PORTLAND, Ore. — After Saturday, there are five different trophies in the team’s trophy case. Overall, the Portland Thorns have claimed six honors in their nine-year existence, but in terms of their hierarchy, three are clearly most important. The team’s two NWSL-title trophies, resting next to each other behind glass in Providence Park’s reception, hold a more prominent place in the Thorns’ history than the NWSL Shield, which Portland won for having the league’s best record in 2016. Those are the trophies each team targets at the beginning of the season. Those are the trophies NWSL teams brag about most.
But over the last year, the Thorns have added three different types of trophies to that case. The haul began with last year’s Community Shield, earned for having the best record in the Fall Series, and continued this spring when the Thorns win the second edition of the league’s Challenge Cup. Now, after Saturday night’s win, the Thorns have added the Women’s International Champions Cup, an honor that comes after defeating European competition. In this case, the Thorns knocked off another of the most famous clubs in the world, French titans Olympique Lyon.
“What our team did to pin them in their half for the majority of [the game] was unbelievable,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said, after the game. “It’s one of the proudest moments I’ve had.”
Since the Champions Cup began in 2018, there’s a been a need to cast the event as a battle of two continents’ best. In that way, it is as close as we get to seeing who the best team in the world might be. But Lyon is in preseason, when their players aren’t their full selves. And for this tournament, the Thorns were still reincorporating their players who’d played at the Olympics in Japan. Because their seasons don’t match up, there may never be a chance to see the full versions of Europe’s and the United States’ best face each other.
That doesn’t mean that Saturday’s result was meaningless. It just doesn’t mean what everybody wants it to. Instead, what happened this weekend was more akin to the types of open runs basketball players organize in the offseason, where the best from around the NBA end up playing for pride and their Instagram feeds across gyms in Los Angeles. Saturday was 22 players at a time, among the most talented in the world, playing for something that didn’t have to be reduced to standings in a table or labels that get added by people who aren’t on the field. The game became about being able to look your opponents in the eye and knowing who was better after that 90 minutes.
Did the game give anybody the right to say one team is definitely better than the other? Of course not. These tournaments are never going to be that powerful. But when the type of talent we saw on Saturday is on a field, and that talent is taking the game seriously, the outcomes can’t be ignored.
“This has been a really, really important week in a very special year,” Parsons explain, transcending Saturday’s result to allude to Wednesday night’s victory over the Houston Dash, as well. “Every player is adding value. Every player is making each other better … and in this tournament, every single player played, and was massive.”
Midfielder Amandine Henry and defender Wendie Renard are among the most respect players in the world at their positions. They’ve become the backbone of OL, and they played the entire match on Saturday. Players like midfielder Amel Majri, attacker Delphine Cascarino and goalkeeper Christiane Endler are also among the game’s best in their roles. They played prominent parts on Saturday, too. Dutch midfielder Danielle van de Donk went the full 90 against Portland, while United States international Catarina Macario came off the bench and played the second half at forward. Even though OL was missing some significant parts, the team that came to Portland was still loaded.
The Thorns have starts of their own, of course. They biggest came on en masse in Saturday’s second half. As Lyon wore down from a week of two games in four days, Lindsey Horan was coming on. As was Crystal Dunn. As was Christine Sinclair. Becky Sauerbrunn had started the game, and together, the four player marked the Thorns Olympians’ return. As time wound down against Lyon, they were able to help complete a job that was starting on Wednesday by the likes of Natalia Kuikka, Olivia Moultrie and Shelby Hogan, brought to completion three days later by the team’s Angela Salems, Sophie Smiths, and Emily Mengeses.
The combined quality on both side is why it’s so tempting to amplify what Saturday means. The atmosphere, the tensity, the scarcity of have these types of matchups matters, too. They all play into the temptation. But in past years, when 2018 and 2019’s editions were waged at the distance for Florida and North Carolina, we didn’t feel the same way, and from the distance of Cary, North Carolina, or Miami Gardens, Florida, now, the WICC’s 2021 edition of may also lack luster. After all, how much do we care about The Women’s Cup, which was waged between four NWSL and European teams this weekend in Louisville?
We feel like we probably should: that the Women’s Cup is something for them, not for us. But there is nothing wrong with Saturday feeling special for our own reasons. We were there. The players, coaches, crowd and media were, too, and in the way we all know these games felt special, they don’t need to feel special to anyone else. If you witnessed the scenes of Saturday’s final minutes, you don’t need anybody else to sign-off on how your emotions.
The Thorns have a new trophy, one that will sit with the five other honors they’ve claimed since 2013. Where it ranks among the league titles and different shields is an interesting discussion, but also one that might miss the point. What happened on Saturday doesn’t need to rank anywhere on a list of normal things in order for it to be important. The opportunity to play, perform, and earn a feeling Portland’s never had before should be important enough.
MORE ON THE WICC CHAMPIONSHIP WIN
- WATCH | Final whistle of WICC final as Thorns lift another trophy
- BY THE NUMBERS | A fun, memorable WICC tourney in the Rose City
- POSTGAME | Kuikka on being named WICC Player of the Tournament
- REACTION | Weaver reflects on game-winner, Thorns winning WICC
- POSTGAME | Parsons breaks down WICC win vs. Lyon
- REACTION | Bixby on challenges vs. Lyon, winning WICC title in PDX