I wrote this three months ago as news of the Morgan-to-Orlando trade broke, but I didn’t post it. Today, we got the announcement that the Thorns will host Orlando in Portland’s home opener in April and all the crazy came out of the woodwork again. Yesterday was much more fun. The eye-rolling I’ve done today has given me *such* a headache.
I sometimes have unpopular opinions. Sometimes I utter them out loud, in front of people, occasionally in public places. Sometimes I post words to the internet. Often, I just keep them to myself. I’m wondering if I should keep whatever follows here to myself. Probably.
My most recent foray into unpopular opinions comes on the heels of the Thorns-Pride-Reign mega-trade that ended with USWNT star Alex Morgan leaving the Thorns for the sunnier climes of Florida. And, as I apparently have not articulated this enough times, I wish her the best.
Sadly, because I have not thrown myself upon the ground to worship her, I’ve been accused of not being a fan, of not respecting her, of flat-out being an embarrassment to Portland.
Okay. Let’s go over this so it’s all out in the open.
I was surprised in 2013 when she was allocated to the Thorns. It made little sense to me. She had been playing as a member of the Sounders Women but some sort of weird ownership blip with NWSL and the SW owner and US Soccer meant she would be allocated in the new league and here we are. Everyone I know expected she would stay in Seattle and Pinoe would come to Portland. In hindsight, I’m glad it was Morgan that came here.
Seriously. Read that last sentence again. Here, I’ll put it in bold for you: I’m glad it was Morgan who came here.
She did well here in the inaugural season of NWSL, despite mid-season injury. She scored goals, she tallied assists, she fought back from injury because that’s who she is: a competitor. A fierce competitor.
But, as fierce as she was on the field, we as supporters had little chance to connect with her as a person. Let’s remember how she was used in the marketing of virtually every other team. “Alex Morgan’s Portland Thorns.” She became less of a person and more of a selling point, inaccessible in a city where supporters deeply value their connections to their clubs and players. People would show up en masse at away matches to get her autograph and then complain when she couldn’t get to everyone.
My issue, despite what many will read into these words, is not with her. It’s with the marketing of the league and it’s continued reliance on national team members to sell tickets. You know what will sell tickets in the long run? A good product. You know what else helps? A beer garden, but that’s another post. A third thing that will sell tickets? A thriving supporters culture.
By the time we reached 2014, Morgan was injured again. She struggled with fitness and pushed herself to make a return to the field. Please do not tell me I do not respect that. After her first game back in 2014, I sat in the presser afterward and saw the tears in her eyes as she told us how disappointed she was with her performance, how she’d wanted to be able to do more but just wasn’t quite there yet. Again: fierce competitor, amazing drive to win. I have nothing but respect for that.
It just didn’t come together for her in Portland. Back-to-back injuries, absences for national team duty and – dare I say this? – a general disconnect from Thorns supporters made for an unfortunate situation. Being told she wouldn’t travel to Chicago for a match early this season because of the turf there turned me a bit more. Thierry Henry she ain’t.
So, yes, I respect her as an athlete, but I wanted to love her as a Thorn. I don’t think I’m alone in this.
Instead, my imagination was captured by Mana Shim who showed up at an open tryout and won a spot on the team though hard work and determination. It was captured by Vero Boquete who made me cry more than once when she spoke about how her only desire was to win games because the Portland fans deserved it. It was captured by Sinead Farrelly and Kat Williamson who wore Riveters bandanas in their official team mug shots. It was captured by Kaylyn Kyle who was the first of the World Cup players to return to Portland and, though she was given the opportunity to rest after Canada’s WC campaign ended, insisted on playing for the Thorns almost immediately upon her return.
I think I said it earlier today somewhere on Twitter: I feel sorry for Alex. My wish for her is that she somehow finds a way to connect with supporters in Orlando in ways she was unable to here. I think we saw momentary glimpses of who she can be, but they often were overshadowed by her duty to country over club.