BY MIKE DONOVAN
PORTLAND, Ore.- For a town that proclaims itself as “Soccer City, USA,” the arrival of a professional women’s soccer team gave citizens here a chance to solidify Portland’s status as an epicenter of the sport in the country.
If Sunday’s home opener is any indication, Portland will continue to be known as a hotbed for soccer for a long time to come.
The stands were filled with both families and a supporters group that provided a constant soundtrack for the entire match. Fans wearing jerseys with “Morgan” and “Sinclair” on their backs came out in droves while the Rose City Riveters added tifo and chants being led by numerous capos.
It combined for an atmosphere that left an impression on coaches, retired and current players, and NWSL executives.
“This was awesome. It felt like that atmosphere that we had at the World Cup and that we had at the Olympics,” head coach Cindy Parlow Cone said. “I thought we were spoiled tonight with the fans. It was a unbelieveable atmosphere. Atmospheres like this are why you want to be involved in the game and play in these type of games. This was an unbelievable experience for the girls and for me.”
The crowd of 16,479 is the largest of any women’s pro soccer game since the WUSA folded in 2003 and was one of the ten largest crowds to ever to see a women’s club match in the United States. A cold, overcast day in Portland had no effect on keeping fans away as they lined up in the hundreds at the gates, prior to the match. The Thorns were able to pull out a 2-1 victory and were able to reward the crowd for its effort.
Even the most prolific goal scorer in international soccer history couldn’t help but be impressed by the crowd.
“What an incredible atmosphere,” said Mia Hamm, who was teammates of Cone throughout their US National Team careers. “You’re just so excited for not just the Thorn players but for all the players who get to play in an environment like this. You have some players who have been able to play in World Cups and Olympics, but to have this environment in your own league is tremendous.”
Another World Cup and Olympic veteran believes that the fans will give the club a unique advantage over the league.
“I wouldn’t want to be the away team in this stadium,” Christine Sinclair said. “I think it can be intimidating for an away team especially in this league because this will be the only city that will get this type of crowd. And when you haven’t been here before it’s intimidating.”
While the fans are one thing, one other advantage that the Thorns have over other clubs in the NWSL is their affiliation with a MLS club. From a stadium with FIFA-rated turf to executives and staff that know how to run a professional soccer organization, in some aspects, Portland is in a different league than the seven other clubs in the league.
NWSL executive Director Cheryl Bailey, who was attending her third NWSL match in nine days, admits that the Thorns have some built-in advantages compared to other teams in the league.
“They’re really in good shape, I think they are one of the teams that has the infrastructure because they do have the connection to the Timbers. Their infrastructure is really, really good,” Bailey said. “I just think they are going to build upon what their platform is going forward.”
Despite the connection to the Timbers, the Thorns and their supporters are trying to give the club unique traditions of their own.
After each Timbers match, goalscorers receive a sliced-off segment of the Victory Log from Timber Joey. After today’s win, goalscorers Marian Dougherty and Alex Morgan received a bouquet of roses from the fans in the North End.
“Receiving the roses was awesome. I didn’t expect it. Being the Rose City, being the Portland Thorns, it something extra special that the fans did for us,” Morgan said.
Morgan’s goal came off a pass from Sinclair and gave the Thorns a two-goal advantage early in the second half. With the two prominent strikers on the squad, the Thorns figure to be a favorite as the inaugural NWSL season progresses.
The match was the first regular season professional women’s soccer game in the city, however, Portland hosted the WUSA All-Star Game in 2002 and has held numerous Women’s World Cup matches and international friendlies before. The Rose City is also home to the University of Portland, which has long been home to a diehard fan base that supports its women’s soccer team. In fact, UP has led women’s college soccer in attendance for seven consecutive seasons.
While the 16-thousand fans might not be the norm for the Thorns, it certainly goes a long way in helping the club and the city become a lasting fixture in women’s professional soccer.
Good on you, Portland. Good on you.
Here in Seattle the fan base for women’s soccer will be somewhat diluted between two teams, so I am anxious about our attendance numbers.
You guys are playing at Starfire, right? So 4500 max then?
