2013 NWSL team preview: Portland Thorns FC

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Over the next two days, ProSoccerTalk will be providing quick capsules of the eight teams participating in the new National Women’s Soccer League. We continue with the favorites: Portland Thorns FC.

Many of us have come to accept that having a dominant team like the New York Yankees or Jordan-era Chicago Bulls can be good for a league. For casual fans who aren’t apt to entangle themselves in a circuit’s day-to-day, a marquee team provides both a focal point and the foundation for some underdog stories. Though there are aspects of dynasties that conflict with our want of level playing fields, that type of idealism is actually pretty rare. Teams like a 1980s Edmonton Oilers or early-MLS D.C. United help focus disparate attention. Particularly for growing leagues, it’s often an ideal situation.

Try selling that idea to Thorns FC’s opposition. Portland’s star-laden franchise has assumed the favorite’s mantle, with their fortunate allocation and ability to lure quality free agents making them the league’s early favorites. Having the best facilities and most resources in the league (thanks to the Timbers’ ownership group) only adds to expectations. What the Miami Heat are to this year’s NBA, the Thorns are to the NWSL, and although head coach Cindy Parlow Cone has spent preseason reiterating games aren’t done on paper, her debut season is expected to be an exceedingly successful one.

Who you know: There’s this up-and-comer named Alex Morgan you may have heard of. She’s the player celebrating in the picture, above. Smart, fast, good on the ball, and a clinical finisher, this Cal alum will be going places if …

Who am I kidding? Of course, you’ve heard Alex Morgan. And you’ve probably heard of Christine Sinclair, Canada’s captain who many consider the best player in the world. Together, they form an ideal striking tandem: Two elite talents who, with Morgan’s presence along the line and Sinclair’s playmaking skills, fit perfectly with each other.

Portland also has Rachel Buehler, a regular defensive starter on the national team, and midfielder Tobin Heath, who will join the team in June after finishing her short-term stay with Paris Saint-Germain.

Who you should know: Becky Edwards is an elite defensive midfielder who was part of two title teams in WPS. Her ball-winning ability is as good as any in the league, with her distribution set to act as a fulcrum at the base of Portland’s midfield. Expected to sit in front of the defense in a 4-4-2, Edwards can also protect what’s expected to be one of the few week points on the Thorns’ formation.

What it means: Anything short of a title would be a disappointment for Portland, but they’re not so clear of their opposition that the 2013 season won’t be a challenge. Still, there’s a natural tendency to see this team as the NWSL’s Lyon Feminine or Arsenal Ladies. If Portland play to their potential, they’ll be just as dominant.

Portland begins their season Saturday against another of the league’s preseason favorites: FC Kansas City.

More NWSL previews:

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VIDEO: Hamburg’s Muller out seven months after goal celebration

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Nicolai Mueller has gone full Gramatica, in doing so putting extra pressure on American teammate Bobby Wood.

Muller scored the lone goal in Hamburg’s season-opening win over Augsburg, but his celebration recalled memories of an injury to former Arizona Cardinals kicker Bill Gramatica.

[ MORE: Bundesliga wrap ]

Muller’s “helicopter” goal celebration, a staple for the midfielder, saw him tear his ACL upon landing near the corner flag. He’s set to miss seven months.

That means even more of the scoring burden will fall on Wood, whose nine goals last season led the team in its race to avoid relegation. Muller’s five goals were tied for second with Austrian forward Michael Gregoritsch.

Here’s the Hamburg hierarchy, from Bundesliga.com:

“The diagnosis comes as a huge shock to us, it’s a big blow at the start of the season and obviously is really tough on Nicolai,” said Hamburg sporting director Jens Todt. “We wish him all the best for his recovery and, of course, will support him as best we can.”

“It’s bad news,” added HSV head coach Markus Gisdol. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Muller has thrice scored eight or more Bundesliga goals, and is a huge loss for Hamburg. Though it’s tempting to chasten a player who’s hurt while celebrating a goal, there’s always a part of us that wants to point out that the ligament probably wasn’t in the finest shape if it earned a tear on such a non-explosive landing.

New Zealand star striker Wood to leave Leeds for Burnley

Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
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Chris Wood is undergoing a medical at Burnley ahead of a proposed $19.2 million move from Leeds United.

Wood, 25, has played briefly for two Premier League clubs, West Bromwich Albion and Leicester City, but saw his stock explode thanks to a 27-goal campaign in the Championship this season.

[ MORE: Premier League Sat. roundup ]

Burnley hopes the 6-foot-3 Wood can help replace Andre Gray, who left for Watford. The Clarets beat Chelsea on Opening Weekend and were unlucky to lose against West Brom on Saturday.

He’s also scored in his lone Championship appearance this season, and has thrice earned promotion; Wood helped West Brom and Leicester to the Premier League, and Brighton and Hove Albion to League One.

Wood has for some time been a star on the New Zealand national team, scoring 20 goals in 52 caps since 2009. He’s a perfect fit for Sean Dyche‘s playing style. The only question is whether he can bring his prowess to the Premier League level.

Stream Live: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United

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Huddersfield Town looks to stay perfect in the Premier League when it hosts Newcastle United at the John Smith’s Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 8:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

Town handled Crystal Palace 3-0 in its first match since earning promotion from the Championship, powered by a brace from 22-year-old ex-Montpellier striker Steve Mounie.

USMNT midfielder Danny Williams is on the bench for Town, which is managed by ex-USMNT player David Wagner.

[ STREAM: Huddersfield Town vs. Newcastle United ]

Newcastle United, meanwhile, fell 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur. The clubs were scoreless through 50 minutes when Jonjo Shelvey stamped on Dele Alli and earned a red card.

He sits Sunday, and will be replaced by Borussia Dortmund loanee Mikel Merino.

LINEUPS

Huddersfield Town: Lossl, Smith, Billing, Schindler, Zanka, Lowe, Mooy, Van La Parra, Kachunga, Ince, Mounie. Subs: Coleman, Malone, Lolley, Williams, Quaner, Hefele, Palmer.

Newcastle United: Elliot, Manquillo, Lascelles, Mbemba, Clark; Ritchie, Merino, Hayden, Atsu; Perez, Gayle. Subs: Darlow, Saivet, Aarons, Diame, Murphy, Joselu, Mitrovic.

MLS Snapshot: Chicago Fire 1-3 Toronto FC (video)

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The game in 100 words (or less): Greg Vanney and Toronto keep on doing their thing, and the Canadian side is yet another step closer to achieving MLS glory. TFC picked up its 50th point of the season on Saturday night after comfortably handling the Chicago Fire, who have cooled off significantly as of late in the Eastern Conference. The Fire are now nine points behind the East leaders and are losers of four of their last five matches.

Three moments that mattered

54′ — Accam, Fire level it up — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from everybody…

64′ — Hasler nets first MLS goal — Toronto really does manage to get contributions from all of their players…

90′ — Giovinco says goodnight to Chicago — That’s 12 goals on the season for Sebastian Giovinco and the TFC striker continues to help his side push towards the top seed in the East and MLS.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Man of the match: Sebastian Giovinco

Goalscorers: Marco Delgado (14′), David Accam (54′), Nick Hasler (63′), Sebastian Giovinco (90′)