SOCCER/BY PAUL DANZER/PORTLAND TRIBUNE/Missing pieces muddle analysis of Thorns' season-opening road loss


The most encouraging sign from the Timbers' 1-1 Saturday draw at FC Dallas?

The willingness of first-year coach Giovanni Savarese to change plans.

After unsettling losses to the Los Angeles Galaxy and New York Red Bulls to open the season, Saverese shook up his lineup and formation for the third match of the season.

Most surprising was the absence of Liam Ridgewell. The veteran defender did not even make the trip to Texas. Bill Tuiloma took his spot alongside Larrys Mabiala in the center of Portland's defense — and performed well.

Ridgewell, who has had his share of injury setbacks in recent seasons, is healthy, according to Savarese. The coach told, the league's website, that Ridgewell remains an important piece of the Portland roster.

True, the move might have been made to counter the speed of Dallas' forwards. Savarase also went with a more defense-first formation of three defensive midfielders — 19-year-old Cristhian Paredes joining veterans Lawrence Olum and Diego Chara in front of the back four.

Having a week off to prepare a new formation surely helped. But the fact that Savarese is willing to explore options and not simply tweak one preferred formation is encouraging.

Also encouraging was the return of Chara to the lineup. The Colombian made his club-record 205th start with Portland. Others have served as team captains, Ridgewell included, but Chara's competitive spirit and passion for his role as disruptor is both effective and infectious with Timbers fans and teammates.

Another piece of encouraging play is that of Sabastian Blanco, who scored a pretty goal at Dallas and has both of the Timbers' goals this season. We know Diego Valeri and Fanendo Adi will score (eventually). A confident Blanco could become a game-changer, though.

Two road tests remain before the Savarese-era Timbers make their Portland debut. Next up is a 3 p.m. PT Saturday game at Chicago. The Fire (0-2-0) are also looking for their first win of the season. Teams also winless so far are Seattle (0-2-0), Toronto (0-2-0), Colorado (0-1-1), Orlando City (0-2-1) and D.C. United (0-2-2).


It's not often a soccer team that is out-shot 20-3 and loses 1-0 gets praise heaped upon it.

But that was Mark Parsons' reaction after the Portland Thorns opened their 2018 National Women's Soccer League season on Saturday with a loss at North Carolina.

The Thorns were without nine players who figure to make an impact at some point this season.

As with the Timbers, it will take some time before we know how successful this Thorns team can become.

Among those not on the field Saturday for Portland were Hayley Raso, Tobin Heath and Emily Menges — all starters in last year's 1-0 win over North Carolina in the NWSL championship match. Add in Brazilian midfielder Andressinha — a key offseason acquisition who, like Raso, won't arrive until late April — and Portland was at a disadvantage against a motivated and talented Courage team.

Despite that, Portland started well and had North Carolina a bit on its heels for the first half hour or so. Eventually, though, the Courage took hold of the match.

Still, it was a transition play and a perfectly placed shot from 22 yards by the Brazilian Debinha that produced the only goal.

And, with a little better fortune, the Thorns might have come away with at least a draw. Late in the match, Midge Purce made a run behind the defense to collect a through ball, forcing a gambling tackle from North Carolina goalkeeper Sabina D'Angelo, who was ruled to have gotten enough of the ball to avoid being whistled for a foul that would have given Portland a penalty kick.

Surrendering 20 shots and 11 corner kicks is not a path to winning soccer. But, all things considered, we understand why Parsons views the opener as a positive first step for 2018.

Next is a trip to Chicago for a 5:15 p.m. PT Saturday match against the Red Stars that figures to again test a shorthanded Thorns roster.

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