NWSL – Preseason Dossiers – Portland Thorns

Portland Without Heath

Projected 2013 Portland Thorns Lineup (Without Tobin Heath, Questionable Starters in Parentheses)

Portland Thorns Lineup w/Heath

Projected 2013 Portland Thorns Lineup (With Tobin Heath, Questionable Starters in Parentheses)

Free Agency

Becky Edwards – M

Florida State alum picked up a pair of winner’s medals in WPS with FC Gold Pride in 2010 and WNY Flash in 2011. Took an obvious backseat in the headline department to her more flashy attacking teammates at both spots but was really the glue that helped form a cohesive and deadly unit both going forward and in defense in WPS. Edwards spent last season in Sweden with mid-table Kristianstads before signing back domestically with the Thorns. Another talented central midfielder who has found her path to the full USWNT blocked despite success at U20 and U23 levels. Likely to be the midfield fulcrum, sitting ahead of the backline and shielding what could be a tenuous defense if Dalmy and Ellertson don’t play. Another on this club who could conceivably work their way into USWNT contention with a strong season.

Allie Long – M

Big midfielder can play a variety of roles in the middle of the park but figures to be more of an offensive figure this season with the presence of Becky Edwards as the likely defensive midfielder in front of the backline. Could be a playmaker in attack playing behind Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, especially until Tobin Heath returns later in the season. With Heath absent, Long could also be forced out wide on the left if the club plays with four in the midfield, with Angie Kerr taking up the playmaker mantle. With midfield depth clearly a liability, especially early in the season, the Thorns need a solid and consistent season from Long if they’re to challenge for honors this year.

Nikki Marshall – D/F

A standout at youth international level, including a U20 World Cup winner’s medal in 2008, while also having been a mainstay at U23 level. Marshall has been oddly overlooked by the full international setup for the USWNT despite having been a tremendous asset in her (numerous) stops as a professional thus far. After an adventurous 2011 season that began in Boca Raton with magicJack and ended in Boston, Marshall was steady and effective as ever with WNY Flash in WPSL Elite while picking up the MVP award of the Final victory over Chicago. Though she’s proven to be a competent attacker at this level, Marshall will most likely be playing the role of rock at the heart of the defense for the club, though her ability to initiate attacks with the ball at her feet should be useful as well. When the club is missing Alex Morgan and/or Christine Sinclair on international duty though, Marshall could well step back into a role up front.

Nikki Washington – M/F

Good things do in fact come to those who wait, and Washington had to wait a while for her professional debut after the dissolution of both the Sol and the Athletica in WPS in 2010. It’d take two more stops in Chicago and Boston for Washington to really show what she was capable of, after the North Carolina alum shined for half a season with the erstwhile magicJack franchise after a trade from the Breakers. A direct, penetrating runner down the flanks, Washington should add some much needed attacking verve and width to the Thorns attack this season. With the club short on attacking depth and with the threat of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair’s occasional absences due to international duty, Washington may be needed for goals as much as assists this season as well.

Supplemental Draft

8. Tina Ellertson – D

The $64,000 Question of the moment for Portland is whether they can convince Ellertson to suit up for them this year. From their reasoning (and the position of the pick), Portland seems to be under the impression that Ellertson will play for them this season. The problem is, Ellertson had previously stated she’d be sitting this season out for family reasons. Whether Ellertson changes her mind could well be the difference between a title and disappointment for the Thorns, such is Ellertson’s talent and such is the club’s defensive state right now. Badly in need of some size and quality in the middle, Portland would be greatly improved if Ellertson, a top-notch shutdown center-back, suits up for them this year. If she doesn’t, this pick is an embarrassing misstep by the Thorns, one that could prove very costly down the line.

16. Angie Kerr – M

Once promising midfielder is probably running out of chances at this level after some disappointing campaigns in WPS. Underperformed with Atlanta after being traded from Saint Louis before the 2010 season and failed to reignite with Sky Blue FC in 2011. The potential is certainly there after some of her displays with Athletica in the first WPS season and with her college displays further back. It’s not like the club is flush with depth in midfield either, so Kerr should get a chance for some major minutes, especially if Cindy Parlow Cone opts for three in central midfield. But if Kerr can’t put it together for a career revival here and now, one wonders if it will ever be in the cards for the former Portland Pilot.