That is the thing about the NPSL, the stadiums are all tiny. Only two hold over 10k and the other 6 are in the 3200-6200 range. Honestly, despite Portland’s debut, I expect typical attendance to be more in the 8-10k range (though occasionally more) which for a league trying to start with reasonable expectations I think that is absolutely right on. The main risk of failure is delusions of grandeur and budgets based on twice the actual attendance. If they have reasonable expectations like MLS did at its start, they will find a niche. Budgets may be small and it make it more difficult to afford some of the stars and we still may see players like Rapinoe and Heath going to Europe because those massive clubs can pay bigger salaries (even if their Women’s teams lose money they can still afford them as a luxury item).
Sounders Women in the USL W-League and the Reign in the NWSL
why not expand capacity at stadium for portland like old stadiums are expanded in europe. MLS needs to pressure teams to make stadiums better in order to adapt to a future fifa calendar change. the north gets cold and snow, while the south gets super hot and rain.
The City of Portland owns JeldWen (The Timbers have a long term lease to operate the stadium). While the Timbers did put up some of the money for the 2011 renovation, it would really fall to the city to buck up for another major expansion (why would a tennant ever put significant capital into a structure they don’t own?). For complex reasons I don’t want to get into (for brevity sake), The Timber’s can’t just buy it. Additionally, while Portland may seem like a liberal haven that has never seen a government project it didn’t like, public money for sports stadiums isn’t an easy sell by any stretch. The $20 million the City put in so it would be a SSS was widely criticized as a handout to Merritt Paulson and special interests (soccer fans) despite the fact that the city is well on their way to making all of that money back and more way ahead of schedule.
The Timbers only real option if they wanted expansion would be a new stadium, something I think their fans would be largely against because there is absolutely something to the charm of a nearly 100 year old intimate stadium that amplifies sound and has a roof over most of it for the inevitible Portland rains.
I personally don’t think we will adopt the FIFA schedule, but that is an argument for another day.
Thorns attendance can carry the W league just as Sounders carry theirs
I’m not surprised because it’s Portland, a counter-culture city through and through, but a professional league can’t play all its games in one city. There’s just no interest at large for women’s club soccer because in the Venn diagram of the sport you’re living in the intersection where “American women who like localized team sports” and “American women who like club-level soccer” converge. We will consider men who will actually FOLLOW a women’s club soccer team (I know exactly 0 people of any gender who do, so I can’t even use anecdotal data to fill that gap) as outliers in the u-set that drift in from time to time.
Yes, our women’s international team creates a lot of buzz. The national attention draws in more casual fans and encompasses 99% of people who would watch a women’s club league and focuses their support into one group. You remove the casuals and disperse the remainder over a 16 team league (any less makes the league seem like a joke, further hurting odds for real interest) spread from coast-to-coast, and the crowds just dwindle right before your eyes.
You see these leagues flounder and flop time and time again because the interest just isn’t there. The clubs simply don’t bring in enough money to pay the superior athletes the type of money that makes future generations want to play as a career. If you actually pluck up the gusto and go to a game, you are usually treated to what you understand is an inferior product, and the stadiums, no matter how hilariously small they make them in terms of seating, are still empty. I even remember flipping to Fox Soccer to see several WPS matches that looked like they were played at Rec. centers because they apparently couldn’t generate enough ticket sales to justify an actual venue.
— I do want to reiterate that I’m happy the effort has borne fruit in Portland, I’m just skeptical that this will produce a trend that will save women’s club soccer in the long term. You would think if a national women’s soccer league were to truly take off, it would be in a country like Germany, Spain, or Brazil, not one where soccer is still fighting to be the 5th or 6th most popular sport (even with the recent rise in interest, auto racing, our football, baseball, and basketball still FAR more popular at all levels, and hockey isn’t going down without a fight). But would we, could we, ever go for that? Our ladies are some of the best in the world, so they’d have to play abroad which may hurt the profile of the sport domestically.
Paint me as a chauvanist if you want, but the technique is just plain worse, the speed of the game is slowed, and the physicality drops significantly. Point blank: It’s just not as fun to watch, and I don’t think it will ever rise to the prominence and success of what we think of as a successful sports league.
Brett is correct. No matter how wildly successful the Portland Thorns franchise can become, if the rest of the league can’t pull a profit, there will be no league for the Thorns to play in.
It’s in EVERYONE’S best interest to see the league succeed as a whole.
