What a game! What a week! The Thorns hosted Seattle in the season finale with a home playoff rematch on the line, and won 3-1 on the back of a mostly dominant performance. As a result, we meet the Reign again on Saturday at noon in the first semifinal. Chicago will travel to Cary on Sunday and attempt to dethrone the Shield-holding Courage.
The fun started well before kickoff. Katherine Reynolds managed to rehab her knee enough to walk down the aisle.
Congratulations to Kat and Tucker Hopp! The high-school sweethearts were married in Seattle with a reception afterward at the senior Reynolds’ home. Angela Salem was a bridesmaid, with other soccer teammates and friends in attendance.
Hayley Raso continues her recovery in Washington DC. The Riveters attached red ribbons to the gates at Providence Park. (Click through and expand the picture to see.)
In the post-game celebrations, AD Franch used Facetime to bring Hayley to the party with the Riveter’s serenading her. Her recovery is going well – she is already sitting upright with the aid of a brace.
The supporters had a busy week of preparation. Some new banners were made for the walls at the park, and one old standby was updated.
A week of furious effort by dozens of Riveters went in to making the “Build a Bonfire” tifo display. There were four elements: a backdrop with a nighttime Portland sky featuring two prominent stars; a banner covering section 107, showing a small bonfire with sparks and smoke; the stage banner “Burn the Lot”; and finally, the huge front lift of a fully involved bonfire surrounded by onlooking Riveters. Here are photos of the early painting stages and the end result.
It was Prom Night and many folks dressed up for the annual occasion. It was also “Buy Your Capo a Pint” night supporting the Rock and Roll Camp for Girls. It’s not too late to support the effort if you didn’t see a capo with a bucket.
After a nervy start and an early concession, the Thorns found their way into the match. In the 21st minute, the supporters took time out to chant “Raso, Raso, Raso, Oi, Oi, Oi” to support the team’s missing sparkplug player. In the second half, we got to sing “One Goal Beyond” and then “Two Goals Beyond” to everyone’s delight.
The post-game celebration started with the regular rose ceremony. Then AD Franch led the Thorns to the main capo stage for singing and dancing. Christine Sinclair was presented with the Supporters’ Player of the Year award, based on the Riveters’ votes.
At age 35, she was the only Thorn to play every minute of every game in 2018 – the rock at the center of everything. Nobody takes her contributions for granted, but it surprised many to learn that she had never received this special award. In a recent interview, Sinclair said that she was determined to bring Canada a World Cup and Olympic gold medal. This means she is not retiring any time soon, to the relief of everyone in Portland.
The team then left the stage, led by Tyler Lussi and Midge Purce. The two newbies started to head for the autograph lines, not realizing that there were gifts waiting. This year’s gift, in keeping with the bonfire motif, was a personalized wooden box containing a s’mores kit: two telescoping marshmallow forks, graham crackers, chocolate bar, bag of marshmallows, and a box of “Three Stars” brand matches to get the fire started.
The evening ended with the now-traditional Edie Parsons-led huzzah. Thank you, coach, for letting her stay up past bedtime!
One first-time visitor from Manchester England summed up the experience as a life-changing event.
Honestly, we thought @ManCityWomen fans could bring it. You guys are not just on another level, you’re on another planet! Totally in awe.— Kate is tired of all this nonsense tbh (@KateHeppell) September 8, 2018
The season finale was a sellout and it felt like it, with jammed concourses and extra-loud chanting. The 21,144 brought our season total attendance to 203,506 which is 4.1% less than last year’s record. We’ve discussed the effect of so many midweek matches on the gate, but the total is still enviable by world standards.
If the Thorns played in various men’s first divisions, their average attendance would place them:
· MLS: #18 (of 24), out-drawing DC United, Philadelphia, Colorado, Dallas, Chicago and Columbus.
· Spanish La Liga: #13 (of 26).
· English Premier League: #20 (of 20), displacing AFC Bournemouth.
· France Ligue 1: #12 (of 20), well ahead of huge-spending AS Monaco.
· Italian Serie A: #15 (of 20).
· Brazil Serie A: #6 (of 20).
· Mexico Liga MX: #15 (of 18).
· Dutch Eredivisie: #9 (of 18), ahead of famed AZ Alkmaar.
· Argentina Primera: #9 (of 25), far ahead of Lanus, home of several popular Timbers players.
· German Bundesliga: #27 (of 18), the only major league where the Thorns would not be ranked. They would fall #9 in the second-division Bundesliga 2.
· Of the 33 teams in USL, only FC Cincinnati has a higher average attendance than the Thorns.
The other games this week were also well attended. The Royals drew their second-largest crowd of the season – 11,851 – to finish the year with 113,593 tickets sold. They have been a more-than-capable replacement for the Boston Breakers and FC Kansas City, with attendance almost exactly double those two teams’ 2017 combined total. Plus, they play more entertaining soccer than those two generally managed.
Sky Blue drew their season high and entertained the faithful with their first win of the year. North Carolina also set a season high with 9,505. Their gate has increased by about 2,000 each of the last three matches, as word may have finally gotten out that those gals are good!
In total, the league attendance was up 15.7% over 2017. Back in July, I used an algorithm to guess that total season attendance would hit 650,000. The actual number ended up as 650,552. These are great results and encouragement for the future.
Also encouraging was the Houston Dash’ management publicly recognizing that they need to make some changes to keep up. If they can recover their attendance to 2017 levels, and if Orlando does the same, the league will see another 5% bump and approach 700,000 in 2019. And who knows what changes are coming at Sky Blue and the long-rumored California team?
The Portland-Seattle match aired on Lifetime. The broadcast did not register in the top 150 for Friday. In the same timeslot, ESPN showed the WNBA Playoffs to 290,000 people. And the US Open Tennis women’s semifinal on Thursday drew 1,765,000. There is hope for NWSL — some women’s sports are popular TV fare.
Big as this game was, the next one is bigger. Although the Reign and the Thorns have each been to two Championship Finals, they have never met in the playoffs. The all-time record between the two is a dead heat (8-8-3). Anything could happen on Saturday – history provides no guide.
The Reign are likely to have Megan Rapinoe and Allie Long back in their lineup. There is little doubt that those two players were missed this week and will make a difference on Saturday. However, the Thorns are in excellent form and riding high. If Portland has an edge, it’s probably the home field advantage and the promise of the Championship also at home.
Neutrals are salivating; Riveters (and Queen’s Court) are mostly nervously excited.
Onward Rose City!