When Danielle Foxhoven stepped up to the press conference podium last night after Portland's heart-wrenching home 3-2 loss to FC Kansas City, she looked absolutely gut-punched.
Her voice broke with emotion. She worked her jaw back and forth as if trying to tamp down tears. Her eyes were wide with disappointment. Her demeanor spoke for how she felt; she didn't really need to say anything at all.
But she did.
"It was hard," she said of the loss. "I feel it a lot. It's kind of in my stomach. It never feels good; losing never feels good, especially in front of 17,000 fans and against the first-place team, who I think we were better than during a lot of the game today."
That was just the beginning of one of the most emotional, yet reasonable, post-game pressers I've ever seen. Foxhoven's answers were honest and direct as she addressed some of the internal problems that have been undercutting the Thorns for quite a while. And yet her manner, her voice, her gaze -none of these revealed pettiness or even anger, really. Foxhoven just seemed like she wanted to explain this befuddling team.
Reporter: Is it hard to balance pushing for a goal versus defensive responsibility?
Foxhoven: Yeah, definitely. That's always a challenge with a game that you have to win, a game that you're desperate to win, when you're throwing the kitchen sink at them, you become exposed and that always makes it harder.
Rachel Buehler was incredible today. She was flying. A center back who's getting in the attack and has an assist, and is crossing in the 90th minute, you know, that's insane.
So, It's not a lack of [and here she pauses to think]...it's not a lack of heart from most of our players, but we're just not there yet.
Can you talk about the players' mindset heading into this game, the importance of this game, and how you're feeling given the result?
Going into the match the key point was we gotta win. We have to be desperate to win. Balls to the wall, sort of. Gotta get three points. And it was the same at halftime. And I think it was the same to the end for most of us and now after the game, like I said, right now we're still in second place. We have to win out. So that's the new mentality.
Do you feel like you saw that desperation from the team today?
[Immediate answer]: From most of us. From most of us. Yeah.
By ‘From most of us,' what do you mean?
I think that in the last couple minutes, I think some of us were in that zone; some of us were pressing and some just weren't there yet. There's been a little bit of a separation in our team and that's kind of why we've struggled in the past.
But I think that we've collectively gotten better. And I hope that our results are showing that. For the most part, I think that they are --our performance is showing better, and that's a positive. That's the one thing we can take away.
So you feel like the team is doing well to mend that separation that's been there all year?
Yeah, I thought that at points today that was the best soccer we've played. At points. And the result doesn't show it. And that's unfortunate. But that's sports for you.
Lest you think Foxhoven was merely calling out her teammates without taking any responsibility herself, it should be noted that early in the Q & A, Foxhoven seemed particularly shaken when describing her own play.
"The goals, especially the last two, replay a lot in my mind because they came down my side of the field and I think I had a lot of responsibility in them," she said.
Why did Foxhoven choose to speak out at this particular time? I think it was a perfect storm of disappointment. So much was at stake with Sunday's game. In the past few weeks, the team has made a point of emphasizing its goal of hosting the playoffs through the championship game. The loss to FCKC pretty much eliminated that possibility. This was the final home game, a chance to reward the Portland fans-who numbered over 17,000 at this game-for their dedication. And when the Rose City Riveters raised that impressive tifo that called the Thorns players "super heroes," you just had to know the Thorns wanted to pay back that fierce display of adoration with a win. I think that Foxhoven's comments were less about indicting fellow teammates than they were an attempt to give us all an explanation as to why the Thorns failed at all three objectives. I think that she, and many of the rest of the Thorns, just felt awful.
Of course, that's just conjecture (for the record, Christine Sinclair, Alex Morgan, and other players were not available to the media post-match), but consider the last thing Foxhoven told us before leaving the room. When asked about what it's been like to play for the Portland home crowd this season, Foxhoven's voice again shook with emotion as she said:
It's unspeakable. I wear this crest over my heart with pride. This is my home and I play for this city because it's a part of me. I feel passionately about it and I want to say thank you to everybody who supported us from the beginning to make this happen, because it's incredible. It's unlike any other place in the world, in my opinion. A lot of us have played at the highest levels and there's nothing like this, playing for your city. It's a community and everybody's behind you. Looking around today, and the sign before saying ‘superheroes,' you know that's kind of how we feel, and you guys have made us feel that way, so it's an incredible feeling. Thank you.