Although Portland Thorns FC had missed the playoffs in 2015, the 2016 National Women’s Soccer League season arrived amid a sense of optimism. Thanks to an active winter that saw the arrival of a series of new, high-profile talents, the team was looking beyond the previous year’s failures, focusing on two benchmarks that had remained elusive. With talents like Amandine Henry and Lindsey Horan added to the roster, both a playoff home game and the NWSL Shield were in the team’s hopes.
Such were the expectations after the arrivals of Emily Sonnett and Meghan Klingenberg. Hayley Raso was added, too, albeit in a still unproven version. Katherine Reynolds, Dagny Brynjarsdottir, Nadia Nadim and Adrianna Franch were also parts of the roster’s overhaul, as was head coach Mark Parsons, who had signed on to be the club’s third head coach. Though the departure of Alex Morgan to a new team in Orlando garnered the most national attention, in Portland, expectations were high thanks to the influx of talent.
That those talents would come together to meet those high expectations is why Klingenberg, in choosing this week’s PTFC: From the Archives, presented by Providence Health and Services, replay, picked that season’s late September visit to Sky Blue FC to air on May 23 (3pm PT, FOX 12 Oregon, ThornsFC.com), one that began with early disappointment but ended with history.
“We won our first NWSL shield [that day],” Klingenberg remembers. “We won the game with the style and purpose we wanted to embody that year.”
Part of that style was the learning process, with the team giving up an early goal to Sky Blue’s Tasha Kai on a seventh minute corner. From there, though, it was all Portland, with a brace from original Thorn Allie Long bookending a diving header from Horan that would be the game’s winning goal. Though the game began with uncertainties, it ended with triumph.
Another element of those players’ style was the completeness of their year’s performance. In its first season together, Portland’s new core would finish two points after of the second-place Washington Spirit, allowing the fewest goals in the league (19, in 20 games) while Tobin Heath became the only player to reach double-digits in assists, creating 10 goals in 14 appearances. Three players (Heath, Long, Emily Menges) would make the league’s Best XI while the team met the causes of 2015’s failures head on. That season, the World Cup absences were cited as a main obstacle. In 2016, the Thorns finished first despite the Summer Olympics’ departures.
That core would go on to claim the team’s second title a year later and, never finishing below third place, would make the postseason four years in a row. And within that time, September 25, 2016, stands out as the group’s first major moment. It was the first significant goal the new Thorns were able to accomplish.