20210709 raquel rodriguez

PORTLAND, Ore. — There are some things about the Portland Thorns’ Providence Park experience that should never be taken for granted. This reminder from Rocky Rodríguez helps.

During Friday’s media availability before this weekend’s visit from NJ/NY Gotham FC, the Portland midfielder was asked about what it will mean to be able to have the team’s full allotment of fans in attendance at home. On Sunday, the Thorns will have unlimited capacity at this 25,218-seat venue for the first time since October 12, 2019. Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Thorns never had a home game with fans in 2020.

“That's been just a dream for me since I was a girl,” Rodríguez, 27, said about Sunday’s opportunity. “I wanted to play in a stadium where the house was packed to come watch the women's soccer team play. That's what it means to me.”

Rodríguez was acquired from the former Gotham, Sky Blue FC, at the beginning of 2020. When she arrived in Portland for Costa Rica that March, she went straight into quarantine. The world was shutting down. It was months before she saw her teammates face-to-face, and when they all returned to the field, they did so to empty stands at the Challenge Cup in Utah.

Sunday is a day Rodríguez has waited for as long as others, but for her, playing in front of the team’s full support might mean a little more. She’s watied a long time for something she’s never experienced as a Thorn.

“Ever since I knew I was going to come to the Thorns, that's one of the things I knew I was definitely looking forward to,” Rodríguez said, about playing in front of Portland’s faithful. “This is going to be the first time that I actually get to live that, over a year and a half after I got to Portland.”

Rodríguez has played in front of Portland’s fans before, but she’s never done so as a Thorn. There’s a big difference having that crowd cheer for you. There’s also a big difference in how often you get to experience. As a visiting team, you come to Providence Park once, maybe twice a year. In a normal season for Portland, they get that atmosphere at least 12 times a season.

“For the soul, for the heart, for the mind, I think it's really important, and it's really special ...,” Thorns head coach Mark Parsons said about the potential crowd for Sunday’s game. “It’s a 12th player. It's a 13th player.”

Rodríguez ran up against those extra teammates three times as an opponent, including a memorable match during her second season with Sky Blue. On June 17, 2017, Rodríguez scored the fastest goal in NWSL history, netting 24 seconds into her team’s visit to Portland and, along with teammate Sam Kerr, leading the team to a 3-1 upset of the eventual NWSL champions.

In all, Rodríguez was 1-1-1 as a visiting player in Portland, with Sky Blue rising to the occasion of the NWSL’s most prestigious venue.

“No doubt, we know [Providence Park] brings out the best in every other team when they get to come here, as well,” Parsons said, “and the atmosphere is absolutely rocking. But we thrive in that situation. And for us to be able to be with our family, every other Portland Thorns fan … they're part of the family. To have more of our family in this stadium is very important to us.”

For Rodríguez, it’s becoming important that her year-and-a-half wait finally expires. She’s ready to experience Providence Park’s full support.

“It's been a long wait,” she says. “Me and one of our teammates, [Madison Pogarch], have this saying, now: ‘One day. One day.’ That day finally came.”

Everything Thorns ahead of Sunday against Gotham: