While you've been pretending to be bummed about the U.S. men's national soccer team not making it to the 2018 FIFA World Cup, Portland's pro women's soccer team has made it all the way to the National Women's Soccer League Championship for the fourth year out of five.
Thorns' fans relationship with the team is unprecedented in women's professional sports: While the average home attendance for women's professional sports in the U.S. is 10,000, Portland far surpasses this for the Thorns—averaging almost 17,000 people.
So it's no surprise that nearly 200 of those fans are in Orlando to cheer on the Thorns as they face the North Carolina Courage tomorrow afternoon, in what might be a historical day where Portland Thorns could win their second NWSL championship—something only one other team has done.
Thorns superfan Jonanna Widner, who wrote a story for WW detailing Portland's relationship with the Thorns, flew to Orlando at 6 am Friday for the match. She says there were about 20 other Thorns fans on her flight, all decked out in red—as well as four good-sized drums.
"It's so cool to have a community in Portland, to know that we have each other. To see them at 6 in the morning sprawled across the airport floor takes it to the next level," Widner tells WW. "We're flying into a swamp to support our team."
Widner got the ticket on standby; she was the last passenger on the plane. She is sharing a hotel room with three other people crammed into queen beds and says she knows of other people sleeping on floors of crowded budget hotel rooms.
Luke Fritz (son of City of Portland commissioner Amanda Fritz) is also making it happen: He's flying to Orlando for just 18 hours—and he's making a special delivery.
"I have lots of [airline] points for cases like this," says Fritz, who offered to deliver a package to Thorns player Nadia Nadim, after she tweeted to ask if there were any fans leaving on Saturday. Apparently, it's just some clothes and shoes, which Nadim won't be able to retrieve before heading to Europe directly after the match.
"It shows that it takes a village to get everything where it needs to be," Fritz says. "One of the great things about the NWSL is that the players are really happy to have support and engage with fans. That's one of the thing that makes me into it emotionally and travel is that they're really wanting to connect with players and they're up to that it makes you want to go that extra mile."
Fritz has gone to every single Thorns away match in playoff history, traveling to New York, Kansas and Boston, among other places to cheer the team on.
"In 2013, it was just magic. We won the championship and [Thorns owner] Merritt Paulson said, 'I have a tab open at the bar you can put anything on it.' Alex Morgan on the field after was like, 'come party with us.' I do think that it just goes to show that when there's a will there's a way and there's a community here that's built up after awhile."
Gabby Rosas, chair of the Rose City Riveters, Thorns' die-hard supporters group, has also been with the Thorns from the beginning, attending very single women's soccer championship. She arrived in Orlando yesterday evening.
"In 2013 there were maybe 20 of us. Thirteen of us traveled together. This year, we took over a couple of planes," Rosas tells WW. "It's noticeably different—kind of black and white. The energy is still the same, the excitement."
This match also marks the return of Tobin Heath, who's been out for 22 matches this season due to a back injury. Heath won U.S. Soccer Female Player of the Year in 2016. Heath scored the match-winning goal in the 2013 championship.
Widner says that another part of what makes this match unique is there's an element of revenge. Last season, the Thorns lost in the semi-finals after an epic match against Western New York Flash. But this year, many members of that team have since relocated to the North Carolina Courage, giving the Thorns a chance to once again come face-to-face with their rivals.
"There's definitely a revenge factor. The players are feeling it as well as the fans," says Widner. "The main thing is more than anything is that semi-final last year was such a heartbreaker, so it's redemption time."
Rosas says the Riveters doesn't yet have anything special planned for the match—but they've still got a night to plan.
"One hundred of us are going to bars tonight. I'm sure new chants will be born tonight," Rosas says. "Why mess with what's going on? They've been killing it. They've been doing a great job. We're just here to give them an atmosphere that they are used to and have that home field advantage. We're going to do our absolute best to replicate it so that the team knows we're here, that they can do it."
The Portland Thorns play North Carolina Courage on Saturday, October 14 at 4:30 pm ET. The match will air on Lifetime at 1:30 pm PST, as well as at several watch parties in Portland, including one at Bazi Bierbrasserie, Kells Brewery and about a dozen more.