I shuffle through the post-game signature line, scribbling on scarves, jerseys, and pamphlets when a red rose face-painted girl asks me what it’s like to play in front of a sold-out stadium at Providence Park.
“Can you hear us!?” Do you get nervous?” her eyes beam.
When I was her age, I stood in that exact spot (far too shy to ask questions) anxiously awaiting signatures from the Portland Timbers. At the time, the Timbers were still a USL team. There was no women’s team.
Even then, I knew I was going to be a professional soccer player. My maturing brain had not worked out the logistics, but I was far too obsessed to pursue anything otherwise.
In 2003, the Women’s World Cup qualifiers were held at the same stadium. I sat in the stands, eyes glued to Tiffany Milbrett, Brandi Chastain, and Mia Hamm. My idols were playing in my own backyard!
For a Portlander, aside from the national team, University of Portland was the pinnacle of women’s soccer. I watched Christine Sinclair and her teammates bring home two NCAA championships, with Clive Charles as coach. I set my sights on becoming a Pilot.
My junior year at University of Portland, the National Women’s Soccer League came into fruition. I opted to forgo my final season and enter the college draft. I secretly hoped to get selected by Portland.
I was acquired by Sky Blue FC, in New Jersey. For two years, I got a taste of the east coast lifestyle; enough time to deepen my appreciation for Douglas Firs, quality coffee, and people who let you veer into their lane without flipping you the bird.
In 2015, I was traded home to Portland.
Before home games, the national anthem singer walks onto the field to perform. I always close my eyes. I take this time to give thanks for where I am today. I reflect back to when I was the red rose face-painted girl’s age; waking up at 3am to watch the US women team play China; spending hours kicking the ball against the racquetball courts-a mere 100 yards away at the adjacent Multnomah Athletic Club; winning my first state championship for my high school across the street. I think about my club coach, who told me I was going to make it. And the other one, who told me I wasn’t. I thank the people who supported me through all my setbacks. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here. And if it weren’t for the setbacks, I wouldn’t fully grasp how special it is to play for my hometown, in a city that embraces women’s soccer.
I make sure to open my eyes before the anthem ends to witness the thousands of scarves twirling above their owners’ heads, as if helicopters in support of female equality.
Immediately after, I dart my eyes over to the Rose City Riveter section. The gigantic tifo unravels from the rafters. Every single time, (even if, at first the concepts are too sophisticated for me to understand) my jaw drops. The fans dedicate countless hours for the banner’s one minute of fame.
The final whistle blows, and we stride a lap around the stadium to thank our supporters. My favorite section to greet is the Multnomah Athletic Club balcony. I look up and see my grandma, whom I call Goggie. She’s easy to spy because the club designated her a specific seat.
“I don’t even have to pay!” Goggie boasts.
She waves down at me as if she is performing the “Y” in the “YMCA” dance.
I blow her a kiss. She sends me one back.
We turn the corner again. My mom, dad, uncle, brother and family friends are smiling down at me. Whether I play or not, they are always there.
On the final section, we stand in front of the Rose City Riveters. Talk about a P-A-R-T-Y. Even after the game, they’re jumping and chanting like kids who just chugged eleven Red Bulls.
I am convinced the Riveters expend more energy during a match than us players.
We join hands, and swing them up and down to praise their unparalleled support.
We finish the revolution, by shuffling through the autograph line.
“Can you hear us!?” Do you get nervous?” the red rose face-painted girl asks.
When you’re a competitor and play sports for a living, you get accustomed to getting in the zone. It’s as if you’re wearing a pair of goggles that tune out the crowd and only get taken off during special moments. Like, when we score a goal at Providence Park. I chuck the glasses aside, hands flail in the air, smoke bombs ignite, and I allow myself to rumble with the roar of the crowd.
Shortly after, it’s back to business. But in Portland. even when the goggles are on, it’s not enough to tune out the crowd.
Despite the chronic rain, Portland has this sunny energy that seeps through your bloodstream.
It’s where my teammates and I coached a Girls Inc. clinic, and a squad of 8-year-old girls screamed “I am fierce!!!” with enough conviction to make the hair on my arms stand up.
It’s where the lead capo and flag crew coordinator, Sunday and Heidi White, invited me to their home, showed me their scarf collection and the hundreds of patches the Riveters sell to each other during games to support one another.
It’s where hundreds of supporters greeted and chanted “Build a Bonfire!” with us at the Portland International Airport after winning the NWSL championship.
For me, the city resembles my family, my dreams, my sacrifices. My place.
“Can you hear us!?” Do you get nervous?” asks the red rose face-painted girl.
We can’t necessarily hear the crowd, but we can feel it. It’s this quiet assurance that the entire city is behind us. That the game means as much to you as it does to us. We are in this together.
Even if I’m no longer a Thorn. Even if I’m thousands of miles away from you. Even if, when I visit, I’m wearing another jersey, I will always feel you Portland.
Thank you for making me proud to call The Rose City home.