PORTLAND — For the first time this season, the real Portland Thorns FC — at least coach Paul Riley’s vision for the club — might be on display today when Western New York visits Providence Park.
The arrival of Spanish midfielder Veronica Boquete and Australian defender Steph Catley adds a pair of world class players to the roster.
So too does the anticipated return of two U.S. national team stalwarts in forward Alex Morgan and defender Rachel (Buehler) Van Hollebeke.
“It’s exciting to see actually what type of team we have,” forward Christine Sinclair said.
Sinclair, who scored her first goal of the season in last week’s 4-1 loss at Boston, said the newcomers will improve the Thorns.
“That’s pretty much four starters we’ve been missing throughout the season,” she noted.
With four wins, three losses and two draws, Portland sits fifth in the nine-team National Women’s Soccer League, though the Thorns have played fewer games than each of the four teams above them.
Riley on Friday said he was still mulling lineup options for today’s match and deciding between two possible formations.
“We tried to simplify most of the week and just make sure that we’re prepared in the two formations that we might play,” Riley said. “And just making the (new) players feel comfortable, that they know what they’re doing.”
Morgan has been sidelined since late in 2013 because of a slow-healing ankle injury. Van Hollebeke has been out since suffering an ankle injury on April 11 in a U.S. national team match against China.
Sinclair paired with Morgan on last season’s Thorns championship team, when Morgan scored nine goals and Sinclair eight. Sinclair said she is excited to play with Boquete and Catley for the first time.
“Me personally, I can’t wait to play with Vero and Steph,” Sinclair said. “It’s been exciting seeing them in training. I think they’re just going to add a whole new dimension to our team.”
Boquete is a creative midfielder expected to spice up the Portland attack. Catley loves to overlap, joining the attack from the left back position.
Sinclair said it shouldn’t take long for chemistry to develop.
“I think we’re all pretty smart players,” she said. “Yeah, it might take a little bit of time, but I think it’s gone smoothly. In these four or five days of training, we seem to be clicking and all of us getting on the same page. That’s a little different than it happening in games, but there’s no way to find out but to give it a go (Saturday).”
With only Tobin Heath — who is expected to arrive in Portland later this month — still missing, Riley is excited to see the squad he envisioned in action.
“It’s not going to be perfect yet, but this is certainly pretty close to where we would like to be,” Riley said. “Whether it will show (Saturday) I don’t know, but I’m hoping it does. They’ve worked hard this week. There’s no complaints from my end that’s for sure.”
Kat Tarr begins rehab — Riley said on Friday that Kat Tarr of Vancouver, who underwent knee surgery on Wednesday, had already started rehab. The coach said he did not know when or how the Columbia River graduate sustained the injury. Tarr played in six games and started five at left back, the position Catley is expected to assume today.
“I’m disappointed for her more than anybody, because she’s obviously done well to get herself into the position she had,” Riley said of Tarr. “It came at a bad time for her. But, you know what? It’s a quick operation. She’s walking around. She’s on the (stationary) bike already. I don’t think it’s a long-term thing for Kat.”