Who’s Afraid of the Big, Bad Thorns?
Late last October, a mighty chorus of little girls in #13 jerseys cried out across Portland, when the Thorns sent Alex Morgan—probably the most recognizable player in women’s soccer—to the NWSL’s newest expansion club, the Orlando Pride. That put the Pride, which also acquired forward Lianne Sanderson and midfielder Kaylyn Kyle from Portland, in a pretty enviable position going into its inaugural season. Beyond pure roster strength, the attendance bump provided by a superstar like Morgan could be substantial—which, though Portlanders sometimes forget it, is an important factor for NWSL teams anywhere else in the country.
For the Thorns, coming off a bleak 2015 run that saw the team fail to make the playoffs, the trade was the kind of deal that feels like a slick grift more than anything else. In letting go of Morgan, the club traded a good but, of late, underperforming player—she started just three games in 2015—for an almost embarrassingly talented list of new hires. Here are a few of the reasons why the rest of the league should be cowering in fear—and why you should be watching this season:
1. A beefed-up back line
Portland’s hard-working, perennially dependable midfielder Tobin Heath will be joined this season by three USWNT teammates. Two of them—Meghan Klingenberg, acquired from the Houston Dash as part of the Morgan trade, and Emily Sonnett, this year’s No.1 overall college draft pick—are defenders, which is a good thing given that defense has been the team’s weak point.
Klingenberg is a national team fixture these days, having started every match in last year’s World Cup. Sonnett, meanwhile, has been a commanding presence at UVA, where she gained a reputation as a center back who can lead from behind.
2. Lindsay Horan
Up front, recent USWNT call-up Lindsey Horan will add some fuel to the offensive fire. After graduating from high school in Colorado, the 21-year-old opted to skip college and go straight to the pros, signing with French club Paris Saint-Germain in 2012. Horan arrived back in the states in time for the 2016 Olympics; Americans who don’t play in the NWSL are ineligible for the national team. The Thorns, following a bit of horse-trading, were able to acquire her because of Morgan’s departure. Horan was a beast at PSG, with 54 goals in 76 appearances, and she’s notched two goals with the national team since her first call-up late last year.
3. Fresh international talent
Former Florida State standout Dagny Brynjarsdottir, who hails from fantastically named Hella, Iceland, comes to Portland this season via the Boston Breakers. Brynjarsdottir started her professional career in 2015 with Bayern Munich, the 2014-15 Frauen Bundesliga champions. She’s joined by Danish international Nadia Nadim, who was an offensive leader for Sky Blue FC last year. Nadim’s biography is just as noteworthy as her soccer career: the 28-year-old forward was born in Kabul, Afghanistan, where she lived until age 12, when her father was killed by the Taliban. Her family fled the country and wound up in Denmark, where was called up to the national team in 2009.
4. Amandine Henry
The Thorns’ scariest new weapon has to be French midfielder Amandine Henry, who will join the club early this summer after she wraps up her contract with Olympic Lyon in France’s Division 1 Féminine. Widely considered the best defensive midfielder in the game, Henry was named one of the best 11 players in the world earlier this year, and won the Silver Ball at the World Cup (awarded to the tournament’s second best player), despite France being eliminated in the quarter-finals. This is a huge signing both for Portland—because, duh—and for the NWSL itself, which has struggled to lure top European players to the states.
5. An energetic new coach
Mark Parsons, an endearing Brit with the can-do positivity of a Labrador retriever, comes to the Thorns from the Washington Spirit. Parsons turned the Spirit around after their dead-last finish in 2013, leading them to two respectable playoff runs in his two seasons there. With that record, league opponents should shudder to think what he might be able to do with Portland’s ridiculously stacked roster.
Any one of this season’s new signings would be cause for excitement; the fact that the Thorns got all of them is, frankly, ridiculous. If anybody was in the dumps about Alex Morgan’s departure this fall, they won’t be missing her much longer.
The Thorns’ preseason tournament kicks off 5 pm Sunday, March 27 against Seattle, and the regular season opens April 17 against—who else?—Morgan’s new club, the Orlando Pride. Check out the full schedule here.