By Katelyn Best
Portland, Oregon — On a drizzly Sunday afternoon in Portland, 16,466 fans turned out at Providence Park for the first home game since the Thorns won the 2017 NWSL Championship in Orlando. With stadium construction taking place during the offseason, the team’s homecoming was delayed by a few weeks; the four-story crane on the east side of the stadium was bedecked with a “Thorns FC” banner as the stands filled in.
“You get home at night,” said Thorns coach Mark Parsons the week before the game, “and it hits you again that you’re going to be playing in what I truly believe in the bottom of my heart is the best place for the women’s game in the world. … I enjoyed this atmosphere as an opposition coach, but once you’re on this side, every single person in the stadium makes you feel that they’re behind every player.”
Before the game against the Orlando Pride kicked off, Thorns captain Christine Sinclair spoke to the home crowd, saying, “2017 was absolutely a special year here in Portland. We couldn’t have done it without you. You were here in the rain and the sun supporting us. Let’s do it again.” After Sinclair spoke, the club unveiled the 2017 championship banner in the north-end rafters of the stadium.
In addition to the banner, Portland owner Merritt Paulson tweeted before the game that the Thorns will receive championship rings — designed with Sinclair’s help — at an upcoming team dinner, “similar to how [the club] did Timbers” when the MLS side won their championship in 2015.
As Kyra Smith sang the last words of the national anthem — with the Rose City Riveters giving a thunderous “Thorns!” over “and the home of the brave”— the supporters group unveiled a massive tifo over the north end. The design featured a Thorns player, two NWSL trophies, and a polar bear (or “ice bear” as Nadine Angerer once said) as constellations, with a scroll at the top reading, “Faciamus Constellacionem.” Loosely translated from Latin, the phrase is a reference to Thorns defender Emily Menges’ comment at Portland’s post-championship celebration last fall, “Let’s make a constellation!”
“It was sick,” said Thorns player Midge Purce, who was playing in her first home game in Portland. “It was just really cool to be a part of the whole atmosphere in the stadium. I feel like a real Portland Thorn now that I’ve gotten to play at Providence.”
The game itself was often a nervy affair for the Thorns, as some disorganized defending in the first half led to a 20th-minute goal by the Pride and a number of other close chances. This was the third year in a row the Thorns had faced the Pride in their home opener, and ultimately, the home team didn’t disappoint their fans, with big performances by Sinclair and Lindsey Horan proving important for Portland. The Thorns’ equalizer came in the 28th minute, with Horan banging a shot from distance in off the goalpost after a pass from Sinclair. Sinclair got one of her own in the 40th, assisted by Horan.
“It was important to get the result,” said Parsons after the match. “This place is a fortress, and fans come in together with the players, with the staff. We managed to get the job done and get a result.”
— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) April 16, 2018
For opposing teams coming into Providence Park, the crowd size and noise can often be a double-edged sword. “I think it can go either way,” said Orlando defender Toni Pressley after the game. “For me personally, it just fires me up. I think it fires the girls up as well. They have a great crowd here and great support, and it is noisy out there. It can be hard to come here, but I think this is a great environment to play in and you just take it for what it is.”
The match marked the second NWSL game this weekend where attendance topped 15,000, after Utah Royals FC played their inaugural home game before a crowd of 19,203 in Sandy, Utah.
After the final whistle, the Riveters awarded roses to Horan and Sinclair, a tradition for goal-scorers at Providence Park. The supporters section then sang “O Canada” to Sinclair. “She won the Order of Canada,” explained Thorns fan Kelly Trione after the game. “She conducted us with her roses. … We’re all glad the Thorns are home.”
“I think we’ve been waiting so long for this game,” said Horan. “To be back at home with these fans is such an incredible feeling, and nothing takes away from that. I almost forgot that feeling a little bit. … It’s very special for us, and I hope the fans know that. We just adore them. It’s amazing.”