The Portland Thorns ended their amazing 2018 campaign at Providence Park on Saturday in front of a packed house. There is no need to rehash the game itself – the Thorns were entirely outclassed by the North Carolina Courage. The win capped an historic season for Paul Riley’s “underdogs”. May we please never hear that lie from his lips again!
The bonfire theme for September’s matches continued through to the final. This is the first time that an NWSL championship was kicked off with a tifo larger than a bedsheet. And large it was – two panels each 60 feet tall by 48 feet wide – emblazoned with a twist on the familiar cliché. The Thorns have played with burning ambition these past two months and the Riveters have filled the North End with smoke to celebrate. Alas, not this day.
After the match, the chanting from the North End was non-stop throughout the lengthy awards ceremony. The chants were entirely in support of the Thorns, thankfully nothing hateful was interjected. The Riveters made a special effort in this match to take the high road, minimizing booing to a degree not usually seen. Even the referee didn’t get as much stick as normal. To be fair, his crew was pretty good.
The banner gnomes were a bit too busy to produce new works this week. However, they did crack out every player banner from the year and hung them in a continuous line the entire length of the North End wall. Stumptown Footy’s William Conwell took a look before the match.
Behind the scenes
For the second week in a row, the tifo crew had six days to design and produce a monumental display. There was a unique challenge this week. Due to logistics, the team had only twelve hours to paint the entire “Smoke” panel. The painting space is 33 feet wide while the fabric is 48 feet, so normally this would be done one half a time, with overnight drying between. Since time did not permit, the crew McGyver’ed a solution to suspend the painted portions so that the work could continue uninterrupted. Luckily, it worked.
The Riveters really stepped up for the final push. More than twenty showed up during the business day to start the painting and another twenty in the evening to finish the job. In total, more than one hundred volunteers have worked on tifo over the past three weeks.
There was a lot more to the Championship week than just tifo production. Another team of volunteers renovated the game room at the Hillsboro Boys and Girls club. A pre-match supporter groups party was thrown. The traditional matchday pickup game was organized, and well attended. And the post-match party was laid on.
Somewhere around two-hundred Riveters showed up at Kell’s for commiseration, some free drinks (thank you, Merritt!) and dancing. The mood was positive and eventually celebratory. Several folks commented that this was the happiest and liveliest “loss party” they’d ever seen.
If I may digress, there is a unique affinity to the Thorns among the fans. Perhaps it’s because of our special players and their clear enjoyment of the game and the fans. Perhaps it’s because women’s sport truly is an underdog in the bigger scheme of society. Perhaps it’s because the FIFA/US Soccer patriarchy is slowly eroding under the blows of our thousands of little hammers. Or maybe it’s because somebody like Mana Shim would fly to Portland, and then come unescorted to the supporter’s party, and feel safe, and get hugs all around.
And for the Riveters, there is also camaraderie. We work together for the team but also for ourselves. We stand in the rain and celebrate a victory; we dance under a tent after a loss. When you share experiences like these, a bond develops. It is focused on the club, but transcends as its own entity with a heartbeat, with a voice, and with love.
To the surprise of nobody, this was the first NWSL Championship Final played to a full house. To the possible surprise of many, nearly all 21,144 stayed until the final whistle despite the lopsided score. The match was broadcast on Lifetime, maybe their last airing of an NWSL game. They finished with a flourish, as 225,000 viewers tuned in. I believe this was the most-watched match on Lifetime yet. Perhaps the league will eventually release numbers for the season’s TV and online viewership, so we can get a sense for the domestic and global interest in NWSL.
Ah, the saddest question – now what? September 28th is the final day for clubs to exercise 2019 player options. Players with declined options go on waivers and can be picked up by other clubs starting Monday, October 1st. The waiver window is only 24 hours, so by October 3rd any unclaimed players will become free agents.
There will be an off-season Riveters party sometime soon. Last year it was at Halloween, but last year’s season ran well into October. The World Cup CONCACAF qualification tournament begins October 4th, with watch parties at all the usual haunts. The W-League in Australia kicks off October 25th with the Sydney Derby. There is sure to be drama in the NWSL, with players departing and perhaps returning, coaches getting hired and fired, team reorganizations, possible expansion and/or contraction, etc. After the holidays will be the 2019 NWSL Draft and then camp and then, before you know it, Thorns footie once again.
Onward Rose City!