Thorns will have five World Cup players for Reign showdown
Having weathered mass absences with flying colors, the Portland Thorns begin what coach Mark Parsons calls the most vital month of the season when rival Reign FC comes to Providence Park for a National Women's Soccer League match on Friday.
Four Thorns remain at the Women's World Cup, with Americans Tobin Heath, Lindsey Horan and substitutes Emily Sonnett and Adrianna Franch preparing for Sunday's championship match against the Netherlands.
But Portland could have five World Cup participants in the lineup for its 8 p.m. game. Ellie Carpenter and Andressinha played in last weekend's 2-1 win at Houston. Christine Sinclair, Caitlin Foord and Hayley Raso rejoined the Thorns for training this week.
Each said returning to the Thorns helps overcome the disappointment of exiting the World Cup in the round of 16.
"The World Cup's a funny tournament," said Sinclair, who participated in her fifth for Canada dating to 2003, when she took a break from the University of Portland to represent her country. "Other than one team, everyone leaves disappointed. For me, it's nice to be able to slip back in and start playing again and be around a great team and some great friends and great organization and coaching staff that are taking care of those of us who just returned. I'm just excited to get going again."
Carpenter, 19, and Andressinha, 24, each restarted her NWSL season at Houston, eager to build on a World Cup experience that helped their confidence.
"I think I got a lot of confidence during the World Cup, and hopefully my performances there I can keep building on them here," Carpenter said.
Carpenter and her Australian teammates expected to contend for the championship in France. But their World Cup ended on June 22 with a loss on penalty kicks to Norway.
"When you work so hard for this moment and it's taken four years to come, there is a lot of disappointment," said Foord, who scored one goal in her third World Cup. "It was hard mentally and physically to finish and (think) that's what I was working so hard for. But now being back here with the team it's refreshed me and I'm excited to play again. What better way to come back into it than a game against (Reign FC) here at home."
Raso, who worked hard to return from a serious back injury to make the Australia squad and appeared in all four matches, echoed Foord's take.
"We do have a little bit of extra motivation, I guess, to get back up and get rolling again, Raso said. "It was real emotional and really upsetting because we expected to go further. So it's hard to take. But I've had a little bit of time to get over it and recover from it, and I'm coming back here with a positive attitude and looking forward to getting out there with the Thorns."
Despite the absence of nine important players for five or more games (and playing eight of 10 on the road), the Thorns enter Friday's showdown against their rivals from the north on top of the NWSL standings with 19 points (5-4-1).
But the table is tight. Reign FC, now based in Tacoma, Washington, is two points back of Portland and tied for third place with Utah. Washington is one point back of Portland.
Parsons said the great work by Portland's non-World Cup players sets the table for a potentially special season. He said it's now about maintaining the cohesiveness and tenacity that drove the Thorns through 10 games.
"We have so much more work to do in the way that we play, in evolving the playing style," Parsons said, adding that he doesn't want to define player roles.
"The best part about it is, if anyone doesn't want to be a Thorn or if anyone flirts with not wanting to be a Thorn — if someone, just for one day, drops to 97 percent (commitment)," he can point to a dozen other players ready for an opportunity to play.
Parsons said he texted with Horan after her assist helped the United States beat England in the semifinals. He said Horan's response was, "World Cup final, Thorns in first. How does it get any better?"
Parsons praised the role Heath has played on the right wing for the USA and said she was unlucky not to have a goal or two.
A native of England and now a U.S. citizen, Parsons admitted his loyalty was a bit torn during Tuesday's semifinal between the USA and England. Ultimately, the four Thorns on the U.S. team won out.
"I work here, and I'm a U.S. citizen. I'm living here. I want to see the U.S. keep doing amazing things," Parsons said.
But growing up in England and beginning his coaching career there, he also wants to see that program have success.
"A win for England, for the country, would have been absolutely gigantic," Parsons said. "When I left England, women's football and the way it was supported wasn't in a great place. It's improved. But the people of England still need to get their head around the high performance athletes that are in the women's game."
Reign FC has Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long still with the United States team in France. And former Oregon State forward Jodie Taylor is still with England.
Reign FC will have five World Cup players available to play on Friday: Australians Steph Catley, Elise Kellond-Knight and goalkeeper Lydia Williams along with Japan's Rumi Utsugi and Spain's Celia Jimenez Delgado.
But the Puget Sound team has been hit hard by injuries, most recently Wednesday's announcement that midfielder Jess Fishlock is out for the season with an ACL injury. Fishlock was voted NWSL player of the month in June after posting three goals and an assist as Reign FC went 2-0-2.
She is the fifth Reign, including former Thorns goalkeeper Michelle Betos, lost for the season.
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