Morgan Weaver took her performance to a new level in 2022. Scoring seven goals and setting up a further three for her Portland Thorns teammates, she finished joint-eighth in the National Women’s Soccer League rankings for goals plus assists. Playing alongside league MVP winner Sophia Smith, the 25-year-old — without much hoopla — became one of the most potent forwards in American soccer. That development originated from a subtle change of position.
Drafted by the Thorns in 2020, where she was the second overall pick, Weaver’s debut season in the professional game was truncated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Her first full NWSL campaign came in 2021, where she scored once and recorded three assists. She enjoyed a key role, playing mostly in a strike partnership with Smith, and that dynamic looked set to continue into 2022.
Rhian Wilkinson’s tenure as Portland head coach began with a tactical shift, but she initially stuck with two up front, replacing the 4-4-2 diamond instituted by her predecessor Mark Parsons with a 3-5-2. After conceding a goal too many, however, Wilkinson changed things up again, to a 4-2-3-1 system. This meant Smith led the line solo, with support underneath from Weaver, Christine Sinclair and Yazmeen Ryan, or Hina Sugita.
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