Thorns look to improve at home

By Paul Danzer, Columbian community sports reporter

Published:

 

PORTLAND — The Portland Thorns have played seven National Women's Soccer League games since last they hosted a game in Providence Park.

Plenty has happened since a loss to FC Kansas City on Aug. 4. There is a new head coach. The 2013 women's FIFA world player of the year is one of a dozen of new players. And, of course, the Thorns became champions last season during their extended season-ending road trip.

FC Kansas City at Portland Thorns

7 p.m. Saturday at Providence Park.

Live webstream:portlandthornsfc.com.

That championship will be celebrated with a banner raising and a ring ceremony prior to Saturday's 2014 home opener against FC Kansas City.

Despite crowds that averaged more than 13,000 and dwarfed most in the startup league last season, the Thorns had a modest mark of five wins, four losses and two draws at home. They had one win in their last five 2013 home matches. Opponents scored 17 times at Portland, compared with the eight goals the Thorns allowed in regular-season road games.

Paul Riley, the head coach who was hired when Cindy Parlow Cone resigned, has made improved home performance one of his goals. A little bit better home record last season and the Thorns would have hosted playoff games in front of their enthusiastic fans.

Riley has pledged an entertaining, attacking style of soccer. Even with star forward Alex Morgan sidelined indefinitely with an ankle injury, Portland has plenty of firepower — starting with veteran striker Christine Sinclair who shared the team lead with Morgan by scoring eight goals last season.

Allie Long, a midfielder and another key returnee, has both goals this season. Her header from a throw-in provided the goal in a season opening win at Houston and her penalty kick earned Portland a 1-1 draw last week at Sky Blue FC.

The other returnees are defenders Rachel (Buehler) Van Hollebeck and Nikki Marshall and midfielders Meleana Shim, Angie Kerr and Tobin Heath. Heath, along with new signings Stephanie Catley and Verónica Boquete will join the team after fulfilling obligations internationally.

Kansas City will be motivated after a 3-1 loss to Washington last week and Portland's victory at Kansas City in last season's semifinals. Lauren Holiday thrived against the Thorns last season, scoring five of her 12 goals against Portland. Amy Rodriguez has both KC goals this season and leads the team with nine shots, six on goal.

Store opening — A new Portland Thorns Team Store opens at 11 a.m. on Saturday adjacent top Providence Sports Care Center at the southeast corner of Providence Park. The store's grand opening will be 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, and will include the chance to take photos with the NWSL championship trophy.