“Celeste Boureille was everywhere tonight,” said Portland Thorns coach Mark Parsons in the post-match press conference after his team’s 2-0 away victory over Racing Louisville FC. “I think Celeste Boureille tackled everyone on the team. I think Celeste Boureille intercepted off of everyone on the team and touched every blade of grass in this amazing stadium. So I think we start there. I think it’s important to recognize she stepped in and stepped up.”
Stepping in and stepping up is integral to an NWSL team’s success while key players are away during international tournaments. This is especially true for a club like Portland Thorns FC that has five starters joining their respective national teams for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
Boureille has only played 186 minutes during the NWSL regular season, 90 of which came in the recent win over Racing Louisville. Boureille was everywhere against the expansion side. She had 78 touches, shot twice, and created two chances. She was dominant defensively in midfield and even slid into the left back position while Meghan Klingenberg received treatment from the 18th to 21st minute.
“I like to run,” said Boureille in an interview on Thursday. “I’m kind of that box-to-box midfielder. [That’s] one of my strengths. But I don’t mind playing in the back line. Honestly, I enjoy playing in any of those positions.”
Boureille made 11 recoveries during the match as well as four interceptions, three tackles, and two clearances, all while displaying the versatility that has been a staple of her game since arriving in Portland.
“It’s actually funny because all throughout my college career I was an outside forward,” said Boureille. “I played a little in the center my senior year but it wasn’t until I came to Portland that I started trying out a whole bunch of different positions. I kind of just go wherever Mark wants me. Wherever the team needs me is where I’m happy to play.”
The University of California, Berkeley alumna went undrafted in 2016 and later joined the Thorns’ preseason camp. After impressing in preseason, Boureille signed an NWSL contract on April 15, 2016 to add depth to Thorns while players were on international duty during the 2016 Olympics. Boureille has been a part of the Thorns since then. But she hasn’t spent all of her time in Portland. She has also taken some detours around the world.
Boureille enjoys playing year-round and has found success playing in Portland during the NWSL season and going on loan in the offseason. She joined the W-League’s Canberra United during the 2016-17 season and then played for the Brisbane Roar in the 2017-18, 2018-19, and 2019-20 W-League seasons.
“My time [in the W-League] has been really crucial in my development. I’m obviously not playing every single minute coming into the Thorns,” said Boureille. “So not playing every single minute in every season, it’s been really nice to be able to go over there in the offseason, and then be a player that is getting those minutes. I’ve grown being here (Portland) and then I’ve grown being there (Australia). Playing year-round has really helped me be the player that I am today.”
In 2020, there was widespread uncertainty if anyone was going to play sports because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But eventually, the NWSL was the first team sport to return to action as the league traveled to Sandy, Utah for the first edition of the NWSL Challenge Cup.
Boureille made three starts and played in five of the Thorns’ six Challenge Cup matches, registering 310 minutes. Boureille and Portland were ultimately knocked out of the Challenge Cup in the semifinals by the eventual champions, the Houston Dash, and Boureille was uncertain about how the rest of the year would play out.
“Obviously, with the pandemic and everything, it was a crazy year,” said Boureille. “So the fact that we did get to play in the Challenge Cup was amazing. Then [there were] talks about what was going to happen after the Challenge Cup. It was really up in the air. I was trying to sort out what I would do because I love playing year-round.”
“[With] the uncertainty of not knowing what was going to happen after the Challenge Cup, what players were going to be able to do, if we would have to go back to training on our own, or whatever it may be — I just wanted to continue to play. So when this opportunity came up to get to play in France, right after Challenge Cup, I thought it would be a good opportunity.”
On Aug. 21, 2020, Boureille signed a short-term loan deal with Division I Féminine side FC Fleury 91 and would soon be able to fulfill her dream of playing in her father’s native France.
“It’s been a dream of mine to play in France at some point in my career, just because I know that it would mean a lot to [my dad] and, of course, it means so much to me too,” said Boureille. “To be able to experience playing in France was awesome. To live in that culture, be able to play in a different league and understand how the European league is a little bit different than NWSL and the W-League, and just to kind of expand my journey as a professional footballer was really awesome.”
