NWSL Draft – What They Need – Portland Thorns

* = confirmed signed for 2015
(parentheses) = Potentially absent for Women’s World Cup

(Yes, I know the Thorns have said they’re trading away their last draft picks. Humor me.)

In A Nutshell

Portland’s season may ride on answering two questions: Can trading for Kathryn Williamson cure a defense that bordered on inept at times last season? And can Jessica McDonald keep scoring for fun when Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair aren’t around. Answers in the affirmative could go a long way in seeing Portland in the playoffs again. But there are depth issues aplenty around the squad and perhaps no draft picks to help solve those issues.

Biggest Needs:

RB, DMC, CF, backup GK, LB (if Marshall not healthy)

GK – (*Angerer), Betos

Presumably, Nadine Angerer is returning to the Thorns for 2015, though what exactly that means is up for debate considering she’ll be missing large chunks of time due to the Women’s World Cup. Angerer was solid in goal for the Thorns for much of the season, especially considering the defense in front of her, but claims of the German being the undisputed world’s best do seem a bit hyperbolic in retrospect.

The experienced Michelle Betos is the backup again and performed fine in her limited action for the club last season. She’ll likely be the club’s #2 again. As is the case with almost all of the clubs this season, Portland will need to find a reserve keeper when Angerer is away. With the club seemingly interested in trading away all of its draft picks, that may be easier said than done.

DEF – (*Catley), Marshall, Menges, Moros, Niemiec, *Tarr, (Van Hollebeke), *Williamson

This was a group that was very much not more than the sum of its parts last season and suffered through some wild and unpredictable swings in form, capable of keeping clean sheets and getting hammered in equal measure. Has Portland solved those problems? Well…you can’t really say for sure, but it doesn’t look particularly promising on paper. The club has made just one addition to the defense, that being Kathryn Williamson, who the club traded to WNY before last season, marking the second time the club’s given up assets to get back a defender previously on the roster. Williamson’s coming off a down season though, and you wonder how bad this move is going to look if she can’t recapture some of her rookie season form.

For better or worse, it’s as you were for the rest of the backline. Steph Catley was a terror for much of the season once she arrived and could develop into one of the league’s best full-backs, but she’s going to miss a big chunk of time on WWC duty. Rachel Van Hollebeke looks to have seen her time with the USWNT come to a close, and if so, she’s going to be counted upon to be the anchor on defense for the Thorns this season. Nikki Marshall can play all across the backline, and she might end up at full-back if Van Hollebeke and Williamson are the first choice center-back pairing. Marshall is coming off an ACL tear though, and an inability to return to form could be devastating.

It’s youngsters and journeymen the rest of the way. Rebecca Moros may be on the downswing and perhaps didn’t make as big an impact as expected after signing with the club last season. Fellow veteran Kat Tarr missed most of the season injured and may be fighting for a roster spot depending on what the club does to bring in competition. As might be the case with Courtney Niemiec, who made the roster last year as an undrafted free agent. Second-year player Emily Menges will probably be first in line to take a spot in the lineup when Catley’s gone or when needed. She survived a trial by fire last season and may be the better for it when all is said and done.

Williamson’s return could make or break this group, and given the needs elsewhere, they may not have the roster space to fortify beyond what they already have.

MF – (Vero), Farrelly, (Heath), (Long), Shim, *Zerboni

There’s a great deal of experience here, but the depth is really going to suffer until after the Women’s World Cup. The massive question hanging over this group going into the season is whether Vero will be back. Early indications are that the club is hopeful the Spanish star may return for the latter part of the season after the WWC, but that’s hardly a given at the moment. The uncertainty could well make or break the club’s season considering just how many pieces the Thorns could be missing during the WWC.

Also gone in all likelihood will be Tobin Heath, who continues to oscillate between moments of brilliance and pure frustration, especially at club level. Given the overt lack of star power if Vero doesn’t return, you wonder how successful the Thorns might be if Heath is still misfiring. There’s also an outside chance that Allie Long may make the WWC squad after continuing to feature in camps. A polarizing figure, Long may still be missing for a little bit even if she doesn’t make the final squad if she keeps getting called into camps.

Depth is questionable, to say the least, beyond those three. Mana Shim grew into a fan favorite in her first season with the club, and the Thorns even traded to get her back before last season. It seemed like Paul Riley didn’t rate her however, and Shim played only a limited part in the club’s attack in her second season. Old Riley favorite Sinead Farrelly didn’t exactly do much in her first season with the club to shed the tag of “disappointment” that has been attached to her since she has been a #2 overall pick in WPS. Given the sheer lack of numbers, both figure to have opportunities to improve their fortunes.

The only offseason addition was bringing in McCall Zerboni from WNY via trade. Zerboni was one of many Flash players to disappoint last season and may be creeping up on the downside of her career. Even if she can turn it around, you’d think Portland needs another body or two here before the season starts.

FW – (Acevedo), McDonald, (Morgan), (Sinclair), Terry, Adams

This…looks problematic. The Thorns are going to have a giant void up front for much of the season with their dream center forward pairing of Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair likely to miss most of the season on international duty. Sinclair is slowing down noticeably but is still more than a little threatening up front, while Morgan’s importance was underlined by the club’s struggles when she was injured. Depth may take a hit as well with Jackie Acevedo a contender for the Mexican WWC squad, though it seems clear Paul Riley doesn’t rate her given her lack of meaningful action last season.

What’s left? Well, Jessica McDonald is about as good a building block there is up top amongst those not going to the WWC this year. She flourished under Riley last season and may need to do so again this year for the Thorns to make a run at honors. It’s grim beyond her. Hanna Terry was signed late last season but is an unknown commodity at this level. Danesha Adams barely got a sniff in Washington as the season went along, and the well traveled veteran looks near the end of the line. This unit clearly needs a new face or two until the reinforcements arrive.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by Chris Henderson.

One thought on “NWSL Draft – What They Need – Portland Thorns

  1. FDChief

    It seems odd – given the usual assessment of the Thorns as troubled at midfield and in back but overpowering up front – but I’d argue that the most troubled part of this team is at forward. Outside of McDonald’s 2014 season there’s nobody up front that has put in a convincing season to date.

    Morgan has been injured now for parts or most of two successive seasons and even when healthy never looked as effective as she did with the WNT, lacking the service she gets from the Nat’s midfield and the sorts of strike partners she can play off of there. Sinclair spent a large part of 2013 trying to bolster the midfield and, as you not, had a horrific drop in form in 2014. Terry and Adams are still cyphers and Acevedo is even more so, having apparently completely lost Riley’s confidence (He was quoted as saying that “she can’t finish in practice…” – his gold standard – so why should he play her…).

    Even if the Thorns were looking to improve the side this week they have little to work with. Their picks are both low in late rounds and Riley is fairly notorious for having little interest or information about college players (tho his only 2014 pick, Menges, has done fairly well here). Merritt Paulson was quoted last week as claiming that the Thorns were working to package their picks to make a trade, tho he had no further information about what position the team might be trying to bolster or who might be included in the package.

    I hate to say this, but as difficult as 2014 was for the Thorns 2015 has a potential – not a probability (I hope) but a potential – to be even harder…


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