Former LO soccer great holds own with younger generation at Portland Thorns tryout

by: REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTO: VERN UYETAKE - REVIEW, TIDINGS PHOTOS: VERN UYETAKE At age 50 most athletes are well into retirement, content to let their wonderful memories make up for their aching knees.

But when the new Portland Thorns women’s professional soccer team came calling for players, 50-year-old Linda Brock Phillips came running.

The former great from Lake Oswego High School and the University of Portland has never stopped being an athlete, and when the Thorns announced their tryout for the weekend of Feb. 9-10, Phillips was ready to play, even though her opportunity had taken an awfully long time.

“I never had a chance to play for a local team, but I had to give it a go,” Phillips said. “This was my first opportunity and my last chance.”

She got some inspiration and advice from her husband, Mark.

“He convinced me that I had to take it really seriously to succeed,” she said.

Phillips was confident in herself, but what about the team? Would management say, “There, there old gal. Why don’t you go sit in the stands and watch?”

Phillips said, “I was afraid they might say, ‘Thanks, but no thanks.’ ”

Instead, Thorns head coach Cindy Parlow-Cone, a mere 34 years old herself, welcomed Phillips when she arrived at Jeld-Wen Field in Portland. She was given her chance to become the oldest woman to ever play professional soccer.

The second oldest of the 85 players trying out was 32 years old. But once on the turf, Phillips had to convince all of the other women trying out, most nearly 30 years younger than her, that she was for real.

“They were shocked,” Phillips admitted.

But when the weekend was over, Phillips had very much held her own.

“I think I did very well,” she said. “I kept up with the younger players. They had better ball control, but I had better placement and knowledge of the game as a whole. My anticipation, that was my advantage. It helped offset my lack of quickness. I still had the speed to keep up with them. On good plays by others I don’t think I was beaten more than anyone else.”

A little knowledge of Phillips’ history would have kept others from underestimating her so badly. In fact, she has been a pioneer in women’s sports.

At Lake Oswego High School she was all-conference in both soccer and in track and field. She still holds the school girl’s record in the 800 meters, the oldest record on the Lakers books. She also played on a strong girls basketball team coached by Gary Lavender. Along with teammates like Darlene Davis, Stephanie Heisler and Julie Steding, Phillips helped the Laker ladies make the state playoffs.

After that she played for the very first varsity women’s soccer team at the University of Portland, becoming one of the first great players in the team’s storied history. Phillips set the team’s all-time record for goals and scoring (later broken by Olympians Tiffeny Millbrett and Shannon McMillan).

The University of Portland track coach was so jealous of Phillips’ talents that he tried to bribe her not to play soccer. “He had no chance,” Phillips said. She still went on to have an outstanding track career, running the 400-meter hurdles, 400 meters, 800 meters, and running a leg on the 4 by 400-meter relay team that still holds the school record. She was also a member of the the school’s cross country team that won the 1985 national championship.

When her college career was over, Phillips simply kept on running. She played soccer in an indoor women’s league and was a standout in masters competition in track and field. She still works out three times a week with the women’s track team at Chemeketa Community College. And now she wants to make just a little more sports history.

“I’ve had a lot of positive response from so many people,” Phillips said. “The track world, soccer, people at my school (she is a math teacher at Molalla High School), even people at my tryouts.”

The big question, of course, is can she make the team when the Thorns roster is announced on March 11?

“I don’t think I’m completely out of the running,” Phillips said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if I made the practice squad.”

When it comes to playing soccer, Phillips said, “I can still do it.”

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