Editor's Note: For the upcoming Tokyo Summer Olympics, we reached out to Lori Lindsey to provide insight into the Thorns FC players participating in the tournament in Japan. Lindsey is a former U.S. international, NWSL veteran and current television soccer analyst who begins her series with a look at each of the Thorns players and their important roles within their respective national team squads.
The long anticipated “Summer of Soccer” is well underway and it’s only going to heat up even more with the Olympic Games right around the corner.
Over the next several weeks I’ll be bringing you the ins and outs of the Thorns at the Tokyo games. Expectations, surprises, performances of the five Thorns players. And, depending on how things shake out during the tournament, I’ll highlight other NWSL players and teams, too.
Before we dive into a preview of the tournament — given that this written exclusively for Thorns.com — I would be remiss not to give a shout-out to the Thorns players who are not in Tokyo. There has been a lot of chatter about what this team would look like without its international players and whether they would be able to get the job done when they’re away and I admit, I had my doubts. Yet, the team keeps showing up, players are stepping up and the team keeps getting results. I know it’s still early, but it feels like the momentum has this team rolling.
With that all being said, let’s take a deeper look into the Thorns in Tokyo.
We’ll begin with Christine Sinclair and Canada. This could arguably be Canada’s best team, which is a bold statement given that they’ve won bronze the past two Olympics games. But, there is a good balance of players in this current squad and it’s clear with the omission of a few top players that new coach, Bev Priestman, has instilled a competitive edge within the team.
Sinclair will still very much be the focal point of Canada. She’ll occupy that false 9/number 10 role allowing her to drop off and be a second playmaker alongside Jessie Fleming, making Canada unpredictable and even more dangerous. It’s a similar role to what she plays with the Thorns but with a different dynamic as she and Fleming will be more fluid in terms of who will make runs in behind.
Given the quick turnaround between each game, it’s unlikely that Sinclair will be able to play every minute. With the combination of youth and experience in this squad, however, her leadership will be felt whether she’s on the field or not.
Moving on to Captain America, the one and only Becky Sauerbrunn. With the U.S. being an attacking-minded team that likes to throw numbers forward, it takes a certain type of experienced defender to organize the group and Sauerbrunn has those qualities in full supply. Her calming presence and innate ability to read the plays before they occur will be key to stalling opponents’ attack. One main thing that separates Sauerbrunn is her complete understanding of her place in the team and how finding her attackers with the ball quickly will help the U.S. be successful.
In big tournaments, eyes off the field can be just as important as eyes on field. And that’s where AD Franch will play a massive role in these games. It’s no secret that Alyssa Naeher is the number-one goalkeeper for Vlatko Andonovski’s side, but Franch’s intensity and competitiveness will be key to keeping everyone, especially Naeher and all the attackers, as sharp as possible. She will also be able to provide insights from the bench such as player tendencies or reoccurring trends within a match. All of this will help her be ready as well when called upon. It also helps to have good people in your group and Franch is one of the best.
Another key presence on the U.S. backline is one of the most versatile players in the world, Crystal Dunn. Crystal has become a stalwart for the U.S. as she can seamlessly transition from her role as a wide defender into an attacker or even a central midfielder, a fact the U.S. put on display in their most recent game against Mexico, which saw Dunn sliding into midfield whenever the U.S. gained possession. It’s not just her versatility in positions that makes her such a special player, but it’s her versatility within the game. Her ability to create 2v1 scenarios in the attack with Megan Rapinoe, provide a final pass and then make 60-70yd defensive run to track down opponents — these attributes are unmatched, and I fully expect Dunn to be a top performer in Tokyo.
And last but not least, Lindsay Horan – aka The Great Horan. She will likely be moving into a newer position for the national team as she has to take on more defensive duties and play make from a deeper position with the availability of Julie Ertz still unknown. Even though Horan is an elite attacking midfielder, the number 6 role suits her quite well. She has the ability to unbalance teams with her range of passing and a deceptive ability that keeps defenders guessing. With teams most likely sitting back and getting numbers behind the ball defensively against the U.S., Horan’s presence on the ball will be imperative to their success.
Like Ertz, Horan is a real asset in the air for the U.S. by providing a target on set pieces and also being able to dominate the center of the field. This tournament will provide a platform for her to step into the limelight, and maybe we see a future Captain America in the making?
There is so much to look forward to with these five players in Tokyo. I’ll be back mid-tournament to break the group play down. Enjoy the games.