24. Michele Weissenhofer – F

Known mostly for her devastating flip throws, Weissenhofer also proved to be decent in front of goal last season for Chicago in WPSL Elite, netting a handful of tallies for the Red Stars. Little came of her first stint with the club in WPS, and she hopped over the Atlantic to Essen in Germany to kickstart career. She’d prove capable back with the Red Stars for the last few years and could be a much needed option on the left side of the attack early this year with Tobin Heath abroad. But with employment in the Chicago area, including coaching at the powerful Eclipse Soccer Club, it’s not a guarantee she’ll sign with the Thorns, which seems to be something of a trend regarding their supplemental draft picks.

32. Marian Dougherty – D

Dougherty slipping so late into the supplemental draft’s final rounds was perhaps an immediate red flag as to her potential status this year, but with the former Red Star in camp, it looks like the Thorns have pulled off a coup. Dougherty didn’t play last season, a year after she was another victim of the magicJack fiasco in Boca Raton. Before then, she was one of the WPS’ top right-backs, faithfully patrolling the flanks for Chicago while also racking up a few handfuls of caps with the USWNT. The Thorns are desperate for defenders, and quality ones at that, so convincing Dougherty to play was huge for their hopes this year, and a big season could perhaps vault her back into contention for a spot on the national team.

40. Jessica Shufelt – F

Portland certainly needs all the forward depth they can get, but Shufelt’s still an odd selection, even just as a flyer. The UConn alum saw a fair amount of time on the pitch for the W-League champion Ottawa Fury last season, but she didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, netting just one goal all season. Her record at college isn’t exactly promising either, with a high of six goals in her four years in Storrs. Portland is seriously lacking in forward depth after their Big Two though, so Shufelt does have a chance to end up sticking if she impresses in camp.

Discovery Players

Jazmyne Avant – D

The Thorns most definitely needed some help in defense going into preseason camp, especially out on the flanks, where the club looks threadbare at the moment, particularly if neither Marian Dalmy nor Tina Ellertson play this year. Avant’s a prized asset for her versatility, as she can play on either flank, though she has much more experience on the right flank. The more pressing need might be out left though, so she could be stationed on that side this season. Given the early absence of Tobin Heath this year, Avant could slide in on the left of midfield if Cindy Parlow Cone opts for four in the middle of the park. The role would certainly suit the Florida alum, as she’s generally been much better going forward in her career than as a lockdown defender.

Danielle Foxhoven – F/M

Only question may be why Portland didn’t bother to pick her up in the Supplemental Draft. Local product in college with the hometown Pilots was a stone cold assassin in goal for two seasons, including twenty-five goals as a sophomore that had some whispering Hermann Trophy. She never really developed after that though, and some might argue Foxhoven regressed, scoring just eight goals a season in 2010 and 2011. Showed well in a brief stint in the Russian League though after the dissolution of WPS and obviously did well enough to earn a shot with the Thorns. Can also play in the hole behind a pair of strikers, which might be just what the doctor ordered in filling the need for a scoring threat behind Sinclair and Morgan. Given the club’s lack of forward depth though, Foxhoven might instead be seen as a natural super sub striker for Cindy Parlow Cone’s side.

What They Still Need

Skillful scouting and a whole lot of luck with injuries and form. The Thorns probably have one of the league’s strongest squads from 1-11, but one of the weakest from 12-20. With all the pieces together and healthy and on form, they could be favorites against anyone in the league. But they’re also walking a very thin line with depth, as they took numerous risks in the rookie and supplemental drafts which could end up being very costly in the end. Losing Tobin Heath to France for the early part of the season could be a serious blow, with the squad struggling for width down the flanks in midfield and creativity in that same zone. Depth in that zone looks paltry to say the least, and the group looks pretty functional with the exception of the incisive Nikki Washington.

There are worries defensively as well with Tina Ellertson looking unlikely to play. Nikki Marshall, Marian Dougherty, and Rachel Buehler should be solid enough, but after them, it’s a lot of unproven talent vying for playing time. It’s not a big need, but the club could also use another goalkeeper to push Karina LeBlanc. On the face of things, it appears Cone has already dispensed with a few of her backup goalkeeping options, meaning the pressure to find a suitable understudy is only ratcheting up as the preseason moves along.

