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Riley lauds Thorns’ midfield after dominant victory

Portland Thorns FC coach Paul Riley sang praises of his midfielders following his team’s 4-1 season-opening victory over the Boston Breakers on Saturday.

All four Portland goals were scored by midfielders — of which there were six in Riley’s unorthodox 3-4-2-1 formation — and those who didn’t get on the scoresheet were also influential.

“As we said in preseason about Mana [Shim], she came in great shape and looks like a different player from last year,” Riley said. “Her and Allie [Long] have a great chemistry together as you saw tonight and the goals were coming from that environment. I thought Alex linked really well with them tonight whereas maybe last year there wasn’t that much linkage. I thought the three of them looked really good together and they got around each other. McCall [Zerboni] was brilliant in the midfield. McCall and Sinead [Farrelly] ran the midfield. They picked off a lot of balls. I thought McCall probably was the best player on the field to be honest with you, she ran the show. It’s good to see the group that’s going to be with us playing really well.”

Zerboni’s presence in the midfield is exactly what the Thorns have needed. Paul Riley said he brought the veteran midfielder to Portland to bring a bite and a fight to the midfield, and postgame –just like in preseason — he said that the reward is more freedom for Long and Shim higher up the field. Long and Shim combined in style on Saturday.

Farrelly opened the scoring in the first half before Shim doubled the lead before halftime. Shim beautifully assisted both of Long’s goals in the second half.

“Paul does these passing patterns in training every day, and so for two years straight we’ve been doing these passing patterns,” Long said. “Right after the first goal, we both were laughing, and were like ‘that was a patented play out of Paul’s book.’ I dummied it, and she chipped it back to me, and it was a goal. That’s something I know he’s probably so happy about because finally what we do in practice came to the field so it was really good to see. It was fun, too.”

Shim said she is confident this season with the support of Riley and her teammates.

“It means a lot. I think it’s exciting that my teammates and coaches believe in me this season,” Shim said. “I think they did last year as well, but I feel like I’m in a much better place. Preparation was different this year. I thought I had a good preseason and I’m just excited about where I am.”

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