PORTLAND, Ore. – A breakout season that’s seen Midge Purce register eight goals and win one of her club’s Community Most Valuable Player honors garnered another award on Saturday night, one that’s given annually to a player singled out by the Portland Thorns’ fanbase.
After her team’s regular-season finale against the Washington Spirit, the third-year attacker was chosen to ascend the capo stand at Providence Park’s North End, where she was presented the Supporters’ Player of the Year honor.
“It’s inexplicable,” Purce said afterward, when asked how she felt about the award. To her credit, though, Purce’s case of the honor was easily explicable.
Despite coming into the season with one goal over two seasons, Purce enjoyed a scoring explosion, with her goals helping carry the Thorns to first place as the roster was hamstrung during its summer months. Beginning in New Jersey on May 25, as Portland’s contingent of nine World Cup players had finished departing for France, Purce scored six goals in seven games, with the Thorns going 4-1-2 over that time.
Largely a wide attacker or outside back during her first two professional seasons, Purce’s 2019 granted her a prolonged stretch as an outright striker. In what might be her most-potent position, the goal sheet spoke to the results. Culminating with a two-goal game against the Chicago Red Stars on August 25 – her second brace against the Red Stars this season – the 24-year-old scored eight times over the course of three months, a goal haul good enough for sixth in the NWSL.
But reducing a player to their on-field contributions rarely captures why somebody gets singled-out by Portland’s fanbase. As with Steve Clark, the fans' selection on the Timbers’ side, or last year’s fan selections, Sebastián Blanco (Timbers) and Hayley Raso (Thorns), the supporters’ choices have tended to forge a special connection with the Portland faithful. Sometimes that connection is through the player's on-field personalities. Sometimes, it’s about what that player represents off the field.
In that respect, Purce’s Community MVP award may have foreshadowed her Supporters’ honor. Ever since her acquisition from the Boston Breakers last winter, Purce’s connection with her new city has grown, starting as a promising acquisition during that offseason’s player dispersal to something that quickly transcended an impact on the field. Embracing her first foray from the east coast, the Maryland-born attacker showed an openness to Portland that seeded a bond. From before her first game with the Thorns, the Riveters seemed intrigued by their new star.
Twenty-one months later, that relationship has grown to the point of recognition, both in terms of the fanbase’s award and the player’s reaction to the honor.
“I have so much respect for them,” Purce said. “I don’t think they have any idea of how much respect I have for them, probably because I don’t get to interact with them as much. But for them to see me in that light meant a lot to me.”
Purce’s career will undoubtedly grow from here. She’s completing what’s just her third professional season, and even with her prolonged time at striker in 2019, you could say she’s yet to enjoy a full season in what might be her natural position.
Yet no matter where her career goes, 2019 will always mark something special: a breakout by the numbers; recognition for her work beyond the field; and now, a selection from her team’s fans as their season’s brightest star.