The reserve squad for the Portland Thorns FC played a preseason friendly last night at Merlo Field, the home pitch for the Portland Pilots. The result – a 2-1 win for the visitors – was almost immaterial. The internationals never even dressed out; there was obviously no intention to field the side we’re going to see in about three weeks. The plan (and the successful result) was to provide a test for the college-product Thorns.
My bride and I took a pleasant walk through our North Portland neighborhood to join the crowd – and the match drew almost 5,000 people to the pretty green-and-purple stadium just west of Willamette Boulevard – that watched the teams test each other. While the following are just snapshots of the state of the Thorns, I did get a sense of how the junior members of the team are shaping;
1. The overall level of play was not too disparate. This wasn’t a college squad overmatched by a team of pros; it was a good college team against a team of college all stars. While nobody in purple was of the quality of, say, Allie Long or Nikki Washington, nobody in the gray-and-red Thorns practice strip was that much better than Kaila Cameli or Nichole Downing.
2. The Thorns reserves either had some early pre-season rust to buff off or weren’t used to playing without the internationals (and given that the latter had only reported several weeks ago it was probably the former). The team came out looking pawky and out of synch, especially in back. The Pilots had several good counters early that resulted in the early goal. This was, in part, because the Thorns played an exceptionally high backline and were caught ballwatching several times.
3. The Thorns still need to work on their defensive nous and communication among their defenders and between their midfield, defenders, and goalkeeper. Even in the 88th minute giveaways in midfield and poor marking allowed a Pilot counter that had goalkeeper Roxanne Barker isolated on an charging Pilot forward who just couldn’t gain control in time to shoot on frame. I’m sure Parlow-Cone will have some words with the defenders on Monday.
4. Speaking of goalkeepers, the Thorns might want to keep an eye on Nichole Downing. The Pilots keeper – only a sophomore, too! – was terrific, making several point-blank saves and keeping the scoreline close. If she continues to improve she will be a great pick for some NWSL team in a year or two.
6. Overall the Thorns look…well, something rather like this year’s Timbers. Possession football with some intelligent movement off the ball and (after a bit of sorting-out) some precise passing. A defense that consistently pushes up the pitch and, as a result, is vulnerable to the quick counter. Solid but not brilliant keeping.
The crowd sounded evenly divided between Thorn and Pilot supporters, and both seemed well-pleased with the teams’ performance. The Purple Passions (or whatever the University of Portland supporters group calls itself) provided a local counterpoint to the small Thorns Alliance contingent and some unintentional comedy – for all that they had the drums that the Thorns supporters didn’t they clearly haven’t worked up their own chants; Timbers Army veterans got a smile from hearing “Portland Boys We Are Hear” coming from the far end of the pitch for a change.
The Thorns seem to be absorbing the culture of their brother club; the team trotted down to the West End and applauded their supporters as Merlo emptied out.
Two weeks until the Thorns’ first match and the buds appear ready to open.