You could arguably liken the start of Portland Thorns FC preseason training camp to Christmas in March. All the time spent planning and preparing, waiting and anticipating culminated Monday morning with the first official kick of the 2013 National Women’s Soccer League preseason campaign at JELD-WEN Field.
Head coach Cindy Parlow Cone along with assistants John Galas and Nate Berry led a group of 22 players through a 90-minute session under a light rain. Cone, a U.S. Women’s National Team veteran with 75 international goals to her name, now starts the task of implementing her style of play and philosophies into the team, while also working to get the players as close to match fit as possible before the season opener on April 13 at FC Kansas City.
“It was so fun to finally get out of my office and get onto the field and have the players be in town,” Cone said. “It was great to get out here and get the first day under our belt.”
READ: Thorns FC 2013 Preseason Roster
“One of the things I love about this new league is that I’m able to build this team up from scratch, not only on the field, but off the field with the culture and environment we want to create. This was day one and we have a long way to go.”
The roster, which features 27 players once National Team allocation players return from their tournaments abroad, will be pared down to 21 by April 5. NWSL clubs are allowed to begin training camp with 32 players on their initial roster, but Cone felt the current number is enough given the team’s talent.
“This is a pretty select group that we have here right now,” Cone said. “I was able to invite in 32 players and I didn’t for a reason. I wanted it to be a select group with quality all the way through. … Just about every player on the roster (not including goalkeepers) will have to be able to play multiple positions.”
Former University of Portland standout Danielle Foxhoven was happy to get the preseason underway in the city that she’s called home for the last five years. The Colorado native, one of the team’s Discovery Player signings in the offseason, said the side was able to shake off the rust and hit the ground running for the most part.
“The speed of play was fast and everybody was excited to get out there and you can tell the energy is high. It’s really fun to play in that (kind of environment),” Foxhoven said.
After spending last year playing professionally in Sweden for Kristianstads, defensive midfielder Becky Edwards, a free agent signing during the offseason, noticed the team’s quality right from the start – even without the presence of high-powered forward duo Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair up front.
“Once we got into it a little bit and shook the rust off, I thought it came together pretty well and there was some good playing going on,” said Edwards, who helped lead the U.S. Women’s U-20 National Team to the championship in the 2008 FIFA U-20 Women’s World Cup alongside Morgan and Thorns FC teammates Nikki Marshall and Nikki Washington. “I think on day one we saw some great stuff from some players and it will slowly start to come together. It’s a short preseason compared to other leagues. I think with our coaching staff and the people we have here, they’ve been very organized so I think we’ll get it going pretty quick and come together as a team pretty fast.”
Cone has made a point of building a roster with players that will represent the club well both on the field and off the field, hoping to craft a culture built around hard work and strong team unity while fully embracing the soccer-wild community of Portland.
“We’ve been waiting for this for a long time and to be in Portland, we’re so pumped,” former U.S. youth national team member Nikki Washington said. “We came to the Timbers game the other day (Saturday) and got to see the atmosphere and got that much more excited.
“We want to create a good culture in the team and have good chemistry,” Washington continued. “When you’re on the field it’s all business – work hard, play hard, push hard – so it’s that balance with the chemistry and hard work. When you saw Cindy play (for the Women’s National Team), she’s a hard worker and that carries over to her coaching style and she definitely has a good culture going here.”
It’s easy to see why coming to Portland was a simple choice for many players, with the combination of the already ingrained soccer culture through the Timbers and the success of the University of Portland’s men’s and women’s soccer programs, and the mindset put in motion by Cone and the rest of the coaching staff.
“I wanted something different and I knew Cindy (from University of North Carolina) and every time I watched soccer on TV I’d see the Timbers and the crowd and atmosphere,” said midfielder Allie Long, one of the club’s first free agent signings during the offseason. “Every time I watched, I remember thinking that I want to be a part of that.”