This is my last post for Stumptown Footy. I've taken a gig at a company that makes it a conflict of interest when it comes to writing on matters WoSo, and so there you have it. It breaks my heart to have to let go of writing about this team. And yet, in many ways, I'm glad to end it after a single season. Because the Thorns' championship run last year was perfect.
Don't get me wrong: It wasn't perfect from a purely soccer standpoint, that's for sure. This team never met its full potential, nor did it find consistency or a particularly coherent form. At times it just plain stunk. What's the sound of 13,000 people not clapping? Jeld-Wen Field after that spiritless June 1st loss to Chicago.
But, man, when they rose to the occasion, they did it big. Think of Allie Long's beautiful bender against Sky Blue. Think of Mana Shim's four goals in as many games. Think of Sinc and Tobin Heath and that crafty set piece goal against Chicago. And of course, think of Heath's game-winning, set-shot blast against the Western New York Flash in the inaugural NWSL final.
That golazo was such a singular act, when two teammates --Sinclair and Marian Dougherty-- asked what Heath needed from them as she set up the free kick, she told the former,"just stay out of the way," and the latter, "just stand there and look pretty." They both complied.
As a defining example of individual brilliance, Heath's bit of magic was paralleled by a play at the opposite end of the field, in a different game against that same Flash side. It was, perhaps, the best game of the year, a tense 1-1 affair, in front of 13,201 at Jeld-Wen.
It was here, in the 83rd minute, with the game tied that Karina LeBlanc bitch-slapped Abby Wambach's PK attempt, swatting it aside as the stadium unleashed a nuclear blast of joy. Whether she got lucky, whether she saw something, or whether Wambach just faltered, LeBlanc saved the game, and with it, the latter half of the season.
That's just how the Thorns rolled in 2103: Rallying to overcome challenges they had brought upon themselves. It certainly was an odd way to approach a championship run, and it was fascinating to watch. Actually, "fascinating" is too vague: It was maddening, thrilling, confounding, dysfunctional, brilliant, boneheaded, and genius. In other words, it was soccer, through and through. Hell, it was life. And it ended with a championship. Perfect.
All of this made it damn difficult to not cheer in the pressbox. Covering the Thorns presented the first time I've ever had to balance being a fan and having to report in a relatively objective way. I'm so grateful to Stumptown Footy for giving me the opportunity to try and straddle the line.
I'm even more grateful for those of you who were kind enough to read my words, kind enough to leave comments, kind enough to correct me when I was wrong, and kind enough to guide me through some of the more nebulous intricacies of soccer in the Rose City. I'm pretty psyched to be joining you in the North End this coming season. There may not be press box cookies down there, but at least I'll be able to cheer.