It was Juliet that discovered that Romeo, regardless of his real name, was still the charismatic man she fell in love with, and as such a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. These words sealed the fairy-tale that was Romeo and Juliet. The Thorns have accomplished this by creating a dreamlike fairy tale football club ... or so it seemed. They have recruited immense star power in the form of Alex Morgan, Christine Sinclair, Allie Long, and Danielle Foxhoven.
Judging by their preseason match, the Thorns will likely begin their NWSL season using a 4-4-2 formation. On paper this team should compete for the title, but nothing can be decided until we see how the players operate on the field. Can the Thorns live up to the hype that has followed them since their inception into the NWSL?
The Thorns have constructed a thorough preseason roster which included two trial goal keepers in addition to the Canadian National Team allocated player, Karina LeBlanc and draft pick Roxanne Barker. However, Barker, Cris Lewis and Aline Reis have been removed from their roster. Backing up LeBlanc will be a tremendous keeper from UNC, Adelaide Gay. Originally, Gay was a pre-season trialist for the Boston Breakers.
Morgan and Sinclair are the team's biggest stars, but the acquisition of Karina LeBlanc was just as important. The star keeper has already capped over 100 appearances for the Canadian National Team. In 2012 she played in eight matches for Canada and recorded three clean sheets. Her best year for the national team was in 2010 when she played 12 matches and recorded eight clean sheets.
Adelaide Gay is another strong option in goal for the Thorns. She will be an inspiration to the a crop of aspiring players as she has experienced setbacks in college, where she wasn't originally expected to start for the Tar Heels. But she was persistent and eventually she got to start in a game. The fantastic results from her first start propelled her to stardom for Carolina, and are credited for being a major reason for why the Tar Heels had a successful run during the two years she played.
The Thorns may not have high numbers in defense but the players they have are reliable to an extent. Katherine Williamson (right back), Rachel Buehler (center back), Marian Dougherty (center back) and Nikki Marshall (left back) are likely to begin the season as the starters.
Kathryn Williamson is the most exciting addition to the backline as she arrives to the Thorns as their first pick in the 2013 NWSL College Draft. Williamson played as a center back for the University of Florida and received 80 starts during her career. She has been lauded for her defensive skills on numerous occasions including various defensive players of the week awards in the SEC in 2011, and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year award in 2010. It is uplifting that the Thorns chose Williamson as a starter in their preseason match against the Pilots. Unfortunately Williamson had a blunder on the field during the match that would eventually result in the Pilots getting their only goal of the game. Regardless of this performance, Williamson is still a strong defender and would be perfect as a right back.
When the Thorns were allocated Rachel Buehler they won a strong defender. Buehler's Olympic performance was widely criticized as sloppy but she is usually on point when defending. Other than remaining a constant fixture for the USWNT since 2008, Buehler has played for former WPS club FC Gold Pride for two seasons and the Boston Breakers for a single season in 2011.
Nikki Marshall is an excellent defender, though she was a forward in college at Colorado. In her freshman year she set a record for the most goals ever scored in a single season with 17 goals. She kept her status as a record breaker upon her graduation when she led the Colorado program as the all-time leading scorer with 42 goals. Marshall's professional career is impressive as she has played for nearly every professional club in the WPS and WPSL Elite leagues. The Washington Freedom drafted her in 2010 and she appeared in 25 matches for the team. She later played for the Boston Breakers and magicJack. Her most recent placement was with the Western New York Flash during their WPSL Elite campaign.
Marian Doughtery is a fan favorite from previous WPS seasons and a former USWNT defender. At 5'10" she strikes an intimidating stance in the backline. Dougherty previously played for the Chicago Red Stars and magicJack.
Jazmyne Avant was a prominent defender at the University of Florida. As a Gator she started 79 matches and recorded 12 assists. Following the conclusion of her collegiate career, Avant made 10 appearances for the New York Fury in the WPSL Elite.
The Thorns midfield is among the league's best Allie Long and Nikki Washington are the definite playmakers for this formation and should be out on the wings. Tobin Heath should partner up with Becky Edwards to complete the central midfield. Heath will be overseas until June, however, and will not be available to start the season. Meleana Shim is a creative player and would suit the role until Heath returns.
Tobin Heath is among the craftiest and most creative midfielders in soccer. She had so many college accolades that we couldn't possibly name them all here. Recently, she's established herself as a regular for the national team. As the No. 1 draft pick during the 2010 WPS college draft, Heath was selected by the Atlanta Beat where she and current Thorns teammate Angie Kerr were traded to Sky Blue.
