For Thorns, Shield was total team effort

Dan Lauletta September 26, 2016 51
The Thorns regulars were outstanding, but it took the entire roster and more to win The Shield (photo copyright EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

The Thorns regulars were outstanding, but it took the entire roster and more to win The Shield (photo copyright EriMacPhoto for The Equalizer)

On July 30, Allie Long was dozing off in her hotel in Brazil watching the stream of her Portland Thorns against the Seattle Reign. The Reign carried much of the play that night, but were unable to break through against a stout Thorns defense. Finally, in the 74th minute, Nadia Nadim scored for the Thorns and they would win the match 1-0.

“That was the turning point I think in our season when I saw them beat Seattle,” Long said Sunday night after scoring two goals to help the Thorns win their first NWSL Shield. “Honestly that was the best part of the season for me was seeing that. It was inspiring and it was just so incredible to see.

“I couldn’t fall asleep that night.”

The Thorns journey to the Shield began with an ambitious offseason that included the acquisitions of, among others, Nadim, Lindsay Horan, Meghan Klingenberg, and Amandine Henry. There were several key steps along the way including the team kicking into gear almost immediately and going through its first dozen games without taking a loss. But it was the set of games when Long and so many others were on international duty that made it possible for them to stand on Yurcak Field on Sunday as champions of the regular season.

“The cool thing that we’ve been able to say in the locker room is that every single person—even players who are not on the team right now or who are not contracted—has played a part in this,” Michelle Betos said. “There are names of players you’re never going to hear that have made all the difference this year. That’s what’s really special about this club.”

We’ll help out with some of those names. Maureen Fitzgerald started two of the three matches she appeared in including an 87-minute stint in the July 30 win over the Reign; Jennifer Skogerboe went the full 90 that night. McKenzie Berryhill (now with the Pride), Sam Lofton, and Shade Pratt also made appearances during the roster letting. Part-time players like Mallory Weber and Celeste Boureille were both on the field for every minute in the month of July.

“We filled this roster with character,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said. “That Seattle win in that Olympic break is the reason we’re here. Beating Sky Blue (July 2 in Portland) is the reason we’re here. It’s the tougher nights. On good nights talent will win you games, but on tough nights it’s character, it’s togetherness, it’s fight. It’s a culture that the people want to be in to fight to the death.”

Parsons also pointed to a match early in the season, in Washington, that allowed the Thorns to ultimately capture the Shield. In one of the better matches of the season, the Thorns grinded out a 0-0 draw at the Maryland SoccerPlex. Parsons said, “we could have been down 3-nill.”

That was the fourth match of the season for the Thorns and perhaps the one that showed just how well the amazing collection of talent was morphing into a team. It was a process, Parsons believes, that happened quicker than he anticipated.

“I think it happened quickly because we got the recruitment right,” Parsons said. “We started committing to playing better soccer earlier than I thought we would. This season was about getting this team back to where it needed to be which is playoffs. We’ve done that and now we’ve got a home playoff that sets us up. That’s what it’s all about.”

Long suggested that the reason the Thorns were able to turn talent into team so quickly is that the players tend to think the same way about the game.

“We all have a similar soccer brain,” she said. “Everyone is super intelligent on the ball. They watch the game. They study the game. They want to share the football and get it back. When you put those players together it’s so much easier than having just athletes. When you bring together soccer brains who love the game and want to play the same style, the sky’s the limit I think for this team. It’s awesome to see.”

Added Betos: “When there’s a lot of personalities and a lot of talent you never know how it’s going to gel. We’ve really come together. I think the special thing is the players on our team, everyone’s a good person too. That makes it a ton easier. We all want to play each other.”

As the moments wound down, Thorns bench players were standing in anticipating of the club securing another trophy to go with the 2013 NWSL Championship. The celebration was measured though, with eyes clearly looking ahead to Sunday’s semifinal against the Flash and, if that goes well, a trip to Houston to play for another piece of hardware.

“If you look across the leagues in Europe they don’t even play a playoff,” Betos said. “It’s about who’s the most consistent, who does the best in the league. We want to be that team and we feel like we have every capability to do that. To be able to actually do it—Chicago helped us out (Saturday) night—it’s pretty incredible. This means a lot to us.”

We just wanted a chance and that’s what we got.

  • Constant Weeder

    Thanks for this article, Dan. Everyone talks about the Thorns’ talent, but for me the most impressive things bout this team have been their grit and teamwork – character, as Parsons put it.

    • Arcie Tillydee

      One of the core players on the team, an done of it’s most important leaders (Menges) isn’t even an international…although I have a feeling that may change in the not-too-distant future.