Up front, things will be fine when Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair are on the pitch. There’s not much behind them though, and the club could do well in adding another experienced scorer or two. Even if the club can pick up some gems as discovery players and undrafted free agents, they’re still playing a dangerous game. A few injuries or out-of-form stars could spell big trouble in Portland this season.

8 thoughts on “NWSL – Preseason Dossiers – Portland Thorns

  1. katy

    Hi there,

    Thanks so much for all your work on this blog!

    Other than not being able to find much concrete info on them, is there any reason you are assuming that the Mexican NT members won’t start? In most of these projected lineups, they seem to have been forgotten/overlooked. In the case of the Thorns, we could probably use an experienced pair who have played together for years (Sandoval and Saucedo).

    1. Jeremiah Braeback

      The Mexican national team members will not be joining the Thorns this season, as per a release from the team a few weeks ago. One if the players was injured and FMF did not feel the other was ready for this level, I believe was the reasoning.

  2. Anon

    As someone who isn’t as familiar with most non-NT players, what makes you put Buehler on the outside instead of one of the other defenders?

    1. Chris Henderson Post author

      Buehler has experience at this level as a full-back, Williamson’s a rookie, and Marshall’s played mostly as a center-back in the pros.

  3. cpthomas

    Assuming Dalmy is in camp, but that Weissenhofer and Ellertson are not, none of which I know for a fact ….

    As of today (3/19) the Thorns roster lists 27 players. Four are GKs, so with LeBlanc being a Canadian NT allocation, I’m guessing that the Thorns will keep one of the three others, ultimately dropping the remaining two. That will bring the roster down to 25.

    If Weissenhofer and Ellertson indeed are not going to play, that will bring the roster down to 23. With one more player dropped, they would be to 22. Thus, depending on whether the Thorns want to go lower than the allowed 22, we may now be seeing what is very close to their final roster — unless there’s an international or two in the wings.

    Roxanne Barker, one of the GK candidates, is listed on the roster as being of South African nationality. If that counts against the Thorns international “allowance,” then they only would have one international spot left.

    I’m not yet totally satisfied that Ellertson won’t play. I haven’t heard anything.

  4. sec

    The Thorns free agent signings, and the securing Kerr, Dalmy, and Foxhoven, and of course, the national team allocations — all have put the Thorns in a great place. I’m amused, however, that their coach, Parlow, having seen UCF up close in her time at UNC (remember 2011!!), drafted or took a look at Radovcic and Reis, but later let them both go. And now, apparently she’s looking at Gay, from UNC (and earlier drafted Brooks, from UNC).

    Just shows that a lot of the scouting/drafting by some NWSL teams is very local and narrow, based on limited information. This isn’t a bad thing per se, but yet it doesn’t feel right for a professional league. I almost think that had UNC lost to Baylor or BYU last fall (two very close matches), then the Thorns would’ve drafted seniors from Baylor or BYU.

    I think the Spirit have unfortunately made the very same type of mistake, relying really heavily on the familiar and the local — i.e., recent grads from UMd, UVa, etc. (or others with local area ties, or ties to DC United Women) — to try to fill out their roster. Of course, this makes some financial sense, as these players can live nearby or with their parents, but it feels very amateurish. Washington sure could’ve used Kendall Johnson — the Spirit are hurting at left back and athleticism generally — but I’m guessing the Spirit coach didn’t watch many Pilots matches this season. (Which is shame, as they are streamed for free with quality camera-work and commentary). By contrast, I think Gabarra/Sky Blue are far more tuned into collegiate talent nationally.

    Anyway, this “buy local” or “buy familiar” approach looks as though it will hurt the Spirit (and perhaps cost the Thorns some roster depth).

    1. katy

      I have a suspicion that money had more influence on which players Parlow-Cone ended up with than we think. There was very little salary $ to go around, and I bet some players that were familiar with the coach might have been more willing to come play with very meager contracts for those last couple roster spots.

      That might be why it doesn’t “feel right” for a professional league. They don’t have a lot to work with.


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