Let’s face it folks: this Thorns season is going to be seriously disrupted. Yes, everyone’s very excited for the World Cup and everything, and it will be great, but the Thorns are missing 9 whole players during this stretch. The Thorns that will be rolling out during this time are going to be a different look than many fans are used to. As a way of preparing you, the readers and fans, for this difficult time, Stumptown Footy will be running an analysis series on some of the players staying behind in the first few weeks of the season: what they bring to the table, what they might play like together, and what they need to prove in order to put themselves in a good position to keep their spots when the superstars return.
The list of players missing could easily be mistaken for an NWSL best XI. Lindsay Horan, last year’s MVP, Tobin Heath and Christine Sinclair have been the heart of the Thorns offense for years. AD Franch is the two-time NWSL goalkeeper of the year, and Emily Sonnett has been an essential part of league leading defenses. Hayley Raso is a fan favorite for a reason: her energy on the wing makes the most experienced defenders uncomfortable. Ellie Carpenter, Andressinha and Caitlin Foord have yet to show their absolute best in their first year at the club but all have clear ability and can be expected to make big jumps with a few months in the setup under their belt.
With so many of his best players away, Thorns head coach Mark Parsons has a lot of decisions to make with his team selection. He’s been thinking about how the team will line up during this time, “since July last year. We looked at it in the beginning of October. We looked at it in January and we looked at it a week ago.” The World Cup season won’t only be important to look at by itself of course: it could potentially have huge consequences for the shape of the team afterward. All sorts of players are going to get their shot to show what kind of an impact they can make, and in a deep team, it could make or break a few Thorns careers of players who are on the edge of the team . “There will be people, unfortunately, on the bench, not playing for the Portland Thorns, who played 8, 9, 10 games last year,” said Parsons, reflecting on his team’s depth when at full strength. “I’m not even thinking of a (specific) player. I’ve got so many players who have played lots of minutes and have so much experience being a Portland Thorn.”
Parsons has no illusions about difficulty of the season ahead; “It’s a really tough, challenging year (…) It’ll be our most challenging year to date,” he said. “However, we’re frickin ready. We’re ready for that challenge.”