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  • Writer's pictureChelsea-Anne Calder

How Will The Portland Thorns Survive Without Its Reigning MVP?

The 2023 NWSL season is officially underway with Portland Thorns sitting on top of the standings. In its first two games, the Thorns have scored eight goals, while conceding only one goal. A lot can be said about the obvious fact half of these goals have come from one player, Sophia Smith. However, the Thorns’ defensive backline has proven to be one of the strongest in the league thus far. There is a unique cohesiveness unlike any other.

Portland Thorns backline in the 2023 NWSL Championship | Photo by Aralynn Minnick

Typically, it is expected with new players coming into the league there will be a few nerves and rustiness in gameplay. The Thorns retaining a majority of their active roster puts them at an advantage of repeating as national champions. So far this season, the Thorns have recorded one of the highest number of passes in the league with only the North Carolina Courage outpassing them.

It is beautiful football to watch, and anyone can feel the high intensity surrounding this team once the whistle blows. It is very easy to say Portland Thorns is increasing the quality of play not only in the NWSL, but also in women’s football.

Of course, when you have a player like Sophia Smith on your team, it is hard not to want to always be on the front foot. She is a defender’s nightmare, but a teammate's dream. It can never be restated how important Smith is for both club and country. In only her third full season with the Portland Thorns, she has broken and continues to break multiple individual records.

On April 1st she recorded her first career hat trick and became the fastest and youngest to score 25 goals. In the 83’ minute against KC Current, Smith beat over three defenders to slot home her second of the three goals.

No team can ever completely replace a player, so how will Portland Thorns survive without its reigning MVP?

A look at the current roster, Morgan Weaver comes first to mind. She is a passionate, hard-working player who can score when she wants. Last season, Weaver scored seven goals and three assists in 22 games. If she builds off last year’s performance there is nothing to worry about for the Thorns. The only problem is her consistency in successfully taking players on in the attacking end.

What makes Sophia Smith different is her incredible technical ability to dribble in tight places and aggressively sprint forward with quick-release shots on target. No other player on the Thorns talented roster can replicate these qualities. This is a blessing and curse for them.

Sophia Smith in the 2023 NWSL Championship | Photo by Aralynn Minnick

It is expected the current National Champions will defend their title in the postseason, but with half of the starting eleven gone for the FIFA Women’s World Cup this summer, it will be a challenge. There will be an irreplaceable void on the front line, but the back line could be the source of the team’s success during the tournament window. Here the team has a strong veteran presence.

Of course, Becky Sauerbrunn will likely be in New Zealand, so players like Hubly, Coffey, Bixby, and Klingenberg must step up to the task. So far, these players have shown promise and a solution to the concerns the Thorns will face in the coming months.

Kelli Hubbly away at Gotham FC with the Portland Thorns | Photo by Nala Burton

The NWSL is a transitional league requiring timely mannered tackles, interceptions, and saves. As the season progresses, there will be a spotlight on these defensive players. It is up to them if they want to shine or not.


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