The Boston Breakers open their season against Portland Thorns away at Providence Park. Everything is up in the air at the moment, with all NWSL teams emerging from preseason with a number of question marks and unknowns. Jeremiah Braeback at Stumptown Footy answered a few questions about the Thorns to help fill in some of those unknowns and give us an idea of what they might look like as they face Boston.
TBM: Paul Riley famously said last season that if the opponent scored five goals, Portland would just score six goals. With Sinclair, Taylor, Morgan, and Añonma all out at one point or another, that doesn't seem like a viable strategy anymore, at least not for the entire season. Who do you think will carry the scoring load while national team players are on World Cup duty?
Jeremiah: Riley seemed to find himself pretty humbled early in the season, especially when the offense didn't click early in the season, where Allie Long and Jess McDonald carried the Thorns' offense for much of the early, with Christine Sinclair not finding the back of the net until the 4-1 loss to the Breakers, while Alex Morgan didn't return from injury until June 8 and Tobin Heath didn't even arrive until July, then found herself injured down the stretch, so the Thorns rarely found their full complement of offensive players on the pitch at the same time.
Allie Long seems poised to once again lead the Thorns' offense, especially when all the internationals are away for the World Cup, while McCall Zerboni and Kendall Johnson have also looked particularly dangerous. Luckily for the Thorns, it appears that players will be leaving in waves, so while Morgan and Sinclair will leave in early May, the Thorns should still have Taylor through their first match in May, while Añonma finishes her season in Germany on May 10, so it is possible that she could be with the Thorns when they meet the Breakers again on May 16, but it would probably be a stretch.
TBM: You won't just be losing forwards; Tobin Heath, Rhian Wilkinson, Kaylyn Kyle, Nadine Angerer, and Steph Catley will all probably be gone too during the World Cup, and maybe Rachel van Hollebeke as well. How deep do you see the Thorns reserve bench going? Are there any amateur players whose names we'll know a lot better by the end of the World Cup?
Jeremiah: The Thorns and their fans breathed a sigh of relief when it began to appear that Long was falling out of the picture with the USWNT. They are still probably the team that will be hit the hardest with international call-ups, as they stand to lose 9 players, with Catley not joining the Thorns until after the World Cup.
With this in mind, the Thorns went out and solved some of their more pressing issues with players who will be around all season. Emily Menges and Kat Williamson have looked like a particularly strong partnership in the back, while Sarah Robbins is a true holding midfielder that the Thorns have been lacking since Becky Edwards was injured mid-season in 2013.
While no longer an amateur player, Hanna Terry has only seen a few minutes of action with the Thorns last season, and that was during her time as an amateur player. Kelsey Haycook and Taylor Comeau looked particularly strong in the attack, and each logged multiple goals in the preseason. The mystery for the Thorns is where do these players play until they are needed. Unlike the Breakers, the Thorns do not have a formal reserve side, though there are a couple WPSL sides, and while there has been talk of a Thorns reserves side, nothing has been formally announced by the team, and the Thorns announced this afternoon that Comeau, Haycook, and Sarah Jackson have all been called in for the match.
TBM: The Thorns midfield looks like it'll be fairly stable throughout the summer. Are you expecting team leadership to generate from that core of players, particularly Long and Zerboni?
Jeremiah: The leadership for the Thorns will likely come through the center of the pitch, as Matt outlined his article "Strong Spine Will Benefit Portland Thorns in 2015."
The central core of Emily Menges, Sarah Robbins, Kat Williamson, and McCall Zerboni will be the strength of the Thorns throughout the season. While there will be many call ups, especially at midfield and forward, the defense remains stable in the center, which will allow the revolving door of attackers to play with the knowledge that the players behind them are all on the same page. This will be especially beneficial for Allie Long, who, while dangerous even with defensive responsibilities, can play freely and be even more dangerous regardless of the position she is put.
Thanks to Jeremiah for his answers. You can check out my answers to his questions about the Breakers over at Stumptown Footy.