NWSL Final: What to know about Portland Thorns FC

1 Comment

On Saturday, the NWSL crowns its first champion, with preseason favorites Portland Thorns traveling to Rochester to face the Western New York Flash. Led by Abby Wambach, the Flash finished the regular season in first place, defeating Sky Blue FC 2-0 in their Saturday semifinal. After beating second place finishers FC Kansas City 3-2 in Overland Park, Portland will hope Alex Morgan, out for the last three games with a knee injury, will be back for this Saturday’s final.

Having broken down Western New York earlier today, here is a look at Portland Thorns FC:

Defending: After Portland received a talent-rich attack in allocation, defending was supposed to be the relative problem, aside from Rachel Buehler. Though the U.S. international was expected to be one of the more competent central defenders in the league, the backline’s other three spots needed to be filled, and although Canadian international Karina LeBlanc was a popular figure, she hadn’t held down a team’s number one spot since her 2009. Portland seemed to have enough talent to out-gun opponents; unfortunately, some suspected they would have to.

source:  Over the season’s first half, the opposite turned out to be true. As Portland’s midfield struggled to supply the team’s talented forwards, the defense that kept Portland in games. LeBlanc turned out to be one of the league’s better goalkeepers, while Kathryn Williamson (right), a rookie out of Florida, often out-shined her national team partner in central defense. With Marian Dougherty and Nikki Marshall, Portland had one of the league’s better fullback tandems, while defensive midfielder Becky Edwards protected the entire group.

Come mid-season, though, the whole dynamic changed, Cindy Parlow Cone losing Edwards for the year with a torn ACL. Without another starting-caliber defensive midfielder in the squad, Portland not only lost the league’s best pivot player but became susceptible in transition. Before Edwards’ injury, Portland gave up 0.70 goals per game. After: 1.50. Come late in the season, while Portland was losing their chance to secure home-field advantage in the playoffs, the team was finally conceding the defense was being left exposed.

Allie Long’s been asked to fill Edwards’ role, but naturally suited to a more attacking roles, it’s been a difficult adjustment.  The Thorns have been a much different team without a destroyer to protect their defense.

Attacking: They were allocated Alex Morgan, thought to be among the best players in the world. The same description applies to Canada captain Christine Sinclair, the Portland resident playing at home for the first time since starring at the University of Portland. With taht firepower up top, the Thorns’ biggest problem seemed to be forging a connection to their forwards. With Edwards and Long in midfield and Tobin Heath set to join the team mid-season, they seemed to have the talent to do so.

source:  But that connection never hapened. At least, progress was slow before Heath’s July arrival. Not only did Edwards go down, but Long, Nikki Washington, and Angie Kerr were never productive as a unit. Though Meleana Shim (right) stepped up and became one of the season’s better rookies, Portland’s high-powered attack finished with 32 goals, tied for fourth in the NWSL.

The problem’s more nuanced than merely “the midfield.” For much of the season, Shim (a midfielder) was played as a forward. She didn’t start a scoring until she was moved back to midfield (she finished with five goals). That switch allowed Sinclair, played as an attacking midfielder for much of the season, to move back to her natural position, with a late surge pushing her to eight goals. Morgan, in the mean time, finished fourth in the league in goals despite leading the circuit in shots and shots on goal. Noticeably worn down before her early-August injury, the superstar’s first season as a full-time starter has been a learning experience.

Without her over the last three games, Portland hasn’t had the route one outlet she provides, something that’s actually helped the team. Forced to rely on building play rather than Morgan’s athleticism, the Thorns seemed to be more cohesive, with a reinforced midfield also helping the team’s defensive issues. It’s an approach that better suits Sinclair, allowing her creativity to thrive as a focal point of the attack, yet it’s also unclear how that style suits Morgan’s. Over the team’s first 20 games, Portland averaged 1.5 goals per 90 minutes, the exact same rate they’ve scored at over the last three games, with Morgan on the sidelines.

Overall: It’s been a difficult year. The defense was strong but suffered after the loss of one of the team’s most valuable players. The attack remains potent but defined by potential, with the team never meeting preseason expectations. Even as they enter the season’s final game, one that could see them crowned champions, it’s unclear what we can expect from the Thorns.

If, however, Portland plays like they did over the last 60 minutes of their semifinal, they’ll likely end the season on top. Coming back from a 2-0 deficit, the Thorns played their best soccer of the year, a reminder that the potential we saw in preseason still exists. As FC Kansas City found out, Portland has the talent to ruin seasons.

We’ve seen enough of Thorns FC to know they’re underdogs on Saturday. We’ve also seen enough to know they’re capable of anything: from being run out of Rochester; grinding out a win; being disappointed by a late breakdown; or exploding in for a rout of Western New York .

Nothing should surprise us when it comes to the Thorns.

Transfer Rumor Roundup: Onyekuru to Arsenal; Sigurdsson to Everton

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Sky Sports are reporting that Arsenal is in talks to sign Nigerian striker Henry Onyekuru from Belgian side KAS Eupen.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

The 19-year-old forward is also said to be interesting Everton, Southampton and West Bromwich Albion, but Arsenal look to have pushed ahead of their competitors.

Onyekuru scored 22 goals in Belgium’s top-flight this season, making him the highest domestic scorer and the teenager’s representatives have reportedly said they’re confident he will play in England next season with the striker having a $8.8 million release clause in his contract.

