Portland Thorns FC came out on top last night, and it’s only fitting that they did so in what was one of the strangest matches possible. Their two goals against OL Reign both came off penalty kicks from the indomitable Christine Sinclair, the one goal from the Reign came off a purely ridiculous set piece situation, and it was a miracle that we were able to even see any goals considering the camera angles at the beginning of the game were specifically designed to give everyone watching motion sickness. It was a very 2020 final match for the Thorns.
But in the end, does it really matter as long as you get the win? Not if you’re the Thorns, who spent most of last night’s press conference popping champagne and blasting music as champions ought to do. That’s a privilege you get when you go 3-0-1 (W-L-D) in the first ever Fall Series.
“My lovely young teammates iced me right when I got in the locker room, so that I was really happy about,” Sinclair said (more on icing below). “Morgan Weaver is going to pay big time. But we’ve got a two-and-a-half hour bus ride back to Portland so I think it’s gonna be quite the fun bus ride.”
If you were perusing Twitter at all last night, then you know they had plenty of fun — and that’s for good reason. Of course, one of those reasons has to be because they went unbeaten throughout the short series. But the main reason was that them winning the whole thing meant clinching the Verizon Community Shield, the prize being $25,000 for Mimi’s Fresh Tees. Winning for yourself is always great, but knowing that it goes to something important makes it even sweeter.
“It’s great to have something to play for, and then as a team we really dug deep into ‘Okay, how can we help,’ especially in our community,” Becky Sauerbrunn said about the team’s decision to choose Mimi’s. “We’re really proud and we’re really happy that we get to contribute to the community.”
From a soccer perspective, it’s hard to fully grasp what we learned about the Thorns in 2020. They only played 10 matches if you include the Challenge Cup, and none of those were ever with a full squad. Head coach Mark Parsons noted how the whole year felt like one big preseason leading into next year.
But as I wrote before the match yesterday, thinking about this year — especially the Fall Series — as a preseason is probably the best mindset. Everything that happens here gives us insight into what the next year will look like, and all trends generally speaking are positive. They showed they were able to win big when teams don’t tighten up on them — as they did in the first two matches — and they also showed they can win close ones like this where the other team is seemingly trying to just punch you in the mouth.
“I told the team at halftime that it is the biggest compliment that they come in and try to kick you,” Parsons said. “They want to kick the ball hard and in behind and they want to kick you, and you stood up to that and you tried to manage that.”
In a lot of ways, the team seemed to stand up to any adversity faced throughout 2020. From not looking like having a season to the struggles of the Challenge Cup to not even being able to play at home because of hazardous air quality, there were plenty of things that could of derailed this Thorns squad. When asked about what his lasting memory of 2020 will be, Parsons said it’ll probably be that, despite everything, they all stuck together.
“I think the lasting memory is that every single person bought in to making sure this club moves in a direction and a vision and a place that no one in this league has seen,” Parsons said. “And we started that back in March ... every day and every week, every single person was committed to saying, ‘Portland Thorns, where we want to go is higher than anyone’s ever seen.’ And we took important steps and this is great. This is nice, but really that full commitment from every person, from every staff member, from every player, was absolutely critical.”
So where do we go from here? The truth is no one knows what next year will look like for Portland or the NWSL as a whole. No one even knows truly how this year will end. But Portland feels that they’ve found out more about who they are and where they want to go, and that might just be enough to build off of.
“I think what’s most important is having the North Star of ‘Who are we? What are we trying to be?’” Parsons said. “What are the players, individually, what their identity what they’re trying to be, and make sure that we’re working towards that.”
That’s all they can hope for for the future. But for now, let’s just ponder how Sinc is going to get back at Weaver.