Due to Heath's PSG duties in France, she will likely only return in mid-June so for a good two months the central midfield position will be an open competition. Meleana Shim should take the opportunity to fill that void. Shim completed her college career at Santa Clara as a starting midfielder and captain of her senior squad. During her campaign the Broncos made four consecutive appearances at the NCAA Tournament. She completed her career with eight goals and eight assists.
Becky Edwards has had both an impressive collegiate and professional career. She played a starting defender/midfielder in 89 matches for Florida State and landed on the NSCAA All Southeast Region First Team, First Team All-ACC and was a finalist for the MAC Hermann Trophy. In 2010 upon graduating college she was selected by FC Gold Pride during the 2010 WPS Draft, the team would go on to win the WPS championship title. This is one of two championship titles Edwards would pick up during her American professional career. In 2011 she joined the Western New York Flash, scored three goals and won the championship title. Her next career move was to play soccer in Sweden where she joined Hammarby IF and then transferred to Kristianstads DFF where she would start in 17 matches and score twice.
Allie Long will be the key piece in any attack set up by the Thorns and will exhaust her opponents on the field. She has been a member of the U.S. under-20 and under-23 teams. After spending two seasons with the Washington Freedom and earning a Player of the Week mention, she completed her WPS career with Sky Blue. In 2011 she transferred to PSG and logged 12 appearances and four goals.
The final player that should earn a starting spot for the Thorns is Nikki Washington. She has speed and her primary duty should be to connect passes with Sinclair. Washington comes from UNC as a forward with 17 goals and 28 assists. She was selected by the Los Angeles Sol in the 2010 WPS Draft, and later played for Sky Blue.
As a defender and midfielder for Oregon State University, Courtney Wetzel accumulated five goals and 10 assists in 61 appearances. In 2009 she was named the team MVP when she led the Oregon State University Beavers to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament. This was the first time in the school's history that they made an appearance this far into the NCAA Tournament. With Wetzel's help in the backline, the team was able to record seven shutouts.
Every team requires a sub and two subs for the midfield line would be Angie Kerr. In an event where she is subbed on the field, she should join Heath as a central midfielder because during her senior year she led the WCC with 13 assists, and two goals. The only concern with Kerr is her lack of activity in the years following her 2011 career with Sky Blue. Her professional career isn't impressive in comparison with her teammates but Kerr has good experience under her belt. She will likely act as a sub alongside Emilee O'Neil.
Alex Morgan is the face of the team -- at least for American fans -- and has become one of the best players in the world since she burst onto the scene at the 2011 World Cup. She had the best year of her career in 2012, scoring 26 goals for the United States. She did not burst on the scene as the top goal scorer in the same manner that Sydney Leroux did during her U-20 days, but has quickly become the biggest star in the U.S. women's side. Morgan is the perfect player to set up a little higher on the pitch than Sinclair, who is good at dropping deep to combine with the midfield
Christine Sinclair has made an incredible impact on the sport. Most of the current national team players for both the Canadian and United States teams credit the 1999 dream team members Mia Hamm, Kristine Lilly and Brandi Chastain as the motivation behind their aspirations, but Sinclair may be looked up to the same way by Canadian girls in the future. She is constantly trying to better herself and promote the sport and her country of Canada. Sinclair is a hero of the sport and now with the NWSL reaching a much larger population of soccer fanatics, she will certainly be admired for decades to come.
Sinclair's height and footwork makes it very difficult for any defender to shut her down. While most forwards instinctually take early shots, Sinclair takes her time. She is composed on the ball and manipulates the defenders in thinking she will shift the ball to another foot.
Danielle Foxhoven will be joining Sinclair and Morgan up top, likely as an impact sub. During the pre-season match against the Pilots, Foxhoven scored the equalizer shortly after the start of the second half. Danielle might not be a constant fixture on the front line due to the presence of Morgan and Sinclair, but she will certainly get her chances to play off the bench.
At the University of Portland, Foxhoven ranked fourth in all-time scoring with 57 goals and 25 assists. In 2008 she was awarded the WCC Freshman of the Year award. In an interesting career move, Foxhoven decided to play for the Russian club FC Energiya Voronezh following the closure of the WPS. In only nine appearances for the Russian club, Foxhoven scored six goals including a hat trick.
The Thorns may have been fan favorites right out of the gate when they announced they had acquired top goal scorers Sinclair and Morgan, along with McLeod in goal. However, their defense leave something to be desired.
Their midfield and forward line are composed of players that will make every match entertaining for the fans and difficult for the opposition. This is their strength that could lead to the Thorns reaching the finals. The midfield is talented enough to help them retain a majority of the possession in most matches, and with Sinclair and Morgan in front of them, the Thorns are sure to rack up goals.
If the Thorns defense can match the level of their attack, they're sure to push for a title, but they're far from locks to win the league.