The Portland Thorns is a team that has every advantage in the world. Their team makeup reads flawlessly. Their individual player résumés appear as though they were plagiarized, they are so good. And their coaching staff is top notch. To put it simply, the pendulum should always be swinging their way. But somehow they are sitting in third place on the table. It’s not a bad place to be in, but it’s not where they should be. No, they should be in hanging out in first.
Here are the five reasons why.
The United Nations of Teams
Take a look at the allocated players on Portland’s roster. It’s more than any other team in the league – six players in total. And that only takes into account the American and Canadian players. They have another five international players on top of that. Their roster features players from six different countries and a whole lot of talent. They are one of the few teams in the NWSL that really had to evaluate, not just how Women’s Euro would affect them, but also the Tournament of Nations. I, for one, am a huge fan of having such an elite assortment of players on the team. It makes watching the game that much more intriguing and diversifies the skill sets of other players. And these players aren’t just okay foreign players. They are some of the best international players currently in the game. So it should be like watching our own miniature Olympics every time they take the field. Yet they aren’t the best team in the league …
With this international dream team comes immense technical ability. Everyone brings something different to the table, and there aren’t a lot of missing pieces that need to be filled. Looking at the lineup you have Lindsay Horan, who can be lethal on a set play; Amandine Henry who can break down a transition in the midfield like it’s child’s play; and Haley Raso, who finds a way to slip into open space like someone just left the door open for her. Match that with Klingenberg’s service from the wing or Adrianna Franch’s seven clean sheets and what should we have? The best team in the league. But what do we actually have? Third place.
She could have been included in the last reason, but I think she really deserves her own section in this argument. We all know she deserves it. Her country even knows it – It’s why she was recently appointed to the Order of Canada, the country’s highest civilian honor. In her international career, she has scored 168 goals. She is a force. And for every American who has ever watched a match versus Canada, they know that she is one of the greatest threats inside the box. She is that extra boost of power up top, the veteran who holds everyone to her standard, and one of the most lethal strikers in the game. She is also someone who works harder than the team’s third place showing would have you believe.
Club and Country Teammates
There is something to be said about familiarity. The more you see and are around a person, the more you get to know them. The same can be said for soccer. The more you play with a teammate, the more you get to know their style of play and how they move on and off the ball. Sure, international breaks can sometimes interfere with the ease of chemistry when allocated players come back to their club team, but for the star Americans on the Portland Thorns that is not the case. Tobin Heath (who is currently sidelined with a back injury), Lindsay Horan, Meghan Klingenberg, and Allie Long almost never get a break from each other. They go from club to country and back. There should be a cohesiveness with these players that create a major advantage that other teams are not afforded, but it seems at times that they have difficulty capitalizing on this advantage. And yes, Klingenberg shockingly did not make the Tournament of Nations roster, but for the past few years, those four have not seen the pitch without the others on it. And even without Heath currently, their chemistry should still be the stuff of legends, but it doesn’t seem enough to propel them to the top of the table.
Even though it is only the third largest stadium in the NWSL, it is notoriously the hardest to come in and play at. It’s a sellout crowd that relentlessly chants for their team and against the opponents, and flags that will never stop waving. It is smoke bombs after goals. It is the pounding of the crowd in your ears. And it is the extra push that any other team in the league would die for. Being a part of the Portland Thorns doesn’t mean you just go out a play with ten other women on the pitch. It means that you play with a stadium of warriors behind you. Warriors that would do anything to help give you the edge. And they do. It is a major uphill battle to come out with an away win at Providence Park. The atmosphere is something that most other teams have to consider in preparations because they aren’t used to that kind of sound or that kind of rowdiness. Providence Park makes other teams’ matches look like scrimmages in comparison. Because no one is as hyped as the fans in Portland. But shouldn’t that drastic shift in atmosphere lend somewhat of a helping hand to the players on the pitch? Maybe not a push to make Portland better, but definitely a distraction that could cause the opposing team to lose focus. Still, the Thorns are not the best in the league.
Sure, there is a lot more that goes into the Portland Thorns and their record than just these five reasons. They have to work out the kinks like everyone else. And yes, they are on the rise. In fact, they have an excellent chance of finishing the regular season at the top of the table. But they should have been there sooner. They should be looking down at the rest of the teams. They should have been number one by now. They are perfect on paper. They should be in the standings.