Date: Saturday, April 12, 2014
Kickoff: 5 p.m. (Pacific)
Location: BBVA Compass Stadium (Houston, Texas)
Forecast: 80 degrees, partly cloudy
Referee: Christina Unkel
Assistant Referees: Veronica Perez, Marlene Duffy
Fourth Official: Danielle Chesky
Webstream available via www.portlandthornsfc.com.
Local TV: Comcast SportsNet Northwest (airs on tape-delay; 10 p.m. Pacific)
Saturday’s match marks the season-opening game for both Portland and Houston and kicks off the 2014 National Women’s Soccer League season. Portland makes its first-ever trip to face off against Houston, which joined the league as an expansion team in 2014, for the first match in franchise history for the Texas side. Thorns FC, the defending NWSL champions, begin their second NWSL season on Saturday after earning an 11-6-5 regular-season record in 2013 and winning back-to-back playoff games on the road en route to winning the league’s inaugural championship game, 2-0, against the Western New York Flash on Aug. 31, 2013. Portland opens its regular-season schedule on the road for the second straight season after kicking off the inaugural NWSL season in 2013 with a come-from-behind, 1-1 draw at FC Kansas City on April 13, 2013. Saturday’s match also marks the second consecutive season-opening match played in the Central Time Zone for Portland.
Scouting the Dash
The ninth team, and first expansion team, in the National Women’s Soccer League, Houston joins the league for the 2014 season. Coached by Texas native Randy Waldrum, a longtime collegiate coach who won two NCAA National Championships and compiled a 294-58-17 record over 15 years at the University of Notre Dame, the Dash play their home games at BBVA Compass Stadium near downtown Houston, the same facility used by the Houston Dynamo of Major League Soccer. Houston’s roster features goalkeeper, and team captain, Erin McLeod, the starting goalkeeper for the Canada Women’s National Team. Veteran center midfielders Brittany Bock and Becky Edwards, who were picked in the expansion draft, will anchor the midfield. Rookie forward Kealia Ohai, who scored five goals and added five assists in the preseason, is expected to make an immediate impact after being selected with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2014 NWSL College Draft. U.S. Women’s National Team defenders Whitney Engen and Meghan Klingenberg were allocated to the Dash, but they’re not likely to join the team until May.
On the Road
Dating back to last season, Saturday’s match against Houston marks the sixth straight road game for Thorns FC. Portland closed the 2013 NWSL regular season schedule with three straight road games and was then forced to play back-to-back playoff games away from home after earning the league’s No. 3 seed to the postseason. Thorns FC earned a league-best 6-2-3 record on the road last year and, including the postseason, Portland earned an 8-2-3 record (.730 winning pct.) in all competitions away from its home confines of Providence Park. In all competitions, Portland outscored its opponents 18-10 in 13 road games and scored two or more goals in seven road games in 2013. Thorns FC open the 2014 regular-season schedule with consecutive road games, facing the Houston Dash on Saturday and Sky Blue FC on April 19 before returning home to the Rose City on April 26 to square off against FC Kansas City at Providence Park in the regular-season home opener.
Neither Thorns head coach Paul Riley nor Dash head coach Randy Waldrum is lacking for coaching experience, but Saturday’s match does mark the first NWSL match for each of the coaches. Riley, a two-time WPS Coach of the Year winner in 2010 and 2011 with the Philadelphia Independence, was hired to coach Portland on Dec. 10, 2013, and enters his first NWSL season in 2014. Waldrum, who amassed 15 years of experience coaching the University of Notre Dame women’s soccer program takes the bench on Saturday for his first match as a professional head coach. Riley and Waldrum are two of three new coaches in the NWSL this season, the third is Boston head coach Tom Durkin.
Talent all around
This offseason Portland signed Germany Women’s National Team captain Nadine Angerer, the 2013 FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year. Add in forward Christine Sinclair, who is the captain of the Canada Women’s National Team and Spain Women’s National Team captain Verónica Boquete and Portland’s roster accounts for three national team captains. Eleven players on Portland’s roster have earned at least one cap at the senior international level for their respective national teams, while Angerer is a two-time FIFA Women’s World Cup winner, Sinclair (bronze), midfielder Tobin Heath, forward Alex Morgan and defender Rachel Van Hollebeke (gold) are all Olympic medal winners. Forward Jackie Acevedo (Mexico), defender Stephanie Catley (Australia), midfielders Amber Brooks and Angie Kerr and defender/midfielder Sarah Huffman (United States) all have earned senior national team caps during their careers.
Thorns acquire Boquete, Huffman
Earlier this week, Thorns FC acquired midfielders Boquete and Huffman from the Western New York Flash in exchange for midfielder Courtney Wetzel, defender Kathryn Williamson and Portland’s first-round pick in the 2015 National Women’s Soccer League College Draft.
Boquete recorded six goals in 18 games for Tyresö FF during the 2013 Swedish Damallsvenskan season, helping lead the Scandinavian club to a runner-up finish and a berth in the 2013-14 UEFA Women’s Champions League tournament. The captain of Spain’s Women’s National Team, Boquete has registered more than 30 international caps since her senior national team debut in 2005, helping lead the team to the quarterfinal round of the 2013 UEFA Women’s European Championship.
Huffman appeared in 14 games for Western New York during the inaugural NWSL season in 2013. The midfielder started each of Western New York’s two playoff games, playing 72 minutes during the NWSL Championship Game. The first overall pick in the 2008 WPS General Draft by the Washington Freedom, Huffman played two seasons for Washington (2009, 2010) and continued to play for the club after it relocated to Florida and was renamed magicJack for the 2011 WPS season.
Williamson was Portland’s first-ever NWSL College Draft pick, the No. 8 overall selection in the 2013 NWSL Draft, while Wetzel was signed after earning an invitation to preseason training camp through an open tryout in 2013.
Niemiec, 21, earned Atlantic 10 Conference Defensive Player of the Year recognition in 2012 and was one of La Salle University’s most consistent defenders during her senior season, garnering a first-team all-conference mention following the 2013 season. A Philadelphia native, Niemiec recorded eight goals and 14 assists for La Salle, while featuring in 87 matches for the program as a four-year starter.
Tarr, 27, spent the last four seasons playing abroad in Germany, featuring in defense for Frauen Bundesliga club SGS Essen from 2010-2013. A Pacific Northwest native, the defender made 43 appearances (41 starts) for SGS Essen in all competitions over three seasons with the top-flight German club.