In the Portland Thorns FC bubble in Utah, there is a massage room, a physical therapy room and a lounge where players play pop-a-shot basketball and pingpong. Two players were building a 1,000-piece puzzle, and a teammate hid the final few pieces. Defender Becky Sauerbrunn broke through nerves to sing Friends in Low Places by Garth Brooks at a team dinner.
Whereas Thorns coach Mark Parsons said some teams are having a culture shock settling into the new bubble environment, he believes his team has grown closer because of it.
Were loving our time here so far, Parsons said. The group is as strong as it has ever been, which is unique in such a wild year. But maybe this is what we need.
After falling to a decisive goal in the final minutes in the NWSL Challenge Cup opener against the North Carolina Courage on Saturday, Parsons team is turning its attention to the Chicago Red Stars. The two sides will kick off at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday from Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah, for each teams second game of the National Womens Soccer League Challenge Cup. The game will be streamed on CBS All Access after Saturdays game on CBS had the largest viewership in NWSL history.
The previous record for viewership was set by the Thorns in 2014 with 190,000 viewers. Saturdays game had 572,000.
Parsons doesnt want his team to dwell on the 2-1 opening loss, even though he felt the Thorns had multiple chances to win. The Thorns didnt get the result Parsons believes his team deserved from the work it put into training, but he said the disappointment cant creep into the next game. Parsons told his team that the few seconds that slipped away at the end of the game shouldnt erase what he felt was a strong performance.
The way that the group have reflected has been very real, Parsons said. Theyve been very honest with each other on areas that have to improve quick. But also, really seeing specific areas that we wanted to be strong at and that we were strong at, that we can build from. The feelings great.
The Thorns will be playing Wednesday without a key piece in Sauerbrunn, who will miss the game with a left hip injury. Midfielder Lindsey Horan will play despite being kicked around during the opener against the Courage.
Parsons believes his team can withstand the loss of the U.S. womens national team star because of the time the club has spent together over the last month and the relationships on the field that have been built as a result. He believes there will be no loss in team chemistry even without Sauerbrunn playing.
The understanding of roles has been very good, but also cohesion between players and nonverbal communication has been good, Parsons said. Because of that, we feel great. We feel confident that people are able to step in for whatever reason.
The Thorns have adjusted well to the unprecedented bubble the tournament is taking place in amid the coronavirus pandemic. Portlands staff had sleepless nights, Parsons believes, because of the hours spent driving equipment to Utah to create as smooth a transition as possible.
Parsons talked about the improved culture he believes his team has, and how that has shown up on the field, even in a loss in the first game. The team has trained to clean up rust from the return to real games after a long break, and feels comfortable and good ahead of facing Chicago, Parsons said.
And Parsons said hell have some extra motivation for his team posted in the locker room.
A reporter asked Parsons about a comment made by Red Stars forward Katie Johnson, saying that the Red Stars are excited to play the Thorns because the notoriously loud Portland fans wont be present.
That quote from Johnson will be posted for the Thorns to see before taking the field.
The fact that theyre excited to play us without fans, because maybe we wont have much energy, Parsons said. Well guess freaking what, were going to double the energy. Thanks for that. Itll be in the changing room.
-- Matt Cohen, email@example.com
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