If you’re here because of the World Cup, don’t worry: You’re not alone. Bringing new fans to soccer is why World Cups can be so powerful.
Don’t feel the need to be apologetic about it either. Sports culture tends to have a high barrier to entry, but look: We all have to start our journey somewhere. And there is no one way to do it.
That you’re considering Thorns FC and the National Women’s Soccer League as part of that journey should make things a little easier. Not only is the quality of play from the club and the league higher than you’d see in the World Cup (seriously, it’s better), but the culture around each, conscious of the virtues and flaws in other sports, has been crafted by fans to be a unique, inclusive experience.
You can be a fanatic or somebody who comes to a game once or twice a year. There’s room for both. Whether you want to sink deep into the most addicting parts of soccer culture or merely have an outlet to get closer to the stars you saw in France, Providence Park allows both. Being a fan of the NWSL can be a journey with many routes. Getting in on the ground floor allows you to pick your own.
Know that as we turn back the internet clock and resort to a traditional FAQ - the frequently asked questions you might ask as you consider more women’s professional soccer.
First things first: Who are Portland Thorns FC?
It seems like a simple question, but with the National Women’s Soccer League in its seventh season, there’s a backstory to Thorns FC that highlights its special significance.
The Thorns are an original member of the NWSL, one of eight teams that started the league in 2013. It was the third time a professional women’s league had been tried in the United States, but through Portland’s club, the NWSL would be the first to have a team partnered with a prominent men’s side. Thorns FC are the sister club of Major League Soccer’s Portland Timbers.
Thanks to players like Christine Sinclair, Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan, Portland claimed that season’s inaugural title. The team has since claimed a second crown (2017), made one more final (2018) and were awarded an NWSL Shield for finishing the regular season with the best record in 2016. So, things are going well.
OK, slow down: What is the NWSL?
Oh, yeah. Sorry. Sometimes, forget the basics. Let’s back up.
The NWSL began in 2013, two years after the previous women’s soccer league in the country, Women’s Professional Soccer, played its final game. That league came on the heels of the country’s first league, with the Women’s United Soccer Association playing in the early 2000s.
The league has been active for over six seasons, now, has membership from coast to coast, and has waxed and waned from its eight-team, original membership to the 10-team high-point it had two years ago. The league currently has nine teams playing a 24-game schedule.
The season runs from April until October. The teams with the four best records qualify for the playoffs, with two rounds taking place over a final fortnight to determine an annual champion. This year’s title game takes place on October 27 at Sahlen’s Stadium in Cary, North Carolina.
But where do the Thorns play?
Ah, yes. Providence Park.
Providence Park is located in the Goose Hollow neighborhood of downtown Portland, and while some people might stop, correct you, and say technically Goose Hollow isn’t downtown, you don’t have to listen to them. The moment you get out of a MAX car, a bus, the trolley or your car downtown, you’re within walking distance of Providence Park.
The venue is one of the things that makes the Thorns truly unique. Beyond the ground’s 106 years’ history and the stadium’s 93, Providence Park has just received a facelift, completing a renovation that added over four thousand seats and three levels of stands to the facility’s east side.
And thanks in part to the efforts of the team’s supporters’ group, the Rose City Riveters, the Thorns are the best-attended women’s professional soccer team in the world, having averaged 16,959 people per game in the 2018 season.
Wait a minute: Who are the Rose City Riveters?
I really don’t know where to start, because of all the success stories around the Thorns, the Rose City Riveters’ may be the most compelling.
Part of the 107 Independent Supporters’ Trust, the Riveters are to the Thorns what the Timbers Army are to club’s MLS team. They’re responsible for an atmosphere at Providence Park that’s become world famous. Packing the venue’s north end for every match, the Riveters are responsible for the drums, horns, songs, displays and traditions that define Providence Park’s atmosphere from well before the game to the post-match ceremonies that dominate the moments after. Thorns culture would be nothing without them.
Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Thorns FC
The most remarkable part: The Riveters are only as old as the team itself. From 2013 until now, they’ve built one of the country’s best supporters groups out of nothing, turning civic pride and a love for soccer into a standard that’s become the high mark in women’s soccer. Beyond the NWSL, the Riveters have provided a level of support that would be the envy of most teams in Major League Soccer, if not soccer in general. As much as any other part of the Thorns experience, the Riveters are what makes the team special.
That’s all good, but what do I need to know about the players?
You need to know that the team has Christine Sinclair, Portland’s captain and a player who is on the cusp of becoming the leading scoring in international soccer history. She’s an alumna of the University of Portland, and has connections to the city’s soccer that extend back to family that played for the NASL Timbers in the 1970s. She is the most accomplished athlete in Portland history and the face of the Thorns.
You also need to know that the team has the reigning NWSL Most Valuable Player, Lindsey Horan, who was part of the U.S.’ title-winner in France. Tobin Heath, one of the most famous players in the world, was part of that team, also, as were defender Emily Sonnett and goalkeeper Adrianna Franch. They’re all kind of a big deal.
That’s in addition to the seven other internationals that are on the roster, as well as the series of other standouts who helped the team climb to first place during the World Cup. Some are veterans of the game who’ve, in some cases, contributed a decade to women’s soccer’s growth. Others are college standouts working to make a similar impact at the professional level.
Photo: Craig Mitchelldyer / Portland Thorns FC
What you need to know is Thorns players run the gamut, from international stars to those who are fighting every day to establish their careers. Players from as far away as Switzerland, Brazil and Australia. Players who’ve made a life in the game and others who are just establishing theirs. Conceive of a slice of life that you experience as a young adult, it’s probably represented somewhere in the Thorns.
And how do I watch games if I can’t make it to Providence Park?
Almost every game is steamed online, for free through Yahoo! Sports’ website and mobile app. And it’s not just Thorns games. With few exceptions, every NWSL game is not only available via Yahoo! but archived, in case you can’t watch it live. With only nine teams in the league, it’s easy to stay abreast of everything that happens in the NWSL.
Those exceptions: the national broadcasts. As of Sunday, the NWSL is in partnership with ESPN to broadcast games throughout the rest of the season. Some games will be on ESPN2; others will be on ESPNews.
Each week, one game from across the league will be on that different platform. Otherwise, check out Yahoo!
And since I’m extremely online, let me ask: What is #BAONPDX?
Here’s all you need to now. Since you are extremely online, you’ll know cruising hashtags on Instagram and Twitter is a great way to learn the basics about something new. It’s social media, so use at your own risk, but since you’re asking about something SM-y, you probably already know: Getting involved with other fans online can take a huge slice out of your learning curve.
It will also introduce you to some great people, many of whom make it their mission to help people like you. Reach out on #BAONPDX, and take your next step toward Providence Park.
And if you just need to spend a little more time searching things out, here are the Thorns’ Instagram and Twitter accounts, along with the timelines for the Riveters, the Thorns’ head coach, and some of the team’s most prominent players (one for each word).
Take it slow, or come out this weekend. Make the journey your own.