Arsenal have history of taking some of the most talented youngsters in Europe and turning them into first team regulars such as Theo Walcott, Hector Bellerin, Cesc Fabregas and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to name a few.

Would Onyekuru be better off coming to England and playing for the likes of Southampton, West Brom or Everton where he could play regularly? Perhaps.

But even if he ends up at Arsenal he could be loaned at a la Romelu Lukaku when he was at Chelsea and we all know how that turned out. Playing regularly will help Onyekuru’s development and even though he may not get that initially at Arsenal with Olivier Giroud, Danny Welbeck and maybe even Alexis Sanchez still around, it’s not the worst place to learn the game and experience the loan system in the PL or Championship.


The Daily Mirror reports that Everton have agreed a $32 million fee with Swansea City for Gylfi Sigurdsson.

Sigurdsson, 27, was the main reason the Swans fought off relegation from the Premier League as the Icelandic international scored nine goals and added 13 assists.

However, despite the two clubs agreeing a fee it is believed that Sigurdsson’s wage demands of over $155,000 per week could see the deal fall flat on its face.

With Ross Barkley‘s future at Everton increasingly uncertain, bringing in a more experienced playmaker who had the third-most assists in the PL this season. Sigurdsson’s former club, Tottenham Hotspur, and Southampton are said to be interested in signing the playmaker but Everton appear to have moved fast.

This certainly points towards Barkley not having a future at Goodison Park and Sigurdsson may well fancy another crack at European action after struggling at Tottenham before he moved to Swansea in 2014.

VIDEO: Calamitous own goal costs England at U20 World Cup

Leave a comment

Oh no.

This is not a moment Chelsea and England defender Fikayo Tomori will want to see again, but he will probably see it for the rest of his career.

[ MORE: U-20 World Cup latest

With England’s U-20 side leading Guinea 1-0 at the 2017 FIFA U-20 World Cup in South Korea on Tuesday, Tomori played a long-range blind back pass towards goalkeeper Dean Henderson.

The only problem was, he over-hit the pass. By a lot.

Click play on the video above to see the calamitous own goal as Guinea held on for a 1-1 draw in the second group game for both teams in Group A.

England play hosts South Korea on Friday in their final group game and despite this huge error they’re on course to make the knockout stage after a 3-0 win against heavily-favored Argentina last Saturday.

Manchester clubs release statements after terror attack

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The City of Manchester is united.

Both Manchester United and Manchester City released statements on Tuesday as a suicide bomber struck Manchester Arena late on Monday, killing 22 and injuring 59 as families and young children walked out of an Ariana Grande concert.

United’s staff held a minute’s silence before training and have canceled all media activity ahead of their Europa League final against Ajax in Stockholm on Wednesday, while City’s Etihad Stadium is being used as a support center as part of the ongoing relief effort in the northern English city.

It has also been reported by the Daily Telegraph that the wife and two daughters of Man City manager Pep Guardiola were at the concert but were unharmed.

Below is the statement from United.

Everyone at Manchester United is deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events at the Manchester Arena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, including our supporters, club staff and members of our community such as the children from our Manchester United Foundation partner schools who were attending the concert at the Arena. Club staff are ready to help the police and other emergency services in any way that may be required at this challenging time for our city.

And here is a statement from City.

The thoughts and prayers of our ownership, Board and everyone at Manchester City are with the people of Manchester and all those affected following the horrifying events of last night’s Manchester Arena attack.

We have offered our full support throughout the night and this morning to the leaders of the City of Manchester itself and to the Emergency Services who are doing so much to support our city in these most challenging of circumstances.

The Etihad Stadium is being used as a support centre following the tragic events and Greater Manchester Police have advised that anyone needing assistance relating to the attack can access that help at the Etihad Stadium via Gate 11.

Man United honor attack victims ahead of Europa League final

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Manchester United’s players and coaching staff held a minute’s silence ahead of training on Tuesday at their Carrington base in Manchester.

Following the terrorist attack in Manchester late on Monday where a suicide bomber killed 22 people and injured 59 at an Ariana Grande concert at Manchester Arena, United will not hold a press conference and other media activities on Tuesday ahead of the Europa League final in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Europa League final against Ajax on Wednesday will still go ahead as planned at the Friends Arena in nearby Solna, with UEFA releasing a statement reassuring fans that there was no security threat in the Swedish capital.

“UEFA is shocked by last night’s attack in Manchester. Our thoughts are with the victims and the families of those affected. There is currently no specific intelligence which might suggest that any of the UEFA Europa League final activities in Stockholm may be the target of attacks.

“UEFA has been closely working with local authorities and the Swedish FA for many months and the terrorist risk had been taken into account since the very beginning of the project. Furthermore, a number of additional security measures were implemented following the attacks in Stockholm last April. Due to the tight security arrangements, UEFA urges fans to arrive at the stadium as early as possible, as detailed checks will be made at the entrances, resulting in potential delays in accessing the stadium.”

United released the following statement early on Tuesday morning following the attack, while many of their players and key figures in the soccer world have been sharing their condolences on social media.

Everyone at Manchester United is deeply shocked by last night’s terrible events at the Manchester Arena. Our thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected, including our supporters, club staff and members of our community such as the children from our Manchester United Foundation partner schools who were attending the concert at the Arena. Club staff are ready to help the police and other emergency services in any way that may be required at this challenging time for our city.