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By any other name

The Rose City's Thorns are blooming


It is one thing to hear about something, another to believe in it. In the world of professional sports, franchises fold, players get traded and become traitors, and flustered fans are unsure of whom to follow or for what reasons. In the world of women’s professional sports especially, this trend amplifies, as it is more difficult to maintain support for female athletes.Eleanor Van Buren

There is not a lack of belief that women’s professional sports should be allowed opportunities, but there is doubt surrounding the success of such teams, on and off the field. And all too often women’s teams fold before given the chance to succeed.

In January, I heard about the creation of the National Women’s Soccer League after local reports surfaced about the Portland Thorns, a new club joining the league. I was excited to see Portland fill a void of professional women’s sports teams, the most recent being the Portland Fire, a franchise formerly of the WNBA that folded in 2002.

After back-to-back years in the media’s spotlight, the World Cup in 2011 and the London 2012 Olympic Games, women’s professional soccer was in a good place physically to redefine its direction in the United States. After over-ambition led to the dissolution of the Women’s Professional League in January 2012, the NWSL learned to rely on better economic sustainability practices to keep the teams financially sound, such as the involvement of the United States, Canadian and Mexican national teams.

Last November, the national soccer federations agreed to pay the salaries of players who join the league from their rosters. This partnership allows steady financial support for some of the league’s best players, but reducing salaries, the largest cost to the league, across the board is necessary for the long term.

In a report by the Equalizer, an online women’s professional soccer news site, the salaries of players were surprisingly low, to the extent that playing one month overseas pays the same as five months in the states. Thus, the NWSL has adopted the attitude: “Better to play it safe than not at all.” Conservative salary may save the game on the field, but off the field, players might look to endorsements for supplemental pay.

As the women’s game looks for growth in professionalism (i.e., be taken seriously), I think the type of products players agree to endorse sends a message to those looking to praise or critique their professionalism. And so it goes for marketing.

The Portland Timbers is the only Major League Soccer club to also own an NWSL club, and, in April, its chief operating officer pulled promotional T-shirts for the Thorns that read “Feelin’ Thorny?” in response to remarks that the slogan irresponsibly sexualized the club and female athletes.

As one of the 16,479 supporters of the new league who witnessed the Thorns 2-1 win over the Seattle Reign in the club’s home opener, I can assure you this team does not need marketing gimmicks to sell tickets. Not only are the Thorns located in a city of soccer enthusiasts (the home opener drew more fans than the first four games of the NWSL combined), but also the Thorns are also incredibly promising.

For a city known for losing out on the best talent when it comes to building rosters (Kevin Durant could have been a Blazer), I no longer look at other teams with envy. I truly think the best NWSL club is the Thorns and that the Thorns are the best team in Portland.

I still own Portland Fire memorabilia: a child-sized Alisa Burras jersey, rally towels, a signed poster from their third and final season, folders and pencils. I even have a Polaroid picture of me and Spot the Fire Dog, the team’s mascot.

Though more than a decade removed from the WNBA, the Portland Fire instilled many memories into my budding basketball-playing self at 7 years old. But unfortunately, the franchise folded, having never seen a winning season.

At the time, I felt like women’s professional sports teams in Portland left unfinished business, and there were too many young female athletes in need of role models and an outlet for enthusiasm for the sport they love. The Portland Thorns can give young athletes that spark again.

Though another sport by another name, I think the Thorns can do a great service to the community and make us proud to be a city that supports women’s professional sports once more.

The Thorns currently lead the NWSL standings. Don’t just hear about them, believe them. Don’t just read this, go see them.

Eleanor Van Buren is a senior at Riverdale High School. She writes a monthly column in the Lake Oswego Review. To contact her, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .



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