Don’t disturb the players and staff of Portland Thorns FC too often. They’re cramming for a big test.
The top-level women’s soccer club, which includes Olympic gold medalists and players who have competed in Women’s World Cup finals, has just a four-week preseason before it begins its defense of the National Women’s Soccer League title.
To help them get ready for the 24-match NWSL season, the Thorns have come to Tucson for a week. They play the Arizona Wildcats tonight at 7 at Kino Sports Complex North Stadium. Portland will also face Arizona State on Sunday at North Stadium at 2 p.m., before returning to the Northwest.
“We need these games,” first-year coach Paul Riley said Tuesday after the team’s first practice at Kino Sports Complex. “You can’t do anything without games. We’ve had a few games canceled. These games (in Tucson) are really important to us. So we’re not going to hold anything back. We’re going to go with a lineup we normally go with on game day.”
The Thorns have played just two games — Portland State University (a win) and the Portland Timbers Under-16 boys team (a loss) — since training camp opened March 10 in Portland.
“I don’t think four weeks is long enough for preseason, and I don’t think four games is going to be enough,” said Riley, whose team opens the regular season April 12 at the expansion Houston Dash. “In the end of the day we need six weeks and probably six to eight games.”
They’ll just have to make do. Fortunately, there’s a new acquisition that will no doubt help the Thorns get over the hump.
One of the 10 new faces joining the team is German goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, a member of the 2003 and 2007 World Cup-winning teams. The 35-year-old, who was named 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year, was most recently playing professionally in Australia.
Two well-known names, U.S. star forward Alex Morgan and Canadian legend Christine Sinclair, are returning up front.
Sinclair, who has 200 appearances and 147 goals for her national team, will be taking the field this weekend, but Morgan is still trying to overcome an ankle injury.
Morgan will “be here for the weekend,” Riley said. “But she’s nowhere near ready to play. We don’t have a timetable on that. I don’t think we’d see her before Memorial Day weekend.”
In addition to coping with a short preseason time frame, the incorporation of new talent and the loss of Morgan, the Thorns are learning a more offensive-minded style of play that Riley is instilling.
“We’re not about formations, I think it’s more of a philosophy,” said Riley, who puts his team through two-a-days, a rarity in the league. “That’s the most important thing we get out of the week — whatever we play or whatever formations we stick to — it doesn’t matter as long as we all play the same way and attack.”
The Thorns will be hoping the cramming in March will lead to the lifting of the championship trophy in August.
- Three Thorns players will participate in a Ben’s Bells event today at 3:30 p.m. at Ben’s Bells Main Gate, 816 E. University Blvd. The players, along with members of FC Tucson’s staff, will help make Ben’s Bells. The event is open to the public.