Thorns team, training, Tucson, 3.26.14
Photo courtesy of FC Tucson

Thorns wrap up "a great trip" in Arizona preseason: Thorns FC Preseason Notebook

Thorns FC is headed back to the Rose City following an eight-day stay in the desert of Tucson, Ariz., where they trained twice-a-day under the sun and racked up a 2-0 record in preseason matches against the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, outscoring the two NCAA Division I teams by a combined score of 15-0.

It was the first time head coach Paul Riley was able to see his team apply what they’ve been working on in training in a real game atmosphere with a crowd and against unfamiliar opposition. Both preseason games in Tucson drew capacity crowds to FC Tucson’s Kino Sports Complex as Portland showed off its revamped philosophy on the field and continued to prepare for the National Women’s Soccer League season opener against Houston on April 12 at BBVA Compass Stadium.

“Going into preseason I thought we wouldn’t be this far along,” Riley said. “We seem to have really got the philosophy down pat, we seem to know how we’re going to play and it’s just a matter of putting the pieces into the holes and picking the formation we’re going to play on a particular day. We’ve got a lot of intelligent players, a lot of creative players, a lot of technical players and when you have that you can almost play any formation.”

Riley said the trip to southern Arizona — which was hosted by club FC Tucson —exceeded his expectations in all aspects.

“I thought it was a great trip for the team and the group as a whole, staff included, just to get away and be together. The facilities were fantastic, FC Tucson outdid any of our expectations,” Riley said. “It was great professionally to be in this environment prior to going to Houston. It was a great preparation for Houston. I think that was the biggest thing for the players was preparing for Houston on grass, on a beautiful field, in temperatures that will probably be more suitable for Houston on opening day.”

“It was great for the team having 99 percent of our players together in a hotel for a week, eating together, driving together and playing together and training together twice a day, plus our two games — both games went really well for us. We’re happy with the week’s work and now its back to the rain in Portland, but we’re excited to get back and see our fans again and get ready for opening day.”

During the trip, the team got its first look at FIFA Women’s World Player of the Year goalkeeper Nadine Angerer, who started and played 90 minutes in a 10-0 win against the University of Arizona on March 28, before departing to join Germany for 2015 FIFA World Cup qualifying games. After Angerer left, goalkeeper Michelle Betos recorded four saves in a 5-0 shutout against Arizona State on March 30.

Seven different players scored goals during the two-match span for Thorns FC as Riley worked in different combinations of players throughout the defense, midfield and forward lines in both preseason matches.

Pleased with what the team got out of the trip, Riley wouldn’t hesitate to make the trip again next preseason, and even thinks Tucson could become an NWSL preseason destination, similar to what it has become for Major League Soccer.

“I think it would be fantastic for the league. If we could get three or four teams here, it would be a great preseason,” Riley said. “You play a couple college teams and maybe player each other (NWSL teams) on the weekend. The people of Tucson, there’s no (professional women’s) team in the area, so this is the closest they get to the top players in the world. You could see the excitement after the game with Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair and Rachel Van Hollebeke and all the players around, so I think if we could get three or four teams down here it would be great.”

“This was much more than I expected. We were treated like royalty. We’re just really happy with everything that’s gone on this week.”