Growing up in Portland, I took a lot for granted – choosing not to get a drivers license is rational, beach days mean a beat-up pair of shoes, jeans, and a sweatshirt as we throw the kite in the trunk, everyone loves marionberry pie (and knows what a marionberry is) and every high school has a student-run coffee shop that allows you to sip a mocha in French class.
It also meant I lived and breathed soccer.
I never thought much about what it means to grow up in Soccer City, USA. I threw myself into the youth soccer movement, just like anywhere else in the country where kids are flocking to the sport in huge numbers, but I also attended Portland Pilots women’s games, where some of the best women’s soccer in the world was incubating in the 1990s, and cheered on soccer standout Tiffany Milbrett, a fellow Portlander. When the World Cup was on, life seemed to stop for four weeks to witness the beautiful game.
I thought this was as normal as breathing in and out.
A decade of Wisconsin residency has turned this assumption on its head. I now fully appreciate just how blessed I was to grow up in Portland, one of the beating hearts of American soccer.
A couple of weeks ago I attended my first Portland Thorns home match, the city’s professional women’s team and last season’s NWSL champions. As a member of the Timbers Army, I have become accustomed to a raucous match setting cheering the men’s team with two hours of non-stop chanting, singing, flag-waving, smoke, and – sadly too often this year – groans of dismay.
The Riveters, the supporters group for the Thorns, are just as passionate and raucous. If you want to experience what is possible for women’s soccer outside the World Cup, Providence Park is the place to be. I was floored by the attendance, the largest average attendance for any women’s team anywhere in the world (roughly 13,300 a game last year). I found myself sucked into the red smoke cloaked atmosphere, as I joined the songs and chants in a vibrant celebration of some of the best soccer players in the world.
Notice what I did there. Not just the best women in the world; some of the best, women and men, with the likes of Alex Morgan, Tobin Heath, Allie Long (all on the US national squad), and German national team captain Nadine Angerer in goal. Our opponents for the afternoon, the Boston Breakers, included national squad members Kristie Mewis and Heather O’Reilly. The women’s US national team has dominated international soccer for decades, and these women are carrying out that legacy right in the heart of Portland.
For the ridiculously affordable price of $13, I was sitting 10 rows away from the goal, watching this collection of world soccer talent play in creative, breath-taking form as drums pounded and voices swelled in celebration. The caliber of play left me breathless as the Thorns beat Boston 6-3.
If I sound like I am gushing, I am. As a 12 year old girl in youth soccer, this was the exact moment I dreamed of. Soccer City, USA – thank you for making that moment reality.