Hi, I’m Luke and I had the privilege of attending the Thorns away match in Boston on July 21. It has been a whirlwind last two months, as I was on the road in Europe (check out a collage of photos with my By Any Other Name scarf around famous stadiums), but I wanted to make sure my return to the US coincided with a Thorns away match, and this one worked out perfectly.
To begin, I should say that my college roommate Max and I were guests of Boston Breakers General Manager Lee Billiard, who is a friend of a friend. We originally had General Admission seats, but ended up sitting on the row right next to the field. Thank you so much, Lee! It was a wonderful day.
The Breakers play at Dilboy Stadium (a multipurpose venue that has room for about 3,000 spectators), which is in Somerville, Massachusetts. A venue in a city outside of the namesake of the team usually prompts transportation worry for supporters. Fear not with the Breakers, because the stadium is easy to reach via public transport (a train, then bus, then five minute walk) and is about 7 miles from Boston city center.
Max and I drove to the site and arrived around 3:00 PM, which was when gates were scheduled to open. We immediately noticed the positive sign that the parking lot was already entirely full (kickoff was an hour away). Outside the entrance to the stadium, multiple sales tents were set up:
Once we came through the gates, we were greeted by another good sign: Ocean Spray (the primary kit sponsor for the Breakers) had a table and was giving out free packets of Craisins. I mean, how can you pass that up?
I know there was a lot of talk about the $4.99 livestream cost. It did look like a fairly professional production from being right next to the cameras and hosts.
As the national anthem track was being pumped in over the loudspeakers (why not have former Thorn Jazmyne Avant sing?), I noticed a few other PTFC scarves waving around in the stands. It was quite hot in the Boston area over the weekend, so we were a bit worried about sitting directly in the sun to begin the match. Fortunately, the sun went behind the clouds for most of the match and I could see the entire field without shading my eyes.
I would be hopeless at game analysis, so I will not try, but I did have a few observations that I picked up from sitting right next to the field that I otherwise would not have:
- In the first half, it was very cool to hear Karina LeBlanc organize her defense. She does a lot of talking: “Right shoulder, Rach!” “Let’s go get another one!” (after the first goal)
- Kat Williamson was basically slow dancing with Sydney Leroux all game.
- Everyone calls Tobin Heath “Tobs” on the field.
- No real chants to speak of from the stands, though there was a very fired up woman behind us with a Timbers Army scarf that was obviously quite into the match. Lots of youth soccer teams were announced, as well as a few birthdays.
At the half, the Thorns did not go back to the visitor’s locker room – they stayed on the far side of the field and found a place behind their bench to sit on the ground and talk. For the halftime entertainment, a youth soccer team tried to kick balls as close as possible to the center of the pitch, while the Breakers guest drumline (they were great!) kept the crowd into it.
In the second half, the elements became a much bigger factor. It seemed to me like both teams were pressing and it started raining fairly hard. Of course, this was interspliced with the sun breaking through the clouds, which definitely reminded me of home in Portland. Mana Shim scored in the 86th minute – one of those shots that went off the inside wheel, so it was initially difficult to tell if it had gone in at field level – and prompted a euphoric reaction from the Thorns supporters in the crowd (there were quite a few wearing Portland gear).
The Thorns held on for the win and then I stuck around on the field to clap both teams off. Alex Morgan ran off right after doing a few interviews (she tweeted that she had to catch a flight). My ultimate PTFC highlight was seeing Christine Sinclair and Dani Foxhoven walk off the field together and thanking the University of Portland duo. I became a fan of women’s soccer after my friend Ruth was a goalkeeper on the 2005 National Championship team – she would give me her player’s allotment tickets frequently, so I saw Christine all the time. Being able to meet her in person was such a pleasure. She could not have been more gracious – came over, shook my hand, asked my name, and beamed when I talked about watching her at UP.
I was quite fortunate with meeting players and coaches, but I know almost nobody wants to see loads of pictures (if you do, they are on my twitter). I will say that in particular, it was amazing to finally meet Joanna Lohman in person. Joanna wrote this absolutely must-read article in the prelude to the NWSL, which delves into how to grow and sustain a professional women’s soccer league – Joanna Lohman: How to market our new women’s professional league.
It was this article that had me fired up from the very beginning about Portland having a NWSL franchise, due to everything Joanna wrote about as being necessary to grow the league. I felt confident that Soccer City, USA would rise to meet the challenge and I was inspired to help in every way that I could. This is especially important for me, because, as a high school teacher, I have students write to me all the time about wanting to follow their dreams and play sports professionally. In order for that to be a possibility for many, this league HAS to be successful. Thus, meeting Joanna and her family after the game was an incredible treat.
The Breakers have a place called “Autograph Alley” (which was announced multiple times during the run of play – I found this to be off-putting and slightly disrespectful, but I know that the current audience for much of the league is quite young) where players go after the game to sign autographs and take pictures. Max and I were standing in the area between the alley and the locker room, watching players get besieged with requests. Every single one that was asked for something in the area obliged, from what I could see. All the players I talked to could not have been nicer.
All in all, it was a fantastic experience, especially coming away with a sorely needed win. It has been so much fun to follow this team and help create support along with so many others. Hopefully, the ride continues all the way to the inaugural NWSL championship!