BEAVERTON, Ore. – The one-year anniversary of Ana Crnogorčević’s NWSL debut isn’t until April 15, with the Switzerland international having fully joined Portland Thorns FC the week before, but the 11 months the 28-year-old has been tied to the United States have given her plenty of time to experience a new league, hometown, and country. And almost without exception, the Thorns attacker has enjoyed her new surroundings.
“The stadium here in Portland,” Crnogorčević pointed out, when asked what she remembers most about her first NWSL season. Prior to her spring arrival, Crnogorčević spent seven years with FFC Frankfurt in the Frauen Bundesliga, where she won UEFA’s Champions League in 2015. Her move to Portland was not only her first professional excursion from Europe but also her first firsthand exposure to the Thorns’ fanbase, which averaged a league-high 16,959 in the stands for home games, last season.
“That was one of the biggest things,” she continued. “To play in front of such a huge crowd.
“It’s going to be a long time until June …,” she said, referring to ongoing renovations at Providence Park. “But then, I can’t wait for that. [Providence Park’s crowds were] definitely one of my biggest things, when I was thinking about last season.”
Coming so close to a title was also a memory, Crnogorčević confessed, with the Thorns having lost to the North Carolina Courage in last year’s NWSL Championship game. Her other standout memories, though, used a broader lens, encompassing not only the vastness of her new country but the cultural idiosyncrasies of a new home.
“It’s cool. People are really open, really kind,” she said, about life in the U.S. “I think my favorite part was Hawaii. I definitely want to go back.”
The distances between places like Portland and Honolulu – or, more readily, Portland and other NWSL cities, like Houston and Orlando – was something Crnogorčević was aware of when she made her North American move – not that awareness makes the adjustment any easier.
“The traveling – that was for me, the first time, I’d traveled across the country,” she said, referencing her first road trips with the Thorns. “It was tough. Also, the climate. The humidity in Houston or Orlando. It killed me, the first game. But then, I just got into it. I hope it’s going to be better this year.”
The differences in playing style between Europe and the NWSL, however, she’s taking in stride. European leagues are reputed to play a more technical style of soccer, relying less on physicality and athleticism and more on technique and tactical awareness. It was a view that Crnogorčević kept in mind as she joined the Thorns – a view which, in her words, is “still the same.”
“Here, [the style] is more like, I wouldn’t say kick and rush. It’s more like go, and press, and do, and run,” she explained. “Sometimes it doesn’t even have so much to do with tactical things. It’s just like, to press high, to press the [heck] out of the opponent, or whoever has the ball.
“We also did that in Europe, but it was a little bit more holding the ball, the possession, trying to play out, not trying so many long balls. It’s different, but both styles are a way to be successful.”
Life off the field is also different from Frankfurt, with one part of 2018 particularly standing out to a player who, still, is one of the newer Thorns.
“Oh, the summer is amazing,” she said, when asked about her thoughts on Portland. “I love it …
“[Portland is] cool. It’s nice. It has some nice places. You can go to the coast. It’s not far away. The city is cool. I love the little cafes and coffee shops; just sit there, and hang around.
“I love also the food. Just to go … find new places, if you have any ideas?”
As one of the Thorns who will be with the team for the entire campaign, Crnogorčević will get the entirety 2019 to build on her first year’s experience. For her, though, a similar progression needs to happen on the field.
“I definitely want to be better than last season,” she confessed. “That was the first season. It was a little bit different. You get to know everything. With the traveling, with the different playing styles.
“I definitely want to get better every day, every game. I definitely have to work on that.”