Why You Need to Check Out Tonight's National Women’s Soccer League Championship in PDX
If the Women’s World Cup piqued your interest—or you’ve been jonesing for your women’s soccer fix since the Thorns season ended—there’s spectacularly good news for you.
One of the biggest games of the season is happening in just a few hours—right here in Portland. We’ve got five good reasons you need to be heading to Providence Park tonight.
The pitch will be full of players from the national team
You watched the Women’s World Cup this summer, right? The final between the United States and Japan was the most-watched soccer game in American history, drawing 25.4 million viewers. If you were disappointed when the thrilling tournament drew to a (kick-ass) close, there’s good news. All of the amazing ladies on the national squad play in the National Women’s Soccer League, and six of them will be on the field tonight. FC Kansas City has midfielders Heather O’Reilly and Lauren Holiday (playing tonight in her final match as a professional), forward Amy Rodriguez, and defender Becky Sauerbrunn. The Reign have former University of Portland standout Megan Rapinoe and divinely gifted goalkeeper Hope Solo.
It’s going to be a cracking game
This is a rematch of last year’s championship, when Kansas City upset Seattle for a 2-1 win. Seattle is a monster offensively this season, unbeaten at home and having 41 goals to their name. Kansas City, the next-highest scoring squad, has only 32. If the Reign won tonight, they would be the first team to win both the NWSL Shield (awarded to the team with the best record in the regular season) and the league championship in the same season. FC Kansas City, who beat Portland in last year’s semifinal, head into tonight with the top defense in the league, including Defender of the Year Becky Sauerbrunn. In short, it promises to be a good show.
You need to be supporting this league
The NWSL, currently in its third season, is the third women’s professional league in the last 15 years, started after the previous two folded under financial problems. There’s an odd discrepancy between the enormous popularity of the women’s national team and the fairly dismal NWSL average attendance of roughly 5,000. Further, it’s often difficult, verging on impossible, to watch from home—the online stream of one important game between the Thorns and Kansas City this season abruptly stopped after less than half an hour—and many teams play on poor-quality fields covered in lines used in other sports.
The good news? Providence Park is far and away the most successful venue in the league in terms of attendance, averaging 15,639 fans this season; the Thorns sold out the soccer-specific stadium, which holds 22,000, twice this year. In women’s club soccer, that’s unheard of anywhere else in the world. And although Portland didn’t even make the playoffs this season, Portlanders are showing up: Thorns/Timbers owner Merritt Paulson tweeted yesterday that 12,000 tickets to tonight’s match have already been sold, which is an improvement of about 3,000 over last year’s final in Seattle.
Both the high-profile internationals and the rank-and-file of this league deserve a venue to play professionally, and the more attendance these games get, the easier it will be for the league to draw sponsors and media coverage going forward. Let’s show the league that the Thorns aren’t the only team that can draw a crowd!
Despite the hype surrounding the Americans in the league, Seattle’s best player isn’t a USWNT member, but an outrageously talented Scot. Little was the league MVP in 2014 and the runner-up this year. She has 26 goals and 14 assists in two seasons with the Reign, and she’s consistently described as one of the best women in the game. Exciting players like Little and her Welsh teammate, Jess Fishlock, whose national teams don’t tend to qualify for major tournaments, are yet another reason to watch NWSL soccer.
General Admission tickets are only $15, which is about the best sports bargain to be found in Portland: for most regular season Blazers games, $16 will only get you a seat in the nosebleeds, tickets for the Timbers start at $18, and any of the remaining games for the heavily-marketed but flailing Oregon Ducks will set you back at least $79. This is the championship of a top-tier league and it’s going to be a great game.
The National Women's Soccer League Championship match kicks off at Providence Park at 6.30 this evening (October 1).