Thorns FC kick off new women's soccer league

Portland team opens at Kansas City

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

DID YOU KNOW?

Watch/listen: All Thorns FC games will be streamed live on portlandthornsfc.com. Only home games will be carried on AM 970 radio. Currently, no games are scheduled for TV, though that could change.

Home opener: The first home match for Thorns FC is at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 21 against Seattle. Home matches will be at Jeld-Wen Field.

Player salaries: According to NWSL Executive Director Cheryl Bailey, pay ranges from $6,000 to $30,000 for the five-month season for players who are not under national team contracts paid by the U.S. Soccer Federation or their Canadian and Mexican counterparts.

Thorns FC Roster

11 Jazmyne Avant, D

16 Rachel Buehler, D

2 Marian Dougherty, D

14 Becky Edwards, M

9 Danielle Foxhoven, F

23 Adelaide Gay, GK

8 Angie Kerr, M

1 Karina LeBlanc, GK

10 Allie Long, M

7 Nikki Marshall, D

13 Alex Morgan, F

4 Emilee O’Neil, M

6 Meleana Shim, M

18 Jessica Shufelt, F

12 Christine Sinclair, F

21 Nikki Washington, F

20 Courtney Wetzel, M

5 Kathryn Williamson, D

x - Tobin Heath

x — Currently with Paris Saint-Germain, Heath is expected to join Thorns FC this summer.

Head coach: Cindy Parlow Cone.

Assistant coaches: John Galas, Nate Berry (fitness/goalkeepers).

PORTLAND — When the Portland Thorns FC and FC Kansas City Blues get together on Saturday evening in Overland Park, Kan., it will be the debut of the newest attempt to make professional women's soccer work in the United States.

In addition to introducing a new product to American soccer fans, the first game in National Women's Soccer League history will be a getting-to-know-you experience for the participants.

Though the teams have been training for weeks, Thursday was the first time Thorns FC coach Cindy Parlow Cone had her entire squad together for a practice. Because of national team commitments many of the big-name players — including Portland's Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair and Rachel Buehler — have spent a week or less with their NWSL teams.

"We've only been together for a handful of practices as a team. There's going to be some miscommunication," Sinclair said. "Some things are going to go so wrong it's not even funny."

Much went wrong with two recent attempts at establishing women's pro soccer in the United States. The Women's United Soccer Association (2001-2003) and Women's Pro Soccer (2009-2011) both folded when revenue failed to meet costs.

Portland didn't have a team in either of those leagues. It has the look of a flagship operation in the NWSL.

Of the eight teams in the new league, Thorns FC is the only one owned by a Major League Soccer owner. With more than 7,000 season tickets reportedly sold, Portland — which plays its first home game at Jeld-Wen Field on April 21 against Seattle — figures to draw up to 10 times as many fans as other teams.

It doesn't hurt that the Thorns FC roster includes two of the best known players in the world.

Sinclair is one of the top strikers in the history of women's soccer. The 29-year-old ranks third all-time with 145 international goals for Canada, is the career scoring leader at the University of Portland where she helped the Pilots win national championships in 2002 and 2005.

"My goal here is to help the Thorns be a successful team, and also help the league survive and keep it around for future generations," Sinclair said.

Morgan, 23, is one of the best young players in the world. In 2012, she had 28 goals and 21 assists in 31 games for the U.S. women's national team. Only Mia Hamm has also had 20 or more goals and assists in the same calendar year.

In addition to pairing two of the top goal scorers in the world, Portland has one of the better defenders from the U.S. national team in Buehler. The 27-year-old became a regular starter for the national team in 2010 and has made more than 100 international appearances.

Also bringing experience to the defense is 33-year-old goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc, who has made more than 100 appearances for Canada.

The other national team player on the roster, U.S. midfielder Tobin Heath, is currently with Paris Saint-Germain and is expected to join Thorns FC this summer.

Other Thorns FC players who have appeared for the U.S. national team are midfielder Angie Kerr and defender Marian Dougherty. Midfielders Allie Long and Becky Edwards, defender Nikki Marshall and forward Nikki Washington all have under-23 national team experience.

One player not involved is Vancouver resident Tina Ellertson. The former national team defender was drafted by Thorns FC but did not agree to a contract. Ellertson could not be reached to comment for this story.

Parlow Cone said that despite the short time frame for building a roster, she is pleased with how together her team seems to be heading into the opener. And the coach who played 158 games and scored 75 goals for the U.S. women's national team expects to see a highly-competitive brand of soccer.

"With only eight teams in the league, it's really tough to make a roster, so everyone on every roster is a good player," Parlow Cone said.

One player who is excited to have a club team to play for is Morgan, who spent much of the past two years globe-trotting with the national team.

"It's been a very busy schedule. I'm hoping with Portland Thorns being able to settle in and have a place to live here is going to ease (things for) me a little bit," Morgan said. "Having a home, having a city, being proud to put on that Thorns jersey — it's great to have that feeling."

GAME NOTES

• FC Kansas City featured U.S. national team forward Lauren Cheney and defender Becky Sauerbrunn. Others to watch include Canadian midfielder Desiree Scott and Mexican national team forward Renae Cuellar, who scored five times in an 8-0 preseason win over the University of Nebraska last Saturday.

• Portland's jersey sponsor is Providence Health Care. In a stark contrast, FC Kansas City jersey's sport the name of a local boxing club.

• Shawnee Mission District Stadium in Overland Park, Kan. is a high school football stadium with artificial turf that seats 6,150 and is the third largest venue in the league.

• The other six NWSL teams kick off the season on Sunday.