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The Lowdown: Thorns reworking, Spirit retooling

Alex Morgan at 2013 NWSL Championship

Diana Matheson was Washington's best player in 2013. (Photo Copyright Amanda McCormick | www.amandamccormick8.com)

This edition of The Lowdown takes a look at the Washington Spirit and Portland Thorns FC rosters.  Both teams have been busy in recent weeks, but they could not have been farther apart on the field in 2013.

No recent player moves other than the Spirit announcing Jodie Taylor, but the Dash did name Brian Ching as managing director, putting him in charge of all club operations.

Washington Spirit

GK:  Ashlyn Harris, Chantel Jones

OUTLOOK:  In order for this tandem to be better, Harris has to be better.  The good news is she’s definitely capable of doing so and Jones played well in limited time last season.

D:  Marissa Abegg, Candace Chapman, Robyn Gayle, Ali Krieger, Tony Pressley, Kika Toulouse

OUTLOOK:  If the goalkeeping was subpar in 2013 the back line did not give them much help.  Chapman, Gayle, and Toulouse were injured for large parts of the season and Abegg came along late to fill some holes.  Keeping healthy would be a good start, but an addition or two would be helpful.  Potential No. 1 pick Crystal Dunn would be a solid addition.

M:   Tori Huster, Lori Lindsey, Diana Matheson, Christine Nairn, Julia Roberts, Lupita Worbis

OUTLOOK:  The addition of Nairn should make this a much better unit, especially if she can find a rhythm with Matheson and Lindsey.  Midfield can still use some upgrading, though, and it’s not exactly a physical group of players at this point.

F:  Renae Cuellar, Tiffany McCarty, Caroline Miller, Stephanie Ochs, Jasmyne Spencer, Jodie Taylor, Colleen Williams

OUTLOOK:  The Spirit could not finish in 2013 and they’ll be relying on several what-ifs to work out in their favor.  If Taylor fulfills her promise to fill the goal as she has in stints in England, Sweden, and Australia; if McCarty and Miller take steps forward after disappointing rookie seasons (and injury for Miller); if Stephanie Ochs plays more like she has this offseason at Canberra than she did last summer in Washington; if the service from midfield arrives more precisely and consistently than a season ago; if Cuellar gets into a rhythm where she can show off her finishing skills.

OVERALL OUTLOOK:  The additions of Taylor and Nairn without giving much away are a good start at moving up from 2013’s last place finish.  In addition, Lindsey is no longer subsidized meaning the Spirit could get a third U.S. allocation.  That combined with the No. 1 pick should allow the club to add a few more solid pieces before the season.

Alex Morgan at 2013 NWSL Championship

Alex Morgan is half of a lethal Portland strikeforce, along with Christine Sinclair. (Photo copyright Meg Linehan for The Equalizer)

Portland Thorns FC

GK:  Adelaide Gay, Karina LeBlanc

OUTLOOK:  LeBlanc was nothing short of huge in 2013, often acting as the Thorns’ best player during the heart of their mid-season struggles.  Gay never played, getting passed over for amateur Cris Lewis the one time LeBlanc was unavailable.  An upgrade at the backup spot seems likely.

D:  Rachel Buehler, Tina Ellertson, Nikki Marshall, Rebecca Moros, Emilee O’Neil, Casey Ramirez, Kathryn Williamson

OUTLOOK:  Solid group was down two outside backs when Marshall was claimed off waivers and Marian Dougherty retired.  But two trades—one for Moros and another for the return of Marshall—have re-affirmed this as one of the top defensive units in NWSL.  Ellertson adds depth.

M:  Amber Brooks (still unofficial, officially), Becky Edwards, Libby Guess, Tobin Heath, Angie Kerr, Allie Long, Meleana Shim, Nikki Washington

OUTLOOK:  This will be the most scrutinized unit in the league come April, and figures to be the area of the field most positively affected by Paul Riley.  There are questions, though.  Edwards is coming off ACL surgery and had not yet clicked with Long at the time of her injury.  Heath won’t arrive until at least June.  Brooks can help the team play wider.

F:  Alex Morgan, Jessica McDonald, Christine Sinclair, Tiffany Weimer, Courtney Wetzel

OUTLOOK:  Morgan and Sinclair had 8 goals each in 2013 and it can be argued that both had down years.  Not too many worries here.

OVERALL OUTLOOK:  This is a solid team that overcame some uninspiring play to finish with the same number of points as the league leaders and then won two road games in the playoffs to claim the championship.  Riley is likely to bring more free-flowing soccer than his predecessor, Cindy Parlow Cone.  Riley will also work his players hard.  The ticket to a repeat could rest in how well and how quickly he gets through to the team.

[MORE: Why Paul Riley is the right coach to guide Portland Thorns FC]

UP NEXT:  Kansas City, Breakers

MORE TEAM LOOK-INS: Western New York, Seattle

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