NWSL opening sixth season on Saturday

10
NWSL opening sixth season on Saturday
FILE - In this April 15, 2017, file photo, Portland Thorns goalie Adrianna Franch, right, stops a scoring attempt by Orlando Pride forward Jasmyne Spencer during the second half of their NWSL soccer match in Portland, Ore. The National Women’s Soccer league opens its sixth season this weekend. The defending champion Portland Thorns play the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, with both teams looking to build on last year’s success. (AP Photo/Don Ryan, File)

Portland goalkeeper Adrianna Franch can scan the field in front of her during any given game but what makes the Thorns good isn’t necessarily something she sees.

It’s a mindset.

“I think our strength in general is our culture. It’s yeah, you can play pretty soccer, and that’s what we want to do, we love to get the ball down and move it. But we love to get after you, and find a way to win, and that comes with the players that we have around us,” Franch said. “Individually everybody has that mindset, so collectively it’s hard to beat.”

The Thorns are the defending champions of the National Women’s Soccer League, which kicks off its sixth season on Saturday.

Last season, Portland finished second in the league standings behind North Carolina, but the Thorns beat the Courage 1-0 in the championship game. Lindsey Horan scored the game’s lone goal.

The two teams open the season on Saturday in Cary.

The Thorns are not only loaded with talent, like national team regulars Horan and Tobin Heath, as well as Canadian star Christine Sinclair, they’ve also got a supportive owner in Merritt Paulson and a strong alliance with the Portland Timbers of MLS. Not to mention a wildly enthusiastic fan base.

“Best of luck to all @NWSL teams as we start our unprecedented sixth season. I don’t think the league has ever had a more stable foundation than it does today and 2019 is looking even better,” Paulson said Friday on Twitter.

The Thorns, who also won the league’s inaugural championship, will be looking to add a third star above the team’s crest.

“That’s what everybody’s goal is,” Franch said. “That’s part of our profession. Every team is coming for that star. We have the things that we need: We have a great support system, club and fans, and then our coaching staff. So we go off of what we did last year and then we build with new players and try to integrate them and do what we’re good at.”

The Thorns will start the season without midfielder Heath, who is recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Health’s rehab is important because she’ll be key to the U.S. national team’s path to the 2019 World Cup in France.

PRESSING MATTER: The saga of Christen Press and the Houston Dash continues. She is not with the Dash, and the team is proceeding without her.

Press was traded to Houston from Chicago on draft day, part of a blockbuster deal that sent Carli Lloyd to Sky Blue and Sam Kerr to the Red Stars. Press has not reported to the club. There have been reports that she may play in Sweden this season. U.S. national team coach Jill Ellis left her off the team’s roster for a pair of upcoming matches against Mexico.

HELLO UTAH ROYALS: The league announced in January that Real Salt Lake would field an NWSL team, joining three other teams that are affiliated with Major League Soccer teams. The Utah Royals hired coach Laura Harvey, previously of the Seattle Reign.

The move came a few days before it was announced that FC Kansas City was folding. While Kansas City’s players were moved en masse (the league owns the players’ contracts), the move was not a relocation, so the titles won by FCKC in 2014 and 2015 do not transfer to Salt Lake City.

BOSTON HEARTBREAKERS: The league announced in January that the Boston Breakers would cease operations. The NWSL scrambled for a buyer for the team at the last minute, but the effort was ultimately unsuccessful. Boston’s demise left the league with only nine teams for the 2018 season.

The Breakers had a long history dating back to the team’s first incarnation with the Women’s United Soccer Association in 2001. That league folded in 2003 but was followed by Women’s Professional Soccer, which included the Breakers from 2009 until the league’s demise in 2012. Boston was one of the eight founding teams of the NWSL, which started play in 2013. Last season the team finished 4-13-7.

KERR’S DEBUT: The Red Stars will have to wait a bit for the league’s Golden Boot winner to join the team. Kerr and several other Australian national team players in the NWSL won’t be joining their club teams right away because of World Cup qualifying. The Matildas will play in the AFC Women’s Asian Cup next month in Jordan. The top five finishers qualify for the World Cup. Other NWSL players staying home to prepare for qualifying include Houston’s Kyah Simon, Portland’s Haley Raso and Seattle’s Steph Catley.

By the way, Kerr had 17 goals with Sky Blue last season, including a four-goal game against Seattle.