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All eyes on Portland this week as big moves loom

Nikki Marshall is headed back to Portland in a trade with Seattle. She was waived by the Thorns a week after winning the championship with them. (Photo Copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Most of the offseason NWSL activity has come from the Pacific Northwest due to Seattle Reign FC’s rebuild, but the Reign’s neighbors to the south are set for a big week.

Cindy Parlow Cone stepped down from her head coaching post last Thursday and the Thorns will name a new coach this week, which The Equalizer has learned is expected to be former Philadelphia Independence head coach Paul Riley.

Sources also confirm that fullback Nikki Marshall is headed back to Portland to bring her full circle in a (figuratively) well-traveled offseason. Marshall started all 24 games, including the playoffs, for the 2013 NWSL champion Thorns, but was waived after the season in a surprising roster move that bot Marshall and the Thorns insisted ended on good terms.

Marshall was then claimed on waivers by the Washington Spirit but suggested that she may move on to life after soccer. Seattle still took a chance on her, getting Marshall in a multi-player deal that sent Mexican international Renae Cuellar to Washington. Rights to Alina Garciamendez, a talented Mexican center back who currently plays for Frankfurt, were sent to Seattle as well.

Now Marshall makes her way back to Portland for what sources say is the Thorns’ 1st round pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft being sent to Seattle. That would currently be the No. 6 overall selection in the draft — a deep draft that could include players already in the U.S. women’s national team pool, depending on how allocations work out.

Marshall’s return to Portland also comes just a week after Cone’s departure, though it seems the trade has been in the works for some time. UPDATE: Marshall will have a reduced cap number this year under a new contract.

And that won’t be the end of Portland’s moves. Thorns owner Merritt Paulson revealed in a Monday Twitter Q&A that two players are set to be announced this week, including a “big USA player who has been (playing) abroad”:

The Thorns drafted ex-UNC defensive midfielder Amber Brooks in 2013 despite knowing Brooks was playing in Germany for Bayern Munich, but Brooks looks set to return home as she works her way into the United States picture ahead of the 2015 World Cup.

And “coach likes an international player a lot”? Spanish maestro Veronica Boquete worked wonders for Riley in Philadelphia in 2011, winning league MVP. There are few – if any – players of which Riley speaks higher. Vero currently plays for Swedish power Tyresö FF.

Another interesting nugget that came from Paulson’s Q&A chat: He estimates that there could be four MLS teams in the NWSL by the end of 2015. That’s encouraging and comes at a time when the Houston Dynamo are close to securing a women’s team for 2014.

And yes, this week kicked off with Thorns star Alex Morgan announcing her engagement to Dynamo midfielder and longtime boyfriend Servando Carrasco, but please, save the Morgan-to-Houston speculation (for now). There’s just nothing to suggest it is at all legitimate or worth entertaining.

This week, all eyes are on the champions in the Rose City.

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