At a time when so much on our television seems ensconced in nostalgia, this Saturday’s PTFC: From The Archives, presented by Providence Health & Services, broadcast (3pm PT, FOX 12 Oregon KPTV, ThornsFC.com) somehow feels more nostalgic than most. Perhaps that’s because the game involves a team that does not exist anymore, or so many names on the scoresheet are long gone from Portland. Or perhaps it’s because, over two months into our novel coronavirus precautions, a game that would ultimately mean very little feels like, in this moment, it might mean so much.
Back in 2014, Portland Thorns FC's July 20 visit from the Boston Breakers did mean something. The Thorns were defending their first league title, and while Laura Harvey was guiding the Seattle Reign to a romp through the league’s regular-season title, Portland was in a fight for one of the league’s last three playoff spots. Eventual champions FC Kansas City was right there, but so were Sky Blue FC, as well as two young teams rebounding from tough first seasons: Mark Parsons’ Washington Spirit and Rory Dames’ Chicago Red Stars. Places three through six in the standings eventually be separated by just two points, with two of those teams falling short of the postseason.
Within that context, three points proved a must. And (spoiler alert), the Thorns got them. Against a team who, the year before, delivered the first hint teams would get up for Portland’s home crowd, winning 2-0 thanks to two goals from Sydney Leroux, the Thorns let their memories guide them. Portland overcame three deficits, scored four goals over the match’s final 48 minutes, and posted a 6-3 victory that cashed in on head coach Paul Riley’s preseason promises.
“Sometimes you can go off the boil,” the Thorns’ first-year coach said in the aftermath. “We stayed on the boil. We kept attacking. It wasn’t like we dropped back and thought they might catch us on the counter again. We went after the game.”
When he arrived, Riley lauded the team’s attacking talent, promising to wage shootouts in lieu of grinding matches out. One side of that sword was giving up goals to Katie Schoepfer, former Thorn Nikki Washington, and U.S. Women's National Team legend Heather O’Reilly. That other side of that sword was the talent to blow games open. Two weeks earlier, it was a seven-goal outburst against Kansas City. Against Boston, it was goals from Allie Long, Alex Morgan and Jessica McDonald, as well as a hat trick from Christine Sinclair – the first in the history of the club. All of her goals came in a span of 12 minutes.
“This is the team that we should be,” Sinclair said. “We should be creating a ton of chances.”
Memories of Long, Morgan and McDonald in Thorns uniforms feel like a generation gone. How many new Thorns fans even saw Washington in a Portland uniform? O’Reilly is known to most soccer fans, but who beyond Boston remembers the years Schoepfer gave to the league, or the connection she had with that club? Many might. You can understand why some wouldn’t.
Though the three points Portland got that July proved one difference between sixth and third, with hindsight, the game itself doesn’t feel like much. It’s part of a season that feels too long ago; of a span that feels like another version of the Thorns. But right now, what wouldn’t we give to have a game that means nothing more than its 90 minutes? That gave us no reason to look beyond that game, its moments and goals, and completely sink into the irrelevance of sports?
Nadine Angerer played in this game. So did Rachel Van Hollebeke. Vero Boquete and Nikki Marshall were in the starting XI for the Thorns. Alyssa Naeher was in goal for Boston. So much from this game sparks nostalgia. So much from this game feels meaningless but, right now, meaningful.