On Location: Rochester Away
This is the motto that provided the motivation for a friend and me to take a road trip from Toronto down to Rochester to watch Canadian soccer royalty as Christine Sinclair and Karina LeBlanc were bringing their Portland Thorns into Western New York to battle Abby Wambach’s Flash for second place and home field advantage in the semi’s!
The importance of this match couldn’t be understated at all! To have the honor of hosting a semi-final game in the inaugural NWSL season was something that both teams would battle hard for. I was convinced that Sahlen’s Stadium would be rocking with energy and excitement! Arriving an hour before the 7:35 pm EST kickoff, there was a line of cars waiting to park – a very good sign! I was also expecting to see a large contingent of Canadians because as I said, this was as close as Sinclair and LeBlanc would be to the Canadian border in the east. Sporting our Canadian gear and proudly wearing the flag, we entered the stadium and made our way around the venue to our seats.
The pre-game warm-ups are always a great indication of how the teams will perform and both teams looked focused and ready to go. As you can see, the sun was shining brightly as the Thorns warmed up, which would definitely be a factor in the first half for whichever team was facing it. My Canadian brethren did not disappoint either as there were many in the rows around me (I just wish they would have sported the red & white a little more prominently)! Also surprising to me was the fact that there were a LOT of Thorns fans who were there to specifically see Tobin Heath … almost everywhere I looked I saw Heath jerseys or signs!
Sinclair and Angie Kerr going back into the locker room to prepare for the game. This was Kerr’s first game since July, a tough test to come back into the midfield and having to face not just Wambach, but Carli Lloyd as well.
Both teams coming out for opening kickoff; to a polite round of applause from the Flash faithful – nowhere near the energy I was anticipating. Maybe watching Thorns games online (and hearing the sheer noise that goes along with being at JELD-WEN Field) has skewed my opinion, but for a game this important – everything just seemed too quiet!
The venue has a seating capacity of 13,768, but as you can see as the Thorns have lined up for kickoff, many empty seats! The Flash are a tremendous team and I was disappointed to see a turnout of 7, 606 (even though it the highest attendance for a game this season).
LeBlanc directing traffic after an unfortunate miscue between her and her defense – no harm came of it though – thank goodness!
Getting ready for the start of the second half and there was still no scoring! Thorns had only fired three shots at Franch during the first half – much more would be needed for a positive result.
A panorama of Sahlen’s Stadium! It was an absolutely beautiful night for soccer. When all was said and done, both keepers kept clean sheets, and LeBlanc had her highest save total for any game this season. A 0-0 draw was the result as the Thorns are adjusting to life without Alex Morgan for now.
After the game, the announcer made it very clear that autographs were to be signed in “Autograph Alley.” About ten minutes before the final whistle, the barriers were already packed with youngsters waiting to get a glimpse of their heroes! Despite the fact that autographs were only to be had in the ‘Alley’ many of the Thorns players went over the sidelines to sign for people (very classy). In particular, Sinclair and LeBlanc went up into the crowd of Canadians who were behind the bench to sign paraphernalia. I was totally on the wrong side of the field so watched with envy (hence the blurry shot … but you can see Leblanc in yellow and Sinclair is on the field making her way up)!
All in all it was a fabulous experience and one that I will repeat again next year (that’s me in the red)!!! I have also added a trip to Portland, and JELD-WEN Field in particular, to my bucket list for next summer!!!