      • Lorehead

        Jill Ellis has three years to experiment, and if she doesn’t give Menges a call-up, she’s an idiot. And if there’s one thing that unites us all at the Eq, it’s our universal admiration for Jill Ellis’ acumen.

        • Arcie Tillydee

          /spraycoffee

          Well, Throwback Mt. Dew, actually…but you get the idea.

          • Lorehead

            And if there’s another, it’s politics?

  • newsouth

    Great Icelandic

  • Steglitz49

    You make Portland sound like Sweden. Remember, the Germans won — on an own goal, admittedly, but the Teutonic lasses waltzed off with the gold medals.

  • BRASILEIRO

    Portland has players level 7.5-8 and Heath level 9.5.

    • newsouth

      parlor tricks maybe 9.5 compared to other amiercan players but player overall football skill sets aren’t

      • DNG

        How are you defining football skills?

        • newsouth

          there’s no such thing as a perfect 10, so i’ll start with marta as a 9.5. heath is no where in that ball park.

          • DNG

            You didn’t answer my question at all and I never compared Heath to Marta you did.

      • Arcie Tillydee

        Oh, look: it’s 2013’s objection to Tobin Heath. Where you been keepin’ yourself?

  • Guest1

    Nice Physical and Technical team. Teams that let them pass the ball around have no chance. WNY is type of team that gives them trouble. I think they will handle pressure better and pass through them.

    • Timber Dave

      Yes, WNY has given Portland trouble both times they played this year. The Thorns won both games (2-0 and 3-2), but it could easily have gone the other way in both of them. Since winning the Shield, the Thorns have gotten a lot more hype, and they may give in to that and underestimate WNY.

      Both playoffs this weekend should be really good match-ups.

  • Gary Diver

    Portland: NWSL All-Star Team

    1. Includes the best individual players from 3 of the top 4 national teams in the world.
    2. Includes one of the best (if not the best) players from Iceland and Denmark.
    3. Includes 4 players that are often starters for USWNT.
    4. Has one of the tallest NWSL teams with Long, Nadim, Brynjarsdottir, and Sonnett.

    Question: How is it fair that Portland has 5 USWNT players? I realize that they are not all officially allocated players, but they all could be next year. USSF pays the salaries for all allocated players and their salaries do not count against the salary cap. The problem is the singular collection of talent on the Portland roster and the fact that it is being largely subsidized by USSF although the team has by far the greatest revenue of any NWSL team to work with.

    • RoughJustice

      Well how is it unfair, exactly? They were allocated players the same as everyone else, and got to a higher figure via 1) Allie Long resurrecting her USWNT career seemingly from dead and 2) trading Alex Morgan for a haul. It seems less fair to me that Portland has a seemingly unfair advantage in attracting international players because of its support. (The USWNT doesn’t pay Allie Long’s salary at this point, also.)

      Portland has a ridiculous collection of talent, but it seems more because of player development and smart trading than because of any structural unfairness. Also, I suspect this will to some degree be a self-correcting problem, as there will be expansion teams in the near future, and Portland won’t be able to protect all of their horde of players.

      • I think the structural advantage Portland has is in the facilities/support the team offers. They “won” the initial NWSL allocation because most players had Portland as one of their preferred destinations. (And I doubt Christine Sinclair would go anywhere else.)

        But they’ve always had that advantage and it hasn’t always translated into results.

        • RoughJustice

          I think that’s fair, and it’s one of the reasons I’m curious to see how the NWSL goes about growing over the coming years. There is a real haves/have-nots dynamic with the MLS vs. non-MLS affiliated teams, and how that gets dealt with is for my money the second most important issue the league needs to solve.

          (The most important issue is television. The NWSL desperately needs a real national TV deal to drive revenue and get it better exposure. A couple games on FS1 is better than nothing, but not by a whole lot.)

          • Yeah, it’s a real issue for the league as it tries to expand, which will also be key on getting a national TV deal. There’s a long-term disadvantage, I think, with having all of NWSL affiliated with MLS clubs, since that would significantly undercut the independence of the league. But the short term benefits of better facilities and playing conditions are kind of difficult to ignore, especially when previous professional women’s leagues have folded.

    • Lorehead

      It’s worth remembering that the Thorns clinched the Shield on the last day of the season because the Spirit lost, and despite missing seven or eight of their starters for a quarter of the season. The Reign ran away with the league by a much bigger margin the last two years.

    • Steglitz49

      Seattle has had its run of great international players and Houston for its opening season had Shark Is land Girl but she got injured just before the start of the season and never could play.

    • BarcaSiempre

      Don’t forget 5’9″ Sinclair is tall too. Four of the Thorns midfielders are pretty strong too. Horan, Long, Henry and Brynjarsditir are really rugged players. When Tasha Kai, a rugby player, crashed into Long, a rugby player’s daughter, it was Tasha that stayed on the ground for a long time. It seems like Portland wins most 50/50 aerial battles. That is height plus strength and athleticism.

