2014 NWSL season preview – Portland Thorns: Less hats, more Riley

Brett Carlsen

Defending champions Portland are looking to make it two titles in two years. They've still got Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan, and the Thorns have also added a brand new coach who just happens to be Paul Riley.

You've just finished third on the table, grabbed a come from behind semifinal win, and then won the championship despite being a player down for more than 30 minutes, what are you going to do now? How about watch your coach step down, trade away some key players, trade to get some of them back, bring in one of the world's best goalkeepers and hire Paul Riley? Because that's what the Portland Thorns did.

Head Coach: Paul Riley, first season

Where we left off: With a trophy.

Comic Sans: Portland already had a very good goalkeeper in Karina LeBlanc, but then, Germans! Or specifically, one German, who happens to be named Nadine Angerer and happens to be one of the best goalkeepers in the world. Germans have always been elusive for pro soccer in the U.S., hesitant to come here when there's stability and a pretty solid league at home in the Frauenbundesliga. Somehow though, the Thorns convinced Angerer to give the NWSL a shot. Angerer has been a part of the German WNT for nearly twenty years, with 131 appearances for her country. She's also been a staple in the German league, most notably for Turbine Potsdam and most recently for FFC Frankfurt. At 35, Angerer is hardly the youngest goalkeeper in the league, but she's still very good, and Germans! We convinced a German!

Hey, where did we go?: Portland's defense was far from the best in the league a season ago, but it wasn't the worst either. Which is maybe a good thing if you have to replace them all anyway. Marian Dougherty retired, Kat Williamson headed to Western NY and Rachel Buehler ... oh, wait. Rachel Buehler just got married. She's Rachel Van Hollebeke now but she's very much still here. As is Nikki Marshall. The Thorns added Rebecca Moros, who was a part of the WPS Washington Freedom but has spent the last few seasons playing in Japan.

I guess you could just play like a 3-6-1 or something: One reason you know Paul Riley is in town? Vero is not far behind. One of the first moves Riley made was signing the Spanish midfielder, who also played for him in Philadelphia. Thing is, Boquete won't be available to Portland until Champions League commitments with Swedish side Tyreso are done. Tobin Heath will be similarly absent, due to her contract with French club PSG. In short, it's going to be a while before we see either Heath or Vero in a Thorns kit. But does it even matter? Where would they even play? There's already former FC Kansas City player Sinead Farrelly, the Flash's Sarah Huffman, Bayern Munich's Amber Brooks, and returning Thorns Angie Kerr, Allie Long and Mana Shim. Portland actually lost Shim to Houston in the Expansion Draft, but then traded to get her back because that just seems like something Portland would do.

Sinclair. Morgan.: This, on paper, seems like we don't even need to really discuss it because what is there to discuss? It should be noted however, that this team that has both Christine Sinclair and Alex Morgan once spent three straight games without scoring a goal. It should also be noted that Morgan and Sinclair tallied eight goals a piece in 2013 and probably offensively, the Thorns are going to be just fine.

In conclusion: If you were in the market for a new head coach, Paul Riley is probably exactly the guy you'd want. Players sing his praises, he's endlessly quotable and he brought the Philadelphia Independence to the title game in two consecutive seasons, including the one where they were an expansion side. But is Paul Riley the guy you want if you're Portland? The Paul Riley trademark has always been building something out of nothing; taking spare parts and somehow making them work. Riley's Independence were a team of cast-offs and let downs, people looking for new lives in a game that had somehow burned them or forgotten about them or just sort of left them behind. None of this describes Portland. Portland has a championship. Portland has names. Portland is everything a typical Paul Riley team isn't. If this is a guy that can turn your junk drawer into a championship contender, what can he do with every store on Fifth Avenue at his disposal?

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