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Thorns toppling teams, even without some top players

The Portland Thorns are one of only two undefeated teams in the National Women's Soccer League, but they have yet to get three U.S. national team players onto the pitch.

Portland striker Alex Morgan is out indefinitely with a left ankle stress reaction.

Defender Rachel Van Hollebeke (the erstwhile Rachel Buehler) is out with a left ankle sprain.

Neither player has seen the pitch this season.

And Thorns midfielder Tobin Heath is playing in France. She is expected to arrive in late June or early July.

Also, the Thorns are waiting for two other international stars — midfielder Veronica Boquete of Spain and Stephanie Catley of Australia.

Thorns coach Paul Riley says the club (2-0-1 and trailing only the Seattle Reign (3-0-0) is trying to weather the early matches.

“We don’t have a lot of strength in depth right now,” Riley says. “We’ll have that in another month or so. But it’s just a matter of picking up as many points as we can in April and, certainly, the first two or three weeks of May until we get everybody here.

“I’m just hoping every time somebody comes back they give us another lift and then another lift and then another lift,” Riley says. “(Heath) will be the final player in, the final piece of the jigsaw puzzle. We’ll have to wait until late June for that one. It’s an exciting team to coach.”

• Portland got an enormous lift from striker Jessica McDonald last Saturday against FC Kansas City. McDonald recorded a brace in the final 10 minutes to lift the Thorns to a 3-1 victory in their home opener.

McDonald, a 6-0 25-year-old, played for the Chicago Red Stars and Seattle last season.

Riley is ecstatic with the contributions she has made as one of the club’s starting strikers and in place of Morgan.

“She’s been brilliant for us,” Riley says. “Her husband and kid are in Arizona, so it’s not an easy thing for her to come here. She’s been fully committed to everything we’ve done. You can see the fitness level she’s gotten. She’s been tremendous and obviously with Alex missing (McDonald) has an opportunity to keep pushing along and getting goals. Hopefully, she can make it difficult for Alex to get back in the team. I’m hoping that’s what happens.”

Playing on the same club as Sinclair and Morgan, McDonald has taken it upon herself to raise her game.

“It’s incredible, because you look up to players like that,” McDonald says. “When you come into preseason, you have to prove that you belong on the field with them.”

• The Thorns have arguably the best offensive weapon in the world in striker Christine Sinclair. However, Portland has had midfielder Allie Long taking penalty kicks this season. Long converted PKs against Sky Blue FC and FC Kansas City.

Riley says he has nothing to do with deciding who takes the penalty kicks.

“The players make that decision,” Riley says. “I actually thought (Sinclair) would take it (against FC Kansas City). Allie’s scoring goals and when you score goals, you want to take it. I watched Allie, she went straight for the ball and with (Sinclair) there was no hesitation. (Sinclair) let her take it. That’s part of being a team and who’s in form.”

In large part because of the penalty kicks, Long has scored three goals in Portland’s first three matches.

“It feels good,” Long says. “But you’re only as good as your last game, and I want to keep getting better. If I score a goal that’s awesome. If I can help in any way, it’s a good feeling for sure.”

• Portland goalkeeper Nadine Angerer has replaced Karina LeBlanc, the Thorns much loved and highly skilled goalkeeper from last season.

Angerer, a 5-9, 35-year-old from Germany has been fantastic, making 10 saves and giving up only two goals, one of them coming on a PK against FC Kansas City.

“She’s just so calm,” Riley says. “Even in the locker room, she has that sense of calm about her. I’ve never seen anybody with hands this good. When that ball goes in there, it just doesn’t come out. And feet. One of the reasons we really wanted her was just because of her feet. They say she and (Seattle Reign goalkeeper) Hope (Solo) are the two best goalkeepers in the world, and I’ve never coached Hope, so I can’t say anything. But Nadine is absolutely top-class.”

Angerer says she has fit in well with the Thorns.

“We practice every day together,” Angerer says. “We talk a lot on the pitch and also outside the pitch. It was easy to fit in on the team.”