Good day, gentle people of Portland, I greet you from a new location (the By Any Other Name Blog) roughly 24 hours from the very first kick of the National Women’s Soccer League.
I’ll be writing recaps of games and general analysis here, and I do hope that you will join me after the games to talk Thorns.
Having said that… what do we talk about right now?
We talk about Portland and the Portland Thorns.
Now there has been hubub about everything in regards to the Thorns, the NWSL, the league structure, players (Oh HAI Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan), supporters group names, scarves and even what t-shirt that the common supporter should wear to the game.
What can be lost in all this drama is the reason we support.
The Portland Thorns are new, yes. However the history of women’s soccer that exists in Portland is long and its legacy great. In my mind, the reason to support the Thorns has very little to do with simply “needing to support the NWSL” but rather everything to do with Team and Town. Now, you may notice that in the equation we don’t have the “RCR”. That’s because the foundation of that organization in every form is being built NOW. Right now, the plans are being laid in place for the shape of the support for the Thorns. If you have ever wanted to paint new flags, create new traditions, sing new songs that show your love of town and team, now is your opportunity. The slate for the Thorns is clean, but backed up by the experience and wealth of knowledge brought to a bubble by the 100+ year history of the game in Portland, and (for many) the years of experience within the construct of the Timbers Army. The demand for and love of soccer in this city is such that fans can’t wait for even the first kick to show their love of this city and the women that play for it.
And that brings us to the crux of this matter:
This city and the women that play for it. There is history here with this squad. This isn’t just some loose organization of player with no tie to the area. Rather there are players here who truly love this special place.
“They (the NWSL) asked for four cities and my four cities were Portland, Portland, Portland, and Portland” – Christine Sinclair – Extra Time Radio Interview
Christine Sinclair arrived for college in Portland in 2001. She did just about everything possible that could be done on a collegiate level for the Portland Pilots. She was Freshman of the Year, won two national championships, won the Hermann Trophy (top women’s soccer player of the year in college) TWICE, won the award for college woman athlete of the year, and set the all time division 1 goal scoring record. For some she is the best player in the world (although many could point to the OTHER forward for the Thorns, Alex Morgan). The ties between Sinclair, the Portland Timbers, and local Portland soccer extend as the coach for Sinclair at the University of Portland was the irreplaceable Clive Charles. Charles passed away of prostate cancer the year after Sinclair and the Pilots women won the 2002 NCAA National Championship.
This was no small incident of one man having a small impact on someones life though as Sinclair indicated in an interview on the Portland Thorns website.
“Being recruited by many schools, he was the only coach that seemed to care about you as a person first and an athlete, second or third. My parents used to rent a house from him up in Burnaby well before I was even born. It’s just a small world. I have known Clive for my whole life, not very well at first, but when he came up to recruit me, he wanted to go hang out with my grandparents. It’s just weird how it all happened.
“The first thing that crosses my mind always is winning Clive that National Championship. It being the last game he ever coached and just seeing him hugging the trophy after they presented it to our team,”
You can see the love that Sinclair has for Charles, and for Portland when she talks. To me, it isn’t just talk as she showed when she was back in Portland for training.
This is the continued legacy that we ask for, the connection the Portland fans demand from the players: an understanding of the town, of the people who shaped soccer in the area, and a love of the things that make Portland a tremendous place to live.
It isn’t just Sinclair but players like Danielle Foxhoven and Angie Kerr (both Portland alumni) who bring that connection of Town and Team. It is up to the fans to reinforce the triangle and bring the connection of all three ideals of supporting the Thorns, Portland and the Rose City Riveters to light as we all gather to watch the Thorns play their first few games.
There will be bumps in the road, both in terms of team and support. However, the unifying tie of Portland, the love of the beautiful game, and the bonds of friendship that this close community will create are what bring us together in the stands.
This isn’t just a women’s team, or a men’s team. This is a team that represents Portland. It may be new, but it is ours.
New isn’t a dirty word, it isn’t a word indicative of something bad, it is a word that means “Not existing before; made, introduced, or discovered recently or now for the first time.”
Whilst the Thorns may not yet be entrenched in your heart, that is because this is a first date. Some of us will fall in love at first sight, some of us will fall in love when we learn the personality and character of our date; and some of us might swoon at the play. To grow in love is to experience life together, to share in that common bond of highs, lows and to understand those items that not only are positive, but (as well) negative.
As Joe Strummer once said “The Future is Unwritten.”
We are creating this future, one brick at a time, one email at a time, one player at a time and it is on the backs of the fans that this team will grow.
Now, let us gather once more to root on Portland, to sing for our city and our team as we have before.