2022_Ukraine-Article_16x9 copyMENGES

Editor's Note: Emily Menges is entering her ninth season for the Portland Thorns. A 2016 Best XI selection and NWSL Second XI selection in 2017 and 2018, the veteran defender has been a part of the team's 2017 NWSL Championship side as well as NWSL Shield winning teams in 2016 and 2021. Menges is also the founder and editor of Bel Esprit, a literary newspaper here in Portland. We asked her to share her thoughts of the importance of playing in the special PTFC for Peace charity match on April 27 benefiting UNICEF's efforts in supporting those affected by the war in Ukraine (6pm PT, TICKETS – Free with encouraged donation, ThornsFC.com).

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Every day at soccer, my teammates and I try to do a couple things: put the proper weight on our passes, pass to the correct foot, always be an option, check our shoulders, live off shoulders, push the line, get in our zones, hit the target, switch the point, turn in pockets, force wide, etc.  

Whether these things mean anything to you or not, to us they are the little things we focus on to become better players and a successful team in our microcosm that is the Thorns and Timbers organization. I’ve written previously about the importance of this focused work for our individual and collective wellbeing, specifically how every day my teammates and I can show up to soccer and, for a couple of hours every day, let soccer run our minds while the world outside of Providence Park slides away.  

It is a place to escape the stressors of our lives.  

It is a place to be free and have fun. 

However, it is a luxury not everyone is afforded.

As I write this, Ukrainian children and families are being attacked, missiles are bombarding their homes and towns, average citizens are taking up arms to protect their nation from neighboring world powers, and millions of people are left in unknown countries with uncertain futures. In other words, soccer doesn’t feel very important right now.  

However, perhaps you didn’t understand a single phrase in my opening paragraph, but you don’t have to know what “living in the pocket” means to understand the universal language that is “soccer.” Just as soccer acts as our sanctuary every day, this sport has the ability to act as a grounding force for people around the world, a tiny glimpse of joy in the midst of a terrible reality, or maybe provide the tiniest spark of hope for the millions of Ukrainians living in a nightmare.

Around the world: 

“Nearly 3.7 million [now about 5 million] Ukrainians have been displaced by the ongoing war, and more than half of those refugees are children. In an effort to give them a safe space to play, the Barça academy \[in Warsaw\] invited them to join.”

About a young Ukrainian refugee, “Football is saving him from this war, helping him to make new friends in a new country…his father stayed back to fight in Ukraine….He is fitting in well despite a language barrier. Football is an international language.”

A reporter on the Polish border “spoke of how the site was set up by the Polish government and volunteer services” and then “a smiling young girl with a soccer ball came into the shot.”

“At Legia, we have been housing junior teams from Ukraine and putting on soccer schools for the children of refugees.”

Soccer in Portland has always provided an inclusive home for everyone, a community that encourages speaking out for what we believe in, an outlet for passion, and a beacon of hope for those trying to change the world. 

On April 27th, the Thorns and Timbers are proudly coming together and using the universal language of soccer to join the worldwide effort in support of Ukraine.