PORTLAND, Ore. – Amid the week’s preparations that go into readying Providence Park for dueling home openers – from stocking concessions, to pressure washing sections, to rehearsing all the pre-, in-, and post-match routines – comes a subtle task few would have thought of, one born of the success Thorns FC have enjoyed in their first five seasons.
In the northeast corner of Portland’s home, where signs honoring titles and club heroes hang beneath the wooden roof, sits an empty space, for now. The displays honoring the Thorns’ previous title (2013) and its one NWSL Shield (2016) have, temporarily, been taken down. Thanks to a third major honor in five years–the 2017 NWSL Championship–the club has had to rearrange the space, creating more room to honor the team’s accomplishments.
“Good!” Thorns left back Meghan Klingenberg exclaimed, when the empty space was pointed out. It’s an attitude which, according to Thorns head coach Mark Parsons, is shared throughout the squad.
“If [the players] had their way, [they'd want the club to] start clearing some more space,” Parson said, “because this is a hungry group that want to achieve more, and want continue evolving what we’re trying to do here and continue to get better.”
Providence Park’s construction forced the team away from home this preseason, pushing the Thorns’ spring tournament to the University of Portland and handing them two road matches to start the regular-season. Sunday’s visit from the Orlando Pride (3:00 p.m. PT, NWSLsoccer.com/go90) will be the first time the team plays in front of its full complement of fans since Portland’s last meeting with the Pride, in last year’s semifinals.
“We’ve been looking forward to this for a long time,” Parsons said. “We didn’t get to play here in preseason, and we had to wait not two weeks but three weeks to get a chance to play here in the season. That excitement of playing in your home is going to be there. We’ve been talking about being in front of the fans for a while now.”
That return comes with the added bonus of a second star above the crest, an achievement that stands in slight contrast to last season’s home opener.
“Last year was bitter sweet, because we won the shield, and we had a great season, but then fell short in front of our home fans,” Klingenberg said, alluding to the 2016 NWSL semifinal that saw Portland fall to Western New York Flash. “It was really upsetting, for us, but it was also really incredible to win the shield …
“This year, winning the championship, of course, it will be fun to celebrate with our fans, because they made a huge deal when we came home, off the flight, showed up when we didn’t even have a game here for our little celebration. I know they’re going to bring it. I know they’re going to be pumped. I’m just going to use all their energy to run circles around Orlando.”
That energy was also a topic of conversation away from today’s practice, with the newest Thorn, Ana Crnogorčević, spending her first day at Providence Park. The Swiss international took in part of practice from the sidelines before working out on her own, but in her conversations with her new coach, she was already sharing her anticipation.
“Ana was like, ‘I can’t wait until Sunday,’” Parsons relayed. “’I can’t wait to be able to see this crowd and these fans. I’ve seen it on TV.’ I said, ‘Ana, we could sit here and tell you for an hour how amazing it is, but it will be even better when you feel it. There’s no place like home in front of the best fans in the world.’
“I said to Ana, ‘Every game I get to be out here and coach is really special. There’s no place like this in the world, in the women’s game, and we’re fortunate to have it.’”
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As Parsons noted, though, the importance of Sunday’s atmosphere will extend far beyond those on the field. In welcoming the team back for its first home match since Orlando, Portland will be celebrating a third major honor in five seasons, a level that speaks to how the club has grown.
“It’s so important,” Parsons emphasized, still focusing on the team’s continued growth. “It’s so special to a lot of people who have contributed over the five coming into six years of this organization …
“We’re sensing that excitement, now, as Ana turns up, and we get [Hayley] Raso and Ellie [Carpenter] back before the Utah game [on April 28], Andressinha back before the Utah game. It’s been a really hard-working group, with some more players coming in, [and] it’s exciting to evolve the way this team can evolve, this year.”