Thorns FC

Thorns using preseason matches to grow and fine tune ahead of NWSL Challenge Cup


PORTLAND, Ore. – Two games into the Thorns Preseason Tournament and, by a scoreline eye test alone, there was a definite progression for Thorns FC from one game to the next.

The first match saw Portland and OL Reign play to a 0-0 draw. The second saw forward Sophia Smith score a hat trick within the first 37 minutes with strike partner Christine Sinclair providing two assists as Portland defeated the U.S. U-23s Women’s National Team 3-0 at Providence Park.

“Obviously, as a team, it's, it's nice to score some goals,” Sinclair said after the match. “It was definitely a focus of ours after that first game, just trying to create chances. I thought we did that.”

But go beyond the eye test, and there's more at work. Preseason games, and in particular this preseason, the matches mean more than just the important process of getting minutes in the legs and building up fitness. With new head coach Rhian Wilkinson at the helm and with her work in trying to incorporate new formations into the mix, matches games have been essential building blocks ahead of the approaching NWSL Challenge Cup and regular season.

“Obviously, preseason games are always important,” Sinclair said. “But I think now more so than ever with new staff and players. Learning a new system, a new style play, and it's going to take time.”

The Thorns are the defending NWSL Shield winners and have had a strong run of success with a good core of players. So while that foundation has been and continues to be strong, the team is keen to work through the changes to push itself even further.

Defender Emily Menges, who helped the team earn a second straight preseason clean sheet Tuesday night, knows that that process is not always a straight line but believes these matches and the preseason overall has allowed for the team to learn from mistakes while also building on strengths.

“I think we have slowly gotten the hang of the new tactics,” she said. “We are still working a bunch of stuff through. But I think every game has gotten progressively better."

“When you know something works and then you change it for the better it will eventually be better,” she added. “And then when you see it start to work and come together, it's a very good feeling. And you realize that this is what we should be doing and the tactics we should be applying.”

Sinclair also brings a unique perspective to this process. The longtime Canadian international and leading global goalscorer has known head coach Wilkinson since Sinclair was 15 years old as both women came up through the youth and national team ranks. Sinclair also played under Wilkinson when she was then-assistant coach for the national team. The Portland veteran is using that experience and knowledge to assist her Thorns teammates throughout the process.

“For me, it's about how can I help my teammates,” she said. “How can I spend the extra time with them? It's an adjustment and is going to be for all of us. We all come from different backgrounds, played different formations throughout our careers.

“Now it's just a matter of bringing all those individuals together and playing a system here. We've got the personnel to do it. Now, it's just fine tuning.”

The Thorns finish preseason tournament play Friday, Mar. 11 when they take on the Chicago Red Stars at Providence Park (7:30pm PT, TICKETS). At 5pm PT that evening, the U.S. U-23s face OL Reign. Tickets are good for both matches.