PORTLAND, Ore. – In late July, Portland Thorns FC defender Clare Polkinghorne made her debut for the club, starting and playing 60 minutes in front of a record-setting sellout crowd at Providence Park. It was the first match back for all of the Thorns who participated in the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup and Polkinghorne was one of nine players recognized before the match.
Seeking additional depth in both defense and in midfield, Thorns FC signed the 26 year-old Australian international earlier in the summer.
“Clare is a combative, tough, no-nonsense defender,” Thorns FC head coach Paul Riley said at the time of the signing. “She has tremendous leadership qualities and plenty of pedigree on the ball.”
Polkinghorne also brings bite, a trait that made her a natural partner for McCall Zerboni in central midfield.
“I'm a very physical player, so I like to get stuck in and make some strong tackles and win those 50-50 balls and try to inspire our team by winning those challenges,” Polkinghorne said the day before her debut. “Just working hard and trying to do my best for the team defensively is my key role.”
But Polkinghorne also brings with her ample experience, both as co-captain of the Australian Women's National Team and as a professional, having appeared in nearly 80 matches for the Brisbane Roar of the Australian W-League.
She has also tasted success at the highest levels. In her six seasons with the Roar, Polkinghorne won two W-League championships and two W-League premierships. With Australia, she won the Women's Asian Cup in 2010.
And while an injured Polkinghorne could only support her teammates from the sideline during the recent Women’s World Cup, the Matildas' co-captain earned raves for her leadership behind the scenes.
"She has been an absolutely phenomenal leader around the team - extremely supportive, influential in all the right ways, just a great person to have in the team,” Matildas head coach Alen Stajcic told the media ahead of Australia's quarterfinal match with Japan.
"It's exactly what you want in a leader and while I'm proud of all the players in the team I'm probably proudest of how Clare has conducted herself over the last couple of weeks."
Polkinghorne hopes to bring these same leadership qualities to the Thorns.
“My leadership style is leading by example and being someone that other people can look to when they need some guidance,” Polkinghorne said. “I try to be a strong figure on the field in my actions. Something that I've been working on is being a strong leader verbally as well, both on and off the field.”
But first, Polkinghorne must adapt to a new set of teammates in a new league in a country and city that she's only just become acquainted with. Following her home debut against Seattle, Polkinghorne has made two more straight starts for the club.
“The first few weeks is just getting a feel of how the team plays and what my role is going to be within the team,” she said. “Just to get to know the different style of players that we have in the group and just get a bit of experience in the team.”
It won't all be new and unfamiliar faces, though. Polkinghorne joins Matildas teammate Steph Catley and former Brisbane Roar teammate Nadine Angerer in the Thorns defense. She says that having a fellow Aussie here has made the transition easy for her.
“It feels like home,” she said of Portland.
Aside from the friendly faces, Polkinghorne thinks that the smooth transition comes from the similarities she sees between the Rose City and her own hometown of Brisbane.
“It's not too crowded. It's not a big city. People seem to be relaxed and really friendly,” she said. “The coffee's good, which is always a plus. I've heard that the food is pretty good, too.”