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Paul Danzer on Soccer: Portland's approach to beating North Carolina Courage will become clearer on Thursday

The Portland Thorns figure to add star power with the No. 1 pick in Thursday's National Women's Soccer League college draft.

Who that will be was the subject of much speculation after the Thorns sent former No. 1 pick Emily Sonnett, the rights to Australian international Caitlin Foord and the No. 7 and 14 picks to Orlando to move up to the top pick.

The answer comes at 8 a.m. Thursday. As of Tuesday, the Thorns held the first, 15th, 16th, 25th and 34th picks.

The most popular prediction is that Stanford forward Sophia Smith will be the No. 1 pick. As a sophomore this season, Smith was the outstanding offensive player of the College Cup and made a PK in the title-winning shootout for the Cardinal. Smith was the only college player invited to this month's U.S. national team training camp. Rumors abounded that she would declare for the NWSL draft if she could land with the Thorns.

Playing for the best team in college women's soccer, Smith has 24 goals and 11 assists in 33 games.

Then there are a pair of UCLA stars — Canadian midfielder Jessie Fleming and American youth international forward Ashley Sanchez. As of Tuesday, neither was on the NWSL draft list — which isn't finalized until shortly before the draft. Might the pull of playing in front of the Thorns' rabid fans change someone's mind?

All of this is speculation, but figure the player will be expected to make an immediate impact.

The Thorns wouldn't give up so much to move to the top pick without knowing their target and that the player will come to Portland rather than heading overseas.

The Thorns' recent roster shakeup included a trade that sent popular forward Midge Purce and the club's 2021 first-round pick to Sky Blue FC for dynamic Costa Rican midfielder Raquel "Rocky" Rodriguez. The Thorns also parted with Andressinha, who is returning to Brazil to continue her career.

• The Portland Timbers are days away from opening their 10th MLS training camp.

Entering the week, there was one gaping roster hole awaiting an answer — what new attacker would be acquired to fill the void left by Brian Fernandez.

Multiple reports have indicated Portland has agreed to a contract with 24-year-old forward Jaroslaw Niezgoda, who had 14 goals so far this season for Polish club Legia Warsaw.

Jeremy Ebobisse, who had a career-best 11 goals last season, was the only forward on the Timbers' roster entering this week.

• Many teams did not make a pick in rounds 3 and 4 of the MLS SuperDraft, but the Timbers drafted a pair of defenders. Portland took 6-4 centerback Zac McGraw, a four-year starter for Army, with the 68th overall pick and took 6-2 Norwegian Joergen Oland, a four-year starter at Fordham. They, along with first-round pick Aaron Molloy, figure to be with T2 if they sign with Portland.

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@pauldanzer


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