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Soccer City USA, Thorns match has right pitch

Portland fans hope women's soccer is poised for success


by: TRIBUNE PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER ONSTOTT - Portland's new women's professional soccer team, the Thorns, ran through drills Sunday morning at Jeld-Wen Field. Is a third time the charm for women’s professional soccer? Twice, women’s professional soccer leagues have started. Twice, they have folded.

Despite the success of the U.S. women’s national team and the growing popularity of soccer in America, women’s professional soccer never has been able to sustain a league.

University of Portland junior striker Amanda Frisbie has a theory about that.

“The two times they started the professional league, they should’ve started here in Portland,” Frisbie says. “This is a soccer city. For them to have a professional team here in the city of Portland, it’s going to be a huge success and it’s going to be great for the community.”

Portland has a rich history of women’s soccer. University of Portland is an historic soccer school with two women’s national championships. When Portland hosted the Women’s World Cup matches in 1999 and 2003, they were a wild success. Youth leagues for girls around the city are abundant.

So, when the National Women’s Soccer League was founded, Portland was finally awarded its first professional women’s soccer side, the Portland Thorns FC.

Thorns striker Alex Morgan says that for women’s soccer to sustain itself this time, it will take a commitment from everyone who wants to see it succeed.

“With the NWSL starting this year and the WPS (Women’s Professional Soccer) folding just two years ago, people realize that it’s going to take responsibility from all fronts to keep this league alive,” Morgan says.

With out-of-this-world talent in the likes of Morgan and former UP striker Christine Sinclair, a fan base that has been ravenous for women’s soccer and an organization that has already achieved success with the Portland Timbers, Portland seems like the perfect city to carry women’s professional soccer.

“The people of Portland love their soccer,” Thorns Chief Operating Officer Mike Golub says.

The Thorns season starts Saturday on the road against FC Kansas City. Portland’s first home match will be April 21 against the Seattle Reign FC.

Golub says season-ticket sales have topped 7,000, and he expects more than 11,000 people to attend the home opener.

“After that, we’d be surprised if we’re not averaging more than 10,000, which would be terrific,” Golub says.

Aspiring to be professionals

Local businesses also have embraced the Thorns.

“The Thorns have their own group of sponsors,” Golub says. “Many of them are also Timbers sponsors, but some are new sponsors. It’s a different set of rights. There will be a distinct group of Thorns sponsors.”

Kells Irish Pub owner and avid soccer fan Gerard McAleese has spent the past few weeks meeting several of the Thorns players when they stop into his restaurant for dinner.

“We’ve had them in here quite a few times, and they’re delightful,” McAleese says.

That makes McAleese even more excited about his pubs showing Thorns matches this season.

“We’ve gotten a lot of calls already for watching the Thorns,” McAleese says. “It’s going to be a different crowd (from the Timbers). It’s the moms and dads bringing in kids who are playing youth soccer. It’s a really good soccer crowd. It’s a big thing if you’re a parent and you have wee girls.”

For those who want a more adult time, Kells also will have a double-decker bus running from the pub to matches at Jeld-Wen Field.

“There’s so many women getting together to go support their team,” McAleese says.

Frisbie says having the new team is inspiring Portland soccer players at all levels.

“A lot of us aspire to be professionals one day,” Frisbie says. “So to have a professional soccer team right here is pretty awesome.”

The ultimate question, of course, is can the league sustain itself? Golub says it can. And he says that Portland can help ensure that.

“This is the third iteration of the women’s soccer league, but we feel this one is poised to succeed and be viable,” Golub says. “We’re really excited to be part of this new league. We knew that it would be successful here, and we hoped that our success here would help the league be successful as a whole. So far the response has exceeded expectations.”