Boureille thrived in France on FC Fleury 91. She appeared in 12 league matches from her first appearance in September 2020 to her final appearance on Jan. 23, 2021. Boureille, as she always does, displayed her versatility. She played all over the midfield and even slid in at center back while starting 11 matches as FC Fleury 91 was dubbed by the French media as the “nice surprise of the season.”
“We did do really well,” said Boureille. “When I was there I did slide right in. It was definitely difficult because everything was in French and I spoke a little bit of French growing up with my dad, but I haven’t really had that exposure in a really, really long time. So it was right away — new team, new language — and just trying to get that back into my repertoire of just being able to understand what these players and what these coaches are actually saying. I just kind of had to adjust really quickly. But it was really seamless because ... everyone was really nice.”
While in France, Boureille stepped up as a player who led by example. She was unable to be a vocal leader because, at times, the language barrier prevented her from articulating her ideas exactly how she wanted.
“I took on a different role, playing in France,” said Boureille. “I kind of had to lead more by example because it was hard to communicate everything exactly the way I would want to say [it]. But I think I’ve always been that sort of player or leader [that leads] by example. So I think after playing in these different countries now and having a few years under my belt, I think I’ve just grown as a player and attack every season in different ways. I feel like with more experience and more playing time it’s just helped me overall grow as a player.”
That experience was evident during the 2021 NWSL Challenge Cup when Boureille and other veterans like Emily Menges, Angela Salem, Klingenberg and Rocky Rodriguez put the Thorns, who were missing their U.S. and Canadian national team players, in prime position to advance to and host the NWSL Challenge Cup Final.
Boureille logged 201 minutes in the 2021 Challenge Cup, playing the full 90 minutes in the Thorns’ first two outings. Portland defeated Kansas City NWSL 2-1 at Providence Park before traveling to Chicago to take on the Red Stars. Boureille and Morgan Weaver combined for the match’s only goal.
The midfielder got the ball on the right touchline in the 66th minute. Boureille looked up and spotted the run of Weaver. She curled a perfectly weighted pass around the Red Stars defender, Casey Krueger, and into stride for Weaver, who hit her shot off the post and in.
The Thorns went on to beat OL Reign 2-0 and Boureille played 21 minutes in the match. Portland drew with the Houston Dash before meeting NJ/NY Gotham FC in the 2021 Challenge Cup Final, which Portland won from the penalty spot.
Boureille and the Thorns have stated that their goal is to win every competition they play in this year. They currently sit in third place, tied in points with the Orlando Pride with a game in hand. The NWSL Shield is the next trophy up for grabs and if the Thorns are to get their hands on that prize as well, Boureille and the rest of the Thorns will need to step up in the absence of the marquee names that will be gone at the Olympics just like they did in the Challenge Cup and against Racing Louisville.
“I think it’s been really seamless going into [the Olympic period] with the players coming in and out,” said Boureille. “I think the staff and the team do a really good job [of making sure that] whoever’s in, whoever’s playing in that given time frame, we all are on the same page. We all know exactly what the team needs in that moment. So with players being gone, it really doesn’t change much in terms of how we want to play and how we want to approach every game.”
“I think that’s what made it so seamless going into this last game with a lot of players being away and having players step in. Everyone’s on the same page … I think that’s [made it] really easy going into this Olympic period.”
Parsons often says that he loves these periods in the season because fans and media alike are able to see the immense quality of players that we don’t always get to see on a regular basis. Celeste Boureille is one of those players and her performances in Chicago and in Louisville have highlighted just how important she is to this Thorns team. Whether she is in her preferred midfield role or covering for a teammate in defense, she is versatile, she is experienced, and she will do whatever she needs to do and play wherever she needs to play to make sure the Thorns continue to dominate during international periods.
Then, after the NWSL season, Celeste Boureille may go on another international adventure of her own. Boureille has found success in the U.S., Australia and now France. There’s no telling where her search for year-round soccer may take her next but what’s certain is her ability, versatility, and experience will allow her to succeed wherever she may go.