Portland Thorns’ season kicks off with season opener

In the 2013 inaugural season of the National Women’s Soccer League, the Portland Thorns finished the regular season with a (11-6-5, 38 pts) record to finish tied for first. Led by head coach Cindy Parlow Cone, they headed into the playoffs needing to win two games for the Championship. They finished as the third seed due to goal differential.

As a third seed they went on the road to face second-seeded FC Kansas City in a dramatic game that saw Allie Long net the game winner in extra time. The 103rd-minute goal sent the Thorns into the NWSL championship match against Abby Wambach and the first-seeded Western New York Flash. In the 40th minute Tobin Heath broke the scoreless tie with a scorcher off a free kick to give the Thorns a 1-0 lead at the half. Alex Morgan then found Christine Sinclair in extra time to give Portland a 2-0 lead to close out the game. Heading into 2014 they were expected to be contenders once again.

The NWSL’s second season in 2014 saw the Portland Thorns finish the regular season with a (10-8-6, 36 pts) to finish third behind the Seattle Reign and FC Kansas city, respectively. New head coach Paul Riley needed to do what Cone did the previous year en route to the inaugural NWSL championship. The Washington Spirit won a tiebreaker over the Chicago Red Stars to become the fourth seed in the playoffs. For the second year in a row they faced FC Kansas City in the semi-finals. They would end their season as the home team went on to the finals with a 2-0 win over the Thorns. FC Kansas City upset the Seattle Reign in the NWSL finals on the road to become the defending champions heading into 2015.

In order to dethrone FC Kansas City and Seattle Reign, the Portland Thorns needed to improve their team in the offseason. Portland traded for Midfielder McCall Zerboni and former Thorn Kathryn Williamson from the New York Flash on November 6, 2014. In January during the NWSL Draft they traded for English forward and former Oregon State Beaver Jodie Taylor of the Washington Spirit. In the same draft they also snagged defender Kendall Johnson from Sky Blue FC, a Portland native who was a standout for Lincoln High School and the University of Portland.

In the annual allocation process, Portland added midfielder Kaylyn Kyle and defender Rhian Wilkinson. On January 26 Portland signed Sarah Robbins, who played in 2014 Finnish club Åland United in 14 matches, finishing with three goals and seven assists. The Thorns signed Equatorial Guinea International Forward Genoveva (Ayo) Añonma in February—she’ll join the club in May after her season with German Frauen Bundesliga club Turbine Potsdam. She is the 10th highest scorer all time in the league. Añonma was also named the African Women’s Footballer of the year in 2012. Her signing is an important one as she will arrive when the internationals leave to represent their countries.

In 2015 all eyes are on the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Canada. The Portland Thorns have plenty of world class talent on their team who will be playing. This includes Alex Morgan, Tobin Health and Rachel Van Hollebeke (United States); Christine Sinclair, Rhian Wilkinson and Kaylyn Kyle (Canada); and Steph Catley (Australia), Jodie Taylor (England), and Nadine Angerer (Germany).
These nine players will represent their countries in the World Cup, respectively. The NWSL will take a two-week break for the World Cup. Second-year head coach Paul Riley will have to adjust the team during that time. Until then, those players will be back with Portland for 3-4 games before they head off.

A bright dawn for 2015

In the season opener, the Portland Thorns were led by the best supporter group in the NWSL, The Rose City Riveters, who brought their energy throughout the entire game. In this match against the Boston Breakers, the Providence Park crowd of 13,386 was too much for the away team.

The Thorns were without the services of Christine Sinclair, Rhian Wilkinson and Steph Catley. Michelle Betos would start in goal for Nadine Angerer. In defense, the Thorns reunited the pairing of Williamson and Van Hollebeke. Emily Menges started alongside the duo to complete the backline. At defensive midfield, Portland had Zerboni and Sinead Farrelly. On the wings there was Johnson and Heath. Serving as attacking midfielder was Allie Long. Alex Morgan served as the lone forward to complete the Portland Thorns starting 11. The Breakers were led by U.S. International Kristie Mewis and Brazilian Internationals Rafinha and Bia.

As the players walked onto the field you could hear the chant of “PT! FC!” loud and clear until the national anthem was sung when the crowd waved their scarves in unison. The Rose City Riveters welcomed everyone in with a banner that read “Welcome to PDX” on the iconic PDX Carpet. The Instagram photo banner with all of the players’ countries represented showed how global the team is.

In the 20th minute, Long almost put Portland ahead when Morgan found her to her left—the shot nearly went in, but the Breakers cleared it for a Thorns corner kick. The chanting paid off in the 21st minute off a Long corner kick where Williamson flicked with a header to the back post where Farrelly knocked it home for a 1-0 lead. Betos made two diving stops in the 23rd minute to preserve the lead. In the 28th minute, Kendall Johnson found Shim unmarked with a low cross into the box than calmly put it away for a 2-0 Thorns lead going into the half. Boston responded in the 63rd minute when Katie Schoepfer found Rookie forward Stephanie McCaffrey, who fired a shot far post for a finish that put the Breakers back in the game at 1-2. The crowd reignited when the Shim and Long show put on goals in the 71st and 72nd minutes. Shim found Long with a chip pass where she showed great control to finish top shelf for the 3-1 lead. Once again, Shim provided the assist when she delivered a perfect through ball to Long who slotted it in the side netting for the final 4-1 lead.

We saw the debut of new Thorns Taylor (75th minute for Morgan) and Robbins (88th minute for Long). Courtney Niemiec made her 2015 Thorns debut (87th minute for Shim) which was her first appearance after starting the first 10 games before being put on the disabled list.
The opening night win put the Portland Thorns undefeated through the first game of the 20-game season. The atmosphere was electric with the Rose City Riveters leading the way. The home team had 23 total shots (9 on goal) to the away team’s 9 total shots (7 on goal). Shim finished with a goal and two assists, Long finished with a brace, and Farrelly had a goal to lead the Thorns to their opening night win.

The Portland Thorns face Sydney Leroux and the Western New York Flash next Saturday April 18 at 4 p.m. hoping to preserve their unblemished record.