PORTLAND, Ore. – The defensive side of the ball defined the dominant themes coming out of Portland Thorns FC’s 4-4 draw against the Chicago Red Stars on Saturday, but with Tuesday’s announcement that Christine Sinclair’s hat trick earned the team captain Week 2’s National Women’s Soccer League Player of the Week honors, a subtle reminder went out to those dwelling on one side of the ball: Portland’s attack has been pretty good, thus far.
Sinclair’s honor comes on the heels of the same award going to a teammate, a week ago. That’s when Tobin Heath’s goal and assist won her the league’s first honor of 2019. But Caitlin Foord also stood out that week, too, register her own goal and assist, while others contributed against Chicago. Ana Crnogorčević scored her first goal of the season, while Meghan Klingenberg provided a two-assist performance.
“In Chicago, we continued creating chances and continued to score,” Parsons reminded, on Tuesday. “To score four goals away at Chicago and look back and think, `Wow, we could have grabbed one, two more goals,’ is a huge positive.”
The six goals Portland has scored through two games is tied for the NWSL’s lead, early on. That they’ve done so completely on the road gives that total an even more favorable context. Starting the season with six-straight games away from Providence Park, the Thorns have had to be realistic about what they have and have not been able to accomplish.
“We did the math,” Parsons said. “How many actual training sessions would we get in these away games? Because the focus right now is, `It’s tough to play on the road.’ It’s tougher to train.
“We get two days of training this week before we fly again to the east coast, which is a tough trip.” Portland plays in New Jersey, at Sky Blue FC, on Sunday. “Last week we had two days on the road in someone else’s back garden, where you can’t do too much.”
It’s meant that, on top of what the Thorns were able to do in preseason, Parsons’ tactical steps have had to be gradual. “When you’re laying foundations to be the best that you can,” he says, “it starts with the simple things. It starts with the basics. Us being work class at basics is key to what we’re doing at the moment.”
For Parsons, Sinclair has embodied that approach. Now in his fourth year of coaching the soccer icon, Parsons is still seeing progress in his captain’s game – progress that comes down to the Canadian international’s daily approach.
“You go and watch Sinclair for a full day, a full week, what she does every single moment to prepare herself mentally, to prepare herself physically,” he explains, when asked what stands out about his three-plus seasons with Sinclair. “And the fact that she’s probably in the best physical shape that I’ve ever seen her, in the four years.”
It’s something that has often been overlooked, amid rosters that contain names like Heath and Lindsey Horan. “I thought [Chicago] focused too much on Lindsey and Tobin,” Parsons explained, “and then it opens up space for other people, other players.”
What “Sinc” does with that space never goes unnoticed within the Thorns locker room.
“It was interesting and fun against Orlando …,” Parsons remembers. “Someone that wasn’t talked enough in that game was Sinc. The reference in front of the team was I felt she had eyes in the back of her head. Knowing where she was going to go, in how she played, creating from central area.
“We had a tactic to be able to get her and Lindsey on the ball, win it, and have them face up. She was playing passes that released other dangerous players very quickly and caused Orlando problems.”
Roll the film back, and Sinclair was involved early in both of Portland’s Orlando goals: playing the ball into the penalty box before Heath’s backheel for Foord; and, feeding a pass into the channel before Foord returned Heath’s favor. So far, Sinclair has been involved in five of Portland’s six goals.
“Sinc is the best in the world at putting the ball in the back of the net, as well as creating chances,” Parsons said. “It’s great to see her take advantage.”
Of course, she’s not the only one. Amid concern for Portland’s defense coming out of Chicago, the attack has gotten overlooked, even though the Thorns have never scored as many goals over a season-opening stretch, before. With Sinclair and Heath leading the way, the Thorns attack has found success, early on.