How, you ask? And what in the world is a Mecca? I will briefly breakdown my logic to this bold inquiry, while ending on a semi-unrelated topic on how to grow sustainable footy in the States. I will start out by answering the second question first.
Mecca is a city in Saudi Arabia and is considered to be the holiest Muslim city. Michael Jordan used the city as analogy when referring to New York as the "Mecca of basketball." Meaning, New York is the holiest place when it comes to basketball due to its large following and constant practice of the sport. Now, I am not claiming women in Portland are out in the streets, left and right, juggling a football like people do in Europe or even remotely at the same level as kids are dribbling a basketball in the streets of New York. My curious mind begins with our huge footy support in the state of Oregon. The nation and worldwide viewers of MLS, witness it during every sold-out home match of the Timbers FC. Our fan support has a European-feel, if you will. The rivalry between Portland and Seattle only adds fuel to the fire and will eventually carry MLS and hopefully the NWSL to success, due to its large support from both markets -- which is considered contagious around the league. When US cities were first being built, it was important to build them near large bodies of water for the purpose of trade and transportation. That was the foundation to a lasting city and a strong economy. Sport franchises are rather similar. They are built around a large body of fan supporters, such is the marriage between Portland and Timbers FC and also now, Thorns FC.
What will greatly help push this footy movement in the state of Oregon is the recent acquisitions of Rachel Buehler (USA), Tobin Heath (USA), Alex Morgan (USA), Luz Saucedo (MEX), Marlene Sandoval (MEX), Karina LeBlanc (CAN), and Christine Sinclair (CAN). Nationwide, Thorns FC is strongly considered to have had the best acquisition of players through the NWSL Allocation. One major reason for this conclusion is US Superstar and recent Ballon d'Or finalist, Alex Morgan. She alone would have been a major win for Portland. Not only is she incredibly talented but is incredibly beautiful. In combination, it makes her a powerful marketing figure for NWSL and the city of Portland. Oregon has arguably not had such a recognizable marketing figure since its high-flying days with Clyde "The Glyde" Drexler as a Trail Blazer. Even then he was overshadowed by some guy named Michael "Air" Jordan. This time however, Portland has, who many consider to be, the best women's football player in the world. How about that? Talent and beauty smashed into one. A gift that Oregon should and will embrace.
With the head-turning news of the Alex Morgan acquisition to Portland, it is bound to have other effects, right? I tend to think so. I see dollar bills flashing before my eyes. Not just because of the dozens-and-dozens of roses that will be bought and sent to Alex by married men and admirers but because of the support this will bring to the city of Portland. Support from young girls around the nation watching Alex shine in a passionate environment. I predict this will attract and encourage more young high-profile talent to attend universities in Oregon. This way they can be in close proximity to being part of a thrilling Thorns match, while ultimately, having the goal of playing professionally in Portland. Let me explain.
If NWSL adopts a Homegrown Player-like rule, it could potentially make the Thorns FC a true powerhouse -- again, assuming more high profile talented teens attend universities in Oregon. As I was reminded, NWSL is not the MLS, so we should not expect them to adopt the same exact rules. Therefore, young promising prospects, development from amateurs to professionals in Oregon, could potentially turn out to be, dare I say, Barcelona-esque? Plus we have proven footy college programs in Oregon State University and the University of Portland. In particular, UP has some well known alumnae players, such as our recent acquired Canadian captain Christine Sinclair, Megan Rapinoe, and Shannon MacMillan -- just to name a few. Since UP is a private university, (it does not receive funding from the government), the complexity in building a relationship between the Thorns FC and University of Portland could drastically lesson. Partnerships between private universities and professional clubs in the NWSL could realistically exist. Also let us ask ourselves, who does not want to play professionally in Portland? During the NWSL Allocation process, players were given the opportunity to select their top four preferred destinations. Many chose Portland as their number one choice but only a handful were granted the wish. Players want to play where there is a passionate fan base, simple as that.
So let me be perfectly clear one last time. With the recent formation of the Thorns FC franchise in a strong fan supporting market, plus combining it with the face of the league, in Alex Morgan, joining the Portland family will be a powerful marketing duo for NWSL and the state of Oregon. Which could potentially turn Portland into the Mecca of women's football. Flower shops will never be the same and men wearing women jerseys will not be viewed so taboo.
I will go off on a bit of a tangent, this could potentially be a whole different discussion on its own. I am adding it for the sake of having serious dialogues amongst each other for the goal of growing strong and lasting footy leagues in America. The US economy is improving and will continue to rise as long as congress does not interrupt. What I am saying is, we have not seen a strong economy behind our second stage of our young footy leagues, the post Beckham-era. Yet we are still growing -- our best times are ahead of us! Another major factor I must address is the importance of the Latino support for the growth of football in the USA. If our footy leagues plan on maximizing their investment and growth, they must try harder in attracting Latinos, specifically Mexicans. Why, you ask? For many reasons. They are the largest growing demographic in the US at a rapid pace. Though I personally rarely see them as players in professional sports like the NBA, NFL, MLB, NHL, etc. Do they not like to play sports? They actually very much enjoy to practice and watch football. This is one group in America you do not have to convince that futbol, if you will, is an amazing sport. They however, do not attend nor support both MLS and women's football as strongly as one would hope. They much rather watch Liga MX and/or European leagues. One of the reasons is because those leagues are far more established and competitive. Another reason, which is far more important, is the lack of Latino representation in our footy leagues, most notably in our analyst, commentators, and coaches. One often tends to be attracted to groups we can relate to.
Hence, "White" movies doing overwhelmingly better compared to "Black" films. Which can also explain why Hollywood often replaces minorities with White actors, such is the case with recent Golden Globe winner in Ben Affleck playing the role of Tony Mendez, a Mexican-American CIA technical operations officer for the Argo film. We witness a gigantic Mexican support whenever the Mexican National team is hosted in the States. This market is begging for attention! I mean common, they have been up here far longer than we have -- historically speaking. I am not trying to start controversy but simply point out something I consider to be extremely obvious for the sake of growing successful and sustainable men and women footy leagues. I can understand some people feeling threatened by this, similar to how upper White class students feel threatened by so many Asian students attending the same Ivy League schools as them, even though Asian-American students are disproportionately represented in them.
I however, do not agree. One must embrace the change in order to maximize profit and talent. Would you rather a footy commentator continue to silently acknowledge a goal as the camera turns to the fans? Or would it be more entertaining for fans hearing commentators incorporate a little Latino flavor of passionate shouts of GOOOOOOOOOLAZO? Would one rather keep seeing empty stadiums around the league? (Excluding Jeld-Wen Field of course). Or finally seeing a healthy diverse support? Better yet, high TV ratings, which brings in the big money contracts. NWSL did the smart thing in including 16 Canadians but also 16 Mexican players in the allocation. Only time will tell if it makes a difference, even though it is a small step. Now the ball is on MLS's side to take a shot in making a real difference for the better of the game.
Remember this, in Panama, where people saw a mountain of land, Theodore Roosevelt envisioned a large body of water. Sometimes one must imagine the unimaginable and do the unthinkable for greater heights, for greater causes.
What are your thoughts? Can Portland in time realistically turnout to be the Mecca of women's football? Or is that wishful thinking? Am I also daydreaming by hoping our footy leagues in the States stretch out their hands to a more diverse pool, specifically with the Latino community? Are we ready to take another step, to reach another level of footy and fan support? Please let me know what you think?