Thorns FC, however, had trouble finding that perspective upon returning to Portland this week. Their own expectations may not have matched the massive hype they carried into the season, but Cindy Parlow Cone’s team had still set very high standards, a quality that failed to present itself during their season opener.
“At times I think we did okay, but overall, I don’t think any of (the players) are happy with how they performed,” Parlow Cone said mid-week, “and neither are we, as coaches.”
The most glaring problems were in midfield, where a Kansas City team buttressed by Desiree Scott destroyed any buildup Portland tried through the middle of the park. For a team that’s stressed movement and linkup play throughout preseason, Portland looked stoic. Nicole Barnhart’s biggest tests were reading balls that came from wide of FCKC’s holding midfielders.
“I felt like we were on our heels a lot,” was Alex Morgan’s read on the game. “Kansas City came out ready to play. I think that we were a little unorganized a lot of the time. That didn’t give me and Christine (Sinclair) too many opportunities to do much with the ball.”
It was a lack of cohesion – the midfield’s poor play combined with a lack of familiarity with their strikers. Like every other team, Portland can blame a preseason where national team callups fractured an already truncated schedule, but with a top-heavy roster dependent on national team talent, Thorns FC may have been poorly positioned to meet those challenges.
“There was no question going into the first game, we knew there were going to be question marks,” Parlow Cone explained. “We knew there was going to be some miscommunication, a little bit of disorganization because you haven’t played together. We had one full training session with the entire team the entire preseason before that first game.”
One full session sounds like an exaggeration, but Alex Morgan was given extra time to meet commercial commitments after U.S. internationals returned from the Algarve Cup. She didn’t join the team until four days after Rachel Buehler reported. In addition, Parlow Cone has elected to have light sessions or off days when stars return from international duty, choosing to rest players rather than fast-forward the gelling process.
Thorns FC also played the fewest preseason matches of any team in the league: One, against the University of Portland, a game that took place on the Saturday between the U.S.’s Germany and Netherlands friendlies.
“That first half against Kansas City was literally the first time our whole team had played a game together,” Christine Sinclair explained. “The second half was a lot better. We changed a few things, tactically, and it sort of changed the flow of the game. Hopefully we can continue to improve and get better for our home opener.”
Unfortunately for that home opener, Seattle presents some of the same problems. With Kaylyn Kyle and Keelin Winters, Reign FC have two quality holders to break up play where Sinclair likes to operate. Jessica Fishlock’s work rate will see her collapse into that space as well as help disrupt Becky Edwards’ distribution at the base of Porltand’s midfield. While Kansas City’s defense was stalwart, holding their positions well, Seattle’s energy is unlikely to give Portland as much time on the ball.
“They’re a very good team,“ was Parlow Cone’s assessment for Portland’s Northwest rival. “They’re very similar to Kansas City in that they’re strong all over the field. They’re strong in the back line. They’re very organized. They have great players in the midfield.”
That puts the impetus on Portland. With a full week’s training, Thorns FC will expect more from a midfield that failed to create a good chance for either Morgan or Sinclair.
Seattle’s strength through the middle won’t do Portland any favors, but early into this week’s sessions, Morgan was already seeing improvement:
“Tactically we’re a lot more on the same page: with our pressure defensively; with our goals; what we want, our keys to the game; how we want to play; when we want to press; who that voice is going to come from on the field.”
Off the field, that voice was loud and clear throughout week. As Parlow Cone so bluntly put it, “I think we can improve on everything.”
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