If the National Women’s Soccer League allocation is anything to go by, Portland Thorns FC is the early favorite to win the first league championship. With Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Tobin Heath headlining the team, it looks to be all roses and no thorns for the Rose City club.
“I couldn’t be more excited to build a team around this foundation of seven players,” head coach Cindy Parlow Cone said in a conference call on Friday. “We are going to be a competitive and entertaining team. I can say that.”
More specifically, she said Thorns FC will play a hard-nosed, flowing style that has been commonly attributed with the program at University of North Carolina, where Parlow Cone was an assistant coach before joining the NWSL club as its first head coach.
“Obviously, you can tell by the allocations the style of soccer that I like to play, which will be very possession-oriented style, high-pressure defensively,” she said.
The Americans allocated to Portland accounted for one-third of their national team’s assists in 2012. Morgan led the team with 21 assists — and her 28 goals were also the most in that category — while Heath added seven and Rachel Buehler four helpers.
Add in Sinclair’s 23 goals, and Portland should have no trouble scoring.
“I’m hoping that we are a very dynamic, productive team,” Parlow Cone said. “I think we’ve got great attacking players, and like I said before, we look to play a possession style. That’s the reason why their assists are so high … and I think the Portland fans are going to really enjoy watching these young women play.”
On the defensive side, Buehler is a mainstay in the U.S. back line, playing in all but one game in 2012. Canadian goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc backed up Erin McLeod at the 2012 Summer Olympics, but she has 103 career caps and 44 shutouts to her name.
The two Mexican players allocated to Thorns FC, Rubí Sandoval and Luz Salcedo, have earned 70 and 91 caps, respectively. Both are defenders who featured in Mexico’s 2011 Women’s World Cup squad.
Still, Parlow Cone wasn’t ready to accept the championship trophy just yet.
“(The allocation) is a great foundation to build on,” she said. “Is it time to hand us the hardware over? No. We’re not planning on playing seven (against) 11, so we need to fill in with some more players and hopefully build a championship team around these core seven players.”
The first NWSL college draft is set for Friday, Jan. 18 at the NSCAA Convention. Parlow Cone will be in her element there, having just come from coaching for the NCAA Division I champion Tar Heels.
For now, it’s a previous first overall pick, Morgan, who is the talk of Portland. Last year, she played for the Seattle Sounders Women in the USL W-League, and though Parlow Cone expects the Portland-Seattle rivalry to be strong in the NWSL, she has no worries about Morgan’s reception in Soccer City, USA.
“I know the Portland fans are great soccer fans, and I know that they are soccer smart,” Parlow Cone said. “I think that they have a great appreciation for good players, and Alex Morgan is certainly that and more, so I think they’ll be ecstatic — as excited as I am — to have Alex Morgan playing in their home city.”
Where the team will play its home games is yet to be determined, but Thorns FC has made some additions to its coaching staff. Parlow Cone stopped short of announcing who they were, but she did confirm that the club made at least one new hiring.
For now, Portland fans can be satisfied in knowing their club has two FIFA World Player of the Year vote-getters and two of the top goalscorers in the world on its books in Morgan and Sinclair, as well as an impressive supporting cast of players.