BEAVERTON, Ore. – After a Sunday of snow throughout Portland, Providence Park’s field looked more like an ice skating rink than a soccer field, something that would be a major issue for the first day of a normal Portland Thorns FC preseason. But with construction on the team’s home venue in progress, the reigning NWSL Champions began their 2018 preparations at Beaverton’s adidas Timbers Training Center, braving near-freezing temperatures for their first session of the preseason.
“We had someone come out and check out the light snow on the field early this morning,” head coach Mark Parsons said, sharing worries that the facility would be as iced over as the team’s Goose Hollow home. Instead, blue skies and still air helped offset an otherwise crisp midday chill.
“We were panicking, a bit,” he confessed, “[but it] worked out perfect. Great first day, here.”
Over the next month, the Thorns will slowly start assembling their team, with Monday’s group representing a shorthanded versions of Parsons’ squad. Between injury, personal commitments and international duty 11 of the 29 players on Portland’s preseason roster where not with the team. Included among the missing names are Thorns mainstays Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and Emily Sonnett.
“We’ve got pretty experienced at dealing with that challenge …,” Parsons explained, alluding to absences he dealt with in 2016, during the Summer Olympics, and 2017, during the European Championship. “We’re getting better at understanding what we need to do. How does it impact the camp? It helps us. We just have to remain open.
“We know that everyone and anyone coming in has the opportunity to prove that they can play and compete to be on this very good team …,” he said. “We probably have more options coming in once everyone gets here than we’ve had to other two years. The timing for that, for the players that may not be on contract -- who normally come in, work hard, then wait until the Olympics, wait until the Euros – their carrot is right there at the beginning of the season.”
Monday’s workout was a light one – the type of practice you’d expect following a five-month layoff. Low-impact stretching and running was followed by around an hour’s worth of ball work, all at relatively medium intensity.
On day one, practice was less about testing player’s bodies than letting them know those tests are sure to come.
“Day one is always really exciting and fun,” left back Meghan Klingenberg admitted, having spent the last half of Monday’s morning session on the side, stretching. “As you can tell, we have a lot of new faces out there. It’s really good to just run around, get the feel of the ball, just have some fun with your teammates, kind of get ready for the season again.”
Among the players who did train was goalkeeper Britt Eckerstrom, who finished her season with the W-League’s Newcastle Jets just 10 days ago. Klingenberg and Adrianna Franch, both part of the U.S. women’s national team’s January camp, were in Monday's group, as were two of the players Portland acquired last month in the Boston Breakers’ dispersal draft: Midge Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu.
For Purce, the difference between Boston and Portland is already starting to surface.
“The opportunity to play with this caliber of a team and players, and to play under Mark, I just know that there’s going to be a new standard,” she said. “I felt it out here today. That was absolutely amazing.”
Beyond an afternoon session on Monday, the Thorns aren’t scheduled to train again until Thursday. In between, the team will undergo physical tests (Tuesday) before taking a day off. Back-to-back practices to close the week will wrap up the team’s first five days back, leaving the Thorns one month and one day shy of its 2018 season opener.
That gives Parsons 33 days to get his team regular-season ready; not that the short timeline changes his approach. As was the case when Parsons came two Portland two years ago, progress, in the short-term, is measured simply. Where is the team now? Where can it be tomorrow?
“Whether we got that star or trophy [in 2017] or not, the last two years, nothing’s changed,” Parsons said. “We’ve got to be better than we were last year. We’ve got to be better than we were yesterday.
“The start of that is a good morning session, which I think we did, and now we aim to have a good afternoon session.”