Do you remember how you felt when Steph Catley scored? Oh, I suppose some context might help.
This was back on April 17, 2016 – the first game of a new 2016 National Women’s Soccer League season. Portland Thorns FC were coming off their worst league campaign, the only one in which they’ve ever missed the playoffs, and had undertaken a dramatic offseason overhaul. Mark Parsons had replaced Paul Riley as head coach. Alex Morgan was traded for a slew of assets. The team was debuting talents like Lindsey Horan, Emily Sonnett, Meghan Klingenberg, Nadia Nadim and Dagny Brynjarsdottir. After seven months of reconstruction, the new Thorns were being unveiled at Providence Park in a match against the Orlando Pride on April 17, 2016. This particular match will be this week's featured PTFC: From the Archives, presented by Providence Health & Services, broadcast available Saturday at 10am PT on Thorns FC.com
As those seven months passed, expectations around the Thorns built, shifting from trepidation about trading the team’s most-famous player to excitement about a new era. Yet 10 minutes into that new era, one of the players who had departed had scored. For Orlando. Nobody wanted a young, talented fullback like Catley to go, but there she was, early in the team’s new season, already making them regret that decision. Maybe the hope of the 2015-16 offseason would be just that: hope.
Or maybe not. Portland would go on to win the NWSL Shield that season, finishing first in the league after a sixth-place finish the year before. They’d have the league’s best defense, second-best offense, and earn the team’s first home playoff game. Nadim, Tobin Heath and Brynjarsdottir combined for 19 goals, while Heath became the only player to record 10 assists in an NWSL season.
The offseason’s optimism proved well-founded, even if, after 10 minutes in April, the team was facing doubts. Even then, those doubts proved fleeting. Brynjarsdottir evened the score in the 25th minute, Horan added an 82nd minute winner, and roughly two hours after giving up the season’s first goal, Portland had the first win of the Parsons era.
“When we reflect tomorrow, we’ll come in and recover, we’ll talk about how we go a goal down and nothing changed, the mindset, the mentality ...,” Parsons said, then. “We learn from things that happen and we keep moving forward, and I think we showed that tonight.”
It would be 12 games before Portland lost under their new coach. It would also be 12 games before they conceded multiple goals in a match. Though the team would fall short of a second star, they’d claim that honor at the end of the 2017 season. Victory over Orlando was the first step toward two honors.
While 2016’s opening moments inspired some doubt, the strength of the team’s talent, and the decisions made in its assembly, won out over the season. April 17, 2016, was truly the dawn of a new era.