Riley vows better tactics and roster shuffling as Thorns new head coach

Paul Riley

Photo by ISIPhotos.com

By CAITLIN MURRAY

How much improvement does a reigning champion team need?

As it turns out, plenty – at least that’s what new Portland Thorns FC coach Paul Riley thinks.

Riley was named head coach of the Thorns Tuesday and quickly vowed to bring in new players and change tactics to give the club an easier path to victory for 2014.

First up: Better possession and a better “attacking brand.”

“I think that’ll be critical – playing out the back and keeping possession, playing to the midfield,” Riley said Tuesday during a media call. “We have a great midfield unit and I think we need to use it a little bit more and play expansive football through the area.”

“[Christine] Sinclair and Alex [Morgan] have to be in better areas and higher up the field,” he added. “That will be the goal to improve the attack and score more goals. The back line’s been pretty solid. We’re going to add a little bit more speed to the backline – I think we do need a little more speed, especially in the outside areas.”

Riley, an Englishman, has a strong resume in women’s soccer having previously coached the Philadelphia Independence and winning coach of the year awards in Women’s Professional Soccer in 2010 and 2011. Thorns owner Merritt Paulson tweeted last week that Riley will “be among [the] top coaches in [the] league, easy.”

Riley was up for the vacant England Women’s National Team job and flew to England for an interview, but the job was given last week to former Bristol Academy coach Mark Sampson instead.

Riley, who is coming off a stint heading up semi-pro New York Fury, said he is eyeing several players to join Portland, including two abroad players, and more announcements will come over the next two weeks.

“I want to bring the best players back to the shores here,” Riley said. “We had all the top players in the world here during WPS.”

Riley said he was not involved in the Thorns’ decision to trade forward Danielle Foxhoven to Seattle Reign FC in exchange for forward Jess McDonald and midfielder Rebecca Moros. But trades yet to be announced have all gone through Riley, he said.

Paulson confirmed on Twitter Tuesday the club will acquire defender Nikki Marshall for draft picks from Seattle, although the trade has not yet been formally announced. It seemed to be a curious trade since Marshall started every game for Portland in 2013, but was later waived and ended up in Seattle – but Paulson said her 2013 contracted salary was too high to fit under their cap and new terms are set for 2014.

Former head coach Cindy Parlow Cone stepped down from the position with the Thorns late last week citing personal reasons. Riley said he was brought in and hired “pretty quickly” but did not provide specifics.

Despite ending the season with trophy in-hand, 2013 was at times a hard road for Cone. The Thorns came into the inaugural National Women’s Soccer League season with massive expectations set by the allocation of two of the world’s best forwards, Alex Morgan and Christine Sinclair. Portland finished the regular season even with two other teams who had better goal differentials, forcing the Thorns to play the semifinals and the championship at away venues.

Riley said he expects the Thorns to host post-season matches at home in Portland in 2014.

“We can do one step better and have the semifinal and final at home in front of our own fans,” Riley said.

“The No. 1 goal for me is to play home in the playoffs and have 17,000 to 20,000 cheering them on. I think that would be great for the sport.”

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What do you think of Paul Riley being named Portland’s new coach? Will his new tactical plans improve Portland’s attack? Do you think he will help the Thorns live up to the expectations fans had before the 2013 season?

Share your thoughts below.

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4 Responses to Riley vows better tactics and roster shuffling as Thorns new head coach

  1. Taylor says:

    Does that mean PTFC won’t stand for Portland Tarheels Football Club anymore? Excited to hear he wants to bring top int’l players like during the WPS days, but I’d imagine the salary cap will be an impediment. I suppose PTFC knows something about that considering Marshall… which is still curious. If you are a Thorns fan, it’d be pumped to have Riley as head coach. I think he can do wonders with a loaded roster. imo played under its potential last year.

  2. Diane says:

    I don’t think he’ll do anything to improve Morgan’s attitude when she plays for club, but I’ll wait to see. It won’t take much to improve Portland’s attack since they had a pretty weak one for most of last season. As for living up to expectations, I’ll assume you mean domination of the league and goals for days, I think Laura Harvey might have something to say about that as well as a few other teams.

    I’m obviously not a Paul Riley fan. I’d like to see him at least change my mind enough to not sneer when I hear his name.

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  4. nate says:

    I know nothing about Paul Riley, but there are plenty of high school coaches who could’ve employed more imaginative tactics than Cone. Something other than long balls to Morgan and Route One through Sinclair to Morgan, no playing time for the only players capable of providing width (until the arrival of Heath), and arbitrarily flipping player positions for no real tactical purpose, but just to be doing SOMETHING. Ugh, and the substitutions. Cone’s player selection resembled nothing so much as throwing sh*t at the wall and seeing what sticks. I’m grateful for Cone’s service in managing to barely win a league title with at least twice the talent of any other team, but I’m glad the Thorns have moved on. I see a lot of other teams making significant roster improvements and growing stronger and look forward to PTFC’s response.

    Having watched the Thorns all season, I think Morgan’s attitude issues late in the season were born of a growing frustration with tactics that forced her to do all the work, often chasing futilely after speculative balls to the corners, or trying to fight off two or three defenders with no support other than a similarly over-worked and double-teamed Sinclair. Portland has a ton of talent on offense, and I expect Riley to get more out of quality pieces like Mana Shim, Angie Kerr, Allie Long, Tiffany Weimer, and Nikki Washington, not to mention putting Sinclair and Morgan in positions to do even more damage. Defense could be a concern, with the departure of the best fullback from a group that was already prone to a few serious breakdowns, though the return of Becky Edwards in front of the back line should help.

    Looking forward to seeing how it all plays out next season.