The Portland Thorns selected Gabby Provenzano from Rutgers University with the club’s second pick of the 2022 NWSL Draft and the 22nd overall pick. Provenzano is a center back from Sergeantsville, NJ, who can also play in the midfield.
“It meant everything to get drafted,” said Provenzano, who spoke to Stumptown Footy over Zoom. “It’s something that I kind of had in my mind growing up as a young girl. I was always inspired by players and that was one of my main goals. When it was announced that I was drafted by the Thorns it was so surreal. They’re such a great organization, great club, have amazing fans and an amazing city. So to be able to start my professional career there is just an unbelievable experience and opportunity.”
"You'll get 110% effort from me and no matter what I always leave it on the field."— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) December 18, 2021
Gabby Provenzano is headed to the Rose City and couldn't be more excited to get started. #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/742Vjlhamr
Provenzano started her collegiate career as a defensive midfielder. She played in 21 matches during her freshman season but only started four. In 2018, Provenzano saw a massive increase in playing time. The midfielder started all 20 of the Scarlet Knights’ matches. She scored her first goal on Aug. 19, 2018 vs. Drexel and provided her first assist on Sept. 9, 2018 vs. La Salle.
Provenzano was named a team captain and started all 21 of the Scarlet Knights’ matches during the 2019 season and she transitioned to the position in which she would thrive in for the rest of her Rutgers career.
During Provenzano’s junior season, one of Rutgers’ starting center backs was called into the full Jamaican National Team before the Scarlet Knights’ marquee matchup with rivals Penn State. Provenzano was asked to fill in at center back.
“[Rutgers coach Mike O’Neill] was like, ‘hey, I need you to play center back this game. You’re one of the people we think can do it so you’re going to train there this week…. We’re going to get through it and then you’ll go back to midfield.’ Well, he liked how I played at center back…”
And Provenzano has been leading the Scarlet Knights from the back ever since. She captained and started in Rutgers’ 16 games in the 2020 season that was postponed to Spring 2021 due to the COVID-19 Pandemic.
The Scarlet Knights’ captain and center back used the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the pandemic to return to Rutgers for one more season. She scored two goals and assisted once in Rutgers’ historic season.
“One of the reasons why I chose Rutgers was because of the family atmosphere and the culture,” said Provenzano. “I think, this year, we stepped into captains’ preseason back in July, and from day one there was a mentality. We had our goal set that we were going to make history this year, that we were going to be that [Rutgers] team to break through… the only other breakthrough was the 2015 team.”
“From day one you could just see the bonding of the team,” Provenzano continued. “We talk at Rutgers [about how] soccer has no age. So whether you’re a freshman all the way up to a fifth year, it has no age, so anyone should give their input to whoever… and I think that’s what really kept us together. There were times where it might not have been our best day together or best day individually, but we knew, as a team, that as long as we stuck together and had each other’s backs that we could get through anything.”
Provenzano and the Scarlet Knights made the breakthrough they set their sights on. Rutgers went undefeated in Big Ten Conference regular season play and made it to the school’s second-ever NCAA College Cup where they lost to eventual champions Florida State.
Much like the team she captained, Provenzano had an amazing 2021. She logged 2,155 minutes through 25 matches and was not given a single card. Provenzano was named a MAC Hermann Trophy Semifinalist, Senior CLASS Award Candidate, Big Ten Defender of the Year, All-Big Ten First Team, Big Ten All-Tournament Team, All-Region First Team, All-America First Team, College Cup All-Tournament Team, Academic All-Big Ten, Scholar All-Region and Scholar All-America First Team.
Provenzano is a leader on and off the pitch, which is something the Thorns have come to expect because of the great culture O’Neill has constructed at Rutgers. Provenzano described being a captain for three years as a humbling opportunity and a great experience and constantly referenced her team’s culture as key to her and her team’s success.
"She can play in the midfield, she can play in the back. It helps fill some holes for us."— Portland Thorns FC (@ThornsFC) December 18, 2021
Assistant Coach Sophie Clough talks about what Gabby Provenzano can bring to the table for us in the upcoming season. #BAONPDX pic.twitter.com/2uYAnNdcBc
Provenzano acknowledged that there were a variety of leaders on this historic Scarlet Knights squad. She said that former Thorns’ draftee Amirah Ali led by example whereas Provenzano was the vocal leader, which helped spawn her nickname “The General.”
