This Sunday the Thorns kick off their 2019 season with a preseason match against the Chicago Red Stars at Merlo Field in North Portland.
Typically I would be here the following week with a match report and plus-minus ratings for the Thorns…but not this time.
I had hip replacement surgery Thursday and won’t be mobile enough by Sunday to do justice to the match; hopefully my compa Richard Hamje will give us a precis of what happened and, more importantly, who and how our Thorns played.
Since that’s really all we’re going to find out from these matches; who’s rounding into form, who’s improved from their past season, who still looks chancy.
Hopefully you can hop the #44 bus to make the journey up to North this weekend. Beside the bucolic charm of the Fixin’ To or the bustling food cartlandia around the Beer Porch I’ve got some suggestions for you to think about as we glimpse the first blooms of spring soccer just off Willamette Boulevard.
But first, here’s the first Thorns preseason roster list, released early in March:
Per Chris Henderson as of this week Byrne and Caliz are gone but the other non-roster invitees are still here.
Another absentee is Andressinha, last seen wearing the kit of the Brazilian club Iranduba. Per Jamie Goldberg of the Oregonian this may be a loan, but in my opinion that seems improbable; the Brasileirão Feminino season overlaps the NWSL, and it doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense for Iranduba to sign her for only April and May.
First thing to watch? Who plays, how long (and how well) do they play? This is less obvious than it seems. Elizabeth Ball looked awful in preseason last year but grew into the game through the season. Angela Salem looked underwhelming in preseason and remained underwhelming through the year. Preseason form is notoriously chancy, especially for the bench players and NRIs. Especially this year, since the World Cup is likely to make players that look like they’re on the fringe in March indispensable in June.
Next? How does Coach Parsons organize them? Last season the Thorns played several formations including a 4-5-1, 4-3-3, and 4-4-2 that varied, as you’d expect, based on player personnel, opponent, and game state. Since the preseason is a time to experiment, we might see a wide variety of formations and player positions. It’ll be worth paying attention, for example, to who moves into Horan’s spot, or Sinclair’s usual position, when the internationals are off the field.
Third? Who’s getting repeated looks, who gets one-and-done? This, too, can be hard to interpret. Is a player on the pitch repeatedly, or for long stretches, because the coaching staff is looking hard at her? Or because she’s already a lock and needs the minutes?
My theory about Angela Salem, for example, is that she needs on-field minutes to prosper. She didn’t get them last season and didn’t prosper. If she gets them this coming week? Coach Parsons may be hoping to see more of – and get more out of – her this year…a not-unreasonable suspicion given the hammering the midfield is going to take in midsummer. But if she doesn’t..?
And, of course, how good do the Thorns look against the junior national team, as well as two NWSL teams FiveThirtyEight predicted to make strong runs at the playoffs this season?
Neither the Red Stars nor Reign FC have played a professional opponent yet this spring.
RFC beat an offseason and undertrained UCLA squad 2-nil last weekend on the strength of two goals from their ex-Courage signing Darian Jenkins. What this tells us about the Reign is difficult to assess.
Chicago has also played only once, also against a college side – the University of Missouri – but a week earlier (so that their U.S. internationals were at the SheBelieves Cup) and in a match closed to the public, so we don’t know what happened, leaving us even less understanding of how Chicago is shaping.
The U.S. Under-23s looked impressive in the Nordic Tournament back in the fall of 2018, and will be bringing a squad the features Catarina Macario – who looked terrific here in 2018 – as well as defender Schuyler DeBree, playing professionally in Prague, and forward Martha Thomas, signed by Le Havre.
So this is it; the 2019 campaign begins in less than 48 hours. I know what I’m looking forward to.
How about you? What are you excited about in this comingyear?