Has MLS actually made a profit? Did any of the teams actually make a profit in the first 10 years? I think you should check out SUM Marketing and its link to US Soccer which props up MLS.
This is an old article but worth a read about profitability. You don’t need to pull a profit to have a successful league or franchise.
To the poster who proposes women’s leagues in Brazil or Spain, these are not feasible ideas at the moment. These are both countries that don’t put a dime into women’s soccer! Too bad because they have a lot of good female players that assuredly quit the sport because of it.
I don’t think you know what you are talking about in regards to how far MLS and soccer in general have come in this country as well as womens soccer. USWNT games are consistantly more entertaining then USMNT games. Almost every NWSL game this season has been sold out. MLS started with far less than 16 teams and grew to where it is today. Womens club soccer is actually better supported here then in europe. Euro womens teams exist because rich mens clubs support them as a sideshow. They are actually very poorly attended over there. The success of the Thorns will promt other MLS teams to get more involved in the new league and it will grow into a league with more teams bigger stadiums and better quality gradually.
It’s like any form of entertainment. It takes time to build an audience. I think the previous women’s leagues went too big when they needed a more conservative approach.
Entertainment is generally a zero sum game so every NWSL fan needs to give up something in order to become a fan. Current soccer fans already have teams that they follow. My wife isn’t going to give up following MANU and that’s true for most soccer fans so NWSL is in a position of trying to create new fans.
I don’t think the product is bad and it’s very accessible. I do think the NWSL messed up by separating the teams on different coasts. I would have liked to see 4-5 teams clustered in the North West, then maybe later another 4-5 in the North East. Focus on the regional rivalries and make it easy for the fans to attend all the games in their region.
I believe that The Portland Thorns F.C. will experience continual capacity crowds. Clive Charles must be dancing in heaven. We sure were! Thank You to Everyone for making this night become a reality. Spread the Love.
Jim, this was well beyond a treat…it was an affirmation.
Do you think the Thorns will impact attendance for reserve games? Don’t they usually get pretty good crowds as well?
Jim, thanks for your contributions to Portland soccer and the legacy you passed on. My son met Timber Joey at a soccer pizza night supporting the Timbers and he was star struck. You should see him smile when he talks about it. Your impact will be felt by many for years to come.
Timber Jim himself, everyone.
You make American soccer fans proud. Have a beer on me. I recommend Cascade Barrel House on Belmont.
Their sour beers are niche and taste like malted lemonade. Not pleasant.
Niche, yes. Sours aren’t for everyone. If you get the hang of them, they’re delicious.
Well done Portland! Soccer City, yes indeed!
Mmmmm….. Cascade. So yummy.
“The crowd of 16,479 is the largest of any women’s pro soccer game since the WUSA folded in 2003 and was one of the ten largest crowds to ever to see a women’s club match in the United States.”
It was also larger than 7/9 MLS games in week 8. Only NYRB (18,027) and LAG (25,908) were bigger. Average for week 8 was 14,924.
And more than Chivas have seen in four years.
This mean they should play in MLS
I clicked this article thinking it would be about a real soccer team (men’s).
I replied to this comment thinking that I was replying to a real soccer fan (he’s actually an insecure little boy)
It’s ok now that you have clicked on the article you can go back to your cave. I am sorry I didn’t know that there was real soccer and not real soccer. RCTID
ChiTown is NOT going to be happy when he sees this comment.
Like the Seattle Flounders perhaps….get a life fanboy!
Maybe if you read the header, you wouldn’t have to leave this lame comment.
Tsk, tsk.. Well. I hope you took something positive & most importantly informative from this, so maybe next time you make this mistake you don’t feel compelled to insinuate women’s soccer isn’t real again.
Hey LCS, you know why Portland has the best fans and atmosphere and support for socer in the country?
Because we dont have soccer “fans” like you. We have REAL fans.
I must be really tired or else it’s not there–whom did the Thorns beat? If memory serves the club was going to play Seattle, but I don´t see that up there.
Yes, Thorns vs. Seattle Reign.
Mike Donovan wrote the story. He’s obviously a little rusty because he just came back from that 30 blog sabbatical he deserves so much.
Fantastic to see! Hopefully other MLS teams will follow suit.
VERY. VERY COOL! Great to see. The fans in Portland create an impressive atmosphere at Jeld-Wen (: Congrats!