“There’s really not a true origin [story],” said Provenzano. “I had known Mike and Meg[han Ryan Nemzer] prior to Rutgers through PDA (the Players Development Academy) where I played all my club soccer. After my freshman year Mike came up to me and was like, ‘hey, you were really quiet this year. That’s not you. Come on, we need more out of you’… Then my junior year at one practice, he pulled me aside and he was like, ‘You’re the general… that’s what I expect for you. You run this team. You run the show. You have the pulse of this team,’ and that everyone kind of follows after me. From there, he would use it from time to time and that’s how it came about.”
The Scarlet Knights’ general has strived to lead off the pitch as well and is excited to be drafted by a team that has made service a priority via the club’s annual Stand Together Week.
“I’ve seen all the work that Portland’s done which I think is absolutely incredible and remarkable,” said Provenzano. “And just to be able to go into an organization that has that is surreal because I know that that’s something that I want to continue to do.”
Provenzano expressed the importance of giving back because others before her did so and helped pave the way for her. She specifically recalled training with former Thorn Tobin Heath when the USWNT attacker returned to her native New Jersey.
“I look at it as people before me gave me an opportunity and gave back... and if I can make a change in one person’s life or many people’s [lives] that’s an unbelievable experience,” said Provenzano. “Obviously, a lot of people’s goals are to play college [soccer] and there are so many young kids out there who aspire to be like us. So having the ability to give back, talk to kids about my journey and how I got here, that the sky’s the limit for them, and to work hard and put everything out there, to me it means everything. Because that’s what I got so it’s just something that I want to return and [I] hope to inspire kids.”
The Rutgers alumna has already inspired many but she will have an even bigger platform to do so as she moves out to the West Coast to join the Portland Thorns – a team she has been following since her friend and former teammate Madison Pogarch was signed by the Thorns in 2019.
“I became a massive Portland fan,” said Provenzano. “I was like, ‘hey, one of my best friends just [went] to Portland,’ and followed her along. She was actually one of the first people to reach out to me when I got drafted and was like, ‘Hey, we’re teammates again! Congrats, so lucky to have you here.’”
“We’ve stayed in contact over the years, but now it’s surreal that I get to have an opportunity to play with her again and we’ve been in chat since I’ve gotten drafted just talking about what it’s like out there, my transition to go out there, obviously going coast to coast and just getting some insight from her end on the league.”
Provenzano is excited to reunite with a fellow Scarlet Knight and is also excited to be in Portland. She has never made the trip out to the Rose City and looks forward to enjoying the city and the outdoors. But she is most looking forward to meeting her new teammates and coaches.
“First and foremost, I’m really excited to meet the team and meet the coaches,” said Provenzano. “I think just to start the bonding and gel – that’s obviously step number one – to get to know people, get to know their tendencies [and] the way that they play. Then for me, it’s just helping in any way that I can. I’m open to really anything – listening and learning will be one of the biggest things but I’m really just excited to get started.”
Provenzano will have the opportunity to meet and learn from the coaching staff and some of her new teammates like fellow center back Becky Sauerbrunn soon. The NWSL preseason is just weeks away. She will have to wait until March 19 when the 2022 NWSL Challenge Cup commences to step into Providence Park and play in front of the Rose City Riveters for the first time.
“I think I’m going to be in shock at first,” said Provenzano. “It’s going to be such a moment to take in and remember because they’re such an amazing fan base and they’re always behind us. And that’s something that not many people can say that they have… just knowing that we have this support from the city really is going to be unreal.”
In Provenzano, the Thorns drafted a hard-working versatile player who will continue to develop and learn under the tutelage of the Thorns’ experienced center backs and midfielders. Provenzano is a solid center back who enjoys defending just as much as she takes pride in her contributions in build-up. She is an excellent leader who conducts back lines and who helps prepare the next generation of talent. Provenzano is the type of player and person that will succeed at Thorns FC and her appreciation for the fans is sure to be reciprocated in short order.