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NWSL Championship: Portland Thorns FC notebook

Christine Sinclair’s move back to midfield was one of a few key moments in the 2017 Thorns season. (Photo Copyright Patricia Giobetti for The Equalizer)

Here are some news, notes, and tidbits from Portland Thorns FC media day ahead of Saturday’s NWSL Championship.

The forgotten one on the forgotten unit

Thursday’s announcement of the Bext XI team that included Thorns keeper Adrianna Franch but none of the defenders that play in front of her brought much consternation among fans in the Rose City. How could the defense that allowed the fewest goals of any NWSL team not place a single defender on the league’s Best XI?

Deeper than that, the defender talked about least of all may have been the key piece that solidified the Thorns back line as the best in the league. Katherine Reynolds tore the adductor of its bone early in preseason and did not play for the club until July 22.

“I was contemplating getting surgery,” Reynolds said. “I was just hoping that it would eventually heel on its own and it did.”

Reynolds first played July 22 against the Washington Spirit. At the time the Thorns were 6-4-4. They finished up 8-1-1 and then vanquished the Pride in last weekend’s semifinal.

“She came back and she just put her stamp on that back line,” Thorns captain Christine Sinclair said. “When she got hurt in preseason it was a blow. She’s one of those players that nobody beats one-v-one. She’s just so consistent game in, game out, practice in, practice out.”

Reynolds said she is looking forward to some rest after Saturday’s match but that surgery is not in her future. She also won’t venture overseas to play during the NWSL offseason.

“It was just a long, four months of physical therapy and watching from the sidelines,” Reynolds offered. “It gives a player a different perspective which you can learn a lot that way. You maybe don’t really appreciate it at the time. I’m just glad I was able to be back to be part of this amazing team.”

“She’s quite possibly,” Sinclair said, “the most underrated defender in the league. And it’s sad because like you said nobody talks about her.”

The deeper version of Christine Sinclair

Another change this season was when the Thorns dropped Christine Sinclair back to a more withdrawn position. The switch gave Sinclair more freedom to roam and more space in which to orchestrate for her teammates.

“Our team started off strong,” Sinclair said. “Sort of that middle part of the season when we went through that like month or so where we didn’t win any games (the Thorns drew straight in a 1-0-3 May and later endured a 1-3-1 stretch in June-July that included losses to Sky Blue and the Spirit), I don’t think I did enough personally to help the team.

“Sometimes as an out and out 9, especially the way we were playing early this season, you get isolated. You rely on the team to get you the ball. I think, my game has evolved to where I want to be more involved. I want to have more impact on the game.”

During Friday’s media availability, Thorns coach Mark Parsons made sure to mention that the Thorns have the ability to play multiple shapes. Whatever they choose on Saturday, Sinclair in the attacking midfield/withdrawn forward role is a virtual certainty.

“The change in formation has allowed me to drop back into an attacking midfield role. It kept me in the box to score goals but at the same time have more of an impact on the game.”

Sinclair said she and Parsons have discussed dropping her back since he arrived /at the team about two years ago. Canada coach John Herdman has also been involved in the discussions per Sinclair.

Unfinished business—especially for some

The Thorns mantra this season has been “unfinished business.” That is a reference to just how close they were last season and the stinging loss to the Flash that ended the season. But for two players, the burden has been on their shoulders since 2013.

When the Thorns won their first NWSL Championship in the league’s inaugural season, Adrianna Franch and Katherine Reynolds both started the game—for the Western New York Flash. Four years later they are both back in the final match.

“We talk about it a little bit,” Franch said. “We’re excited about this year and the fact I get to play against Sinc and Tobin (Heath) every day, I’d rather have them score on me in training then in a game. Hopefully they do what they did to me in the Championship to the other goalkeeper.”

It was Sinclair and Heath who scored in the 2013 NWSL Championship to guide the Thorns home.

“Of course losing in a championship is super disappointing,” Reynolds said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to win a championship at this level. I’m just thankful I get another opportunity.”

If you’re wondering how well they remember the match, here is what Franch said when I asked her about Heath’s free kick goal that staked the Thorns to the early lead.

“It went right on the outside past Abby Wambach’s head and went into the upper 90 with me going o my right. And yeah, it was a little bit of a rocket and I found myself saying hi to the post. I put all my effort into it.”

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