Is this like the World Cup or something?
No, that’s next summer between national teams, in France. The game at Portland’s Providence Park at 1:30 p.m. Pacific time Saturday, September 22, is the 2018 final of the National Women’s Soccer League, a five-year-old association that’s the 21st century’s third stab at a pro women’s league. This one isn’t without its problems, but it seems to be taking.
Portland loves scrappy underdogs! Are the Thorns an underdog?
The Thorns won in 2013 and again last year, so they’re defending champs. That said, the North Carolina Courage has had the best record last season and this one, and they’ve beaten the Thorns in all three meetings this year. The only Thorns players left from that 2013 title team are human highlight reel Tobin Heath and Canadian national team legend (and University of Portland alum) Christine Sinclair, and they’ve lost some of last year’s stars to European leagues, pregnancy, and injury, but they are by no means an underdog.
North Carolina has never won a title, so how about I root for them?
How about you talk to a Cubs fan? This team has only been the North Carolina Courage for two years, so you can’t call that a championship drought. And before they were sold and sent south, in 2016 they won the championship as the Western New York Flash.
But North Carolina is experiencing a serious natural disaster, so rooting for them is cool even if I’m a Portlander, right?
Well, you have the 2001 Yankees, who rallied their community after 9/11 but lost the World Series, and the 2017 Astros, who rallied their community after Hurricane Harvey and won. Either parallel would be more compelling if more than 5,000 North Carolinians on average turned out to watch their team’s home games.
All right, I’m rooting for the Thorns! They have some hotshots?
Oh, yes. See Heath and Sinclair, mentioned above. If you spot US Women’s National Team head coach Jill Ellis at the game (she was at last Saturday’s semifinal), you can ask her why 2017 NWSL goalkeeper of the year Adrianna Franch isn’t in the national team’s starting lineup. Same goes for defender Emily Menges. At least the other Emily (Sonnett) and league MVP contender Lindsay Horan are practically fixtures of the national team, along with Heath. In last week’s semifinal against the Seattle Reign, the often unsung Celeste Bourielle kept turning the momentum in her team’s favor.
So this game is here because the Thorns are in it?
Nope. Some NWSL teams play in quaint, adorable venues that don’t have the capacity for a big crowd. In 2015, the league switched from the home-field advantage of most sports finals to a Super Bowl-esque predetermined location to guarantee a stadium with lots of seating and decent infrastructure. Of course, attendance suffers when there’s no hometown crowd, when both teams’ fans have to make last-minute travel arrangements to go. This is the first time since the predetermined location decision there’s been a “home” team.
Why are people booing the Courage’s no. 15?
Ah, Jaelene Hinkle. Great athlete ... but when the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage nationwide in 2015, the left back tweeted, “The world is falling farther and farther away from God.” In a 700 Club interview aired this June, she confirmed she passed up a national team call-up last summer because the team would be wearing rainbow jerseys for Pride Month, a show of support for people who aren’t cisgender and heterosexual. Hinkle told The 700 Club she was “so convicted in my spirit that it wasn’t my job to wear this jersey.” North Carolina’s semifinal game against Chicago was moved from the Courage home turf in Cary to Providence Park due to Hurricane Florence, and the booing from the very pro-LGBTQ Portland crowd got louder as the game went on; eventually the “neutral site” was chanting for the Red Stars, who were dealt their fourth playoff loss in row. Is the booing changing Hinkle’s mind? Is she going to bake the cake—er, wear the rainbow jersey? Probably not. Maybe all the booing does is solidify her martyrdom for a fruitful motivational-speaker post-playing career on the conservative Christian circuit. But maybe the crowd reaction also buoys those who were hurt by her words.
Can I get a ticket to the game?
Oh, bless your heart. This thing is sold out. Resale sites show a few tickets available, in the $50–300 range. (You could try Seatgeek, an official Timbers partner.) Expect an NWSL attendance record to be set.
Isn’t it awful for the opposing team to have so many people in the stands against them?
But you said “so many people in the stands.” The Thorns have the highest average attendance, by far, of any team in the NWSL or even the more-established WNBA. We’re just waiting for the rest of the country to catch up. Even North Carolina coach Paul Riley (who coached the Thorns in 2014 and 2015) sees a silver lining in a huge, hostile crowd: “With the fanbase they have here, they make it a great spectacle for the sport,” he said Wednesday morning between bites of pastry at the Pearl Bakery. “That’s what we want, to grow the sport.”
So I can watch it on Lifetime?
You got it. Lifetime is the official broadcast partner of the NWSL. It’s not all Project Runway and Rob Lowe movies.
What if I don’t have cable?
Go to a friend’s place, or go to a bar or restaurant with a TV. You could start with this list of the Thorns’ “pub partners.” You can stream the game, too, but you’ll want to be around other fans for this one.
What if none of the TVs at the bar are on Lifetime?
Be assertive. Ask for sound, too. Tip your bartender.
What if the bar is full of people in Ducks gear who only know the other football?
That Ducks game doesn’t start till 5.
What if they’re in Beavers gear?
The Oregon State game’s at 1, but it’s not a hometown championship match, and it will still be going when the soccer game is over. It can go on a smaller TV.
What if I’m in a bar called Little Cooperstown?
Don’t go to a bar called Little Cooperstown to watch soccer. Have some respect. (That said, that bar tends to put college football on its biggest screens even during the World Series.)
There’s PGA action this weekend, too. What if they won’t turn the TV away from golf?
Oh my god. This PGA stuff never ends. But it’s not that big a tournament, and it doesn’t culminate till Sunday. Walk out and find a real bar.