One Goal Beyond

Regular readers of my blog know that this time of the year can involve soccer.  Okay, most of the summer can involve me talking about soccer.  Just not men’s soccer – women’s professional soccer or the NWSL.  Specifically, I like to talk about the Portland Thorns which is my favorite team. 

This season, I must admit, I probably haven’t mentioned them much.  The season started even before the season when the draft picked up some amazing new players, then a disbursement draft resulted in a few other picks of new players with lots of amazing potential.  On papers, before the season started, the team was going to be very strong.  Leader is the leaders of the Canadian National Team and a players with a lot of titles under her belt – Sinclair.  We had three Australian National Team players who had just lead the Aussie Women’s soccer league over the winter in play that could rival what we have built here.  Raso, Carpenter, and Foord are all three amazing stand-outs.  We picked up a Brazilian who plays on her national team alongside Marta – Andressinha.  Then we added a Swiss National Team player who, in her contract with her team in Europe, wrote in a clause letting her out of the contract if – specifically – she could play for the Portland Thorns: Ana-Maria Crnogorčević.  And that doesn’t include our usual US Women’s National Team Players – Heath, Horan, Sonnett – and sometimes Franch and Kling and Purce. 

On paper, this was going to be amazing.

Then the season started……without the Aussies because they were playing with their national team as they attempted to qualify for the Women’s World Cup next year.  When they came back, Raso and Foord were hurt – and Carpenter couldn’t play immediately because she needed to turn 18 in order to sign her contract.  We were also without the Swiss player – Ana – because she was finishing her obligations in Europe.  Sonnett, one of our key defenders – was hurt.  And Menges, the other part of our defensive duo that makes up the “Wall of Emily”, was also hurt.  Then Franch got hurt too.

What looked so promising, started off so incredibly rocky.

Add into the mix the fact this team was trying to replace two key people from last season – Nadim and Henry – two European players who were on loan to us – and who had to return to their teams after the end of last season.  Both were incredible assets to our team and their absence was felt.  Henry was a key midfielder whose talent was to create plays for the offense.  And Nadim was an attacker who took the ball to the goal and put it into the goal more than most players.  Who was going to step in was a big question mark.  And with the people injured, that question was even harder to answer.

So we started out the season slow.  And painful.  And I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I started wondering if maybe this wasn’t going to be our season this year.  We won the Championship last year.  The year before that, we won the shield (finished 1st in the league at the end of the season).  Maybe this was our rebuilding year.

As the season progressed and players came back from their international obligations and their injuries, the tide started shifting.  People found their places on the field – and players who we missed were replaced with people who stepped up and did developed into the role we needed them to play. We were still in the middle of the pack, but we had potential.  And we built on the potential, to create opportunity.  Then we built on the opportunities it presented, and we started to win. Then we started to climb our way up the rankings.  

Then we got into the top 4.

Then we secured our spot in the top 4 and our spot in the playoffs by finishing #2 in the league.

Then we won a home field advantage for the semi-final game.

And yesterday, we won another shot at the championship.

I have read some things saying that these women are not role models.  That they are too aggressive.  That they deserve to lose.  But I don’t think those people get it.  Or they just feel that somehow Portland has too much advantage.  

And the advantage part can only be partially true.  Each team has caps and limits for salary and sanctioned players.  Portland has to work within those same limits regardless of success.  The only advantage we have had in the past is the organizational support.  Portland’s professional men’s soccer owner decided when the NWSL was being formed that he wanted a women’s team – and that he would run them exactly as he ran the men’s team.  Equal billing – equal support – equal access to resources.  The Thorns practice at a practice facility with a good field, bathroom, showers and other support.  The NWSL New Jersey team practices at a crappy field with access to port-a-potties, and they just gave them a month ago an RV so they can shower.  The Thorns play in the same facility as the men while other teams play on college team fields (which aren’t always bad, but not the same).  

While I’m on a tangent, I must say that things are shifting.  Merritt Paulson, the owner of the Timbers and the Thorns, has spent a lot of time advocating the benefits of owning a professional women’s team to the men’s soccer organizations.  He has gone even further by pulling back the curtain on his operations so that other team owners can see and learn how they can replicated it in their cities.  As a result, he was able to get Salt Lake City to save a team about to dissolve, and that team has found amazing support in that city and organization.  Anyone who thinks that Portland is trying to make it all a secret in terms of how they have found success clearly is not informed.  Paulson since the first season has always put a percentage of his revenue back into the NWSL which shows how much he is committed to making it succeed.  I digress.

As far as role models, they persevere.  How hard they have fought back as a team shows this.  How hard individuals who were hurt fought to get healthy and get back into the game shows that more.  If they are down, they show time and time again that they are not out.  Those are role models.

And how they are as teammates? How they treat each other is what more kids need to see.  I have watched them fight together and cheer each other on.  Last weekend, while the team was celebrating the final win of the final game of the season? They facetimed their teammate who was back on the east coast hurt the hospital so she could be there with them.  That is how a team should be together.

And that is on and off of the field.  It is typical that players live together to save money, but these guys are always posting the goofy antics of their adventures and trips.  They attend each other’s weddings and mourn for each other’s losses.  You can tell they are friends because of how they are after the games.  They have all of these jokes that come out – all of these pranks they pull on each other.  

How often do you see that in any other professional sport? 

This is why I pay to have season tickets.  This is why I cheer for them and have more Thorn’s gear than I ever have had of another sporting team.  This is why I drag my own kids – and pay for their friends to come along – so that kids see these amazing players and role models.

This is also why today, my voice is scratchy.

Because win or lose, as long as they are on the field fighting, I’ll be there yelling my support for them.

Alis volat propriis
“She flies with her own wings”


 

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