Team Name: Portland Thorns FC
Head Coach: Mark Parsons
Last Year’s Finish: 11-6-7, 3rd overall (lost in semifinals to Chicago)
The powerhouse Thorns FC once again made the NWSL Playoffs, powered to a third-place finish through a breakout season from striker Midge Purce. In a bid to participate in their third straight NWSL Championship, Portland went on the road to face the in-form Chicago Red Stars in the league semifinal. An eighth minute goal from Sam Kerr sunk the Thorns, lifting the Red Stars to their first final in the team’s NWSL history.
Key Players In: Sophia Smith, Becky Sauerbrunn, Raquel Rodriguez
Key Players Out: Emily Sonnett, Midge Purce, Caitlin Foord, Tobin Heath (DNP), Adrianna Franch (INJ)
Player to Watch: Morgan Weaver (FWD)
WASHINGTON STATE STRIKES FIRST! 💥
— NCAA Soccer (@NCAASoccer) December 7, 2019
With the exits of Foord, Purce, and Raso providing a backdrop to Tobin Heath’s absence this tournament, the biggest question for Mark Parsons this Challenge Cup will certainly be the building of an attack that is missing half of the club’s 40 goals scored last season.
Unfortunately first overall draft pick Sophia Smith will miss the Thorns opening match tomorrow with a knee injury, so all eyes are on second overall pick Morgan Weaver to step up in her absence. The Washington State alum netted 28 goals in her final two college seasons, and her adjustment to the professional game will be key for the Thorns as a young striker core looks to support Christine Sinclair in the attack.
Challenge Cup Outlook: As Parsons himself has stated this is a new era for the Thorns, who have prioritized getting younger and building for long-term success. Gone are many of the Thorns high-level international stars, but they still return many of their top talent from last season – Sinclair, Horan, and Menges to name a few. Raquel Rodriguez and Becky Sauerbrunn will provide fresh experience and technical quality in the midfield and defense, but the aforementioned question of goals still remains. Whether the Thorns are a contender this season or will have to wait until 2021 to dethrone the Courage will depend heavily on how quickly Smith and Weaver can succeed at the professional level.