      • Gary Diver

        Thanks, Sinclair was on my mental “tall player” list, but she got lost in translation to the page.

        Portland seems to get a lot of header goals for obvious reasons. Does NWSL keep track of how many goals are headers?

      • obo

        Betos and Franch are also both 5’9″.

        • Steglitz49

          Short for modern goalies.

          • obo

            Keepers by height, NWSL:

            Libby Stout 5’11”
            Katelyn Rowland 5’11”
            Jami Kranich 5’10”
            Nicole Barnhart 5’10”
            Kaitlyn Savage 5’10”
            Stephanie Labbé 5’10”
            Kelsey Wys 5’10”
            Abby Smith 5’9″
            Lydia Williams 5’9″
            Aubrey Bledsoe 5’9″
            Ashlyn Harris 5’9″
            Alyssa Naeher 5’9″
            Erin Nayler 5’9″
            Michelle Betos 5’9″
            Adrianna Franch 5’9″
            Britt Eckerstrom 5’8″
            Sabrina D’Angelo 5’7″
            Bianca Henninger 5’6″

            5’9″ is average and median.

    • guest

      re Portland 4. Has one of the tallest NWSL teams with Long, Nadim, Brynjarsdottir, and Sonnett.

      WNY matches up well for tall players
      McDonald 6’0″ , Mewis 5’11” , Ercep 5’10” , Kennedy 5’9″ , Doniak 5’8″
      with Portland tall players
      Long 5’8″ , Nadium 5’9″ , Brynjarsdottir 5’11” , Sonnett 5’7″ , Sinclair 5’9″ and Betos 5’9″

      • Arcie Tillydee

        Lindsey Horan’s 5’9″, as is Celeste Boureille. Saw most of the team today at talking-to distance (bunch of us met the plane…); many are quite tall, although it’s Dagny’s height you really notice.

        Also, Jess McDonald may be listed at 6’0″, but no way is that the case. Mewis is obviously taller when they’re next to each other, and I remember her looking Nadine Angerer (5’9″) right in the eye back when Jess was a Thorn.

      • Steglitz49

        I put it to you that 5’9″ is short for a modern goalie.

        • Gary Diver

          Although Hope Solo is 5’9″ and she never looked small or played small.

          • newsouth

            amazing harrison is the height and plays 5’5, esp on high balls coming in at angles.

          • Steglitz49

            The goal is the same size for the ladies as for the men and the ball as big. What is sauce for the gander is sauce for the goose.

            You do not see too many male goalies standing 5’5″ and not even 5’9″. The great Gordon Banks was 6’1″ and Manuel Neuer is 6’4″.

            One fine day logic may be applied to WoSo, not wishful thinking. That day WoSo might make it in the marketplace.

    • sudeep das

      Sonnett is probably 5-7; Horan is 5-9

  • Gary Diver

    Initially there was a balance of the allocated USWNT players among the NWSL teams. Is there any restriction on the number of USWNT allocated players one NWSL team can have? Is it possible that USSF could pay the salaries of Heath, Klingenberg, Horan, Long, and Sonnet next year? Obviously it is a benefit/reward for any player to be allocated because of the quantum jump in their salaries. This is an almost fatal problem with NWSL.

    NWSL exists to a large degree to allow USWNT to pretend it isn’t a full-time national team. (One could look at NWSL as practice for the UWSNT players between Friendlies.) The pay differential between allocated USWNT players and the top non-allocated NWSL players is simply obscene.

    • tonysocref

      “Is there any restriction on the number of USWNT allocated players one NWSL team can have?”
      Answer is no.
      In the first year of the league there was a restriction that an allocated player could only be traded for an allocated player. That restriction was removed in 2014. Now an allocated player can be traded for any other player, draft pick and other categories of players. With this, there is officially no limit on the number of allocated players a team may have on it’s roster.

  • Gary Diver

    What is Portland’s bottom line last year? Did they make a profit? If so, how much?

    The Portland Thorns are owned by Peregrine Sports LLC (same people who own the Portland Timbers). What is known about the owners?

    • Merritt Paulson is the owner, he’s very active on twitter. He claims the Thorns have been profitable since the initial season, iirc, but the actual specific financial figures aren’t public.

      • newsouth

        don’t the profit share with other teams? i remember hearing that the 1st season. i think that answers the question. if wash breaks even @ 3200 per game, then there is no way portland isn’t profitable. and i get the mls stadium and the other overheads.

