Thorns FC, Pilots match highlights past, present and future of women’s soccer
On Saturday night at Merlo Field, the past, present and future of women’s soccer in Portland comes together for a preseason friendly match between the University of Portland women’s soccer team and Portland Thorns FC.
The past represented by the Pilots’ position as a primary contributor to the popularity of women’s soccer in Portland through the program’s sustained success, its legendary former coach, the late Clive Charles, and the abundance of talented players that have trod the pitch at Merlo Field – names like Christine Sinclair, Megan Rapinoe, Sophie Schmidt, Shannon MacMillan and Tiffeny Milbrett among many others. The present and future embodied by Thorns FC as the first fully professional women’s soccer team in Portland alongside the current University of Portland players that can now look ahead for the chance of one day pulling on a Thorns FC jersey and transitioning to a professional soccer career in the Rose City.
The Thorns already claims two former Pilots on the roster with Sinclair and Danielle Foxhoven (above) while fellow ex-Pilot and NWSL Supplemental Draft Pick Angie (Woznuk) Kerr has been training with Portland all preseason. Though Sinclair won’t feature for the Thorns on Saturday due to international duty with Canada, Kerr and Foxhoven could once again have an opportunity to feel the pristine Merlo Field grass underneath their cleats.
“I personally cherish every moment that I get on Merlo,” said Kerr, who has earned 10 caps for the U.S. Women’s National Team and played for the University of Portland in 2003 and from 2005-07. She redshirted during the 2004 season while competing with the U.S. Women’s U-19 National Team. “It’s such a nice pitch with the crowd and the stadium; everyone is so close to you. With it being like home for me, it’s going to be really exciting.”
Sinclair and Kerr helped lead the Pilots to an NCAA National Championship in 2005, the program’s second title after winning it for the first time in 2002 – Charles’ last year as head coach.
“I think it all started with Clive Charles,” said Foxhoven, who ranks fourth all-time for UP in both points (139) and goals (57). “He has his name in the stadium here (JELD-WEN Field) and there’s a memorial dedicated to him. It’s the same at UP.”
Charles’ soccer influence is well known to Timbers fans due to his years in the NASL years as a player in Portland during the late 70’s and early 80’s.
“I think it (the program’s growing recognition and popularity) started with him and the culture of soccer in Portland really grew from that,” continued Foxhoven. “Now, to have a professional men’s and women’s team, the soccer culture is more widespread and the support is still there.”
While Saturday’s match is merely a preseason warm up for Thorns FC, the game still holds a wealth of significance in the women’s soccer landscape in Portland.
“The University of Portland has got something special,” Kerr said. “They get great support that has been going on for years. Everybody remembers everyone that played there and for us to go back as alumnae and play the current team is even more exciting. I keep hearing about all these people coming out for the game and I feel like it’s going to be a huge crowd, which is typical for Portland. They just all grasp this game and enjoy it for what it is, which is awesome.”
As former Pilots themselves, both Kerr and Foxhoven see the benefit of both clubs working together to strengthen the popularity and exposure of women’s soccer in Portland, along with the importance of providing fans with another chances to cheer on some of their former University of Portland favorites.
“I think it was important (to have former Pilots on Thorns FC),” Kerr said. “There is such huge support for the University of Portland, people are going to enjoy coming out and seeing people that they watched through college now playing professionally at this level.
“For me, to be playing with (Christine) Sinclair again is unbelievably exciting. I thought I would never get another opportunity,” Kerr said. “I never played with Dani (Foxhoven) even though we’re great friends. It’s fun to now meet in this professional setting and carry on what we learned at UP into this new environment.”
Foxhoven echoed Kerr’s sentiments, adding: “The people who have supported UP throughout the years get another chance to watch those players again (at the professional level) and for us, we get to come out and represent the city that we love and that we’ve always felt very much a part of. I think it goes both ways and we’re playing for each other and the fans are supporting us, so that’s exciting.”
Saturday’s preseason friendly starts at 7 p.m. and is free of charge. Donations are encouraged, with the funds aiding Providence Heart and Vascular Institute’s Play Smart Young Heart Screening program. The program offers free heart screenings for youth ages 12-18 along with informational resources about sudden cardiac arrest and heart disease prevention.