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Amandine Henry’s arrival in Portland points to NWSL’s strength

European star looks to grow her game with Thorns

By ANNE M. PETERSON, Associated Press
Published: June 23, 2016, 6:24pm

PORTLAND — Amandine Henry quickly showed the prowess that has made her one of the world’s best players in her first start stateside with the Portland Thorns.

Henry aimed a header at the goal that was popped in by teammate Nadia Nadim in a 2-0 victory over the Chicago Red Stars, and Portland remained the only undefeated team in the National Women’s Soccer League. Later in the half the French midfielder took a hard shot at the goal from 30 yards out that sailed over the net — but for a moment the crowd held its collective breath.

Henry is arguably the biggest star from Europe to join the NWSL as it plays out its historic fourth season. No other women’s professional league in the United States has lasted as long.

Her arrival has been seen by many as a defining moment, a sign that the NWSL is coming into its own as the world’s premier women’s league — and not just a showcase for the U.S. and Canadian national team players.

“I think there are some high-quality players that are in this league,” Thorns coach Mark Parsons said. “With Seattle bringing Naho (Japanese forward Nahomi Kawasumi) back, that’s another fantastic signing. The thing with Amandine that is different is that she’s at the top of her game. She’s at her peak. She’s only 26, and she’s got so much more to come.”

Henry established herself over nine seasons with Lyon, which has won the French championship for the past 10 straight seasons. Lyon has won three UEFA Championships in the past six seasons and has been runner-up twice.

She’s also a standout on the No. 3-ranked French national team. Henry won the Silver Ball at last summer’s Women’s World Cup in Canada, with American Carli Lloyd winning top honors as the tournament’s best player.

There had been rumors that she was looking to move following the end of her contract with Lyon this year, and the Thorns lured her to Portland. But because of the NWSL’s salary cap, which is at $39,700, Henry probably will make less than she could elsewhere. Terms of deal with the Thorns, which runs through the 2017 season, have not been disclosed.

“Portland is a great opportunity for my career,” Henry told reporters this week. “I want to win the championship and I want to progress (as a player).”

Australian striker Kyah Simon, who plays for the Boston Breakers, echoed this sentiment. Simon, 24, scored in a 1-0 victory over Brazil at the World Cup for Australia’s first-ever knockout round victory — male or female — in soccer’s premier tournament.

“Obviously, it’s a really high-quality league that has high-quality players within it,” she said about her return to the NWSL.

Still learning English, Henry is helped out by teammates who know French, including U.S. national team forward Lindsey Horan, who played for four seasons with Paris Saint-Germain FC.

Following her first start, Henry was impressed with the level of play.

“It’s great. It’s more athletic, and in France it’s more technique,” she said after the game Wednesday night. “But, the intensity of the game is higher here.”

Thorns captain Christine Sinclair, who plays for the Canadian national team, has faced Henry before in international play.

“She’s incredible. She’s fit in so smoothly into our team. I like to think that we’re a nice bunch, that we’re welcoming, but you add one of the best players in the world into your team, it’s going to make a difference,” Sinclair said. “She fits perfectly into what we’re trying to do, and she’s just a great person and phenomenal soccer player.”

Henry’s integration with the Thorns will be brief, however, as she will be leaving soon to prepare with France for the Olympics in Brazil. The talent-laden Thorns also lose Sinclair, and perhaps as many as five U.S. national team players: Horan, Allie Long, Emily Sonnett, Tobin Heath and Meghan Klingenberg.

As it stands, Portland sits atop the NWSL standings at 5-0-5. While the league will go on a break for much of August for the Olympics, the Thorns expect to be in the playoff picture come September. Certainly, the addition of Henry appears to increase those odds.

“When you listen to her talk, she wants to come here because she thinks it’s going to challenge her in a way she hasn’t been challenged before and because of that she’ll be able to grow and learn. So, while we’re all so happy to have this great person and great player, she’s super happy to be here,” Parsons said. “She thinks this will help her push forward, and I think other players will start looking at that now and say, ‘Look there’s more and more players wanting to come to the league because every week is a massive game.”‘