, head coach Paul Riley has seen the new team members settle in and the training intensity has increased.
"Jodie [Taylor] has settled in already, two days in," Riley pointed out. "Kendall [Johnson] has settled in really well, Sarah [Robbins] has settled in really well. I’m happy with all the new players."
"It’s faster this week," Riley remarked after talking to some of his players. "The pressure is a little bit quicker than it was last week. I think that’s just everybody getting in tune."
Pressure has been the focal point for the Thorns this week in training and Saturday’s preseason friendly offers the chance for a competitive fixture to help a young squad get used to playing together. Midfielder McCall Zerboni has already seen improvement since the first week.
"It’s an encouraging place to be," Zerboni said. "In 14 days together, we’re already looking like an awesome squad that we can put out there on Aprill 11th."
Zerboni recognizes the importance a preseason friendly has, both in team preparation and her role individually on the field.
"Every minute we have together in the center [midfield] is time that we can get to know each other better," Zerboni added. "For the team, it’s super important because we lay a precedent from the very first competition."
Riley plans on the majority of players he has available to play a part in Saturday’s match, even the internationals that have just joined the squad. However, playing time will take a backseat role to the team marking a "starting point" in their tactical and technical foundation.
"They’re just excited to be back in Portland," Riley affirmed. "They’re part of the team. They don’t want to be rested. As long as they’re excited, we’ll keep plugging along and have them in the line-up."
"All the players will play tomorrow," Riley said. "It’s not about the result. It’s about working on what we’ve brought in practice."
With a lot of new players and still just two weeks into preparations, the Thorns still know there’s a lot of work to be done. Riley is impressed that many of his veteran players are already at such a high level this early.
"Allie [Long], Sinead [Farrelly], Mana [Shim], McCall, Kendall, Jodie, they’re all way ahead of where I would expect them to be at this point," Riley revealed. "They can go 90 minutes to be honest with you."
Following the match against the Pilots, the Thorns will head to Arizona for preseason camp to continue preparations, including two preseason matches against FC Tucson Women and the University of Arizona. Portland will host the Boston Breakers Saturday, April 11 to open the 2015 NWSL season.
Match Preview: Expect the Thorns to experiment with players in different roles and use most, if not all of their substitutions. Riley said he emphasized the concept of defensive pressure during training this week, so the Thorns will look to engage defensively sooner. Offensively, this match gives Zerboni a chance to settle into the midfield with Allie Long, Sarah Robbins, Kendall Johnson, Mana Shim and Sinead Farrelly, while Hannah Terry and Jodie Taylor will be eager to find the net.
Players to watch: All the new arrivals. That doesn’t just mean the big names though. Riley expects a couple of the non-roster invitees could make it to the match day roster come the season opener.