        • Arcie Tillydee

          Portland has been significantly profitable all along, and to the best of my knowledge, there is indeed some revenue sharing. No reliable details have ever been made public, to the best of my knowledge, though.

          • Lorehead

            The fact of the revenue-sharing has been confirmed. Paulson also said in a recent interview that at least the Pride and the Dash are breaking even.

        • AnonyR

          From what I’ve read multiple times, the Thorns do share part of their revenue to the other teams. There’s no doubt the Thorns makes profit since they use a lot of the same resources as the Timbers do (front office, stadium, etc.) which means they don’t spend as much as the other teams on overheads.

        • Timber Dave

          My understanding is that gate receipts (ticket sales) are shared among all NWSL teams, but other income — merchandising, ad revenue, sponsorship — is not. (Not sure where I heard this, so please correct me if you know otherwise!) Those other income streams all vary with the size of the fan base, so the Thorns have an easier road to profit than other teams.

          • Steglitz49

            I think that is true. I had also heard that Portland voluntarily shares its gate receipts with visiting teams but the other don’t. It is a Portland thing thak makes benefit for the whole NWSL.

            After all, if other teams are losing money or just breaking even, there is nothing to share.

    • obo

      A conservative back-of-the-envelope estimate suggests the Thorns gross at least $400,000 per home sellout in ticket sales. They hit 80% average capacity this season, so that means $3.25M in gross ticket sales this season.

      With no idea what their expenses are, I have no way of telling if they turned a profit. But $3.25M is at least 11x the salary cap, and doesn’t facter merchandise, concessions, academy revenue, luxury box rent, licensing, or sponsorships for income (or marketing, advertising, travel, coaching, or training facilities and staff for expenses).

  • tonysocref

    Thorns have indicated on twitter that over 18,000 tickets have already been sold for Sundays semi against the Flash.

  • AnonyR

    Gotta give a huge credit to Parsons for making this team work. Everyone knows how Paul Riley’s two year stint at Portland has gone – plenty of talent as well, but never looked as cohesive as Parson’s team this year. Everyone at the beginning of this season was skeptical about this team. Talent was never a question, but everyone was wondering if putting all that talent into one team was going to work. Well, it worked way better than anyone predicted, and a lot of credit should go to Parsons for that. He built this team, and for all the talent it has, he’s managed to make sure it doesn’t go to waste.

    What really intrigues me now is how big of a part is getting Alex Morgan out of Portland played in finally getting the chemistry in Portland right and balanced. In the 3 years she was there, yes the teams were very talented, but everyone can feel something was off – the chemistry was never quite there. An interesting article at FourFourTwo hinted that some of Portland’s problems in those 3 years might have had something to do with Alex. Now seeing what Portland has accomplished without her… it’s made me really think about that. (I’m not saying Alex is a horrible person, I don’t think she is, but locker rooms are a precarious places – power struggles/leaderships and all that)

    • DNG

      The first thing I think you should focus on is not so much moving Morgan out of the Portland XI but the haul they got back from trading her. They traded a CF for very good starters in Horan, Klingenberg and Sonnett. Their team this year is a lot more balanced than it has been in years past where it was very top heavy. The defense is also a lot stronger than it has been in the last two years.

      I think your focusing too much on the locker room impact in the last paragraph when this is really a style of play issue, at least in my opinion. Alex is not the type of center forward I would expect to be successful in this Portland offense. Her ball and possession skills just aren’t where I think they need to be. Morgan is a transition forward that thrives in space and counter heavy offenses.

      • AnonyR

        From Farley’s article:
        Morgan’s departure, however, is the elephant in the room: something Parsons can’t speak to, because he never coached her; something ex-teammates won’t speak to, out of respect for a friend and colleague. For the three years the U.S. star was in Portland, there was a strange co-alpha relationship between her and Sinclair, one rarely talked about publicly but alluded to when Morgan, after moving to Orlando, conceded that she could make Orlando her team. That preference was never publicly revealed in Portland, nor would it have been with Sinclair around.
        Read more at http://www.fourfourtwo.com/us/features/portland-thorns-nwsl-championship-contenders-mark-parsons-culture-roster-overhaul?page=0%2C1#kOKjZVQ2r3Yg27I0.99

        Anyone who follows the Thorns closely could tell something was amiss with the team. Beyond Paul Riley’s mistakes, something within the team wasn’t clicking. It even extends to CPC’s short tenure at Portland. Again, I’m not saying Morgan is a horrible person by any means, but her and Portland were just not a good match.

        • Steglitz49

          Under CPC Portland won the Championship.

          The next 2 Championships were won by KC. One thing we can be sure of: neither Seattle nor KC will win the Championship this time.

    • guest

      i await the arrival of the alex morgan gang troll brigade. she is a mega-star for a reason.