The Portland Thorns played their final home game of the season October 12, kicking off nearly six sad, dark months for the average 20,000-plus fans who fill Providence Park for National Women’s Soccer League games. There was a flurry of friendlies for some Thorns who are national team players (including a first USWNT cap for Midge Purce and the first international goal in almost five months for Canadian captain and University of Portland alum Christine Sinclair), but the international calendar’s clear until Olympic qualifying recommences January 28.
The answer lies far south and 16 to 19 hours ahead. Australia’s W-League features Portland players on five of its nine teams for its 2019–20 season, which dovetails nicely with the NWSL offseason. The Thorniest of the bunch is the Brisbane Roar, with both Brisbane native Hayley Raso and American Celeste Boureille. The youngest Thorn, 19-year-old Australian Ellie Carpenter, has joined Melbourne City. Another Aussie, Caitlin Foord, is once again with Sydney FC, which won the league championship last February. Making their W-League debuts are American Thorns Emily Menges, who recently traveled to South Korea with Melbourne Victory for the AFC Women’s Club Championship, and Simone Charley, who scored three goals through the first three weeks of play with Canberra United, the second most in the league.
With Thorns on five different teams, Portland fans might have trouble deciding which team to root for, but one to root against might be an easier choice: After finishing with the worst record in the W-League last year, this season the Western Sydney Wanderers have become an upside-down version of Thorns nemesis the North Carolina Courage, having signed the Courage’s Kristen Hamilton, Denise O’Sullivan, and Lynn Williams. (Some Australian media are calling the trio “the three amigos.”) Hamilton has four goals after the third week of play, including a hat trick in the Wanderers’ Thanksgiving Day defeat of Raso, Boureille, and the rest of the Brisbane Roar.
The W-League season plays Thursdays through Sundays in Australia, so games range from the middle of Wednesday nights to Saturday evenings in Portland. An ESPN+ account gives access, both live and on demand, to about half the W-League games—including a Thorns defenders’ derby between Carpenter (Melbourne City) and Menges (Melbourne Victory) at 12:30 a.m. December 12, and a Christmas-night showdown between the two of the league’s scoring leaders so far, Charley (Canberra United) and Hamilton (Western Sydney Wanderers) at 12:30 a.m December 26. Find the complete schedule here.
The sparse crowds (average attendance last year was around 1,500) make the W-League feel like watching a Thorns away game. TV production ranges from sub-Yahoo Sports quality, with a lazy camera, hot mikes, and dead air, to pro setups with graphics, text bars, and halftime analysis (complete with quirky headlines popping up on the screen: “Roar Torpey-Doed” captioned a discussion of Kaitlyn Torpey’s own goal, for example). Aussie holiday-shopping ads showing warm sun and people in short sleeves on Christmas morning remind viewers it’s the Southern Hemisphere. And everyone—male and female commentators, coaches, the players themselves—refer to the people on the field as “girls.” Those wacky Australians.